Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Consolation Prize - Chapter 9



They were both doubled over with laughter when the door opened. Will had pulled the exact same stunt he had tried at the wedding and, surprisingly, he had made it up four wide steps completely unscathed. Given, he was sober this time, but still—he counted it as a victory. Scottie had watched him with awe, hands on her hips, shaking her head. Being drunk and the target of Nora’s tantrum had been bush league in comparison. His movements we surprisingly graceful and fluid, and she admired his strong arms as he pumped them, hoisting himself up and over each step.

After they had surfaced, lips swollen and aching for more, Scottie had put money on Will making it up the stairs, whereas Will had bet against himself. He wondered, in the back of his mind, what he’d do if he couldn’t make it. Ask Pete for a piggy back ride? Probably.

Turned out that Scottie was now up ten dollars and she had no plan of letting him forget it. He’d watched her as he went, despite the immense physical and mental effort it took for him to push himself up, and he’d felt butterflies in his stomach. He couldn’t believe that she had just kissed him. She had just fucking kissed him. And she hadn’t ran away.  

As she straightened up and rubbed the back of Will’s neck, Scottie felt lighter than she had since she had left New York for LA. She suspected that she had no real idea of the kind of weight she had been carrying with her.

Cory stood, illuminated in the doorway, barefoot, wearing linen pants and a linen button-down shirt, open at the top. His mane was tousled just a bit and a little chest hair peeked out through the opening. It was clear that his skin had been in the sun all day. He sipped a Corona and leaned on the doorjamb, regarding both of them. He was a vision. He looked handsome, fetching, confident, and comfortable, but above all, he looked rich.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, eyes light, smile buoyant. Both Will and Scottie shook their heads, unwilling to let him into the bubble of euphoria they had managed to find themselves wonderfully inside.

Finally, Scottie spoke, her voice hoarse and rich, “Oh nothing, Will just, had a bit of,” she hesitated, giving him a quirked sideways glance. “Trouble getting up here,” she finished, her smile intoxicating.

“I figured he could handle it,” Cory said quickly, looking over at Will. 

“I could, absolutely, just a hiccup, or two,” he replied, “but like I’ve mentioned before, a couple of times, I wouldn’t be mad at a ramp.”

“Ah, yeah,” Cory said uncomfortably, reaching up to scratch the back of his head, leaving his hand there for a few seconds. He had arranged his face into a look of concern. “I keep meaning to do that.”

“I’ll bring one next year,” Will granted, “save you the trouble.” A ripple of awkwardness vibrated between them for a moment, then swiftly passed.

“Nora told me you two were on your way, but I said I wouldn’t believe it until I saw it,” he shouted, beaming at the both of them. Will watched Scottie’s face as Cory pulled her in for a tight hug. She reciprocated with slightly less vigor.

“Will,” Cory chimed, “I’m so fucking glad you’re here, man.” He bent down and took Will’s hand, pulling him into an overbearing hug. Will slapped him on the back and he barked with laughter.

“Come on in you guys, everyone’s here. Let’s get you a glass of wine, Scottie, red right?” She nodded, biting her lower lip and stealing another glance at Will as he popped a wheelie over the threshold, never wavering from her gaze.

“Show off,” she mouthed. He winked at her and she flushed deep pink. Will wanted to jump out of his chair and take her in his arms.

“Pinot Noir, if you have it,” she said to Cory.

“We have it. We have everything,” Cory hollered as they emerged into the glorious all-white kitchen with stone floors and chef’s quality appliances.

“You’ve redone this place,” Scottie observed in awe.

“Mmhmm,” Cory replied as he opened the wine fridge set into the counter. Their house was right on the beach, so the views were absolutely breathtaking. But it was late, so the sky was pitch black, and the wide bay windows were portals to nothingness for miles. An expansive granite counter anchored the room. It was littered with glasses, used plates, open wine bottles, empty beer cans, and corks. Will could hear the group out on the back porch. Nora spotted them through the window and shot up, bare feet slapping on the wood as she marched toward them. Will could see Pete as well, and to his surprise, Lise. He recognized her from a few pictures that Pete had showed him from London. Pete had told Will earlier that she wasn’t going to be able to come for the weekend. A wave of anxiety washed over him at the thought of meeting her.

Cory handed Scottie a generous glass of wine and right away she took a healthy sip, savoring the rich fruity flavor in her mouth for a second before swallowing.

“Corona?” Cory asked Will with a round of finger guns. Scottie almost did a spit take as she watched Cory holster his guns. She struggled to swallow the wine and keep her composure. Will gave her a quizzical but knowing look and she laughed. Cory re-emerged from the butler’s pantry with an open beer and a lime wedge.

“Thanks,” Will replied, reaching up to take both from him. Nora burst through the screen door and practically swept Scottie off her feet. By some miracle she managed not to spill a single drop from her glass and breathed a sigh of relief when Nora finally put her back on the ground.

Watching Nora’s elation at seeing Scottie, Will braced himself for the chill that she’d given him since they met, a few years back. He didn’t know the Nora who Scottie knew—he’d never seen her. Her chill was hard to place, but after thinking about it, for longer than he would admit to anyone, he assumed it came from the guilt Cory probably felt over their relationship. Oh, and for ruining her goddamn wedding photos, which was something he not so secretly relished. He took a sip of beer and leaned back in his chair, preparing himself for the freeze.

