Scottie woke to the chilly sun streaming through the sizable window over the king bed. She rolled over to find Will’s side conspicuously empty—the covers rumpled and a pillow, like always, haphazardly tossed where his knees would have been. She smiled just thinking about him and how cute he was when he was asleep. She’d wanted to tell him how she felt last night, but something held her back as they got ready for bed. She’d splashed water on her face and stared at her reflection as Will brushed his teeth in nothing but a pair of boxes. When they’d first started dating he’d been self conscious of his legs around her, but over time he’d loosened up. She’d given him nothing to be self conscious about, and slowly but surely he emerged, like a turtle coming out of his shell.
But as she watched Will watch her in the mirror, his head cocked quizzically to the side, she knew the moment wasn’t right. Instead she laughed lightly and ruffled his hair, bending over to kiss him on the top of the head.
What she didn’t know was that the same phrase was vibrating behind his lips, but he couldn’t let it out either. They stared at each other for a long moment, neither one speaking, Will’s mouth filling with saliva and Crest toothpaste. Scottie had given another nervous laugh and returned to the bedroom, pulling the covers up over her slim frame, slightly disappointed in herself.
Eying the landscape outside—which was a kaleidoscope of natural hues from vibrant reds to earthy oranges to muted browns—Scottie got out of bed and padded across the smooth wood floor to the large bathroom. The only room on the second floor of the house was Ari and John’s, so when Will got hurt they were able to make all the modifications he needed to his childhood bedroom. And because of that, it was if a great and terrible schism had taken place—the Will from before and the Will from after battled it out on the walls, shelves, and fixtures. Pictures of Will standing tall and strong, dripping wet, in swim trunks on the lake shore were a stark contrast to the chair in the shower. The wide bathroom door opposed the tiny storage cabinets set high on the wall behind his bed. The lowered bar in his closet juxtaposed the mess of high school athletic trophies on the very highest shelf. The bare wood floors were almost glowing with adaptability in comparison to the warm textured rugs that complemented every other room in the house. Will’s first wheelchair sat quietly in the corner of the room, a forgotten relic of his recovery days. It was still small but felt clunkier with handles on the much higher back. Scottie wondered, as she brushed her teeth, if it bothered Will to be home. He’d been injured almost eight years ago but being here seemed to set him on a violent course of fluctuating between joy and frustration. She supposed that eight years wasn’t really all that long in the scheme of things. When he was in New York he was living a new life that he’d created for himself, in the wake of something that could have broken him. Being home was a stark reminder of the days when he was still fighting not to be broken.
Running her fingers through her hair and throwing on a pair of black skinny jeans, a grey crew neck sweatshirt, and white sneakers, Scottie walked down the wide hallway to the kitchen. There was hot coffee bubbling on the counter and a plate of buttery croissants. She grabbed a croissant as Missy, the family’s 12-year old black lab, slowly moseyed over to her, tail wagging, nails clicking against the wood. Everything else seemed quiet as she scratched behind the dog’s ears and let her lick her hand. Pouring a cup of coffee, Scottie noticed Olivia sitting out on the deck in a hoodie, looking out over the lake. She seemed to be the only one in the house at the moment and Scottie was tired of hearing the metallic clatter of her own thoughts.
“Hey,” she said quietly as she closed the sliding glass door delicately behind her, hands closed around the steaming mug of coffee. “Mind if I join you?” Olivia turned and looked at Scottie, skeptically at first then she smiled softly but cautiously and nodded, returning her gaze to the lake. “Where’s everyone this morning?” Scottie asked as she slid into a recliner and pulled her legs up under her. She chanced a sip and the bitter taste filled her mouth and warmed her chest.
“Will and Pete went to the gym. They always get competitive when they’re home. It’s annoying,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “Mom and Lise went grocery shopping. Wynn and Sean sleep late…like really late. And my dad went to church.”
“Church huh? On a Wednesday?” Scottie quipped. Olivia laughed.
