“Any good?” she asked, feeling flirtatious. Will smirked as she came into his peripheral vision.
“Not good enough to keep reading if you’re here,” he teased, closing the book and tossing it over near his chair, which was still locked on the edge of the pool.
“Why weren’t you here that summer I was?” Scottie asked Will as she half submerged her face in the water, blowing bubbles with her nose.
“What summer was that?” Will replied, leaning forward on the pink noodle he’d commandeered from the pool shed.
“Uhh,” she hesitated as she considered it, “I guess, about seven-ish years ago?”
“I was still living at home,” he answered flatly. The memory used to have a searing effect on him, but it had lost some of its bite over time. Scottie studied his face carefully. “It wasn’t that long after I got hurt, so I was still…” he hedged, trying to pick his next word carefully. He settled on “adjusting.” Scottie nodded and floated closer to him.
“I just wish I’d met you sooner,” she said softly, “that’s all.” Will felt the heat rise in his cheeks as he looked at the extraordinary, beautiful girl in front of him—so happy one minute and then seemingly so sad the next. He watched her push the pool water back and forth with her hands, fingers straight and locked together like paddles. His heart hitched, longing to give her some kind of comfort that he knew she probably didn’t need anymore. He wished he had met her earlier as well, perhaps, even before he was paralyzed. The mere foggy thought of walking hand in hand with her on the beach was as tempting as a batch of fresh cookies out of the oven—the visceral reaction to the melted chocolate and cooling dough fresh in his mind.
“Nah,” he joked to hide his ache, “you wouldn’t have liked me then.”
“Oh no?” she asked, practically simmering as she floated closer. “Maybe you wouldn’t have liked me.”
“Impossible,” Will quipped.
He drifted backwards and reached his hand out to her. She watched him curiously as he bumped gently against the wall, using his left hand to align his legs and feet with the bottom of the pool. Exploiting the generous boost from the water and the support of the wall behind him, he slowly rose to his full height, leaning his elbow back on the stone to keep steady. Scottie’s face flew open—eyes wide, mouth in awe, smile broad—as she stepped toward him boldly. He took her in his strong arms and kissed her hard, allowing her to slip her arms around his neck. Will ran his hands down her back and Scottie bucked against him. They existed in that equilibrium, completely enveloped in each other, losing themselves, blurring the lines.
Finally, they surfaced when Will’s foot slipped, and he tilted to the right, sliding down into the water up to his shoulders. Scottie chuckled and let herself slide with him, settling into the nest she’d made for her face in the hollow of his neck. He kissed the top of her head, savoring the slight saltiness from her wet hair on his lips. His chest felt tight and light at the same time. He was so incredibly happy—the hot sun beating down on the back of his neck, and the cool water around him, and Scottie—her warm body leaning, fitting seamlessly with his.
He didn’t want to talk about sex, but he felt like he owed it to her, before she got in too deep. He knew things were still new, but it felt like they were taking the express lane. He wanted his cards on the table.
He cleared his throat nervously and used his arm to propel them to the shallow end of the pool. Scottie pushed them along with strong legs, and soon enough Will was situated on the second step with Scottie sitting between his legs on the third. She ran her hands down his calves and wrapped her arms around them as they swayed slightly with mild current coming from the jets nearby. She leaned her head on his left thigh and gently kissed a spot on the side of his knee. He swallowed hard, choked by the desire to feel her there, but in awe of what she was doing to him.
Turning to look up at him, she was struck by his expression. He seemed to be lodged somewhere between mild embarrassment and admiration. Whether both were directed at her, she wasn’t sure.
“What?” she asked quietly. He shook his head and swallowed again. She smirked and stood to kiss him on the lips. He took her in his arms again and savored the fullness of her mouth on his. Pulling away he shook his head lightly and smiled.
“What?” she asked again, crouching back down in the water and looking up at him curiously.
“Just,” he started, finding his word bank conspicuously empty. “You.” She smirked and playfully splashed him.
