Scottie had agreed to meet Nora in the Lower East Side at a place called Kind Regards. Waxing poetic, as Nora had a propensity to do, about her “new spot"and Scottie had yielded, like she had a propensity to do when it came to Nora. She wasn’t in the mood to socialize, her mother had been in rare form the last few times she'd gone to visit, and it put her in the sourest of moods. She was a heavy dark cloud and just longed to lie on the couch in her pajamas watching the Food Network. But she'd hunkered down since the wedding, practically burrowing into herself. So she ran her fingers through her hair, slapped some make-up on, and forced herself out the door. She came back to New York to start fresh and that was what she planned on doing. Going out with Nora was something she just had to do, yet she hated feeling like it was an obligation—it never used to be that way. She wasn’t sure if she should be blaming herself or Nora.
She had spent the better part of the last ten days getting herself together. First, she’d visited her mom every other day, and she seemed better than she had been in Scottie’s memory. Scottie knew she wouldn’t get better, but there was something comforting about knowing she was done using. It was like a breath of fresh air, one tiny weight lifted. But on the other hand, a heavier weight seemed to be descending—Sara. Sara had taken to calling every morning around 10:30AM EST and Scottie had taken to ignoring the calls. If her sister could sleep with her live-in boyfriend then have the audacity not only to not apologize, but to ask for money, then Scottie could have the audacity to not answer her calls. Her addiction had suddenly become inconsequential and Scottie bit into her pettiness like a starving woman. Sara would find a way back in, Scottie knew that. But Scottie was determined to grab hold of her sovereignty. That’s why she cleaned herself up—cut back on the alcohol, bought groceries, and drank some water for God’s sake. Then she got her hair cut and colored, got a wax, got a manicure and pedicure, sent out her resume to five agencies, listed herself on a few freelance websites, and shaved her goddamn legs.
The apartment where she’d been living had belonged to her grandparents, on her mom’s side, who had made quite a lot of money over the years. They were both architects, and bought the place in New York—a three-bedroom duplex on Cornelia Street—after moving from St. Louis. And a month later, Andrew Martin, Scottie’s grandfather, dropped dead of a heart attack on the 6-train platform. It was all a big to-do. Catherine, Scottie’s mother, had been seventeen at the time, newly pregnant, and hopelessly in love with Scottie’s dad, the scoundrel, Theodore Scott. They talked of marriage, but it never happened. Theodore moved on, and Catherine and the girls moved into the duplex a few years later.
After Anna Martin died, Scottie’s grandmother, they found they each had been left some money. But after Sara got into Catherine’s Oxy, then into heroin, her share was put under Catherine’s conservatorship. And now being that Catherine was mentally incompetent, after her run-of-the-mill overdose almost a decade ago, everything now, in that moment and probably for the rest of time judging on how often brain damage reversed, rested uncomfortably in Scottie’s lap. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was in way over her head. But it was how she was able to support herself without having any incoming money for the time being, and for that, she supposed, she was thankful.
Taking a sip of the negroni the bartender had just put in front of her, Scottie rubbed her temples. Maybe Nora wouldn’t show up.
“Good, you started without me,” Nora’s voice rang behind her as she saddled up next to Scottie at the bar. She looked pretty with her red hair half up, long gold tassel earrings, a flowing dark green silk top with dark skinny jeans and funky heel with buckles around her little ankles. Her lips were lathered with a rich red lipstick and her eye makeup looked professionally done. Scottie wondered absently if it was professionally done, since that felt like something Nora would spend money on. Scottie looked down at her own outfit, ripped black jeans, a grey crewneck t-shirt that was too big on her now, and nude platform sandals that she lived in in LA. She had an old leather jacket slung over the chair behind her and had barely managed to run some blush over her olive-skinned cheeks. Her freckles were on full display, and she bit her lip as she eyed Nora’s creamy smooth complexion. She was glowing.
“Marriage agrees with you,” Scottie offered, smiling slightly as she took a sip of her drink.
“Martini, Ketel, with a twist,” Nora yapped at the lanky bartender before she turned to face Scottie. Her smile was wide and seemed genuine. “I know,” she gushed. “It’s just, well, it’s just so hard to believe. I can’t believe Cory Rhodes is all mine.” Scottie smiled tightly and nodded, taking another sip to dull the knife-sharp pang of guilt in her chest. “Legally, mine,” Nora added, smiling a little manically and tossing her red tresses behind her shoulder.