“Will,” Nora said stepping toward him and bending down to give him a weak hug. “So happy you were able to get away from work for the weekend. It just didn’t seem possible when you canceled so late.” He felt the corner of his mouth twitch at her tone, but he didn’t engage it. Scottie gave him a weird look that he knew he’d have to address later.

“I got lucky,” he said noncommittally, “deadline got pushed.” She smiled tightly and nodded. “Plus,” he added, “I know the kids’ room is always mine when I want it.” He gave her a sardonic smile back. 

“Cheers,” she said, narrowing her eyes slightly.

“Cheers,” he replied, boldly meeting her gaze.

“Scottie,” Cory said smiling, oblivious to the tension. “I hate to break it to you, but all of the bedrooms upstairs are already taken. Will obviously needs to stay down here, as he is well aware. Kids room for life.” Then he added awkwardly, “sorry man,” tossing the apology at him like a heavy rock. Will cringed and rolled his eyes, taking a sip of his beer.

“Feels like home,” he joked, shrugging. Scottie chuckled.  

“There is a couch in the den up there,” Nora chimed, “It’s a little lumpy, but that should work for you. I know you can pretty much fall asleep anywhere.” Scottie took a sip of her wine and made unintentional eye contact with Cory. He’d said something similar to her last time they spent the night somewhere—a few months back. It ended up being at a shitty hotel in midtown. He’d made the reservation there because it was close to his office and he knew Scottie could fall asleep on the corner outside Port Authority if she had to. His jaw twitched almost imperceivably, like he’d received a succinct, but unexpected jolt.

“Yeah,” Cory continued, grasping, unknowingly to everyone except Scottie, at recovery. “Singles kind of get screwed 4th of July weekend. Of course, when you came down that first year we were all single. And you’ve been out on the worst coast ever since.” He winked at her suggestively and Will’s stomach tightened.

“Should have brought J.J.,” Nora teased and sipped her white wine between pursed lips. 

“So, we could share the lumpy couch?” Scottie countered. “That’s going to be a no from me, dawg.” Both Cory and Will laughed. Scottie laughed, too, rolling her eyes as she leaned on the counter and fiddled with the stem of her wine glass, but Nora remained laser focused.

“How is he, anyway?” she asked.

“I assume he’s fine?” Scottie shrugged, “I haven’t really heard from him.”

“Not at all?” Nora asked pointedly.

“I got a text from him the other day,” Scottie said like she was offering Nora a little snack.

“And?” She pushed. Scottie tilted her head slightly and tried to parse together Nora’s motive.

“It said, Scottie, fuck you,” she replied finally and flatly, enunciating every word clearly. Cory choked back a laugh.

“Nice guy,” he sputtered, looking around the room for agreement. Will nodded at him and took a sip of his beer.

“Here, here,” Will said, earning him a nasty look from Nora.

“I’m sure he didn’t –“ Nora started, but Scottie interjected sharply.

“No, I’m sure he did.” Scottie snipped, “he was never one to parse words. He said what he meant and meant what he said.”

Nora huffed and took another wounded sip, leaving a mark of lipstick on the edge of the glass. She said something else, but Will’s mind had wandered out to Pete sitting on the porch with a Corona. He was telling some kind of wild story, hands flailing, beer flying out of his bottle. Will smiled to himself, knowing it was about the boat trip they took in Mexico last year, based on the imitation. Pete had tried parasailing and hated it so much that he convinced Will to try. They wouldn’t let him go up without a guide, not that anyone really needed their legs when they’re dangling hundreds of feet in the air, but, alas, that was how Will found himself strapped to an older Mexican man in a thunderstorm over the Gulf. They were like a kite in a tornado, which Pete was doing a pretty good job emulating from as far as Will could tell.

Scottie’s voice brought him back to the kitchen. She sounded oddly flat and strained. “And he told me Sara came by.” Nora’s eyes cast downward to her feet. Scottie just wanted to shut her up, and it felt like bringing her sister into it was the perfect way to get what she wanted.

“Ah,” Nora breathed “shit.” She looked back up at Scottie and an entire conversation passed between the two women’s eyes. Scottie sighed, and Nora took a step and pulled her tenderly into a one-armed hug. As irritated as she was, Scottie felt a tenderness toward Nora as she wrapped her skinny arms around her small frame. Scottie focused on the pin-straight glossy red hair spilling down her back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into Scottie’s wild mop of hair—in stark contrast to Nora’s own.

Cory and Will made eye contact and he shrugged and reached for his Corona on the counter. Scottie was the first to break away and her face was stone, set in place. She brought the wine to her lips and downed half the glass. She had thought mentioning Sara’s name wouldn’t unnerve her. She had been wrong. 

“Refill then? Ladies?” Cory snapped, jumping on the momentary reprieve in their well-practiced mental plug and subsequent hugging.

“Please,” Scottie breathed, handing him her almost empty glass. She learned on the counter again, swaying back and forth a little bit.

