Thursday, June 29, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 25

Hello again my friends,
Thursday and New Beginnings time...yeeeaaahhh
Thanks for your sweet comments last week, it made me very happy.
I bring you another dramatic chapter this week, I should probably come out with my own brand of tissue boxes "Dani's Tearjerker"....lol
Anyways, more drama and more love for you this week as Shane and Anna face the next challenge in their relationship.
Thanks for everyone who still reads along and for all your comments.
Here is Chapter 25 of New Beginnings.
Hugs,
Dani

Table of Contents TOC NB

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Consolation Prize - Chapter 4

Scottie's real name wasn't Scottie. It was a nickname that had stuck from the onset of her childhood—she couldn't remember where it had come from, only that she had no memory before it was there. Her given name was brassy and foreign to her, and very few people used it. 

She supposed it was her dad’s doing before he took off back to Europe. His last name—Scott—was truly all she still had of his, and perhaps that's why she never shed it for the name her mom had given her. He'd had an aversion to raising kids—something he, according to her mom, was never shy about. Turns out his aversion ran deeper than principal and translated into action. Scottie hadn’t heard from him since she was three years old. 

She was dreaming about her dad, or the man she’d sculpted in his absence, when the sunlight’s warmth finally felt real. She stirred and her eyelids fluttered as delicate as insect wings. She concluded that she was in LA and the wedding hadn’t even happened yet. Had J.J. even cheated on her at all? She felt swollen on hope and confusion.

And then, a flapping in her heart, as the realization slowly dawned on her, dripping like a leaky faucet. The room was too warm, the light too forgiving, the bed too soft, and that wasn’t J.J.’s ceiling. She wasn’t in LA. She wasn’t at her mom’s place. She was in a cozy room, cozier than she was used to, and the sheets were plush and grey. After a few minutes of steady breathing, she determined she could manage sitting up. Once upright, she realized she was wearing a T-shirt that wasn’t hers over her thong. Her eyes slid over to the two large windows on the right side of the bed, she was greeted by a spectacular view of New York and the East river. So, ta-da, mystery solved, she was in Brooklyn. 

She was inundated with memories taking the L train to buy weed behind a warehouse on Kent back in high school. But weed tumbled into cocaine which tumbled into Xanax. She hadn’t been back in a long time. 

The sun was bright and bare, glittering across the surface of the water. Scottie knew it was just the East River sludge that made the water look so iridescent, but the filth was comforting. At least the rivers around New York had water. The LA river was just a cement trench, snaking invasively through the city.

She took a deep breath. Then another. She knew that she had never been to this place. And most importantly, perhaps, was that she wasn’t in Los Angeles anymore. J.J. wasn’t by her side, sliding into her without asking, finishing without reciprocating, and stumbling to the kitchen in his underwear to put the coffee on. Scottie cringed at the thought of his stale breath on her neck, amazed at how quickly she could move to be repulsed by someone she once cared for. 

One step at a time. 

She slipped over to the edge of the bed and placed her feet on the hardwood floor and ran her fingers through her hair. There were rogue bobby pins still in place, a shadow of a French braid, a curled tuft falling to the side of her face. She’d worked out that his was a man’s apartment. She strained to remember the end of the night, going home with someone, kissing someone, but there was nothing but blank unrolling emptiness ahead of her. 

And then, a crash outside the door. Scottie recoiled a bit at the intrusion, but quickly remembered that she was in someone else’s apartment, and probably unwelcome at that.  Carefully she edged it open the door and stuck her head out. She found herself in a hallway covered in a smattering of eclectic art. Rounding the corner, she took a deep breath and stepped out of the dim hallway and into the sun-bathed room. She blinked and scrunched her eyes at the sudden light. 

“Morning,” came a chocolaty warm voice that jogged her memory. And then she saw him. 

The limo. The bar on the Upper West Side with the shadowy lighting and undercooked French fries. She remembered that they had great gin-based cocktails but didn’t have BBQ sauce. Cory carrying Nora out onto the sidewalk, her beautiful white dress dragging through the city grime. Hailing a cab for Will and climbing in first. It got fuzzier. Being in an elevator, but not standing on her own two feet. The smell of pine. Warm skin on her cheek. Sitting on the edge of his bed as he pulled each pin out, one at a time. Him handing her a shirt. Her asking for a black one instead. Lying on his bed laughing. Laughing so hard they were crying. His rough hand on her cheek, flushed and exhausted from smiling too much.  

Her stomach dropped like a pile of stones. The rest of her memory was stupidly smooth and blank. 

“I,” she started, but she quickly realized that she had nothing to say and pursed her lips. She looked down at her feet and at the slightly chipped dark pedicure. Will watched her consider herself, her legs a mile long, smooth and lightly tanned from the LA sun. She felt his blue gaze on her and looked up to meet it, hair falling everywhere. He was sitting in front of her in his wheelchair wearing a white t-shirt, speckled grey sweatpants, and socks on his feet with lightly mussed hair. He found himself unintentionally smiling at her. She seemed to swell a bit before opening her mouth. 

“Did we,” Scottie started, taking a big exaggerated gulp of air. “Did we at least use a condom?” Please, God, she pled dumbly, let us have used a condom. I can’t fuck with this right now. Fuck.  

She had no memory of them having sex, not even a flash. But, as previous experience had cruelly taught her, that really didn’t mean a damn thing. As she looked at him she realized she wasn’t even sure if he could have sex. She assumed he could, but she didn’t know how it would work. It would have to be different, and probably not a trapeze act simple to maneuver when you were seeing through a thick gin fog. 

“We, didn’t,” he answered, ears going fire-engine red. Then he saw the look on her face—all the color drained, eyes wide, mouth pursed—and his immediately darkened. He put his hands on the push rims of his chair and rolled toward her. 

“No, no, no,” he said urgently, waving his hands as he came to a stop in front of her. Idiot. He chided himself. “What I mean is, we didn’t uh, we didn’t have sex.” He ran his hand through his dark hair and dropped it down to squeeze the skin back of his neck.

“Oh,” she replied flatly. He watched the wheels turning, albeit slowly, in her head. “Good,” she affirmed after a loaded moment, framed with a hair trigger. They were still staring at each other, eyes heavy, unsure of what to do next. Her shoulders dropped hard as she sighed with relief, but his expression flickered for a split second, and she reeled it in carelessly, like a vacuum cord. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t have had sex with him. She found him attractive—that morning especially—but it felt infinitely deeper than the way than she found most men. Most men she found attractive she wanted to fuck quickly and quietly, then slip out the nearest exit. J.J. had fallen into that grey area. They’d met when Sara had been comatose, Scottie was a vulnerable vessel, open and begging. He’d picked her up by her sister’s bedside, and Scottie dug into him like a cat being held over a rushing river. She felt the hot pricks of shame as she considered how flippant she’d always been with men. They were so effervescent before they fizzled and faded. Dragging Will into her warped world felt unnecessarily cruel. She had this respect for him, perhaps because of the misguided respect, while horribly undeserved, he seemed to have for her. The last thing she needed was sex, unprotected or not, with someone she not only cared about, but knew she couldn’t follow through for. 

“Not that,” she stumbled stupidly, “that I wouldn’t, you know. I just, well.” Her tongue was fat and kept slipping on the roof of her mouth. 

“Scottie,” he assured her, voice eerily calm, “it’s okay.” He laughed hollowly. “Really, it’s okay.” Will shifted slightly, not wanting her to feel like she had to explain herself but bracing himself against his natural assumption. The plaque of almost a decade of self-doubt was hard to scrape. 

Scottie understood the delicate nuance of the situation. She was sure he’d been rejected because of the wheelchair. People had been rejected for far, far less. She was smacked with the memory of a flirtatious exchange with a guy at a bar in Santa Monica. He’d seen her from across the room, become smitten, sauntered over, saw her mess of freckles, recoiled, and promptly grabbed his beer and faked a phone call. 

Scottie searched for something to say but it felt like they were just on the edge of bursting the bubble of comfortable unfamiliarity, even though she’d slept in his bed. She clenched her teeth, wondering if and how to silently slip out the door like a ghost before she let this progress any further, afraid she couldn’t keep her distance. Actually, she was rather certain she couldn’t keep her distance if she stayed. Will was even more attractive to her this morning than he had been last night. He was boring holes into her with his eyes. 

“So,” he said as he wheeled around the corner to the fridge, wondering what she was thinking. Her face was pained as she stepped gingerly closer. “I have milk. I also only have cereal. To be honest, I don’t usually eat breakfast. Coffee usually.” He shrugged and pulled some boxes out of the pantry. 

“Coffee,” she exhaled, “coffee would be great.” 

“Of course, right,” he replied, pushing himself off the counter to the other side of the fridge where he busied himself with the coffee pot. Scottie eyed his back, the muscles of his shoulders rippling fluid as ocean waves under his t-shirt. She tried to think of the least sexy thing she could. All she could muster was mice. Little baby mice, which came from two parent mice, who had sex to have them….why was she associating mice with sex? Mice weren’t sexy but they weren’t unsexy. They just were. Fuck. Now she was thinking about sex again. 

“Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” he asked her as she picked up the Cocoa Puffs. His face was dead pan as she looked up slowly. She let out a giggle in spite of herself.

“This,” she said, voice wavering, “is the cereal collection of a 7-year-old.”

“Indeed, it is.” He picked up the box of Captain Crunch and pulled out a crumpled bag, it was rolled at the top like he’d tried to keep the cereal from going stale, but it was undone and decidedly ineffective. 

“A 7-year-old whose mom never goes to the grocery store,” Scottie said, walking to the pantry and opening it—bare. There was some Quaker oatmeal on a high shelf that she was sure he couldn’t reach, a can of peanuts, some peanut butter, Success rice, saltines, and applesauce. 

“BRAT diet?” she asked. 

“I had the stomach flu like…six months ago? I guess?” he said uncertainly, scratching his head. 
“Mmmm good to know you never clean out your pantry. I like that in a man. I’m tempted to check the fridge, but I’m afraid of what I might find.” 

“You know what, that’s probably my cue to take you out for breakfast,” he replied smoothly as he pushed past her and wedged himself between her and the fridge, effectively blocking her from opening it. He’d tried to sound as casual as possible when mentioning taking her to breakfast but it came out clunky and forced. He felt her hesitation and he wanted to push through. 