“And the honeymoon?” Scottie forced herself to ask.
“Oh that little trip to Greece? That was just to tide us over to the real honeymoon in the fall.”
“Oh,” Scottie said quietly. Nora played with a lock of vibrant hair.
“I really wanted to go to the south Pacific,” Nora mused. Scottie didn’t respond, feeling a touch ill.
“So…” she said, drawing out the word and looking at Scottie knowingly.
“So?” Scottie asked, opting to be intentionally dense.
“So, you enjoyed yourself at the wedding.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
“I did,” Scottie replied, taking a sip.
“Go home with anyone?” she asked demurely, reaching for the martini before the bartender was even able to place it on the bar. Scottie knew that Nora already knew the answer to that question, and she didn’t feel like giving her the satisfaction of saying it out loud.
“Nope,” Scottie answered, flashing her a “fuck you” smile. Nora smacked her in the arm causing her to spill some of her drink all over her hand. “Jesus, fuck, Nora.”
“Sorry,” she apologized without a hint of meaning it and turned back toward the bar, scanning the room as if looking for someone. Scottie wiped her hand off with a napkin and leaned back on the stool.
“Fine,” she said after Nora refused to talk first.
“Fine?” Nora asked, addressing the menu instead of Scottie. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at the back of her friend’s head.
“What do you want me to say?” she asked.
“Is there something to say?” Nora replied innocently.
“I went with him,” Scottie said finally. “Happy?”
“Who’s him?” she asked, still refusing to look at Scottie. The menu must have been the most interesting menu in the world by the concentration painted on Nora’s face.
“Can we not play this game?” Scottie huffed. “Nothing happened anyway,” she added after a minute, unsure why she omitted the kiss they’d shared in his car. The kiss had been all she’d been thinking about in quiet moments. She didn’t know what it meant, but she knew she wanted to do it again. She’d just been trying to distract herself from that spark that had almost knocked her sideways. She could smell him near her when she closer her eyes—fresh and clean, like Irish Spring soap. Then she remembered how she’d fled and felt a pit of shame in her stomach. She had known he wouldn’t have been able to chase after her and that felt particularly underhanded of her to exploit.
“Nothing happened?” she asked, skeptically, finally turning back to look at Scottie. Scottie shrugged and shook her head, taking a sip. “Well, that makes sense. I figured he probably couldn’t,” she hesitated, “you know.”
“Have sex?” Scottie finished bluntly. Nora’s face went scarlet. “What are we? Twelve?”
“Well, yeah, I mean how could he?” she replied dismissively, ignoring Scottie’s dig.
“I’m sure he’s figured out a way,” Scottie remarked rolling her eyes. “Besides, that had nothing to do with it. I was too goddamn drunk. I was a fucking mess and he had to put me to bed. He carried me from the cab to his apartment.”
“How?” Nora questioned incredulously.
“I have no idea,” Scottie said miserably putting her face in her hands. “I don’t remember it at all.” Nora snorted and took another sip of her martini.
“You like him, don’t you,” she asked after a minute. Scottie could hear her tapping her foot—a nervous habit. “Oh, wow, you do, look at your face,” she finished smiling condescendingly. Scottie hadn’t even felt her face flush, but she put her hands on her cheeks and they were hot. She let out a sigh.
“I think so, yeah,” she confessed.
“Well that’s” Nora hesitated, searching for her next word. She settled on “cute.” Scottie took a sip of her drink to keep from screaming at her. Their friendship didn’t used to be this hard. “He must have a good personality I’ve never seen,” she continued thoughtfully, as if it had never occurred to her before.
“He does, he has a great personality,” Scottie snapped, feeling prickly.
“I guess he is hot. I think Pete is hot, and he’s got the same face,” she said sympathetically, her eyes faraway.
“He’s objectively hot,” Scottie argued, looking at Nora skeptically.
“Right but, you know,” she replied, shuddering.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Scottie said flatly, finishing her drink and signaling the bartender for another one.
“You say that now, but like, imagine your whole life with him,” Nora said, turning to stare at Scottie. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t like Nora’s eyes on her, so she turned her gaze down to her platforms.
“Oh my god,” she whispered, bringing her hands to her mouth. “You’ve thought about it.” Scottie shook her head lamely. She’d thought about it quicker than she’d ever thought about it with anyone—even J.J.. She struggled to imagine their future. Perhaps she knew deep down that they didn’t have one. But with Will? It was different. There was something deeper there—an understanding. And it scared the absolute hell out of her.