“You’re here!” a voice boomed from behind Will and he swiveled to see Max taking the stairs two at a time. He was a tall guy, fit with bulky muscles threading down his arms. He was definitely someone who was working hard against their natural beanpole body type to keep them. Will would have been taller than Max had he been able to stand, but he was much leaner, with more wiry muscles and a thinner build. He felt an irritating flash of self-consciousness as he shifted his weight in his chair to redistribute the pressure.

Max pulled Scottie into a hug and kissed her on the top of the head. She visibly slackened and leaned into him like he was the only thing holding her up. Relief flooded her as she nestled into the hollow of his neck and her legs wobbled as she started to feel the wine.

Will got that familiar tightening in his chest and he straightened himself in his chair again, feeling restless. He realized his feet were pointed in two different directions from the stair climb and it pissed him off. He didn’t know why it bothered him so much when that happened, but it did. He lifted his legs in his jeans from under the knee and readjusted them both. He was trying not to be too obvious about it, or about staring at Scottie, but something felt off all of a sudden.

When Max let her go Cory handed her a freshly filled glass and she thanked him, taking a sip, but a smaller one this time.

“Will, man, good to see you,” Max said as he reached out to shake his hand.

“You too,” he replied, and he meant it. He’d always liked Max, despite knowing him as Nora’s friend. From what he’d seen here and at the wedding though, made it seem like Max was more Scottie’s friend than Nora’s. Will drank his beer, enjoying the bitterness in his mouth and rested the bottle between his legs.

“Where’s Edwin?” Scottie asked, hoisting herself up to sit on the counter. Cory walked around the other side and leaned against it while Nora watched him, standing rigid, stiff as a board.

“Sleeping,” Max croaked, “where else?” Scottie silently agreed with a laugh and a nod and took another sip.

The screen door slammed again, and this time it was Pete, closely followed by Lise and Rahil, Cory’s friend from college, and woman neither Scottie nor Will had ever met. Will slid into a state of borderline panic. Scottie was meeting his almost mirror image and he wasn't prepared for it at all. 

“Baby brother,” Pete shouted, launching himself toward Will, sliding into his shoulder with his own and pulling him into a bear hug so strong that Will started rolling backward. Grabbing the push rims to steady himself, Will elbowed his brother in the gut, forcing him to jerk backward and right himself.

“Fuck, that hurt,” Pete teased, putting up his fists. He’d always been the more outgoing, boisterous, and obnoxious of the two. Will tended to the quieter side with a dryer sense of humor. 

“We don’t know who the baby is,” Will reminded him, “Mom and Dad never told us, remember?” It was true. Their parents had opted to keep the birth order of their twins a secret, so no one would be able to play the younger/older card. Pete ignored that fact with reckless abandon.

“The bastards!” Pete mused, “buttttt,” he continued, holding up his finger. “I think we can both assume.” Will gave him a sarcastic smile as he turned around to the rest of the group. Will saw Scottie just as she saw Pete, and his throat suddenly felt extremely tight, juices pooling in the back. He was unexpectedly tasked with locating the best place to surprise puke if it came to that, which, judging by the sudden turn, it damn well might.

Her shock was palpable, those shimmering green eyes wide. But Pete didn’t pick up on it. He was too tangled with the job of introducing Will to Lise.

“Lise,” Pete said as he walked around her and put his hands on her upper arms, squeezing them slightly, walking her toward Will. “This is my little brother, Will.” She gave him a wide warm smile, flashing incredibly white teeth, and elbowed Pete in the gut. He let out an unattractive “oof” and stumbled back.

“First my brother and now my girlfriend?” he gasped with exasperation.

“I think he’ll make it,” she mused as she came in to hug Will. He was surprised by the intimacy, but he didn’t mind it. “I know you’re not his little brother,” she said into Will’s ear, sending a ripple through him. “My money is on him being younger,” she teased as she pulled away and winked at Pete who was still feigning injury. Will laughed brightly.

“I’ve heard enough about you to feel like we know each other,” she said warmly, flashing her teeth again. She was petite, smaller than Will would have thought—maybe a generous 5’2. Will liked that he didn’t have to look up at her as much as most people. Pete had traditionally been into blonde women—lots of blonde women—their apartment boasting a veritable revolving door. But Lise surprised him. She was Asian, or half Asian, he couldn’t quite tell. She had narrow dark eyes, a small nose, straight black hair down to the middle of her back, a fit little body with an unexpectedly large chest, and that broad smile that could light up a room. Lise couldn’t be more different physically from Scottie, who Will kept glancing at unintentionally—a reflex that he was sure wasn’t going unnoticed.

“It is so nice to finally meet you,” Will said genuinely, “I was beginning to think you were made up.” She giggled at that and turned to Pete.

“Not brought many girls home, huh?” she goaded. Pete’s face, predictably, went fire engine red as he clasped his hands and put them behind his head, blowing out air to avoid answering.

“He’s brought girls home for sure,” Will interjected, much to Pete’s chagrin. “But none that he’s ever introduced me to.” Pete was laughing self-consciously as he turned to the couple behind him.