“Oh?” she asked, “you do breakfast on Saturdays? How unique.”

“Would brunch be better?” he replied, a smile ghosting across his face. Scottie found herself staring at his lips, wondering what it would be like to kiss them. 

“This is New York,” she said in her best New York accent. Will thought it was pretty good.  

“Better than expected New York accent,” he teased. 

“Hey!” she snapped. 

“Aren’t you from LA or something?” he asked, shifting his weight in his chair. She sighed exasperatedly and nodded slowly. 

“I lived there, yeah. I’m from here, well upstate, then we moved down to the city when I was in high school. And now, well, I guess I officially moved back here,” she responded, color draining from her face when she saw the tenderness with which Will was looking at her. “I, uh,” she stumbled before Will could respond. “I think I should actually probably go.” His face fell but he nodded.

“At least have a cup of coffee before you go,” he pulled a mug out of a lower cabinet and handed it to me. “Do you take milk or sugar?” She shook her head as she poured coffee from the pot into the mug. The smell had a relaxing effect on her, loosening her tense shoulders as she cupped it with both hands and brought it up to her nose.  

“Okay,” he replied, wheeling around the counter toward the bedroom. “I’ll be right back and then I can take you.” She swallowed and watched him. 

“Take me?” she asked quietly, not quite understanding what he meant, but quite sure he wouldn’t hear her ask.  She let out a big gust of air and slumped into one of the chairs at the kitchen table, acutely aware of the fact that she wasn’t wearing pants. Taking another tentative steaming sip, she jumped when the table buzzed. Her purse was lying half on, half off the table with the chain dangling over the edge. Embarrassed at how drunk she must have been, she reached over to grab it, digging through for her phone. It wasn’t there. She looked up and saw that her phone was lying under it, plugged into the wall. 

He charged it for her? What the fuck kind of prince charming Disney movie move was that? No one had ever charged her phone for her, especially while she was passed out drunk in their bed. Was this the new chivalry? Holding doors open and footing the bill bygone? 

Unlocking it, she saw the first message was from Sara, and recoiled as if a snake was lunging at the screen—one around 9pm with the other around 2am.  

SARA: Sry about yesterday. Called you 20x. rite 2 VM. JJ doesnt kno where u r.  
SARA: need cash. 

Scottie took a deep steadying breath, forcing herself, for the first time, to digest the fact that her sister was the woman she’d walked in on with J.J. It was as if she was getting punched in the gut over and over again. That piece of shit scumbag good for nothing son of a bitch. If she ever saw him again, she’d kill him. Of course, she blamed Sara, but that was like blaming a toddler for eating a whole package of cookies. She barely knew any better. She was high all the time. With J.J., she stumbled to LA feeling blind and emotionally ruined, like a house that has long burned down. She had been self-destructive and reckless. They’d fuck, fight, fuck, makeup, repeat. It was toxic, but it was consistent. She needed that consistency. In the beginning it was rosy. She loved the feeling of his hand tracing the line above her jeans, and he made the best margaritas. He even wrote Scottie hand written notes sometimes. He always had fresh groceries in his fridge and called her Dingo because he was Australian. That buttery voice could literally call her a wild dog and her body would respond. 

She hadn’t been happy, but she hadn’t been miserable. She was stable and stagnant. And her sister, the very reason she’d uprooted her life, had done it again. And Scottie followed with her famous disappearing act. 

Her thumbs flew over the screen: Why don’t you ask J for cash? She bit her lip until she tasted iron. The next was a series of three texts from Nora. 

NORA: I ripped my dress….
NORA: Did I blackout at my own wedding? I think so. 
NORA: Someone told me you went home with Will and I told them they were high. WTF?

The heat rose in Scottie’s chest like a match in a dark room. Nothing set her off like people making judgments on things they knew nothing about. Nora’s life was a neat little gift, tied with a big obnoxious bow and she lorded it over people. Scottie wished, almost desperately, that she’d fucked Will so she could tell Nora that. She wanted to tell her that they fucked so many times they had to get a fire hose just in case they set the sheets on fire. 

Scottie chose not to respond. She didn’t have anything to say. How about “You’re an idiot for ruining your dress, you were fucking wasted, and fuck off.” Silence was probably the best fuck off message she could send. 

The last text was from Cory at 4:26AM, hours after they had left the bar. 

CORY: Shit9

A deliberate text, on his wedding night, with a typo. Scottie felt bile rising in her throat as swayed, suddenly on her feet. Thinking of Nora, putting her irritation with her in a compartment in the back of her mind, shoving it and slamming the lid, Scottie grappled with the physical reaction to their betrayal. It was overwhelming. She was shaking like a leaf, hands flapping in front of her, trying to swallow, but it just kept coming back up faster. She padded quickly down the hall, lips a tight line, and saw that Will’s bedroom door was open. He was putting her dress, neatly folded, in a canvas bag.

“Are you okay?” he asked as she pushed into the room, silent and frantic. If she vomited on him or in his bedroom, it would be the goddamn trifecta. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the freak show. He would never look her with those eyes the way he did last night. 

She threw herself into the bathroom on the left and gracelessly slammed the door. He was asking something that she couldn’t understand through the thudding in her ears. 

She made it, but barely. Heaving a few times she wiped, repeated, and tried hard to breathe. Will could hear her through the door and he cringed, longing to at least hold her hair back. He knocked softly but there was no response. She was still dry heaving. 

Sitting back on her bare ass, Scottie ran her hands through her hair. The tile was cold and unforgiving, and she knew it was deserved. She felt like banging her head on the toilet bowl. Splashing cold water on her face, her body contorted and shivered in response.  

“Scottie?” her name came softly through the door, followed by two light knocks. She couldn’t help but smile at Will’s voice. It was so sweet. 

“Yes,” she managed to croak. 

“Are you,” he hesitated, then pivoted. “Can I come in?” 

Scottie turned to look at the door then back to herself in the mirror, running her hands down the side of her face, digging her nails into her skin just enough to leave red marks. She leaned forward to rest her elbows on the counter realizing it was much lower than she was used to. There were grab bars on the wall and the side of the vanity, and enormous shower with a bench, and it reminded her of a hospital bathroom—the one she’d used for weeks when Sara was admitted—the smell sterile and oddly comforting, like she was in control. She felt foolish for all the things she didn’t know she didn’t know about Will’s daily life, and all the simple fucking things she took for granted. She wondered again what had happened to him. 

Righting herself, she stood as tall as she could and wiping some of her dripping eye make-up with her fingers. Then she noticed the pill bottles, lined up in a row. She was embarrassed at seeing them, but she leaned closer to look anyway. Most of the names were unfamiliar, but she had abused Percocet and Oxy enough to know those names well. Her head swam at the hazy memories of high afternoons in LA. J.J., upstanding moral compass that he was, hadn’t had a problem writing her bogus scrips. She liked the way drugs made her feel, but she'd never gone as far as her mom or sister—fueled by desperation into an illness they couldn't control. She’d sooner kill herself then end up like them.

She was ripped apart, torn open by the unfamiliar urge pull him into her arms, feel his warm skin against her own, and hold him until he didn’t hurt anymore. It was so foreign, like something that she’d once known but had long forgotten about. 

“Are you okay?” he asked, worry in his tone. She felt enveloped in its warmth.

“Yes,” she said hastily, her voice high and tight. “Come in, sure.” The door creaked open. She could feel his embarrassment from here, radiating off him. 

“Sorry.” She thrust the word out quickly.  

“Sorry,” he chimed at the exact same second. They locked eyes. His were so blue and so honest. 

“No,” she hurriedly interjected, “I’m sorry. I uh, I just didn’t want to puke on your floor.” 

“Yeah,” he said, shifting himself nervously and putting his hands on his knees. “I just,” he continued, unsure of how to say what he wanted to say, taking in the landscape of the room, his limitations laid bare. He didn’t let people use this bathroom. It left him so exposed. He cringed catching a glimpse of at the individually wrapped catheter packs on the back of the toilet.  

“Hey!” she snapped, putting the toilet seat down and sitting on it, putting her at his eye level. She put her hands in the air, desperate communicate that his embarrassment was unfounded. She knew she should be ashamed, and she felt a twinge of it creeping through her. “I barged in on your personal space. I slept in your bed, I almost ate your stale cereal, and now I’m in your bathroom. The fault is mine.” His face cracked a smile and he edged a little bit closer to her until their knees were touching—his sweatpants clad, knobby and unfeeling, and hers, golden skinned and strong. They didn’t say anything until she smiled self-consciously. There was something there, percolating, something starting, something Scottie knew she had to push away. 

“I, I’ve been here too long,” she declared, standing up, “I’ve overstayed my welcome.” 

“Are you okay?” he asked, looking up at her, crossing his strong arms over his chest, biceps pulling the sleeve of his t-shirt. He preferred when she was at his eye level and longed to rise to her height.   

“Yes,” she replied, a little too quickly, shoving her looming emotional breakdown back into the dark hole from which it had sprung. “Yes,” she said again, voice slower that time, firmer. “But, I really have overstayed.” He shook his head but backed up to let her pass through to the bedroom. 

“Hopefully I can pin myself back into this dress or…something,” she said more to herself than to him as she walked toward the bag that he had folded it in. She winced at the thought of forcing herself back into the dress and hailing a cab in her stilettos…or getting on the train…what train?

“Where are we?” she asked suddenly, turning to him as he came out of the bathroom, framed in the doorway. “I mean, in Brooklyn obviously,” she said, gesturing to the stunning view of the river. Then it dawned on her that they might be in Queens. “Oh my god,” she asked frantically, “Are we in Queens? We’re not in Queens, right?” He nursed a silent laugh and shook his head.

“We are not in Queens,” he reassured her. 

“This place is a dump, by the way,” she added off handedly.  

He was beaming at her when she started to feel light headed again. She tightened at the thought of more vomit, but she was convinced that she’d emptied everything earlier. Feeling behind her for his bed, Scottie stumbled into a sitting position. He saw the change in her complexion immediately. 

“Let me get you some water,” he said swiveling like a professional and wheeling toward the kitchen. 