“Right back at you handsome,” she teased. Will gave her a tight smile and looked down at his hands. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself for a bit of reality.
“I can have sex, just so you know,” he sputtered awkwardly, refusing to look at her.
“I know that,” she said flatly, refusing the hedge on the subject. “I did some research.” He laughed at her directness.
“Direct, good. To the point.” he laughed, feeling a bit less strained. She was thinking about it enough to find out more about it. He also cringed a bit at all the stuff out there on sex after paralysis. It wasn’t always pretty. He felt the heat rising in his face, despite the ease he felt at her matter-of fact tone. Starkly contradictory feelings. “You know it will be different with me,” Will added apprehensively.
“It’s different with everyone, Will,” she replied softly, taking his hand in hers and running her smooth thumb over his knuckles. It was a nice thing to say, but it didn’t make it any easier for Will to explain what he needed to explain to her.
“Being a paraplegic doesn’t really lend itself to spontaneity,” Will continued.
“I don’t like spontaneity,” she said half-jokingly, but he could see when she looked up at him, her luminous eyes were serious. She meant it. She’d had enough impulsiveness to last a lifetime. What she needed now was stability and consistency.
“I’m not sure I’ve told you this, but I’m a T-12 complete. It’s where I broke my back,” Will said, his voice wavering. “It was a car accident. I was driving. Sober, but I fell asleep at the wheel. We careened off the side of a hill and rolled a bunch of times. Cory was there. So was Kristin. They weren’t hurt badly thank god. I would never have forgiven myself if something like this had happened to them.”
Scottie’s throat felt tight at the thought of how much guilt Will had imposed upon himself for something that could have happened to anyone. Will remembered the boy before that night, wistfully and ruefully—young and lost and dumb and free. Scottie nodded quietly and moved closer to him.
“A terrible accident,” she whispered.
“Terrible,” he agreed. “But they weren’t hurt. And I’m alive.”
“You’re alive,” she replied with a slight smile that warmed him for a fleeting moment before the chilly doubt clutched at his lungs and heart. He wasn’t quite done yet.
“Well, I have no feeling or voluntary movement below the level of my injury,” he said flatly. “I can get an erection if I take something and with stimulation, but I have trouble keeping it. Unfortunately, its just, how things are.”
“The perks of paralysis,” Scottie kidded. Will chanced a glance up at her face at it was completely void of judgement or disgust. Just warmth and respect.
“Exactly,” he agreed a bit sadly. He didn’t want to saddle her with this kind of baggage. It felt unfair and selfish of him. He looked down at his lap again, the loss punching him in the gut like it did from time to time, but he felt, against his rationale, a flicker of hope. “It won’t be like other guys.”
Before he knew what was happening, she leaned over to kiss him with such urgency that his trepidation evaporated. He ran his hands through her hair, letting his tongue properly explore her mouth. She was down his back, pulling herself toward him and up onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around her, the muscles taut against her slim frame. After a few minutes she pulled back, breathing heavily and pressing her forehead to his, her peppery salty scent intoxicating and lingering. After a minute, she whispered huskily, “I don’t want other guys, Will.”
And she didn’t.
Will ended up in the ocean. It wasn’t what he intended, nor expected, but when Pete appeared pool side with a wild grin on his face, Will knew that it would be where they were heading.
“What’s your preference little brother?” he goaded, leaping into the deep end and surfacing almost in front of where Will and Scottie sat on the edge of the shallow end. Will groaned playfully.
“Fireman carry it is then,” Pete teased, standing up and making his way toward the steps, water dripping down his muscular tanned chest. Will put his hands up and stopped him. Pete turned to Will curiously, his blue eyes dancing.
“Piggyback,” Will replied exasperatedly, “if I have no choice.”
“What do you think, Scottie?” Pete asked her, cocking his head slightly in amusement. “Does our boy here have a choice?” She chuckled and shook her head.
“I suppose you can’t come to the beach and not go in the ocean, at least once,” she replied smartly. Will turned to her in counterfeit incredulity.