“You remember Rahil?” he asked, inelegantly attempting to change the topic. Will did and rolled forward to shake his hand. Scottie also came over and gave Rahil a hug, asking him animatedly about his family and his job. Pete introduced Anita, Rahil’s girlfriend, a pretty Indian woman with her hair in a short braid, and then proceeded to explain that there’s another couple, friends of his from work—Maggie and Aaron—great people, engaged, summer wedding, blah blah blah, but they were already upstairs for the night. Scottie and Will had stumbled into a couples holiday weekend and it made Scottie feel a little jumpy, unsure of how to act around Will. Unsure of what she wanted from him, for him, for herself. She could feel him watching her as she trained her eyes on Pete. They looked exactly alike—it was almost eerie. Scottie had only known fraternal twins in high school—both boys, but they barely looked like siblings.

Seeing Pete and Will in the same room made her feel a bit dizzy. If Will wasn’t sitting in his wheelchair it would be impossible to tell them apart—impossible. She wondered immediately how seeing Pete made Will feel. It had to be weird to see yourself walking around when you couldn’t even stand. Resentment was inevitable, right? Or maybe he’d always just thought of Pete as a separate person, not a piece of himself. She didn’t know. 

Will noticed that Scottie couldn’t stop watching Pete, and he could empathize with her. With her shock and perhaps, pity? He couldn’t tell. But Pete was his goddamn twin. They looked exactly alike, sounded alike, probably seem alike personality-wise at first—except for the distinctive difference that one of them could stand and the other couldn’t. Will had always been able to see his twin as a separate entity, an entirely different person. They had unique but complementary personalities, had gone after different girls, had gone to different colleges, worked in different fields. They were best friends and always had the same friend group but were never looked at as "the twins." They held their own, and Will loved that about their relationship with each other and everyone around them.

But after getting paralyzed, Pete, slowly but surely, began to represent Will’s future if there had never been a before and after. Sometimes he felt cursed—forced to watch his able-bodied parallel life unfold, right in front of him.

It was impossible to swallow, and his hands felt clammy in his lap. He wiped them discreetly on the side of his pants, unsure what to do with himself. That familiar ache seeped in, the nebulous jealousy toward anyone with working legs, but in that moment, it was focused on Pete and then Cory as he stepped forward to introduce Scottie. The confidence that had been coursing through him only a few minutes earlier was conspicuously absent.

“Pete,” he called, pulling his gaze away from Lise and onto Scottie. “Have you met Scottie?” he asked, innocently, unknowingly, simply. Pete’s face ignited as he snapped a glance to Will and then back again to her, remembering their conversation about the girl Will had met at the wedding. Will hadn’t told Pete her name, but he had described her, in detail, feeling like he was reciting poetry. She was unmistakable and distinctive, and there was no doubt that she was who she was.

She smiled, and Will supposed she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, her lithe toned body, gold skin, impossible height, and that hair...those eyes…the freckles. It was almost too much as he watched her meet an unbroken, undamaged, whole version of himself. Taking a huge sip of beer, Will wondered why anyone would ever choose him over Pete, and then he fucking hated himself for the pity party, and tried to shake it off.

“You’re Will’s friend,” Pete considered, stepping toward her and thrusting a hand. She took it readily with a crooked smile.

“Actually, she was my friend first,” Cory interjected.

“Actually,” Nora squeaked from the other side of the kitchen. “I’m going to have to say she was my friend first.”

“If we’re going to get technical here,” Max bellowed as he raised his hand, “and it sounds like we are, she was my friend first. I met her on the first day of freshman year.” Everyone laughed, and Scottie beamed, her face a little pink at being the center of attention. Will noticed that she was still holding Pete’s hand.

“Well, fuck,” she said finally, looking back and forth between Will and Pete. “You two really are twins, aren’t you?”

“We are indeed,” Pete responded enthusiastically.

“We used to switch places in school,” Will offered, “although I can’t say that would work now.” The twinge of self-deprecation both twisted and buoyed him as everyone laughed.

“Well, Will tells me that there are bunk beds down here,” Scottie said, turning to him. Max had her bag in his right hand and one foot on the staircase.

“I did say that,” Will agreed, “because there are, indeed, bunk beds down here.” He put his beer between his legs again and his hands on the push rims of the chair, moving back and forth for a second, just to ground himself. Rooting himself in the here and now, his heart’s pounding slowed to a dull thud. He took another sip of his beer.

“I’m actually pretty overdue for a night in bunkbeds. I think I must have been 13 when I did my last summer at camp? I certainly don’t mind sharing a room if you don’t, Will.” Her eyes glittered, and her demeanor shifted, like she had recaptured whatever memory she’d accidentally stepped into, and was shutting it away for later. Will couldn’t help but smile. He was nervous about sharing a room and a bathroom with her—with everything that came with being paralyzed—but his excitement overtook his reluctance. She wanted it.

“Oh,” Nora butt in, “those bunk beds are truly awful. They’re for the kids when they come down. There’s no reason you should have to sleep in there.” There was an awkwardness that laid a film over all of them as they marinated with what Nora had just said. Cory looked at her like he had just tasted something terrible.

“Jesus, Nora,” he breathed as he leaned over and put his forearms on the counter.

“They’re not bad,” Will alleged, “speaking as one of the few people who has actually slept in one of them, and I’m assuming you haven’t since we were kids, Cory?” He shook his head numbly. "And you, Nora, never?" She looked like she'd bee slapped. 