“Oh, Will, that’s okay,” she insisted weakly, but he ignored her protests because she really did want a glass of water. She let him take care of her for a split second and the heat in her chest almost knocked the breath out of her. 

“We’re on Kent and North 2nd by the way!” he shouted from down the hall. 

Scottie took some deep breaths to combat the overwhelming and rising dread. What she really wanted was some cold gin. She’d wager that he’d have that. She needed to get home. She needed a drink and a shower and a pair of fucking pants.

And most pressingly, she needed to get the fuck out of Will’s apartment because he, this man incredibly attractive and thoughtful man who just appeared in the middle of her life, was making her feel like she’d known him forever, and that felt more dangerous than anything.



<>


He insisted—absolutely insisted—on driving her home. 

“You’re literally the only person in Manhattan, that I know, who has a car,” Scottie said as the elevator doors to the parking garage opened and revealed that almost every spot was filled with a car, like a little Hot Wheels toy garage. He looked back at her and chuckled. 

“We’re in Brooklyn,” he reminded her as he pushed himself forward, “And it seems to me that most of these spots are full.” Scottie sneered at him, hustling a bit to keep up in her heels.  

“Yeah, but Brooklyn, Manhattan, it’s the same shit,” she insisted. 

“Is it?” he asked, turning to look at her. She rolled her eyes because it wasn’t the same thing at all and they both knew it.  

“That’s mine,” he said, gesturing to a red Mini Cooper and slowing down. 

“Fuck off,” she practically spat. “No it’s not.” He just smiled and wheeled right past it. 

“This is mine,” he said coming up on a Volvo SUV, dark blue and small, parked in a handicapped spot. 

“Yeah, I can see this a little bit more,” Scottie nodded. Then it dawned on her. How was he going to drive? 

“I’m sorry,” she said, dragging out her words, as he opened the driver side door, “Um, am I missing something here?”

“Hand controls,” he replied, smiling knowingly. 

“Right,” she said dumbly. Then more to herself, “hand controls, Scottie, you idiot.” he laughed as she hit herself in the forehead with the heel of her hand. The sound was like being wrapped in a blanket. 

She watched him transfer into the car with practiced ease, eyes hovering on his shoulder muscles flexing under his T-shirt. He lifted his legs, dressed dark jeans, under the knee and put them in the car, then he took his sleek chair apart—each wheel, then the cushion on the seat, and then the frame, tossing them into the backseat, careful to avoid clocking her in the side of the head. It wasn’t anything like the kind you saw in a hospital, but something much slimmer and, Scottie imagined, easier to maneuver. Watching him was like watching a Nike commercial. 

“You going to gawk at me all day?” he asked with a wide grin, slamming his door. 

“I’m getting back at you for gawking at me earlier,” she snapped, slipping her seatbelt into the buckle and closing her own door. 

Instead of having almost a complete stranger pin her back into the world’s ugliest bridesmaid dress for her walk of shame home, Will had mercifully offered her a clean grey t-shirt that smelled like soap, and a pair of dark sweatpants that were far too long and large on her— comically big. 

“Ah yes, I remember you mentioning you were tall,” she’d joked as she slipped the sweats up over her thighs, fabric barely grazing her skin. The bottoms of the pants pooled at her feet. 

“Ah yes, I do recall being a bit of a monster before,” he’d looked up at the ceiling and stroked his chin. “If memory serves, I was over 6 feet. I use a standing frame sometimes,” he’d said, following her stare, “and then I really feel tall.” 

“A standing frame?” she asked. 

“It’s this,” he hesitated, gesturing to something she’d never seen before quietly towering in the corner of the room. “It’s a thing that I use sometimes to just stand up. It’s good for circulation, bones, and not forgetting how tall I am.” Scottie laughed. 

“I’d like to see that,” she’d said, not meaning to flirt but realizing in that moment that she was in deep.

“It’ nothing to see,” he said, slightly embarrassed. “My legs are stupid long, though. I had to get pants custom made sometimes before, and now it’s even worse. Since I’m sitting all the time everything has to be longer, so it doesn’t you know, show off my ankles.”

“Hey! A little tasteful ankle never killed anyone,” Scottie declared as she walked to his bed and sat down, sliding her strappy heels on her feet and fooling with the buckle. She could feel Will’s bright blues fixed on her and it made her self-conscious of her movements. She’d found herself wondering how she would normally do it if she wasn’t under his gaze. She had to remind herself that she knew how to put a pair of shoes on. Her stomach had fluttered annoyingly, and she’d had to breathe through the discomfort.  

“Now this is a good look,” he’d teased as she stood up in preposterously high heels, looking like a contestant on the biggest loser.

“Thanks,” she’d replied, bunching up her hair and turning so she was facing him. She pulled out the waistband of the pants.

“I went from a size 94 all the way down to a 28,” she’d chirped. 

“How’d you do it? Diet? Exercise? Surgery?” he’d asked, holding an imaginary microphone out to her. 

“Reality TV,” she’d replied seriously.  

“It’s so refreshing to see someone losing weight the healthy way,” he agreed, just as seriously.  

“You have a full-length mirror around here?” Scottie had asked, looking around the room. It was pretty bare. He’d faltered, casting his gaze down for a split second. “I want to see what I’m up against on my trip home,” she’d continued playfully, but the mood had shifted ever so slightly.

 “Ah,” he’d replied, running his hand through his hair and resting his hand on the back of his neck. “I don’t have one. I’m not too keen on those.” Scottie had felt a sharp pang in her chest, but pushed through it, determined not to go deep with him. 

“Who is?” she’d asked, voice light and feathery, straightening the shirt using the small mirror above his dresser. She could see her nipples through the fabric and she was positive it wasn’t going completely unnoticed. 

“Good point,” he had agreed, a little bit uncomfortably, and shifted in his chair, much like he was shifting himself as they sped across the Williamsburg bridge, windows down, Manhattan coming into clear focus. The slats of the bridge made the buildings look like they were in one of those flip books Scottie had had as a kid, and it had a hypnotic effect. The air was warm and welcome as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. 

“You know,” Scottie said without opening her eyes. “This is nice.” 


“That’s what I think. I mean, can’t a guy have some time on the open road in this damn city?” he asked no one in particular. Scottie shook her head, laughing. 


“I still can’t believe you have a car in this damn city,” she shouted, “It’s absurd!” 


“Hey, hey, hey,” he mocked, turning to look at her. She kept glancing down at his right hand, working this contraption that, frankly, made her a little uneasy. But they were still on the road, under the speed limit, within the lines, and he seemed calm as a fucking cucumber, so she kept her mouth shut. “Have you ever tried to get around in a wheelchair in this damn city?” Will shuddered at the memories of taking the train all the way to an accessible stop only to see that the elevator was out of order. Plus all the subway elevators unequivocally smelled like urine all the time. It was infuriating.

“I’m afraid you’d be the expert in that area,” she conceded, blushing.

“Well, in this damn city it’s pretty damn impossible to get a cab to stop for a wheelchair, too. Usually I have someone else hail it for me and hide behind a parked car.” Scottie cracked up at the image of him crouching behind a poorly parallel-parked Prius.

“Everything is impossible in this damn city,” Scottie ruminated.

“Amen,” he said knowingly, nodding.

Will came to a slow stop at the light as the bridge disappeared into Delancey Street. He made a sharp right onto a side street toward Houston. Scottie watched the people milling on the sidewalk. It was amazing how many people lived here. It always floored her.

“We’re just up here, on Cornelia,” Scottie said, pointing ahead as they cruised up 6th Avenue. He made the left turn and continued slowly down the street until she told him to stop. They pulled up to the beautiful old building—the one Scottie had found refuge in. They had a three-bedroom apartment—small but old and charming—that had been her grandparents. They passed it down to her mother. And now that her mother was living in a psychiatric care home and her sister was living fix to fix, it was hers.

“Must have been cool to go to high school here,” he remarked wistfully as he clicked on his blinker, squeezed the brake, and put the car in park. Scottie nodded and smiled at him. At least, she tried to smile at him. She had no idea how it appeared on her face. Her skin was too tight. She suddenly felt so nervous she could barely breathe. Unbuckling her belt, she didn’t make a move to get out of the car, her feet feeling like anchors in her heels. The silence was heavy. Scottie didn’t know where he was looking and was too afraid to steal a glance. Her hair hung around her face, finally coming completely undone from the rogue bobby pins—a protective curtain.

“Hey,” Scottie finally started, without looking up. “Why did you bring me to your place?” She wasn’t sure why she didn’t ask earlier. It clearly wasn’t to have sex, so, why? He sighed and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“You insisted on hailing a cab for me,” he said. “Thanks for that by the way. You actually got one to stop for us.” Scottie risked a glance and a careful smile. He winked at her.

“I’d say you’re welcome,” she replied, “but I don’t think I can take credit for whatever blacked-out Scottie did.”  His pale blue eyes were on hers, honest and bare, his face soft and hopeful. Something shook loose inside her.

“Then when I tried to find out where to drop you off, you just kept saying the village…and I kept asking what village, you know, there are a few.” She laughed at herself, feeling anxious and bright at the same time. It was a heady combination. “Then you fell asleep,” he said simply. “And of course, I couldn’t leave you in the back of the cab, or on the street in one of the villages, and when I tried to wake you up you came out of it, but not entirely. I didn’t just want to send you on your way without making sure you got home.” She was listening intently and looking at her hands again, clenched in her lap. She had been left asleep in the back of a cab before by a guy. And passed out on a stoop. Coked up at a bar in a strange city. She had been left vulnerable by plenty of men before.

“Well,” she whispered feebly, “thank you.” Her voice sounded so small. He didn’t say anything back. She heard a sharp intake of breath and then an exhale. And then, his hand, rough and callused, but warm, was on hers. She snapped her head up and he was right there. So, close she could feel his warm breath, eyes locked on hers. Scottie felt that familiar swallowing of reason but still, she leaned closer to him. Then she let him kiss her.

They might have been strangers, but their lips certainly weren’t.

No Stories Today, But Expect Some Next Week

I know it's been a couple weeks since I posted anything. You guys are probably tired of hearing excuses, so all I'll say is I've been having a very rough time, physically, and that's made it difficult to write.

I really, really wanted to get something up today, but the reality is In/Exhale really isn't ready and I didn't want to rush anything. But I think you guys are going to enjoy the rest of Season 3.