“I know,” she replied shrugging, “he just likes to go sometimes. He's religious when he’s upset.”
“And he’s upset today?” Scottie pressed lightly, careful not to push too hard. Olivia shrugged again and pulled her sweat pant clad legs up to her chest and hugged them.
“It’s hard for him to see Will,” she answered flatly and truthfully. The bluntness took Scottie off guard, but she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. That kind of sharpness was something that Will and Olivia had in common.
“Ah,” Scottie answered, pursing her lips and taking another sip of coffee.
“I know you’ve only known him after he got hurt, but it was really hard on my family. Especially my dad,” Olivia continued, a kind of shuddering running through her voice. She looked down at her thumb and bit at some skin along the blue painted nail.
“I can only imagine,” Scottie conceded, trying to reconcile the sadness she felt for who Will had been and the joy with who he had become. It felt odd.
“It just pisses me off though,” Olivia snapped, suddenly furious, “he didn’t fucking die that day, you know?” Scottie nodded solemnly, inclined to agree with her emotion. “My dad just can’t get over it. My mom too, but he’s worse. He acts like all his chances of a normal life are just gone, out the window, poof to dust. And that isn’t fair to him.”
“I agree. It isn’t fair at all,” Scottie replied quietly. And she believed it. It wasn’t fair.
“How is he supposed to get past it if they can’t?” she asked harshly. This time it was Scottie’s turn to shrug.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, struck swiftly with the truth in her words.
“Makes me mad,” she offered to no one in particular. Scottie took another sip of her coffee wishing she had put cream in it. The bitter taste was all of a sudden too much for her to handle. But she didn’t move to go inside. She didn’t want to leave Olivia’s side.
“And you probably want a normal life right? It’s insulting to you.” Her voice had taken on a bitterness that wasn’t there before.
“I don’t even know what normal really means,” Scottie answered candidly. Olivia looked at her hard then nodded, but shook her head and closed her eyes after a moment.
“You know, my whole adult life, Will has been in a wheelchair?”
“You’re twenty-five now?” she asked. Olivia nodded.
“I was seventeen when it happened. And when you’re seventeen you don’t really know anything yet, even though you think you know everything.” Scottie laughed and bowed her head. Olivia cracked a genuine smile and ran her hand through her dark hair. She looked the most like Ari of all four kids. Though not as obviously beautiful as Wynn, Olivia had a certain allure about her that Scottie couldn’t quite place. Her eyes were almost the same color as her olive skin and slightly almond shaped, and her hair and brows were so dark they were almost black.
“He’s kind of the Will I feel like I’ve always known,” she persisted.
“Well, he’s the Will I’ve always known,” Scottie added, not wanting to overstep.
“And you love him anyway,” Olivia stated as she turned to look at Scottie.
“There’s no anyway,” Scottie answered, voice uncompromising. A smile spread across Olivia’s thin face and she nodded. She didn’t say anything for a moment, and the sound leaves rustling filling the quiet.
“It was the night before my high school graduation, you know.”
“I didn’t know that.” Scottie’s mouth felt unexpectedly very dry. She took another sip of coffee, but it didn’t help much.
“He and two friends went off the road up in Vermont,” she said quietly. Scottie nodded. She knew this part of the story. “He was driving…apparently.”
“What do you mean?” Scottie asked as a chill ran through her. She couldn’t tell if it was coming from the cold wind that had just picked up or the insinuation.
“Nothing. I mean, I don’t know. I think about it a lot. Will was always the responsible one. I knew he was trying to get home for my graduation in the morning, but he never would have gotten behind the wheel if he was too tired. That was just so unlike him. And to put other people in danger? He would never have done that either.” Scottie looked at Olivia’s profile for a long moment, her gaze rigid. What she was saying made sense. Will was responsible. He pushed the limits sometimes, yes, but he was measured and thoughtful. Scottie hadn’t known that he’d always been that way.