“You described the couch as lumpy,” Scottie teased Nora, her voice straining to keep things light. Nora scoffed and opened her mouth to say something but decided to take a sip of wine instead.

“The one thing I will say is that they are a little short, and you’re tall, Scottie. My feet usually hang off, but that’s never bothered me.” I gave her a wry smile.

“Ah, the perks of being paralyzed,” Scottie joked, taking another sip of wine. There was a moment where Will was pleasantly surprised at her cheek. Nora looked like she might be sick. He knew everyone was waiting on his cue. And then, he laughed, and it was like pulling a zipper—everyone loosened up and joined in. No one Will had ever been with after his injury had ever been comfortable enough to say something like that. Obviously, conversations had to be had, about all kinds of things, but there was always this discomfort, this kind of avoidance of talking frankly. And hell, maybe he had fueled it. It had taken him a long time to get comfortable with his body—and some days, he still wasn’t. It was the same in so many ways, but completely foreign in others. But, he had this warm feeling that it wouldn’t be that way with Scottie, even if he had been the one to blame in the past for all of the side stepping and hedging.

Who was this girl and what was she doing to him?

<> 

Mother. Fucking. Beat. Scottie was spinning.

Will was sitting inside with his brother and Lise and she couldn’t stop staring through the bay window. They looked exactly the same—exactly—and it freaked her the fuck out in a way she couldn’t quite pinpoint. Lise and Pete were on the couch, leaning into each other. She kept looking at him with this kind of soft admiration, it was warm and tender, and Scottie kept thinking she was looking at Will, frothy jealousy bubbling inside of her. But Will was across the room in his wheelchair, playing with the wheels so he was leaning back, and the front ones and his feet are slightly in the air. He was trying to see how far he could go without tipping backward all the way and Pete was egging him on. Scottie felt a smile on her face before she could understand why it was there. She had this physical longing to go to him, but she forced herself to keep her feet planted on the step in front of her. It was the oddest thing, ever since she’d met Will she’d been counting steps everywhere she went, making a mental note of places she could take him easily, and places where he would have to get creative, and places where it would just never work. Even while she was actively trying to push him to the back of her mind, to forget him, he slipped so easily back through the crack and she'd find herself counting, putting his needs above her own. She was terribly afraid that he had gotten to her.

She had no idea what time it was, but it was definitely late. The sound of cicadas in the tall grass was mesmerizing as she sipped her wine, loving the way it felt going down her throat.

A hefty sigh followed by creaking wood pulled her attention back to the plank path in front of her— the one that led down to the beach. Max was coming back, and Scottie could see his cigarette bobbing up and down.

“Not allowed to smoke near the house?” Scottie asked lightly.

“Not by a long shot,” he fired back, heavily ascending the four stairs to the porch, couching as he sat down next to her on the top step. Scottie patted his back as he continued to cough.

“You’ve gotta quit,” she insisted.

“Says the girl drinking morning airplane bottles of gin in the driveway of wedding ceremony,” he wretched. Scottie laughed, pretending to be offended.

“Fine,” she said, shrugging. Max grinned at her now that he had stopped coughing. “When we came out here my first year out of college, totally different group, except Cory and Rahil, and well,” she laughed in spite of herself, “it’s a totally different vibe.”

“I bet,” Max said, leaning back on his elbows.

“I remember that I brought a big fucking bag of weed. I don’t even remember where I got it.”

“Sounds like college you,” he mused, almost wistfully.

“Yeah well,” she laughed, “we got caught.” She took the last sip of her wine and set the glass down.

“Caught by?” he asked.

“Cory’s parents.” She cringed at the memory of his mom shouting. “His mom kept saying Not in my house. Not in my house. Who raised you?” Scottie did a poor imitation of her, and Max smirked.

“That’s what she sounded like?” he asked incredulously.

“That’s what she sounded like,” Scottie replied, deadpan. “They didn’t trust a bunch of idiots with their house. I’m surprised they trust us now.” She shook her head at the nostalgia of it all. It felt so far away. Her head was buzzing with the need for more wine.

“And henceforth, there shall be no smoking within 10,000 feet of the place. It was signed into law,” Max’s had some kind of proper voice going as he threw his hand out theatrically over the tall grass.

“And who’s that supposed to be?” Scottie snapped. He smiled and shrugged, rubbing her arm.“Wine?” she asked hopefully.

“Wine,” he replied, lifting himself up and heading to the kitchen. Scottie heard the screen door slam and let out a puff of air. She knew that she had to talk to someone.

And Max, well, he felt like the right person. Nora and Scottie had drifted apart in the years after she left. Scottie knew Nora never forgave her for just disappearing, but she also speculated sometimes that Cory had told Nora about them. Her skin prickled at the thought of him detailing everything they did to each other, the tantric dance between sensual slowness and sheer ferocity when they touched each other. Scottie shook her head to get the image of Cory sucking her nipple out of her head. She couldn’t imagine that he would breathe a word, especially since sometimes it seemed like his lingered just a second too long over her, but she also didn’t think he would marry the girl either, and that had clearly been incorrect. 