“Well I couldn’t date him, for a lot of reasons,” Nora boasted, “but if you date a guy in a wheelchair…well, don’t you worry that people will probably think you couldn’t get anyone better?” She shrugged. Scottie felt oddly calm. She knew Nora was shallow and quick to judge. She’d grown up in a well-to-do family. She still had her sister and she still had both of her parents—physically and mentally. Scottie knew she had her ups and downs just like everyone else, but in the grand scheme of things, Nora hadn’t had much struggle.
“Or they’ll think that I love him,” Scottie replied unequivocally, stirring her drink with the tiny straw—that shouldn’t be served with a negroni to begin with—to keep herself from downing half of it. Nora rolled her eyes and shrugged again. “I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I’m also not even dating him. I don’t even know if he likes me back.” Nora huffed and sipped her drink.
“Fine,” she replied shortly.
“What would you do if that happened to Cory?” Scottie asked pointedly. Nora looked at her strange.
“If what happened to Cory?” she asked.
“What happened to Will. What if he ended up paralyzed?” Nora furrowed her eyebrows.
“But he’s not paralyzed,” Nora replied slowly. Scottie narrowed her eyes.
“Right, I’m asking what if.” Scottie drew out her sentence.
“Right, but why think about it if it isn’t going to happen?” Nora countered, tone pissy.
“Well you don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m sure Will—”
“It’s fucked up that you’re asking me to think about this,” Nora sniped, cutting her off sharply.
“I’m not, I just,” Scottie started then stopped, blowing air out of her mouth. “I’m just trying to ask you to consider how much you love Cory. Love can get you through terrible things.”
“This feels like middle school. Can we discuss something else?” Nora asked, turning away from Scottie and swirling her drink. Scottie felt like she was on the verge of hysterics. “Anyway, if you do end up, doing whatever with him, get him to lay off Cory,” Nora continued, stone faced.
“Lay off Cory?” Scottie asked.
“Yeah,” Nora replied, offering no explanation. It irritated Scottie.
“Lay off how?” Scottie pressed.
“He just made him feel really fucking guilty. And it keeps happening. I can’t console Cory anymore.
I’m tired of it.”
“That doesn’t bode well for marriage,” Scottie quipped, laughing into her drink. Nora shot her a dirty look. “That was a joke,” Scottie lied.
“Sure, it was,” Nora replied, flagging the bartender for another martini. Scottie found herself wondering what she and Nora had in common. They had been best friends, and now they were snapping at each other between gulps of hard alcohol. Scottie waited for Nora to continue. She didn’t start speaking again until she had her second drink in hand and two sips gone.
“Will blames Cory for not being there for him when he got hurt,” Nora replied coldly. “It happened like eight goddamn years ago.” She huffed for good measure.
“Right,” Scottie reasoned, “but he’s still very much living with the consequences.” Nora stared at her like she was speaking another language. “Right?” Scottie pushed.
“I suppose,” she replied finally, taking another sip of the drink. Scottie suddenly realized that Nora knew more about how Will had been paralyzed than she did. It made her uncomfortable, but she didn’t want to hear it from Nora. It wasn’t Nora’s to tell—plus, she knew she’d get a version that wasn’t entirely, or at all, correct.
“Cory went to visit him in the hospital and wasn’t able to make it back again, big deal.”
“When you’re in the hospital for as long as Will was, it kind of is a big deal,” Scottie argued. She felt angry for Will. “And he is, or was, Will’s best friend, right?” Nora shrugged in that irritating way that she’d been doing for years, but it had never bothered Scottie more than it did in that moment.
“Is? Was?” Nora asked no one in particular. “What does it matter?”
“Has Cory tried just, I don’t know, apologizing?” Scottie questioned. Nora shrugged noncommittally.
“He was closer with Pete, honestly, Will was a rule-follower apparently, and they liked to get into trouble. Cory was in the car when the accident happened. I guess it was on some wooded road, you know, in the woods.” Nora said “in the woods” like someone who had never been in the woods.
“So it was a car accident?” Scottie asked, going cold. She swallowed another sip of her drink but almost brought it back up.
“Yeah. He was driving. You didn’t ask?” Scottie couldn’t open her mouth to speak.
“It feels like something he should tell me when he’s ready,” Scottie said after a tense moment.