The way things are going right now I'm going to post next week come hell or high water. It may mean I have to post episodes alternate weeks rather than weekly, which sucks, I know, but I figure it's better than waiting a few more months, right?

As for Love UnSeen, my hope is to get that started up again very soon. If not next week then perhaps the week after. Maybe I'll even alternate weeks with the two stories so you get an update every Wednesday regardless.

Thanks again for sticking with me and for being so patient. I really appreciate it.

-CA

PS - While you wait, maybe refresh In/Exhale (Table of Contents) or Love UnSeen (Table of Contents), or let me know what you're hoping to see in either (or both) stories in the future!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Our Choices

Thanks, guys, for your support! Makes me very happy that people enjoy the story. Now... on to episode 9!

Your Choice: Tell him the truth


Cheers
Lovis
Table Of Content

Thursday, June 22, 2017

New Beginnings Chapter 24

Hello NB friends,
been a busy week but here we are again and I'm bringing you another chapter of NB.
Thanks to everyone who commented and also thanks to all my silent readers. I know it is not a story for everyone and only some enjoy my type of stories but I very much appreciate the ones who do like it and keep reading along.
In this chapter Anna finds out what may have caused Shane's breakdown. Everyone is supportive but loving Shane seems to get more difficult for her.
I give you Chapter 24 of New Beginnings.
Thanks to my loyal readers and commentators. You guys rock!
Hugs, Dani

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No story this week

Sorry to disappoint, everyone.

The past two weeks have been really rough on me emotionally and physically. I think I may finally have found a doctor willing to investigate my joint pain and maybe help with that, so that's a tiny glimmer of light in an otherwise sea of darkness.

I wanted to start posting I/E today, but I don't have enough of it done to ensure we won't have huge gaps in between episodes/days, and I'd hate to do that to you. So my *plan* is to finish as much as I can by next week and start posting then, perhaps every other week instead of weekly, to give me more time to get stuff ready.

As for Love UnSeen, that story *will* be continuing soon. I just needed a little break since writing every episode a few days before posting it is exhausting.

Thank you all for your support and feedback. I'm very sorry I wasn't able to post at all last week, even to say I wasn't going to post, because I was at doctor appointments all day and by the time I got home we had no internet due to a major local outage.

-CA

In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you hope to see happen next in either story. Some of your ideas may end up in future episodes!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Consolation Prize - Chapter 3

“Gin, please,” Scottie said absently to the bartender, busy considering her chipped nails. It was potentially her 253rd drink. She'd lost count. 

The bartender grabbed a heavy glass and stared, holding it in one hand with an ice scooper in the other. A short girl in a horrific gold dress elbowed Scottie sharply in the arm. She actually wasn’t that short. Scottie was 5’9” in flats, so she was probably a reasonably sized person, but Scottie towered over her in heels. The girls dress was uglier than Scottie’s was, and that was very difficult to accomplish.

 “He’s waiting for you,” the girl said, irritated.

 “Why?”  Scottie asked flatly. The bartender held up the glass and raised his eyebrows, which reminded Scottie of an overgrown garden, stringy hairs reaching toward his hairline.

“Gin and?” he asked in a meek nasally voice.

“Oh,” she said, “Um, tonic I guess. Just a splash. Thanks.” The girl next to Scottie huffed and pushed her way to the front of the crowd, leaning forward into the bar. Scottie, feeling her mean streak flaring up, took a strategic step forward to block the girl for the hell of it. The girl, red-faced and pissed, whispered something to her friend and they took off to the other bar down the hall.

“Good riddance,” Scottie muttered to herself.

“Excuse me, mam?” the bartender asked curiously.

“Nothing,” Scottie retorted, resenting him tremendously for calling her mam, as she was only twenty-nine thank you very much. She saw Cory out of the corner of her eye on the other side of the hall—dashing as always, and now, a married man. She caught a glimpse of the gold band on his finger and thought of the boy she’d met all those years ago sitting behind his desk, working on spreadsheets into the late hours of the night, running his hands through his unruly hair when he was frustrated, eating spicy tuna rolls by the dozen, and downing Redbull out of the can like it was water.  

The cocktail hour had just begun, and he seemed to be scanning the crowd for someone. It took him making eye contact across the sea of heads for her to realize that she was, in fact, the person he was looking for. He waved her over to him and she put a hand up in recognition. Taking the drink from the bartender, she nodded in thanks, and made her way through the crowd. She felt her resentment rear it’s terribly ugly head again at the fact that he was glowing. Worried it would show on her face, she pushed out a smile.

“Nora wants to get a few more pictures of the groomsmen and the bridesmaids,” he said with more excitement than Scottie expected.

“Doesn’t she have enough?” she asked rudely, taking a sip of the drink, failing to acknowledge his energy.

“It’s our wedding day. She’s your best friend. I’m your best friend. You introduced us,” he pleaded innocently, glazing, gracefully, over the fact that he was indeed a cheater. And so was she. They were co-conspirators in infidelity. 

She guessed, in his gaze there was a question and, in fact, a promise, that they were collectively rewriting history, burying the past, and communicating clandestinely between the lines. She didn’t contest him as the unspoken agreement was presented. She was too busy balancing the shitty part of her that did what she did with Cory, the shittier part of her that proceeded to lie about it after Nora confided in her, and the shittiest part of her that surreptitiously wanted Nora to know what she did.

“Come on,” he said deliberately, looking directly into her eyes and reaching for her arm. His gaze didn’t waver even though she dared him to deny it in her iron stare. Deny what he’d done. Deny her.

“Fine,” she conceded, stiffening like a board at his touch.

“These are the kinds of things that matter.” His voice was stern and assuming. How dare he tell her what mattered? She nodded reluctantly, willing herself to just fucking let it go. What’s done was done, right? They were married. It was official. They went through with it. No one raised any objections.

The funny thing was that she wasn’t even sure if she had real feelings for Cory. They were a symptom. And having symptoms meant she was sick. Years later she’d remember this moment and suddenly her mouth would taste of gin and her skin would prickle. Most of the time she had a hard time actually understanding what she was feeling, let alone why she was feeling it.

The emotion that surrounded Cory was complicated. He was safety, and her affinity for him rose and fell like an unpredictable tide. After years of analyzing herself mostly away from him, she had determined it was more about control rather than love. And that’s what bothered her the most. She was willing to fuck up the best thing in her best friend’s life for what? Sex with a guy she felt she owned? At the time, or many times rather, she wouldn’t have called it a mistake. She knew she shouldn’t have done it, but that didn’t make it a mistake.

She’d known Cory longer than Nora had. Was that how she was rationalizing it? Maybe. They’d worked together that first year after she’d graduated college, when she was still living in New York, before Sara spiraled and she’d had to rush to Los Angeles to pick up the pieces. Admittedly, it felt like good timing for Scottie. She was starting to feel that itch that always precipitated a breakdown. She had to get away from her mother, whose decline was serving as an example for her own impending one. So, she got out.

They had worked at a creative agency called Square Bird. Scottie had been the CEO's assistant and Cory had been a data analyst, and they clicked immediately. She became closer with him than she had intended. She’d never really intended to get close to anyone, but people were amazing. They found a way in. Connor had quietly, delicately, cleverly, found a way in.

Max had been busy getting his masters in North Carolina. Nora was in law school and also always mothering her, and Scottie was struggling to define herself outside of the murky restraints of her family. She was lost, numb, and grasping, and Nora, her surrogate mother, and her mom, her biological mother, weren’t letting her breathe.

Cory’s hand was there, and Scottie saturated herself with his company. Often, they’d work late just to order take out together, usually garbage Chinese – gummy chicken and broccoli, greasy beef fried rice, and spring rolls that tasted like the fryer. She’d have to argue him out of ordering sushi and he’d put up a fight at first, then give in, brushing her hand with his when he did. Sometimes he’d walk her home to her tiny studio on Orchard in the Lower East Side. They spent Saturday nights together watching bad TV like Jackass and My 600lb Life and he’d rub her back. Sometimes he slept in her bed. But it never felt sexual. It felt almost…brotherly. 

She didn’t introduce Cory to Nora for a long time because she’d wanted something that was just hers. She needed something that was just hers. After a year though, Nora was insistent, arguing that their platonic relationship had to be more.

“It has to be more, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Nora would yell over cold vodka and pierogies at the little Polish diner around the corner from her apartment in the East Village.  What the fuck was wrong with her, indeed.

They went to Ace Bar in the East Village for beers. It was dark and hazy, and he bought both of them PBRs and paid for Skee Ball. He crushed Scottie, but Nora unexpectedly held her own. Scottie remembered Cory being impressed and it gave her a weird pang of embarrassment in her chest. Why wasn’t he impressed with her?

Scottie didn’t think they’d like each other at all, and, after the game ended and they got to talking, they both realized they didn’t. They clashed. They argued. They talked shit about each other to Scottie that night at the bar, and for weeks after. But they continued to see each other—the three of them. 

Nora hated the way he got smug when talking about New York City real estate. His parents had purchased a 4-bedroom in the 70’s for close to nothing on the Upper West Side and now Cory lived there, in the nicest apartment either of us had ever seen, for nothing.

He hated how she buttoned her shirt buttons all the way to the collar. He called her the librarian behind her back and Scottie didn’t argue—she secretly and not so secretly loved it. She let the nickname stick.

“Is the librarian coming tonight?”
“Librarian making you stay in tonight?”
“Does the librarian have any plans this weekend? Do you think the librarian ever gets laid?”

And then, the librarian was coming tonight. She was making him stay in tonight. She had plans this weekend. She got laid.

The sparring and slicing had giving way to something much deeper. Scraping away the harsh exterior, there were genuine feelings there. Scottie tried to calm her nerves. Cory was her friend—he’d always belong to her. Nora wouldn’t change that. She couldn’t change that. But she did. Slowly but surely, the ownership that both of them perceived, shifted from one woman to the other.

Nora and Cory kissed for the first time in the street outside of Tom & Jerry’s Bar after hours of drinking. It was sloppy and bawdy, and it was pouring cats and goddamn dogs, and Scottie had to drag Nora into a cab to go home. They lived ten blocks from each other Scottie would have been dammed if she left Nora alone with Cory.

