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.
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.
“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.