“I don’t know, I would want to know,” she said casually—too casually. Scottie excused herself to go to the bathroom. She needed a minute without Nora being insufferable. Was she always this insufferable? She couldn’t have been. There was just no way. Scottie also felt light headed thinking about Will in a car accident. Even though it had happened years ago, hearing it out loud made her feel like it was happening right now.
After coaching herself through a deep breathing exercise, she came back out and realized her seat had been taken. Cory was sipping from her drink, leaning on his elbow too comfortably, laughing obnoxiously at something Nora had said. Scottie felt sick all over again and debated whether or not to turn around and stagger back to the bathroom. Then, Cory saw her. She forced a feeble smile and waved once. He beckoned her over and she went, feeling stupid with every step.
“There she is,” Cory chirped, pulling Scottie into a hug. She still tingled at his touch, and he smelled familiar—too familiar. She backed up out of his hug, reaching for her drink to push the thoughts of him—thrusting hard against her, his skin on her skin, whispering in her ear, his hot breath running down her spine—out of her head. She took a huge sip despite her empty stomach.
“Yeah, she just disappeared on me,” Nora laughed, rubbing Scottie’s back as if they weren’t just on the verge of smacking each other in the face.
“I’m fine,” Scottie insisted, plotting her escape from the bar.
“Well good, we’re going somewhere,” Cory said enthusiastically. Scottie rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going anywhere. Cory was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and he looked like an idiot. Still hot, but an idiot nonetheless.
“What is with this getup?” Scottie questioned, giving him a once over.
“It’s Nash’s birthday, and Pete’s too. They’re having something in Brooklyn, and we’re all going,” she said, smiling like it was going to convince Scottie.
“I’m not—” Scottie started to say, but Nora cut her off.
“Scottie has a little bit of a crush,” She smiled devilishly, like she’d just revealed Scottie’s dirtiest darkest secret.
“Thanks for that,” Scottie said tonelessly. Cory’s demeanor shifted slightly. He edged back on the chair, sitting up straight and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Is that so?” he asked Scottie without looking at Nora.
“Yes,” Nora answered quickly, chewing on one of the little drinking straws from her martini.
“When did you meet Pete?” Cory asked, his eyes contracting as he reached over and took another sip of Scottie’s drink, lifting it right out of her hands.
“What?” Nora gasped, “No, Cory, Will, not Pete.” Cory coughed sharply and closed his eyes, handing the drink blindly back to Scottie and hitting himself in the chest with his fist. Scottie felt like joining in with her own fist, except in his face.
“Really? Nash? No way,” Cory pressed. Scottie looked at him, her eyes vibrant in the lighting of the bar. She didn’t appreciate his dubiousness, and she wanted to stand on a barstool with a fucking megaphone and defend Will. But she didn’t feel like he needed her to do that. Cory was an asshole—plain and simple. She could feel his intensity boring into her. He wanted to fuck her. That much she knew. It felt oddly invigorating knowing that Nora was sitting right there. And it also felt incredibly disgusting with Nora sitting right there. But no, Scottie had decided that she was done with Cory. He was married. She was getting her life together. She’d been throwing away the years like tissues—like they never mattered in the first place. She had to take control. That was a promise she’d made to herself when she boarded the plane at LAX. And Cory, to reiterate, was an asshole.
“Yes,” Scottie confirmed, feeling a flicker of pride at choosing honesty over denial. “I like him a lot.”
“You know that being paralyzed doesn’t just affect his ability to walk, right?” Cory supposed meanly, surprising Scottie with his tone. Nora giggled. Scottie reached for her drink and finished it.
“You two are awful,” she said, reaching for her purse on the bar. Her arm brushed Cory’s as she did and she felt him sense at her touch.
“I’m just telling it like it is,” Cory insisted, “Look, I’m the first one to tell you how good of a guy Nash is, but think about it. You really want to saddle yourself to a guy with a serious disability like that for the rest of your life?”
“First of all, fuck you. Second of all, we’re not getting fucking married,” Scottie snapped, crossing her hands over her chest, feeling antsy all of a sudden. She had to get out of there.
“I’m just saying,” he replied, putting his hands up in bogus guilt.
“You’re actually the one who’s married, all that in sickness and in health, always be faithful stuff. That would be an agreement you made, not me,” Scottie said flatly, shooting a dirty look at Nora.