Cory lit up a cigarette as they drove away down the rain slicked road, running both his hands through his shaggy brown hair as he inhaled watching the two women he’d ultimately have to choose between disappear in the watery haze.

Scottie felt as if she’d been smacked, and the magnitude of the reaction shocked her. But her internal turmoil, though deafening to her, didn’t make a sound on the surface. A switch had flipped in both of them and outwardly, Scottie encouraged it. It was too dangerous not to for fear she would be exposed. She didn’t love him like that. Right?

Cory asked her if it was okay, and she’d said yes.

Then Nora asked her, over a hundred times, if she was absolutely sure that there was nothing between them. Nora was being a good fucking friend, and it was infuriating to Scottie. She gave her blessing flatly with half a croissant in her mouth. Then they lay on her bed watching Never Been Kissed into the grey hours of the later afternoon.

And that’s when Scottie stopped sleeping. She’d succumb to the whirring in her head, leaning out the window at three in the morning, smoking a cigarette, and watching the street below. It reminded her of the sleepless nights she spent lying in the cool grass in the back yard at her family’s old house—before they moved to the city and the sound of car horns became equivalent with silence. Those days felt like strangers to her now. 

And then, Cory and Scottie lost it. They both snapped.

Snow hung lazily in the air as she took a deep breath and invited Cory up to smoke a joint after their company Christmas party. He hesitated for a second, but only a second. They climbed the steps in silence, but when they got to her door he said her name, his voice hoarse and rough as gravel from singing Santana at the bar. She turned around, stumbling back, to find him right behind her. The smell of alcohol on his breath mixed with sweat and cigarettes was wickedly sweet and intoxicating. Fucking Steve McQueen was standing in front of her, and then, like there’d never been a question, she leaned in slowly and kissed him hard. He pushed her off, jerking back, and Scottie knocked against the door behind her. He pinned her against it, pressing her flat, fastening his eyes to hers, dark brown, smoldering.

 “Fuck you,” he rasped, his breathing thready. Then, he kissed her harder, lips strong, tongue probing. It was two and a half years coming and it was fire.

 They fell into Scottie’s apartment and ripped each other’s clothes off, scrambling and scratching to get into bed. She felt like a rodent trapped inside a trap—she was going to jump out of her skin.

After they’d finished, both starving then fed, he started to drift off to sleep.

“What you do to me,” he’d said softly, with amazement in his eyes and awe in his words. She felt her throat tighten as she sat on her bed naked with her knees up against herself, watching the rise and fall of his chest. He had a smattering of hair in slightly uneven patches, with light scruff rounding his jaw. So that was what it was like to sleep with Cory Rhodes.

 She stood up and went to the kitchen to get a cold glass of water. His clothes were all over the floor. His boxers were plaid, pilled, and worn out—they looked at least ten years old. Scottie didn’t like to think of him wearing those when he was in high school, jerking off into the crappy fabric, under his covers with a nudie magazine lit up in the glow of the flashlight, both of his hands trembling for different reasons. She felt hot embarrassment for him run through her.

When she came back he mumbled something.

“What?” she asked softly, crawling into bed next to him, trying to get the image of his teenage masturbation out of her head.

“I’ve been fucking waiting for this,” he replied opening his eyes slightly. They were glassy and red. He was wasted. And probably telling the truth.

 “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said dismissively, pulling the covers up over his shoulders. He didn’t say anything else. But even if he did, Scottie wouldn’t have known. For the first time in months, she fell into a quiet sleep free of nightmares.

 The next morning, they smoked that joint she’d promised him and promised not to tell anyone. They promised that this never happened, and they’d never talk about it again. They’d both said the word mistake as they both decided separately, that this was a promise they wouldn’t be keeping.

Then they didn’t talk about it the week after.

And the week after that.

The fourth time they slept together, Scottie stopped them in the middle because her phone was ringing. It was Nora. The little blue screen flashed in the dark and neither of them moved a muscle. It was as if Nora was in the  very room watching, breathing, seeing everything. Cory slid out of her because his erection was unceremoniously gone. After an hour of lying next to each other in silence he stood up like a zombie and put his clothes on. He kissed her on the forehead, held her gaze in his for a long, full moment, and left without saying a word. She could have followed him, running barefoot into the street, his name on her lips, a promise of love in her back pocket.

But, part of her was relieved because as much as she loved him, she knew she couldn’t be in love with him. She just knew there had to be more to the whole idea of love. Despite the kind of raging inside of her for him, something was missing. There was an emptiness there, desperation, and that, Scottie knew, couldn’t be the kind of love you grew old with. Cory sent her spinning; he didn’t make her laugh the way that she knew she needed. She didn’t know if she’d ever find that kind of love, but she knew she wouldn’t settle for anything less. The family she’d gotten was broken, and maybe she’d never be able to repair it, but if she ever got the chance for her own, she’d make it whole. She’d make it whole.

They couldn’t help themselves though—it was textbook magnetism. She moved to Los Angeles abruptly without telling Cory why, but he had the sense to respect the decision. Perhaps, it was a bit of a relief to him. He didn’t have to make a decision. Scottie had made it for him. But, they were needled into each other. They slept together a few more times. Whenever she was in town to take care of something for her mom, she somehow found her way back to him. He called her drunken nights. She called him back. They texted and emailed. They were reckless and heated. They’d didn’t stop—even after the ring slid down Nora’s finger. Cory had called to tell Scottie that he’d proposed and there was a silence there, a question hanging—he was asking her to call it off. But she said congratulations and sent them a case of Veuve Cliquot.

But then, the next time she was in town, she booked a hotel and left a key for him at the front desk. He always came. The most recent time was just last month. He’d fallen asleep and woken up there in dull morning light, frantic, his phone still turned off, a waterfall of texts from Nora incoming as he turned it back on. She’d heard him lying to Nora in the bathroom. Before he left they decided, again, that it had been a mistake. They agreed it couldn’t happen again, a script they’d both committed to memory years prior. They were going to be married in a month for Christ’s sake. But it always lingered.

What’s one more?

Cory wasn't a fool. He knew Nora could give him something Scottie never could—stability. So, he left Scottie and married Nora. Well, she never had him, so he really didn't leave. He just took a step sideways. 

And in between the ceremony and the reception, he was asking Scottie to come get her photograph taken, again. Surely one with her in it would end up on their mantle. She’d probably be a godparent to one of their children. The mere thought made her dizzy.  

Perhaps Scottie had loved him, in some kind of crooked way. But that would never be enough for either of them. 

“You’re right,” Scottie mumbled quietly, her head spinning at the sheer weight of it all. She had to focus on Cory’s nose so she wouldn’t have to look into his dark brown eyes. “This is what’s important. Where do you need me?”

<>

Everyone was gathered around the gazebo behind the house. They’d opted out of the gazebo pictures earlier, and Scottie guessed, correctly, that Nora had suddenly changed her mind, like a violent dark shift in the wind.

The light was beginning to change—purple rising like smoke in the sky—but the air was warm and sweet. Scottie was at least happy that it was pleasant to be outside. It beat the stifling cocktail hour going on inside, the cacophony of voices and clinking glasses, the self-congratulatory air of the two families now merged. Fireflies began to appear against the lush green lawn. 

“Cory!” Nora shouted, voice hoarse from all the bossing around she’d done throughout the day. Scottie hated it when Nora got like this. It was the kind of situation where nothing anyone could do was right, so it was just simply best to do nothing at all.

Scottie watched as Nora stood in the middle of the gazebo with her parents, red hair on fire, catching the light. She did look beautiful, as did her mother who had passed down the exquisite coloring. Nora’s father was quiet, composed, and always had a glass of scotch close by. As they walked up, Scottie spotted it on the bottom step of the gazebo and found herself smiling. The predictable tics of people brought her a kind of indescribable joy. Even Nora’s attitude had a warm familiar bite that nipped at her nostalgia.

Cory squeezed Scottie’s arm and jogged ahead since he’d been summoned, black tuxedo jacket flapping behind him. He took the stairs two at a time and jumped into the frame like he had been there all along. And she realized, that in a way, he had.  Scottie had brought them together for a reason, regrettable incident after regrettable incident aside.

Taking a long sip of her gin with a “splash” of tonic, she came up behind Will who was leaning forward with his arms resting on his thighs, playing solitaire on his phone. His jacket was draped across his lap and his white dress shirt was rolled up to his elbows. His brow was furrowed in concentration. She felt herself smile and it surprised her. Was she imagining her heart fluttering? She didn’t know what she was feeling, but she knew that she wanted to get to know this man better.

“Three of diamonds on four of spades,” Scottie suggested lightly, clinking the ice in her glass.

“Fuck me,” he said more to himself than to her. “Gladly,” she found herself thinking before she could help it. Her cheeks colored and she felt embarrassed even though no one could—thankfully—hear her thoughts.

“It’s amazing how much more difficult it gets after a couple of drinks,” he observed, closing the game and slipping his phone into his jacket inside pocket.

“Afraid I can’t relate,” Scottie countered sarcastically.

“You bring me one of those?” he asked, cocking his head up toward her, pale blue eyes lighting up his whole face.

“I did not,” she replied, flatly, taking another big swig and crunching the ice between her teeth. “Would have if I’d known you were thirsty.” He laughed and rubbed his hands on his thighs.

“I’ve got that," he gestured animatedly, "you know, speech, so I've been laying off the sauce a bit since this morning." Leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his chest, he still hadn’t taken his eyes off her.

 “Fine, you can have a sip.” She said in fake exasperation as she passed the glass to him. He held it up in a cheers motion. She definitely felt very drunk but she liked it. She didn’t feel out of control…yet.

 “Just one!” she hissed. He smiled crookedly, lips rising slightly higher on the left side—the side with the goddamn dimple. “A small one!” she added. He stopped and dropped the glass down in his hand, resting it on his knee, looking down at it then looking back up at her. She suddenly felt extremely tall—too tall. She resisted the urge to take her heels off, but she had spent thirty minutes scrubbing her feet earlier, and she wasn’t awful keen on doing that again. She also found herself wondering how tall he would have been standing next to her.

 “You know,” he replied hotly, holding up the glass and examining the contents closely. “I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

 “Suit yourself,” she said snidely, reaching for the glass.