“Unbelievable,” he mumbled through a grin that was fighting its way through his grumpy façade. He was feeling so light that he almost felt as if he could float to the ocean. But before he knew it, he had his arms wrapped around his brother’s neck as Pete hoisted him up off the side of the pool and up the steps. Scottie grabbed the pink noodle and tumbled behind them as Pete careened down the sand dune toward the group. The beach was almost empty as the 5pm sun warmed his back. Will thought that Pete would plop him down on a towel with everyone else, but he carried on, picking up the pace as the sand became firmer.
“Pete!” Cory’s voice floated toward them but was wholly swallowed by the sound of the tide crashing on the shore. The brothers hit the water with a flourish as a wave crashed, taking Pete’s feet out from under him. Cold salt water rushed over them, and Will pulled himself to the surface laughing so hard that he swallowed more water than he would have liked. Sputtering and rubbing his eyes, he looked up at Pete as he stood, precariously, and shook his hair out of his eyes.
“Fuck,” Pete shouted joyously. Will floated on his back, staring up at the cloudless blue sky. Scottie dove into an upcoming wave with grace, and kicked her way over to Will, buoying herself with the noodle.
“Need a boost?” she asked offering it to him as Will bobbed up and down with the swell. He could only smile as he took it, pulling her closer to him in the process. The water was refreshing and wonderful, the sun hot and bright, and the day still felt young and full of promise. Scottie smelled salty and fresh as he kissed her cheek. Pete slapped him on the back and slid down to Will’s level, the three of them facing the waves from the same vantage point.
Will suddenly found that he didn’t hate the beach as much as he had initially thought.
Scottie was fairly sure she was in trouble. No, she was definitely sure. Had she completely fallen for Will Nash? In a matter of what? Mere days? She had never been this kind of romantic putty.
But here she was, as she watched him talking spiritedly to Lise as she approached the fire pit, she felt this warmth rise in her chest and butterflies erupt out of nothing in her stomach. She didn’t want to not be with him for one second longer. Sitting down next to him she handed them both marshmallows on sticks.
“Oh, how did you know that S’mores are my weakness?” Lise cooed. Will laughed at the unbridled enthusiasm in her dark eyes.
“Pete did mention you had a bit of a sweet tooth,” Scottie replied, popping a piece of chocolate in her mouth.
“A little bit is an understatement,” she countered, leaning closer to the fire to roast her marshmallow.
“Not a fan of melting the chocolate?” Will asked Scottie, twirling his own marshmallow stick between his fingers as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs, and turning to look at her—and only her. Her face glowed something fantastic in the light of the flames, and as she smiled he swallowed hard. He was utterly, completely, totally smitten. What this girl did to him was absolutely out of this world.
“It’s all a bit…” she started, the hesitated, thinking. “Messy.”
"Isn’t that part of the fun?” he asked.
“I suppose,” she laughed delicately, “but then you have chocolate all over your fingers, and the marshmallows are never quite roasted all the way.” Will nodded in agreement.
“If you’re going to roast them, you’ve got to burn them,” he stated solemnly.
“Lise gets it,” he said, gesturing to her marshmallow, now black with fire. She giggled and pulled it toward her, blowing out the flame.
“That was an accident,” she sighed heavily. “Oh well.”
“Here,” Scottie intercepted, handing her another stick with a marshmallow on it.
“I’ll take the burnt one,” Will offered, reaching to trade with Lise. She took the new one willingly and stood up to get closer, using the kind of care you’d use when picking up a newborn. Scottie snickered.
“The reverence over there,” Will joked and nodded his head toward Pete’s girlfriend. Scottie shook her head. They could hear the others coming out of the house with cocktails, their voices lazy with the satisfaction of a summer day well spent.
“It’s unbelievable,” Scottie whispered as Will’s face lit up as he laughed with her.
“Bite?” he offered, holding the blackened husk out to her. Scottie took a small nip of the burned part.
“Mmmm,” she sang as she chewed.