“She’s right, babe,” Nora chimed unflinchingly, “she’s not marrying the guy. Maybe if Will gets some action he’ll lighten up a bit.” She downed the rest of her martini and stood up, signaling for the check.
“Just care about you,” Cory said quietly as Nora huffed and walked around the bar to the other side to get the bartender. He was watching Nora out of the corner of his eye.
“You’re being an ass,” Scottie retorted, “to your best friend, your best man for Christ’s sake. Imagine if he heard you say all this?” Cory looked like she’d just slapped him.
“Thea,” he protested weakly.
“Don’t you dare call me that,” she hissed, clenching her fists, distain for Cory's misguided familiarity flaring through her. “You don’t get to call me that.”
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said, reaching for her arm. She yanked it back like she’d been shocked. He stared at her as Nora turned around and headed back over to them, clutching her receipt.
“I got you, Scottie,” she said, but then she looked up at the two of them, a layer of thick tension, a stretched rubber band threatening to snap back. “What’s up with you two?” Neither of them answered. “You guys are acting fucking weird,” she accused, looking at Cory then back at Scottie before grabbing her bag.
“Sorry babe,” Cory replied flatly without taking his eyes off Scottie’s.
“Let’s go already,” she whined. Cory broke his gaze and stood up, taking Nora’s hand in his.
“I’m not going,” Scottie said lamely, pulling her purse up over her shoulder and grabbing her jacket from behind Cory.
“Don’t be silly,” Cory insisted, “He’ll be disappointed.”
“Oh?” Scottie asked as she pushed past him and toward the door. “Will he?”
“Yes,” Cory admitted, casting his eyes down as they got out onto the sidewalk. Scottie knew her admission of attraction to Will—a man Cory indisputably deemed lesser than him—was killing him. It was a hot night, and Orchard Street was buzzing with people. Scottie could faintly place the smell of garbage.
“In who, exactly?” she sniped. Cory recoiled slightly, his posture bending at the nastiness of her tone. Scottie felt the fight drain out of her. There was nothing else to say. She sighed and rubbed her forehead, brushing her hair off her face. “He didn’t invite me,” Scottie said after a moment, hating the air of desperation in her words.
“That’s my fault,” Cory admitted, “he would have wanted you to come, but he also didn’t want to have the party in the first place. Pete wanted it. I actually can’t believe Pete got Nash to the bar. So that’s why I didn’t mention it.” Scottie had a feeling there was another reason that he wasn’t sharing, but she didn’t push him. Nora tapped her foot on the sidewalk.
“Let’s get a cab,” she moaned, clutching herself dramatically. Scottie to groaned inwardly.
“Okay, okay,” Cory conceded, taking one more hard look at Scottie then turning to throw his hand up on the corner. A cab slowed down and pulled over in front of him.
“You coming?” he turned to ask as he opened the door for Nora. She slid into the car and out of sight.
“I already said no,” Scottie retorted, “I’m not.” Her eyes were flashing, and Cory’s dark ones narrowed for a second before he got in the cab and slammed the door. Rolling down the window he gave her a quick wave and the car sped away down the street.
Scottie stood there, rooted to the spot, hair falling over her face. A group of drunk girls held hands as they ran across the street, barely looking both ways for cars—carefree, lucky, and unburdened. She knew it wasn’t true, but it felt better to imagine them how she wanted—young and free, beautiful and drunk. Not thinking about the question of whether or not Will Nash wanted her to show up to his 30th birthday party after she’d left him hanging in the front seat of his car with the bald-faced ace in her pocket that she could outrun him. She’d already disappointed him once, and she didn’t know what kind of disappointment threshold he had. She might have already blown it.
Ten minutes later she was speeding over the Manhattan Bridge.
Somehow, against his wishes, Will found himself having a 30th birthday party.
He’d said no over and over and over again, and yet here he was, leaning back in his chair, at a mythical place he’d only heard of through the years—Royal Palms Shuffle Board Club in Gowanus. Cory had picked it because he felt like it was their last chance to go there, being that Will and Pete were turning thirty after he already had. And, looking around, Will would have wagered that the median age was probably around twenty-four. The lights were too bright, the Mason jar clad cocktail Pete had bought him was too sweet, and it was too damn loud to hear or say anything meaningful. Cory shouted from the courts throwing his arms in the air. Aiming at Pete, he chucked a biscuit—the giant hockey puck like thing that had been identified by an employee in a navy blue jumpsuit carrying a tray of tequila shots who looked like a plumber on a Carnival cruise. Not that Will had ever been on a Carnival cruise to see what their plumbing employees wore.