 “Okay, we need all the groomsmen and bridesmaids, family, let’s move to the side here,” the photographer directed, moving his lanky arms to point people in the right direction. He had his grey hair in a low ponytail under a midnight blue beret and it screamed art school dropout. She imagined that his teachers hadn’t much cared for him, and that it had been heartily mutual.

 “How’s my bowtie?” Will asked Scottie, turning his chair toward her. She pursed her lips and pretended to scrutinize it. “Oh, that bad?” Scottie reached over, long fingers on fabric, pulling it up slightly on the right side, brushing the stubble on his chin. Her skin tingled where it had made contact.


“Will!” Nora yelled, slicing through the air. He must have been hard to see from where she was standing since all of the other groomsmen were standing in front of him, filing up the stairs. He was temporarily protected from the bride by a tuxedo cocoon.

 “Scratch that,” he said laughing, “worth it.” He took the glass out of Scottie’s hand and tipped it back. It was just one sip but it certainly wasn’t small. As he handed it back to Scottie, she rolled her dark green eyes.

 “Oh man,” Scottie said, grabbing the glass and downing the contents with the same vigor as a child taking the stairs two at a time on Christmas morning.

"We need you guys up here,” Nora insisted urgently, waving them toward her without taking her eyes off the camera screen that Beret had tilted in her direction. Scottie hesitated and instinctively looked at Will whose face tightened just slightly. There were four steps between him and Nora.

 “Uh,” Cory said, looking directly, pointedly, cripplingly awkwardly, at Will.

“Oh, can’t you just get up for a minute? Cory, will you just help him walk up the steps, it seriously takes one second,” Nora demanded, finally looking away from the camera screen, face painted in makeup and ultimately impassive. “It’s important.” She looked like she might implode, sending the gazebo scorching and crumbling to the ground.

“Can’t do that,” Will replied pointblank, feeling the prickles of irritation at the back of his neck as his face darkened. A mental black cloud gathered steadily, though the sky remained a brilliant sheet of light above him. He tried to conjure a breeze to blow the familiar shade away, but the gloom held hard. Nora knew how to make him feel like gum on the bottom of a shoe. “I don’t use a wheelchair for the attention, Nora, though unintended, that’s a terrific upside,” his voice was threaded thin, bracing itself against his desire not to waver or crack, not to give himself away. He heard Scottie snicker and it gave him a breath of confidence. “I can’t walk—not even for a minute or one second. I can’t stand up. I can’t feel or move my legs. At all. So, let’s figure something else out.” There were rumblings of conversation, but a ripple went through the group—eyes darted to shoes for refuge, hands were shoved in pockets, lips were snatched between teeth and bared down upon. Will’s tone was clipped.

Nora’s face went paler, if that was even possible, for a second as she processed what he had said. She opened her mouth but, perhaps thinking better of it, closed it again. She swallowed and then turned to Cory, chiding him in her gaze for never explaining the full situation. He flinched as if he’d been slapped, but retreated into his own cowardice and inability to discuss anything of consequence with words.

Scottie regarded Nora, disturbed by her flippancy. Scottie didn’t know Will, but she would never have bated him into disclosing his necessity for a wheelchair, which he presumably would discard if he was able, in front of a group of people he barely knew. A gazebo picture wasn’t worth publicly embarrassing the best man of your freshly minted husband, no matter how good Beret said the lighting was.

Nora felt suddenly violent toward everyone’s silence.

“So, I put my foot in my mouth,” she snapped, “so fucking what?”

“Let me give you the old piggy back ride,” Nick—Will, Pete and Cory’s fourth Beatle, the rhythm and peace keeper, the Xanax, the proverbial drummer in the band—chimed, stepping toward him and cocking his head as if to really say “this bitch ain’t worth it.”

“Can’t we just take the photo in front of the gazebo?” Scottie asked, partially blind to what she was stepping into as the alcohol swirled through her warmly. Will genuinely appreciated Nick and Scottie trying to help, but with Nora, he’d learned the hard way. It was best to try and accommodate, even if you didn’t fucking feel like it. And he didn’t feel like being carried up the steps like a toddler, or a sack of Yukon potatoes. He took a deep breath.

 “No,” Nora snapped at Scottie, considering her with out-and-out acid.

 "I got him," interjected Cory. It was forced and uncomfortable. The conman of chivalry. The king of condescension. Will's face was impassive. 

Rubbing his hands together, he tried to let the frustration drain out of him through a series of deep breaths. It was something they’d taught him during rehab, and though it often worked, he’d never managed it without feeling like a deflated balloon. “Sure, I can make this work. No problem.” He was forcing confidence until he felt it. Fake it until you make it—the hymn every middle schooler chanted in their heads, naïve to the fact that once they started, there was a good chance they’d never ever stop.

 “I’ve got it, Nick, and Cory,” Will said without looking up, as Cory stepped toward him, overeager with a look on his face that Scottie would have liked to smack right off. Skin on skin.

 He turned his chair around and reversed it, so his back wheels were touching the bottom stair. Then he took his left hand and crossed it over his body, grabbing on to his right wheel. With his other hand on the railing he took a deep breath and relished Scottie watching him. She just stood there, a tower of composure, without offering to help, hands on her hips, with that little smirk on her face that challenged him—no, dared him—to do it on his own. He raised his eyebrows and smiled for a quick second, summoning confidence he did not have.

 “Okay,” he said, keeping his eyes on Scottie. “I just learned how to do this, so, here goes nothing.” He gave a nervous little laugh that sounded like it had come from a child afraid of the dark, only to see there was nothing to fear with the light switch flipped. He jerked his hand—the one on the wheel—in an upward motion and the entire chair rose up onto the step. His chest flooded with warm relief since he hadn’t ever tried this particular maneuver. It was something that he’d learned during a descent into a dark YouTube tar pit of nifty wheelchair loopholes on a particularly rainy Thursday night. In practice however, he noticed his feet sliding back slightly on the footplate. He was on a severe angle and the calf strap wasn’t doing its job.

 Scottie didn’t break their gaze and offered a small smile and slight nod, so quiet he knew no one else had seen. He smiled back, a weak, strained, teeth-clenched smile. He was using all of his bodily strength to keep himself there, his arms twitching. But he’d started, and so, he had to follow through.

He did it again. And again. And finally, one more time. Scottie realized her mouth was open. She closed it, embarrassed and unsure how long it had been like that. She was too enthralled with the physical feat unfolding in front of her. Will threw both of his arms up in triumph like he’d just crossed the finish line, ripping through the tape, and Scottie beamed at him. Cory gave him a fist bump and said something Scottie couldn’t hear because Nora’s voice hit her like a punch.

“Let’s go, Scottie. I expected Will to hold us up, but not you,” Her voice was edgy and jagged, a cluster of rocks at the bottom of a cliff.

 "Okay,” Scottie replied meekly, hating the sound of her mouse voice, lifting her dress and walking up the steps to stand by her best friend’s side. She could smile through it, through one more picture.

What’s one more?


 <>

Scottie stood, or wobbled rather, to spill her speech to the congregation. She’d been pushing food around her plate, listening to a college friend of Cory’s drone on about the morality of tax reform. In his defense, she kept nodding, but her voice was droll and thick as she repeated the articulate phrase “uh huh” with rapidly dwindling enthusiasm.

 Poor Will had been stuck on the right hand of the sister—Maura. Insufferable, a poor man’s Nora, with eyes that shone with spite and a personality soaked in bitterness, Diet Coke, and Captain Morgan’s white rum. She had that kind of temper that didn’t induce slapping or yelling—she’d simply claw you to shreds.

 As Scottie stepped out onto the dance floor, she fought the instinct to retreat and crawl under one of the tables. She’d wished for Maura’s feral tenacity for the first time in her life to keep the instinct at bay. Pulling six crumpled JetBlue napkins out of her purse, she fanned them out in her hand, trying to figure out which one was the opener. She’d imagined her speech to be a spattering of glittering diamonds for all to see and admire, but opening her mouth raked her back to her unstable feet and the mush of words she was trying to untangle. She’d written everything down on the plane yesterday for safety, but staring at the scribble under the hot lights didn’t feel like safety.

Her ankle was threatening to buckle and a few people in the crowd laughed. Scottie looked up and smiled that winning smile.

“Heels and gin don’t mix that well,” she quipped. The joke landed square on the landing pad—probably because the audience had had plenty of gin themselves and heels were scattered about under the various tables. It was the bare feet on the dance floor hour at last and Scottie refused to take part, on principal. She smiled again, this time harder. Shoving her earlier frustration with Nora deep out of her head, she began. She felt extremely grateful in this moment for her extremely high alcohol tolerance. She was drunk, yes, but still a few away from sloppy. Still her lips felt thick as she began. This was the important stuff, right Cory?

“So,” She began as Nora beamed at her and yanked at those little strings hanging off her heart. Fuck it. “This is a wild day. I can’t believe I’m standing here in this dress that doesn’t fit me. Why doesn’t it fit me you ask?” She regarded the room—people were smiling at her, expectations high, waiting for the punchline. She took a deep breath. “Well, turns out you need to try on a bridesmaid dress before the morning of the wedding. Because in case it doesn’t fit you, no one will have time to alter it for you. You’ll have to run to your mother’s trusty tailor, a lovely older woman named Magda, to literally pin you into it. It’s held this long, but I’m going to have to go back to her after this is all over and have her unpin me. Not who you think you’ll end up going home with after a wedding.” She winked at no one in particular and there was an eruption—the mood light, glasses full, and Scottie was seeing it all a little fuzzy and pink. She could hear Will’s rich laugh above everyone else’s. Was that because he was louder? Or because he was the only one her ear, and the rest of her for that matter, wanted?

“This is why I need Nora. Had she known, she never would have allowed me to wait until the morning of the wedding to try the damn dress on,” she said simply. A corner of the room roared at the thought of Nora being disorganized and Scottie felt a genuine smile sweep across her features.

“She saved my ass in college. Without her,” Scottie shrugged, “who knows where I’d be? I came into college completely lost, and who did I get? Nora Callahan. A gift from the gods.”