She felt like she had to talk to Max to understand if what she was about to was incredibly stupid. She didn’t know why she was feeling caught in a whirlwind where she couldn’t catch her breath or get her bearings. She had never felt that way about anyone before. Not Liam in college, or Cory, and especially not J.J.. It was like Will could see through her, and it scared the hell out of her. Wasn’t this kind of thing—falling for someone—supposed to take time? She’d always thought her feelings would grow with J.J. and Liam, but they never blossomed into anything more than lust and genuine affection. They’d never pulsed inside her chest and lit her up from the inside out. 

“All they have left is Cab darling, that work?” Max asked as he pushed back out onto the porch. The air was chillier than it had been before, and Scottie wished she had had a sweater, but she didn’t make a move to get up. He poured the wine liberally.

“Those two,” he regaled, “those twins. They are just little snacks, aren’t they?” Max rarely talked about men that way, preferring instead to say things much more…reserved. He wasn’t a reserved man, but when it came to his own sexual orientation and escapades, before, and while dating Edwin, he’d been tightlipped and respectful. Scottie appreciated that about Max. It was refreshing and not crass for the sake of being crass. 

“Snacks, huh?” she teased.

“I know, I know, but maybe it’s just because I’m seeing double. Imagine if Will wasn’t stuck in that chair, and Pete didn’t bring that sweet girl with him, mmm mmm mmmm. I’d take them both to bed.” He smacked his lips and took a big drink of wine.

“And if your partner wasn’t already sleeping in that bed,” she added, feeling a pang of sadness for Will. She was certain that wasn’t the first time something like that about him. She was also struck with her own ability to handle his disability. Sure, she accepted it, but could she truly and completely handle it and all it came with? She thought so, but the sliver of doubt that had just wedged itself in her chest jarred her. 

“Sweet Edwin could sleep through a stampede,” he replied wistfully. Scottie laughed self-consciously, picking at a hangnail on her thumb. Max sipped his wine and hummed to himself for a minute.

“You seem…” he hesitated, studying her face as he turned to look at her. He settled on “contemplative.”  She gave a hollow laugh.

 “I’ve been thinking, a lot. Ever since I left LA,” she started, calculating exactly how she should keep going.

“About?” he pressed, with just enough gentle force. Scottie opened her mouth again and let herself speak.

“Everything,” she gasped. She sounded as if her words were choking her, and in a way, they were.

“That narrows it down,” Max replied in a voice heavy with irony as he narrowed his eyes, directing his words out over the dune, and taking a sip of his wine.

“I need to run something by you.” She decided to start with the piece of her that was trying to move forward. She’d be remiss if she didn’t at least ask him.

“Always,” he assured her, squeezing her shoulder.

“Will,” she whispered simply.

“Will,” He repeated, searching her face. Then something connected.

“Oh!” he said too loudly. He lowered his voice to a whisper “oh!” Scottie couldn’t help but smile, and it took over her entire face.

“So, you did go home with him after the wedding then?” he asked, “I heard chirping about it, but I figured it wasn’t true.” I nodded, pursing my lips into a mischievous smile, slightly irritated that he didn’t think it could have been true when he was just calling Will a “snack” a few minutes ago.

“But nothing happened.”

“Oh,” he said, grimacing, and gesturing to his groin, “because of, well, does it work?” Scottie hit him on the arm.

“Max,” she snapped, fake scandalized.

“What? It’s a fair question,” he retorted, shrugging. He wasn’t wrong. “It definitely would be something I would ask if it were me.” He put his hand on his chest as he stressed the word “I” like he was thinking about the possibility. Scottie laughed and hit him on the arm again.

“Honestly, I don’t know, but I assume so,” she said, thinking back to sitting on his lap in the driveway. His hands wild in her hair, her body responding to his touch and she swore—she swore—his body was responding to hers as well. 

“It’s probably just, I don’t know, a little bit different,” Scottie replied shrugging, genuinely wishing she knew the answer. She reached for her wine, mustering the courage to ask him at some point soon. “I’ve thought about it but mostly just in the way you think about someone you want to sleep with. The wheelchair doesn’t bother me. It’s actually weird how much it doesn’t bother me.” Max laughed his rich oaky laugh. Scottie missed it terribly.

“Being with someone is all about pros and cons,” Max said shrugging, “you figure out what’s important to you, and what you can’t handle, and then you find a person who can give you the pros you need with the cons you won’t kill them over.”

“Yeah,” she answered, sliding her gaze over to watch Will through the window.

“If Edwin was in a chair that wouldn’t bother me,” he said, “I guess it would bother me if he was unhappy, but I love the guy so damn much that pretty much nothing could get me to give up on him.” Scottie grinned, aching with the desire for that kind of love for herself and wondering tentatively, if she’d ever be able to be as honest as she knew you had to be to have that.

“Except for those two little snacks,” she joked.

“Except for those two little snacks,” Max confirmed, his laugh booming.

“Also, for the record,” she said sternly, putting her hands up in front of her. “The reason nothing happened was because of me. I was too drunk. I slept in his bed, puked in his bathroom, and he had to unpin me out of my dress.” Max gaped at her, then let out a whistle.

“Damn, Thea,” he mused, his deep brown eyes searching her face.

“I know,” she sighed, putting her face in her hands.

“Surprised he’s interested in you,” he mocked. She sighed.