And just when this was getting to be almost too much to smile through, he saw her. God dammit, Scottie. He got erratic butterflies in his stomach, skirting the line where his body went dead, and on cue he shifted his weight just to give himself something to do. He’d always been a fidgeter, except he used to fidget with his feet. He wouldn’t even realize it was happening, as the fidget traveled from his foot, to his ankle, up his calf and to his thigh. He’d be rocking and shaking a whole table before someone shouted at him to stop.
In his mind’s eye she was wearing that purple bridesmaid’s dress that she’d hated. She didn’t need a gown, makeup, smooth hair, and high heels. The way she was in that moment was a breath of fresh air—a goddamn natural beauty. She was dressed casually in jeans and a grey t-shirt, with platform sandals that accentuated her height even more. Before he would have been taller than her, but now he came up to her chest. It wasn’t a bad view at least. Her hair was wild as she tried to tuck it behind her ears, scanning the room for a sign of someone she knew. He felt his frustration begin to dissipate from just looking at her as she caught his eye across the courts. She smiled and, though he couldn’t be sure from where he was, it looked like some color had risen in her cheeks. He felt lighter already—she transmitted joy the way that most people passed the flu.
Will steeled himself for her as she rounded the corner near their cabana. Cory had worn board shorts and a Hawaiian top for the occasion and was cheering again. It looked like they were winning, but Will realized he had no idea how to play—he’d only been half listening when the Carnival cruise guide had explained the rules. Plus, when Pete urged him to try and play the cruise guide had visibly laughed. Instead of pressing the issue, Will insisted he didn’t even want to, which he truly meant, and backed away, opting instead to watch them while drinking an overly sugared drink out of a goddamn mason jar.
Scottie motioned to him as she got to the bar and he nodded, mouthing the word beer. She smiled shyly and turned to order. Less than two minutes later she stood in front of him holding two beers, one in each hand. Two of Will’s college friends—Parker and Geoff—were comfortably situated in the rounded booth while Will sat on the only side of the table without it, precariously close to the edge of a single step. He had locked his wheels, which was something he normally didn’t do since he was, as previously mentioned, a fidgeter. Will’s back was to Scottie as she approached but he could tell by the looks on Parker and Geoff’s faces that she was coming up fast.
“May I?” she asked with a warm smile. She was radiant, even more than he remembered. Will’s tongue remained securely weighted in his mouth.
“Of course,” Parker replied, thick eyebrows rising on his dark skin.
“Scottie,” she said, holding a hand out for him to shake. He took it enthusiastically looking at Geoff and Will.
“Parker. This is Geoff,” he replied, motioning to Geoff. “And this is—”
“Oh,” Will interrupted, “Scottie and I know each other.” He reached for the beer in front of her and took a sip, savoring the bitter taste. He pushed the Mason jar to the other side of the table.
“What makes you think that was for you?” she questioned, coyly, leaning toward him. “What if it were for Parker? Or Geoff?” Her smile gravitated to Will’s face. She noticed that casual clothes suited him—a middle ground from the tuxedo she’d met him in and the sweats he’d worn the morning after she’d been too drunk to make it home. His heathered grey t-shirt fit him like a glove, accentuating his strong chest and arms and dark wash jeans met white Stan Smith Adidas sneakers at the footplate. He had a black bomber jacket draped over the back of his chair.
As Scottie wordlessly surveyed him, Will leaned toward her. He had considered giving her the freeze, when she had first walked through the door, the sting of being left in the car still tingling. But she’d appeared, out of thin air, and his sting had flickered out, like a match down to the end. He couldn’t imagine doing anything but smiling back at her.
“I had a hunch,” he murmured, taking another sip, his eyes never wavering from hers.
Scottie studied her appearance in the mirror, feeling extra critical of herself. The lighting wasn’t fair to anyone, but she felt like she looked worse than she usually thought she looked. Self-confidence had never really been something she lacked. She’d always had a knack for taking love well. She knew how to accept it, nourish it, and give it back.