 “She kept me on track, gave in to me when I needed it, and put her foot down when I needed that, which was most of the time. I have her to thank for being the spring board to, well, the rest of my life. I don’t have a great family. I never did.” Scottie cringed and swallowed hard thinking of her mom and her sister. Immediately she cursed the twisted part of her brain that had written that slimy sentence on the napkin. She blamed the thin airplane air, the fact that she always got emotional on planes, and the fact that she was actually emotional when she got on that damn plane. Fucking J.J.

 “Nora is my family.” Scottie looked directly at Nora and saw the girl she knew, not the one who’d forced Tate to climb the stairs at the gazebo earlier, but the one who stayed up late and ordered Joe's Pizza after they split a 6 pack of Corona, after a bit of convincing, of course. The one who could make her laugh even when she was in the darkest place. The one who’d held her earlier, after her anger gave way to the fear underneath that something might have happened to her best friend. On Scottie’s diploma, the blooming wide script of her name should have read Nora Katherine Callahan instead.

 Scottie was overtaken by the conflict inside of her, the pressure of tears building, pressing against the back of her eyes, threatening to expose her. The beautiful sheer power of how much she loved Nora, how she saw her as a kind of saving grace, and also the wretched ugliness how much she resented her, how much she reviled her smug face. How Scottie could wish her all the happiness in the world, truly, blindly, without agenda, but fuck her fiancé a month before the wedding in a seedy hotel room for no reason of consequence other than she thought she loved the groom, then deceive her while she laid herself bare in her goddamn wedding dress. It was almost incomprehensible. It felt as if Scottie was reflecting on the actions of another person—a thoughtless, horrific, sick, utterly selfish person. She took a deep breath, and like she was simply a jumping off a cliff willingly, she continued. 

“They found love where most people wouldn’t look. And that is what makes this couple so special. They are inspired. To Cory, my first friend in New York, and to Nora, my best friend in the world. I couldn’t be happier for you both.” She wanted to add, “To Cory, my first love,” but she bit her tongue, thanking God she had enough sense left, even with all the alcohol, to stop the words from skittering out.  Scottie raised her glass into the air and everyone followed suit. She had to swallow the champagne quickly to keep herself from tearing open with vomit. Trembling, mouth shut tightly, she made her way back to her seat and lowered herself down, feeling the hot flame in her cheeks. She wasn’t lying but she also wasn’t telling the truth. She didn’t even know what the truth was. Then she felt a rough hand on her shoulder, a blue gaze, a slight squeeze.

“Game, set, match,” he whispered. The warmth of his breath on her ear sent a shiver down her back and she put her hand on his before he pulled it away and glided over the smooth wood of the dance floor, like a stone skipping across a glass lake, coming to a swift stop in front of the couple’s table. It was, oddly…sexy.

“Hi everyone,” he said, his blue eyes flashing, seemingly struck with a sudden case of acute shyness. He glanced at Cory, then back out over the clusters of tables like he’d forgotten the words to a song he should have known. And then, like a shifting cloud, it passed—his light was back.

“Cory,” he said into the mic, “I’ve known you my entire life. Literally, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know you. Every story I tell about growing up includes you, Nick, and Pete, and it’s a damn shame because I’d love to tell a good story for once.” The room warmed with chuckles and murmured memories. Will laughed too, thinking about them as kids, untethered and untamed, back when he still had his legs. Things didn’t used to be complicated—things used to be about who could swim out to the rocky spit of land in the middle of the lake the fastest, who could scramble to the top of the willow tree without falling, who could do a wheelie on their bike the highest down the hill at the end of the Winslow Street. Will laughed hollowly at the last one, knowing he’d at least have the wheelie event cornered these days. Unwittingly, he flashed to Cory leaning over him at the hospital, seeing it all as if he was underwater—his breath stale and hot, eyes irrational and wired, like he’d gone ahead and cracked up. His mouth was moving, and but Will couldn't parse out what he was saying. It was a string of frantic apologies as he was being wheeled into surgery. There was something manic and bone chilling about the look in his eyes. But Will wouldn’t let himself travel there. Not now. Not here. 

An ache, primal and complex, rose in his chest as he thought about Scottie. He could see her out of the corner of his eye and he knew how much he wanted her. But what would she want in him? He looked around the room and noted how much competition there really was. What would a woman like that want with a gimp? As he switched the microphone over to his other hand, the one that wasn’t shaking as much, he rolled forward a bit and his face colored. He’d kill to be able to turn his embarrassment off—or at least the physical ramifications of it. A speech was just one word after another after another after another. That was all he had to do. He’d been through worse. This was just another difficult experience—another difficult thing he had to get through.

And after all, what’s one more?

<>

Scottie was sitting on the house steps alone, picking at the peeling cream paint on the rickety railing, having slipped out of the reception when Max had disappeared into the matted crowd to find Edwin. She didn’t want to talk to—or smile at—anyone anymore.

She had no idea what time it was, her phone was long dead, and she’d never worn at watch, and she sure as hell didn’t feel like asking anyone. She was three quarters of the way through another drink with a full one next to her, waiting in the wings. A loyal soldier she thought darkly. Her speech was playing like Taxi TV in her head, obliviously loud and bright, on repeat. She felt bile rising in her throat. What kind of fucking friend was she? Taking another sip, she closed her eyes and leaned her head against the railing, letting out a heavy sigh. She was very drunk and very tired, and she’d never felt like more of a coward.

“Hey,” she heard his rich velvet voice before she felt his touch, a gentle hand on her shoulder. Opening her eyes his blue gaze warmed her. She’d thought he’d left since she hadn’t seen him since his speech. The one where there hadn’t been a dry fucking eye in the room—yeah, that one. He had two drinks situated securely between his legs. “Sorry,” he said as he took her in, so close that his leg was brushing her arm. She liked looking up at him and supposed it was something he wasn’t much used to.  

“Oh, no, it’s okay,” she said, and oddly, she meant it. She smiled weakly, but it was sincere as a girl scout. She wasn’t hiding from him, girl scout’s honor.

“I needed some air,” he replied, shrugging. “And to start drinking again.”

“Me too,” she replied, taking the hand he extended to her. 

Will let go of her hand, reaching down to lock the wheels of his chair. He sighed deeply and met her inquisitive gaze before taking a sip of his own drink, running his free hand through his hair and ruffling it a bit. Her hair, on the other hand, didn’t need any ruffling. It was unquestionably ruffled already—falling loose in tresses, all over the place. She tried to tuck it behind her ears, but the curls were beginning to return, kinking in every direction. 

“Are you okay?” he asked, voice warm and soothing, full well knowing he wouldn’t get an honest answer. She played things close, kept the doors locked and the windows shuttered. He knew it from taking one look at her.

“Are you?” she counted smartly, gazing up at him, green eyes glinting like coins.

Before he spoke he looked back at her thoughtfully. He had to crack her, but she wasn’t going to be easy. He pivoted, feeling rash, and decided to show his hand, rather than shield it. “Well,” he huffed, leaning back placing his drink between his legs and crossing his arms. “Aside from what I expected, the brutal small talk with Cory’s parents, about how I look good for someone who’s had a tough life, to answering questions that people weirdly feel like it’s okay to ask after a few beers, that frankly, embarrass me, and pretending that I’m completely fine with not being able to dance? I’m okay, yeah.”

She looked back up at him and felt her eyes wobble. He felt it, too. An understanding passed between them, something that lived below the surface. But then it passed and an unexpected smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, like her lips were being drawn up with a marionette string.

“Embarrassing questions, huh?” she toyed. He pursed his lips and smirked, looking out into the expansive shadowed yard before looking back at her.

“Let me ask you something,” he said, leaning forward with his forearms on his knees. “If you asked someone how they have sex, and they said, oh, say, that they liked the inverted cowgirl in particular, and felt like doggy style was, frankly, overrated, would you take offense to that?” Scottie stared at him, her whole face alight, laughter threatening to break the dam sealed by her coy pink lips. Will took a mental picture, stowing the photo away for safekeeping. He wanted her to look at him like that again, and again, and again.

She looked down at her hands and shook her head, silently checking herself—she liked this guy. Turning back to look up at him she said, “You went blue, huh?”

“If a few beers gives you license,” he said leaning back and shrugging with a smirk.

“If you can’t beat ‘em,” Scottie quipped, taking another sip of her drink.

“Join ‘em,” he finished, reaching for his drink and mimicking her sip down to the contented sigh as the burn reached the back of his throat. He usually didn’t drink this much. Pleasantly blurry and buoyed, his head cocked slightly to the left as he watched her narrow her eyes, hawk-like, and concentrating on a particularly interesting spot in the epic dark distance. Being current city folk, they weren’t used to this kind of night, this kind of quiet. But being born and bred country folk, cherishing the pearls of nostalgia, they welcomed it warmly. Of course, they didn’t know this about each other just yet.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Will asked politely, already anticipating her answer but wary of appearing presumptuous. She radiated skittishness.

“Please,” she asked quietly needy, turning from the shadowed spot in the distance, to the half-gone drink in her palm to his eerily familiar face. The vulnerability in her voice pulled at him.

“Okay,” he replied quickly—too quickly—hesitation thrown to the wind. Suffering from mild embarrassment, he leaned back in his chair and took a generous sip.

“Down here,” she said, patting the step. He laughed loud and blunt, like a punch, quite sure she was kidding. She raised an eyebrow and it became crystal clear that she, in fact, wasn’t.

 “Oh,” he blurted clumsily, unable to wrangle his laughter. He was certain he could manage it, but he wasn’t sure he was keen. He regarded her for a moment and she leaned boldly into it, not breaking eye contact. There was no gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar. Not a damn whisper of it. “Okay, okay, okay,” he said after a heady moment, smirking at her misguided perseverance, “but I assure you it’s graceless. I’m no swan.” She chuckled before he cut her off sardonically. “No laughing either.” With pursed lips she watched him delicately unfold himself from his mandated manner of independence.