“I know,” she huffed, “I’m a goddamn embarrassment.

“But, he saw you naked?” he asked bluntly.

“I mean, I guess he did,” she replied, voice cracking with amusement imagining Will’s face as she pranced around his apartment wasted and nude.

“Poor guy,” Max ribbed. Scottie rolled her eyes at gave him and admonishing look. “But seriously, that’s why he’s interested. You're a smoke.”


"Thanks."
"I mean it."
“How? Darling, are you kidding me? The way you talked about him was the way people discuss getting a colonoscopy. It’s like you got there, found him, fell into it, and just became, I don’t know, complacent? I’m still not even sure why you left New York in the first place.”




“I don’t know, Max, there’s just something about him,” she whined, ignoring his previous comment. “I can’t put my finger on it. I tried to stay away from him in the three weeks since the wedding but I ended up seeing him on his birthday and then when I heard he was still in town when I wanted to get down here, it just felt like, a sign.” Scottie shrugged and sighed.

“He lights you up,” Max observed. Scottie instinctively put her hands on her cheeks. They were red hot. “I saw you in the kitchen with him, you kept looking at each other, I was going to ask you what the fuckkkkk was going on.”

“Your instincts never lie,” she agreed.

“You never loved J.J.,” he said, showing off as he proved her point. 

“No,” she confessed flatly. “How did you know?” Scottie turned to look at him, a smile hanging on the corners of his lips.


“I left for a few reasons, or I guess, I told myself these were part of the decision, I wanted a change,” she admitted, almost including the bit about Cory but remembering, mercifully, that she’d never told Max, for fear that Nora would find out. “But there was really only one reason I went.” She closed her eyes tightly and rubbed them with the heels of her hands. They were suspiciously dry, not a tear in sight. The numbness was unnerving. Max waited patiently, taking a sip of wine every few minutes and she loved him for it.

Finally, running her hand through her hair she turns to look at him. “You know about Sara.”

“I do,” he replied, nodding. A lump rose in her throat.

“Well, Sara was in LA. That’s why I went. It well…it wasn’t good.”

“Was this the moment in the kitchen with Nora?” he asked.

“Yes,” Scottie confirmed, voice shaking. “She’d overdosed. She was in a coma. She’d been left on the police station steps in Venice.” Deep breath. She kept going, ignoring the pitiful look on Max’s face. “She got into drugs, after, well, I can get to there, but she got into heroin. Young. Fuck, so young. We’re only 11 months apart in age. She was only 17. I had just left for college and, well…” she stopped dead, like she was running into a slab of cement. Taking another sip of wine to combat her spinning head, Scottie realized she wasn’t breathing.

“Scottie, honey,” Max said, leaning over and cupping her chin in his hand. “What is it, darling?”

“Max, it’s…” her voice cracked into dust. He rubbed her back softly with his other hand. She was shaking, not giant wracking shudders, but fine vicious tremors that seemed to rise from the very ground she was sitting on.

“Nora was with me when I got the call. That’s why she knows about Sara. I never would have wanted to tell her. I’ve never told anyone anything.” She could feel Max tense next to her and mutter something she couldn’t make out. “I’m sorry it has to be you,” she whispered. He shook his head forcefully.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Keep going, you’re doing great.” She bit her lower lip and looked out into the night sky. The stars were pinpricks in the distance. She wasn’t used to seeing them in the city. It was, well, it was nice. She took another deep breath, the desire to scream ebbing away, and clasped her hands in her lap.

“They’d called a bunch of people before me, unsure of who was who. They finally dialed me.” Then the tears came. Big hot droplets rolled down Scottie’s cheeks and Max’s face was white as a sheet, like he was looking at a stranger. “I’m so sorry,” she managed, putting her face in her hands then wiping away what she could. She ran her hand through her hair and sniffled, wrapping her arms around her legs and pulling them into her chest. 

“Don’t you apologize for one second, not one second,” He admonished her, squeezing her hand hard.

Her throat caved in on itself and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Max was saying her name, but she heard it like she was underwater.

“I flew out the next morning. She was in a coma for 2 months, and when she woke up she had gone through the worst of detoxing while she was out. She seemed different though. Far away, or something. A little bit off kilter and unpredictable. I was worried that anything I said was going to set her off.” Max nodded and squeezed her hand again. “I got an apartment for us. Took her to meetings. I met J.J. at the outpatient clinic. He was one of her doctors. He made me feel safe. He made her feel safe. And I just kind of fell into him. Max, I knew it wasn’t right but how was I supposed to push him away. I was so lonely.”

“Don’t you apologize,” he said again, this time less sternly. She nodded, gulping air.

“Then…” she whimpered, shrugging.

“She found heroin again,” he finished for her. She nodded, her heart feeling fragile as glass, cracks spider webbing down. “They always do,” he said. And out of nowhere, Scottie laughed, loud and genuine, a burst of light, thinking of her mother. He was fucking right. They always do.

“They always do, don’t they?” she asked, her voice like it was coming from a different person. He nodded and gave her a sad smile, using the pad of his thumb to rub the back of her hand. “I should have known from my experience with my mom.” Max just nodded, he didn’t press or pry, and she was so thankful for that. She didn’t think she could handle digging deeper.