In the hopes of making herself look fresher, she applied another coat of lip stick in a pale pink, just enough to giver he a noticeable glow. Will hadn’t been standoffish like she thought he might have been. She’d expected him to be cold even, but he had been warm, and even warmer after a drink. She felt relief rushing through her the first time he had smiled at her. He had this exceptional quality where he always looked like he was on the verge of a smile and pushing him over the edge absolutely thrilled her. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. She hadn’t even known about it—for good reason—which she planned on apologizing for later. She couldn’t get him out of her head. Maybe it was the beer talking, but she decided that maybe she didn’t have to push him away. Maybe she could take things slowly—one step at a time. This was supposed to be her new beginning. Fluffing her already wildly fluffed hair and tucking a few curls behind her ear, she stepped out of the bathroom and back into the crowded bar. And that’s when she saw Will holding hands with another woman.
Scottie stumbled in her shoes, platform sandals that she never stumbled in, right into Parker who was waiting in line for the men’s room. She had been under the pretense Will had been introducing her to Parker to see what Parker thought of her, and she’d turned it on, dialing things up, exactly how she always had, when she wanted to win someone over. She knew how to talk to anyone, despite being introverted at heart. It was one skill that she knew she’d been blessed with. With Parker, it had been no different. She’d laughed at the right times, brushed his arm at the right cues, told jokes, self-deprecating and situational, that left Parker, Geoff, and Will cracking up. She had done everything right only to realize Parker’s opinion of her didn’t matter.
“Who’s that?” she asked bluntly, gesturing to the blonde woman holding Will’s hand at the table in the back, wrenching herself to keep her voice casual and light. Parker took a sip of his beer, it was almost all foam at the top, and he came away with some of it on his upper lip. Scottie laughed because it was cute. Parker was black, with very dark skin, and lean and tall—probably six five. His black hair was closely shaved, and he had these wide, warm brown eyes that took everything in like he was seeing things for the first time. His fitted blue shirt showed off his substantial biceps. Plus, he laughed easily, but not cheaply, and had this way of speaking that made you listen. He could draw you in. Scottie tried to convince herself she could be interested in Parker if she had to be. But there wasn’t that tug she felt with Will. No one had that same tug and it was beginning to scare her. The dull ache of emptiness threatened to overtake her.
“Kristin,” he said as if Scottie already knew the name. “I’m sure Will’s mentioned her.” Based on Scottie’s face, which she tried, and failed, to temper, Parker concluded that Will evidently hadn’t. It was so loud in the bar that Scottie couldn’t hear what Parker said next.
“What?” Scottie shouted at him.
He leaned closer and yelled back, “the girlfriend.” Her heart turned to lead, plummeting through her.
“How long’s it been?” she managed to ask, voice straining against itself as she tried to keep hysterics at bay. She knew her face was cracking.
“Eight years, I think,” Parker replied loudly, shrugging and shaking his head. He had a scowl on his face. Scottie supposed that Kristin hadn’t passed the Parker test that she’d been so confident she’d passed mere moments before.
She couldn’t see Will’s face because his back was to her, but looking at the woman—who was beautiful, with soft blond waves and dark green eyes that sparkled and creamy pale skin that was freckle free—she could tell there was love there. The look on Kristin’s face was a kind of tenderness that you only directed at someone who knew every part of you, inside and out, both physical and not.
“Wow, that’s a long time,” Scottie breathed, more to herself than to Parker, but he heard her somehow, nodding.
“She was with him when he got hurt,” Parker continued over the music. It was pop and Scottie didn’t recognize the artist, but she barely heard it. It sounded jumbled, brassy, and flat. She still hadn’t asked Will how he’d ended up a paraplegic. It felt like something he would tell her when he was ready, and she wanted to trust in that. But this profound sadness filled her at knowing that this woman, Kristin, his goddamn girlfriend of who knows how many goddamn years, knew that part of him and Scottie didn’t.
Was she insane? Of course, Scottie didn’t know that part of him. She barely knew any part of him! She would never compare to or compete with Kristin, and she didn’t want to. Will was obviously very happy with her, except for the small fact that he had kissed Scottie a few weeks ago in his car. And just like that, she was angry. Fuck him. Scottie felt her despair turn to anger, blistering and urgent. She wasn’t a fool. Her cheeks were going pink and tears pricked and pushed against her eyes. She could feel Parker looking at her as she took a deep breath. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t.
Parker turned toward the bathroom, pushing the door open as someone came out, but then turned suddenly, leaning down to say something else to her, but by then, she was gone. She had already bee-lined for the bar.
Old habits die hard.