 He passed his first drink to her delicate waiting hand and then his untouched second, which she noted, was a gin and tonic—her drink. Once they were securely by her backup drink, he picked up each of his legs—often slippery and elusive as fish—and gingerly placed them on the ground, one by one, like he was getting ready to leap into the air. What a thought! Shifting into autopilot, he positioned his hands and lifted himself up using his arms, the muscles rippling slightly at the strain of maneuvering his own weight.  He lowered himself down with measured movements, letting each inch slide slowly into the next. He couldn’t feel the porch under him, but he smiled when he was level with her. She still hadn’t broken away, her eyes were hooked into him, her stare unflinching. There had been no demure glance to the side to afford him any privacy, no slight of hand to produce a phone full of distractions upon caving to the kind of second hand embarrassment that seemed to cripple so many others who had known him longer, known him before, and seen him in less compromising positions. He pushed his legs forward and untwisted them—something that charmingly seemed to be a trifling side effect of paralysis—and set his impeccable dress shoes two steps down where his legs slumped—another trifling—against each other to one side

“No applause, please,” he boasted sarcastically as Scottie produced his drink.  He shrugged out of his tux jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.

“How tall are you?” Her voice was quiet, but she was still unable to peel her scrutiny from his face.

“Six feet four inches. One ninety soaking wet,” he answered quickly, feeling particular fond of her consequential use of the present tense. She nodded.

“You’re all legs,” she commented, her eyes sliding down him in a way that made him feel a bit like he was undressing in front of her. He wasn’t entirely upset with it.

“Tell me about it.”

They sat next to each other in a content quiet, listening to the party barrel on behind them, a kind of spastic static screaming in the distance that seemed further and further away with each passing minute. Will turned away from Scottie, afraid the smell of her that close would knock him sideways, splayed and plain. He wanted to kiss her. Instead he took a sip from his drink and swished the whiskey around in his mouth like it was goddamn Listerine. One of his legs twitched like a rat in a trap and he pressed a hand down hard on his boney knee to steady it.

“Aren’t you...” Scottie implored but trailed off in cloudy confusion, watching his hand. He laughed hollowly and took another sip of his drink. He twirled the glass back and forth between his palms, looking at nothing in particular, purposely blurring his vision.

 “I am,” he said as if he were reading off a shopping list.

“Am what?” Scottie asked.

“Paralyzed,” he pressed the word like a button, looking down at his legs for a second and letting out a soft chuckle. Scottie followed his gaze. She could almost make out the outline of his wasted calves. 

“Oh,” she replied nodding and taking a big sip of her drink, emptying the glass down to the ice cubes. His blue eyes roved over her like a search light. “We might as well be honest with each other,” she continued bluntly, “I have no idea what to fucking say to that.” She barely managed the words before she burst laughing at her lack of diplomacy.

“I honestly don’t have any fucking idea either,” he replied, surprised at how endearing her scarcity of tact was. There was so little of it, it was almost tactful. He let out a low laugh that was different than before—it didn’t have a dragging beat of sadness to it. 

“How did you do that then?” Scottie asked, leaning in to examine his leg, like it was a prized exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. She laid her hand delicately on his thigh. She wasn't afraid to touch him and that sent him soaring. 

“What is this?” he snickered, “A freak show?” Scottie snapped back up like a rubber band and nodded vigorously. He laughed again, this time it was heartier. Scottie smile was megawatt. 

“It’s involuntary. Like a twitch.”

“No…” Scottie said looking from his face to his legs back to his face again. Her mouth was slightly open as he nodded with an incredulous smile. Drink to lips. Repeat.

“I think the drink is gone,” Will teased leaning back on his elbows. She smiled knowingly. 

“Can’t take you anywhere,” she goaded. His mouth quirked sharply up to one side. 

“It only happens when I’m like….tired. Or…”

“Or drunk?” she interjected. He nodded smartly.

“That’ll do it, too.”

Scottie hungered to know more. But she couldn’t ask—her tongue was too heavy in her mouth and hard as lead. She knew she couldn’t conjure the kind of empathy—the colossal amount that she would need to respond correctly in that moment, not that she thought there was really even a correct way to respond. She was up shit creek without a paddle on this one. Will seemed like a reasonable, rational man, but tenderness was funny. She couldn’t slice him open just yet, not with knowing full well the rigid way that pain set in like iron if you didn’t stretch it open every once and a while. She was too bone tired, too piss drunk, too mired in mud. This conversation might set their course and she wasn’t ready to have it—and, by the way he sipped the last of his drink and fidgeted with his hands, she had a feeling he was anticipating, but dreading, her curious bite.

“That makes two of us,” she granted, hearing a slight slur in the upturn of her words and realizing she wasn’t as embarrassed as she probably should have been. She reached for one of the two drinks behind her and handed the other to Will.

“I shouldn’t,” he groaned and shook his head wearily, but took a sip anyway. The makeup Scottie had applied around his eye earlier had been rubbed mostly off, revealing a marbled purple underbelly.

“Today was weird,” Scottie remarked, realizing as the sound escaped her mouth that she was actually making sound. Words tumbling out of her mouth uninvited and unwelcome. “I mean, I, well, since we’re being honest, I have no idea why I said that out loud.”

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Will responded with a daring tone. “If we’re, you know, being honest with each other.” This could be a chance to place a wedge, get a bit closer.

“What?”

“Today was weird because when Cory asked me to be his best man first, out of, well, guilt, and I said no, out of principle. I wasn’t who he wanted to ask. Then he asked my twin, Pete. Then Pete couldn’t be here and I only said yes a few days ago because he begged,” Will divulged cursorily before he could be afflicted with a bad case of keep-it-the-fuck-to-yourself. She considered him, her expression scrawled and illegible. Licking her lips, she looked down at her drink, gave it a good swirl, then callously flipped the glass, spilling the liquor all over the steps in front of her. What the hell did she have to lose?

But before Scottie could even take a breath to tell Will that she’d slept with the groom, not one drunken night, but habitually, like the addict that her sister was, the man himself stumbled through the screen door, hinges complaining at their attacker. He was Jell-O on his feet, pointing at least twenty-five degrees left of true north as he stumbled toward them, dragging heavy legs through quicksand. Scottie covered her eyes as if it might make her invisible, she felt wrung out inside.

“After party,” he mumbled, making a circling motion with his right index finger. “Shut it down,” he lobbed the comment at Will and Scottie, something flashing dangerously, like headlights on a careening car, in his brown eyes. Cory swallowed a tight knot of jealousy looking at Scottie and it startled him as his beloved-till-death-do-us-part wrapped herself around his waist like a serpent, the rest of the wedding party bursting at the seams of the house and spilling down into the dark grass behind her.

Will eyed Scottie for a second and set the rest of the drink down. He didn’t need it. He wanted to be present with her. He reached for the cushioned seat of his chair and his hand slipped a bit forward. Taking a deep breath and repositioned himself, readying for the ascent.

“Drinking makes everything harder,” Scottie whispered to him. His blue eyes flashed at her and she braced herself against the tide, not knowing which way it would turn.

“Some things harder, some things easier,” he quipped, winking at her and smiling before trying again. The relief was intoxicating, that was, until the drunk man returned.

“My dude,” came Cory’s voice, slick and oily with whiskey. He deposited Nora in one of the big wooden rocking chairs and she swayed like a rag doll tossed aside. “Let me help,” he garbled as he stumbled toward us, holding out his hand.

“Nah,” Will managed, recoiling like Cory was holding out a poisonous snake, despite the fact that he had already started lifting himself. “I’ve got it, man.”

“No, no, I insist,” Cory declared, stepping in front of Scottie. She shot up, eager to get out of his blundering way, but she wasn’t deft enough. He caught the bottom of her dress under the sole of his shoe and it dipped treacherously, threatening nipple exposure. She hastily tugged on the fabric, but Cory, despite his wobbling gait, held his ground. Her hands remained protectively over her boobs.

“No,” Will said. He had almost had it, but Cory impeded him by reaching intrusively under his arms, disrupting the flow of movement, tripping into the practiced dance. Will jerked the part of his body he could control on contact, but Cory had a vice grip and the significant advantage of jurisdiction over his lower body. He intercepted Will in flight and dumped him back in his wheelchair with all the poise of a bull in a china shop. Clouds descended on Will’s face like watching a storm in speed motion. 

“Happy to help,” Cory bayed dumbly, Will’s eyes hard as jewels, his body rigid stone. His legs were rubber, twisted on the wooden floor, the footplate vacant. He felt that familiar, blistering frustration bubble.

“Thanks” Will growled, Cory—finally—seeming to register the tone he’d set, unconcerned and tone deaf. 

“Sorry,” he balked, sounding anything but. Giving Will a hard clap on the back without warning, he turned back to Nora, mumbling not so quietly a “fuck you” under his stale breath. Will pitched forward, catching himself with his hands on his knees, just before his feet, unfeeling and out of control, skated out from under him.  Will straightened himself and lifted his legs from under the knee, positioning them cautiously on the footplate. Scottie wanted to say something, anything, but nothing came. Her tongue was heavy. Her drink was history, spilled, glistening on the steps in front of her. So, she just stood there feeling a fool.

Will looked up at her wistfully, rubbing his left forearm. She saw him register the disgust on her face and she hoped he knew it was directed at Cory, rather than him getting back into his chair. 


“Why are you holding your boobs?” He asked bluntly, trying to play it straight, but there was a whisper of a smile on his face.

“Oh,” she said, looking down at her hands, which were inexcusably, undoubtedly, and firmly planted on her chest.

“During that whole…” she motioned with her hand at the space where Will had been sitting on the step. “Scene, Um, Cory almost pulled this thing down with his stupid lumbering foot,” she shrugged, fighting the giggle rising in her throat just as Will started laughing.

Cigarette smoke threaded between them, drifting lazily from the mass of people clustered around the front, as cars for the after party started pulling into the drive. Turning and letting out a sigh, Will effortlessly bumped himself down each step with his feet slightly up in the air, a wheelie extraordinaire. Scottie was admittedly impressed at his ability to recover from Cory’s spit-in-your-face brand of disrespect. Also, with his ability to traverse stairs. She felt her breath catch in her throat a little bit as she followed him like a shadow.

“Are you…” she trailed off. Her head was swimming, or perhaps drowning, with gin despite the sobering effect Cory’s performance had rendered.

“Yes,” he replied quickly, gazing up at her, reading her mind’s page, eyes lit up grey blue and smile sincere. He reached confidently for her hand and squeezed it soothingly. She didn’t push him anymore, but he held onto her hand for another swollen and silent minute, and that, oddly, felt like enough.