“Go big or go home,” Will replied as he tipped the burned marshmallow back into the fire.
“You have to be willing to jump right in, you know?” she said suggestively. Will looked up from the marshmallow, her green eyes yellowing in the odd light. The marshmallow, now wicked with flames again, was utterly forgotten.
“I’m willing to jump right it,” he said slowly, his tone even and serious.
“Oh?” she questioned, popping another piece of chocolate in her mouth and pursing her lips as she sucked on it.
“I am,” he reassured her.
“I am, too,” she answered after a moment. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other. The sound of the crickets in the tall grass was like a symphony, building to crescendo.
“Have dinner with me,” he stated.
“I just did,” she countered sardonically, referring to the steaks they’d grilled and the corn they’d roasted on the deck only an hour earlier, the night thick with laughter and affection. Everyone was in the kind of mood you wished you could hold onto.
“Just me,” he pushed. “Have dinner with just me, after we get back to the city, tomorrow night.”
“Mr. Nash, are you asking me on a proper date?” she asked slowly, cocking her head and twisting a curl between her fingers.
“I hardly think sharing a twin bed for a night qualifies.”
“What about driving from Manhattan to the shore?” She pressed friskily. Will shrugged nonchalantly and smiled.
“Foreplay,” he teased.
“And you meeting my mother?”
“Happenstance,” he replied lightly. Scottie smiled and blushed suddenly and completely. Looking down at her feet and running her hand through her hair she closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath.
“Fine then, Mr. Nash,” she agreed doggedly.
“You’re in?” he asked, leaning closer.
“I’m very in,” she responded with ardor.
“Can I kiss you?” he questioned, his breath warm on her face. She scooted closer to him and placed both of her hands in his. His brakes weren’t locked, so he rolled toward her as she pulled, their knees brushing. Even though he couldn’t feel it, just seeing them touch like that sent a jolt through him. She didn’t have time to say yes as he pressed his lips on hers and she leaned, jumping fully, and completely in.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Cory’s voice cut in like a sharp blade, as Will pulled back slightly. Lise was clapping like she was watching the best thing she’d ever goddamn seen. Max punched Scottie in the arm playfully.
“I knew you had it in you, kid,” he joked as he took the seat next to her and handing her a gin and tonic. She took it with shaking hands, and risked a sip. Passing it to Will, she crossed her arms and smirked.
“So are you guys like, a thing or something?” Nora asked, eyes boring into Scottie. Will relished that Nora wouldn’t look at him. He laughed as he took a sip of the drink, the bitter liquid exceptional after the warmth of her kiss.
“What do you think, Will?” Scottie asked before Will could respond. She turned to look at him, eyes dancing, the confidence in her voice almost toxic.
“I’d say we’re a thing,” Will replied boldly to Scottie only, feeling smug as Cory gaped at him openly for a split second before he tried to rearrange his face to hide his doubt.
“We’re definitely a thing,” Scottie answered, turning back to Nora.
“Oh,” Nora replied thinly. “That’s so great and unexpected.” Her voice strained against its high decibel.
“Yeah I never would have seen this coming,” Cory added, trying to sound light but coming across as rude. Scottie noticed his hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides.
“I for one think you guys make a great couple,” Max announced, raising his glass. Scottie was sure he’d picked up on the tension between Cory and Will and the astonishment dripping off of Nora, but in typical Max fashion, he forged ahead, smoothing the seams and stepping over the cracks. He was a peacekeeper through and through.
“To Scottie and Will,” Pete chimed, unaware that he was recreating the twinkling moment before Cory and Nora’s wedding, when Scottie and Will had first met. Will felt the heat rise in his face and everyone, albeit some less enthusiastically than others, toasted the two of them.
He never would have guessed that the woman he watched roll out of a cab barefoot and ragged through the window at Wave Hill would be reaching for his hand in the firelight only a few weeks later. Will felt, for the first time since Scottie met his twin, like he wasn’t the consolation prize. He was exactly what she wanted.