“Thanks,” she said.

"You’re a fucking vault, Thea,” Max replied, sitting back and taking a sip of his wine. “A fucking vault,” he repeated. There was almost awe in his voice.

“Thanks,” she said softly.

“That’s not a compliment,” he retorted, “You can’t not tell anyone stuff like this. You’re gonna throw yourself off a goddamn bridge.” He took a deep breath and pulled her to his chest, wrapping his arms around her tightly. She caught a glimpse of Will in her peripheral. He was still laughing but it was just him and Pete now. He slipped a glance through the window at her and once he registered the red face and watery eyes, his face darkened. She figured she must look like hell. Holding his gaze for a moment, willing him to understand that she would come to him when she was ready, he gave her a curt nod then turned back to his brother. She exhaled then closed her eyes.

Max let her go, kissing her on the cheek, and sat back, facing her.

“Can I just say one thing?” He asked, but he wasn’t really asking.

“Of course,” she said, taking a deep breath.

“Let yourself have him, darling,” he breathed, his voice low and sweet, sneaking a glance through the bay window.

“Will?”

“Who else?” he asked. Scottie shrugged, laughing.

“I thought maybe Edwin,” she quipped weakly.

“Nah, Edwin doesn’t want you, darling.” He flashed her a smile, the kind of smile that only Edwin could bring out of him. It warmed Scottie.

“I’m having a hard time,” she confessed.

“I know you are,” he replied in a voice that Scottie would have wanted her dad to have used—if he had stuck around. She swallowed hard and he shifted a bit, squeezing her hand again.

“Thanks,” she said quietly. He kissed her forehead in response, giving her the strength to keep going.

22 comments:

  1. This story is just...I don't even have words. Your writing is absolutely brilliant. I can't get enough of these characters. I find myself counting down the days until Thursdays now, just waiting for the next indulgence!

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    1. Ahh thank you so much. This is such an encouraging thing to hear. I love writing for you guys!

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  2. So so so good! You write such a complex backstory too, which I love. I can't wait for what's next and for everyone else to find out about Will & Scottie!

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    1. Thank you for posting—means so much to hear from you!

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  3. Loved the chapter. Haha, at first I was like, who is Thea? Still don't like N & C, but my gosh I can't wait for the bunk beds!!
    Tc

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    1. Thank you for posting! And yes, I know it's a bit confusing. Her name is Thea Scott, and Scottie is her nickname, but people who know her well sometimes use her first name.

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  4. Yesss,can't wait for the bunk beds! After that kiss scene in the last chapter my body is humming in anticipation of Scottie and Will getting physical. But I'm thoroughly enjoying the story and the build up!! I never want this to end. These are my friends now. You've created such vibrant and deep characters, it's remarkable! Thank you for posting!

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I’m excited to post later this week—I think everyone will really like it. They’ve become my friends as well!

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  5. This is excellent writing. I enjoy every sentence.

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  6. Oh I totally agree. I feel like these people are my friends now. I anxiously wait for more each week. This was a great long chapter. Can I say, respectfully and appreciatively, that there were more typos in this chapter than in any previous? Just missing words here and there, like it needed a proofread. (I’m awful at reading my own stuff.)

    But honestly I say that only because I love this story SO much, I want it to continue and be perfect and be a book that I can buy and re-read. I love Will so much, his emotions and how he’s not just one dimensional. He’s complex and such a complete, full real person. Such a tribute to your writing. Amazing. Can’t wait for next week.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I so appreciate your kind words and I love that you feel so connected to the characters. And thank you for the note on proofreading—I absolutely agree! I usually give it another edit in blogger before posting but was traveling this past week and had to post from my phone, which turned out to be quite difficult to do AND near impossible to do a final proof. It’s never how I want my work to be, and if I ever publish this I will pull other people to read because I completely agree—reading your own work is so hard!

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    2. Ok thank you so much for taking that as it was intended (as helpful, constructive feedback)! Also, I would ALWAYS choose to read another of your amazing chapters sooner, with a couple of tiny errors, than wait even a minute longer for a perfect version! You’re such a talented writer.

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  7. All I can say is stupendous! And please keep on writing this carefully and artfully woven story.

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    1. Thank you so much, Pepper! So happy you’re still loving it.

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  8. The story is getting better and better, thank you do much!

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  9. I don't know if you guys are like me or not but I could cry buckets reading this one. An identical AB twin meeting his girl..is so so heart wrenching. But it's not just that. It is the WAY you write them that one cannot imagine there could possibly BE any other scenario than what we are reading, that's going inside their minds. Just incredible to be literally in their shoes. Great POV description really.
    I wish you can find another place where you can post daily other stories as well.
    Thank you a million times

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    1. This. I wholeheartedly agree. Totally heart wrenching and you’ve done such an amazing job of capturing it, Annie.

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    2. Thank you both for commenting. I love how invested you are in the story and with Will. I found this chapter particularly emotional to write because of how difficult and heartbreaking that moment was. It felt that way in my head and was so much more visceral when I put it on paper. I’d love to continue to write here and other places as well. If you guys know of any, let me know!

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    3. Many devs had their own writing blogs. So if you find you have some stories..you can post them on your own blog..which you will create especially for us ;)

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