“So, what do you think happened?” Scottie asked, unsure she wanted to tread down this road with Will’s sister. She wondered if the two of them had ever talked about it.
“I mean, I’m sure what happened was what happened, right.” She posed it as a statement, but her voice went up like a question. Scottie bit her lip, precipitously concerned that the accident might not have happened how Will had told it.
“Right,” she answered quietly.
“I just wonder what he was thinking. The crash was really bad. And sometimes I just,” she stopped short like she’d hit a wall, took a deep breath, and looked up at the cloudless blue sky. “I just blame myself sometimes. And seeing the way my parents act around him sometimes just makes me feel even worse.” Scottie’s breath hitched in her throat and she scrunched her eyes closed. She thought about reaching for Olivia’s hand and telling her that it wasn’t her fault—and even though Scottie truly believed that, she knew it wouldn’t be the kind of platitude Olivia wanted from her.
“Ugh,” Scottie groaned, turning to look at Olivia whose dark eyes shifted to her green ones. “Life is so complicated.” Olivia smiled slightly and laughed, her cheeks pink from the cold.
“I like you,” she offered.
“I like you, too.” Scottie meant it.
“Will bringing someone like you home is the best thing he can do to combat my parents. I hope he knows that.” Scottie smiled to herself.
“I’m not exactly the first girl you’d want to bring home to your parents, you know. I don’t exactly come from normal.” Olivia chuckled.
“Well, you’re not the first girl he’s brought home. She looked good on paper, but she was all wrong for him.”
“You didn’t like Kristin?” Scottie asked curiously, secretly relishing it.
“Nah, not really.” Scottie couldn’t help but snicker. Olivia laughed, too.
“She proved she wasn’t made of very tough stuff,” Olivia continued.
“And you think I am?” Scottie asked.
“Yes,” Olivia answered simply as the wind picked up again, blowing Scottie’s curls every which way. Scottie smiled in spite of the chill and turned to look out over the expansive rippling lake. The two of them sat like that for a long time, content in the silence and the camaraderie.
They arrived at the restaurant almost 30 minutes later than John had wanted, and he made his irritation known as he huffed and puffed and threatened to blow the house down while trying to find a parking spot. It had taken much longer to get everyone ready and out the door.
“Dad, if you still have the handicapped hang tag then we can use that,” Will offered as John pulled angrily around another row of cars.
“We don’t need that,” he blustered, turning to look behind him as another car rounded the row of cars. Cursing under his breath he pressed the gas hard and sped to the end of row.
“Well actually,” Will countered sardonically, “you might not, but I do.”
“I’ve seen you get around in that thing, you’re quicker than me,” he barked back. It was Scottie, Will, John, Ari and Olivia in this car. Pete, Lise, Wynn, and Sean had taken the other car, and were probably equally screwed with finding parking. They probably, though, didn’t have the boiling pot of John’s contempt to deal with in their car.
“You mean my wheelchair? Well thanks, I’ve had plenty of practice,” Will lobbed the comment back, voice round and frustrated. “But it’s not about distance, it’s about having room to get out. You’re going to end up squeezing into one of these tiny spots and I won’t be able to get into my chair.” Scottie clutched Will’s hand and he gripped back. She could feel the exasperation practically radiating off of his skin.
“John, honey, Will’s right. Let’s just park in one of the handicapped spots near the front,” Ari offered quietly, as if she was hoping no one in the back seat would hear her. John groaned and motioned to the glove box, where Ari retrieved the handicapped sign and hooked it onto the rearview mirror in vexed silence. Will bit his lip and took a deep breath. This was classic his father and he just had to let it go. They were about to sit down to a nice fucking family dinner and he just had to let it go. Scottie rubbed his back and he welcomed her touch. It kept him grounded. As long as he was tied to her he wouldn’t erupt. Olivia was tense beside him, probably bracing herself for what she assumed was coming.
“Here we go,” Ari said as John pulled into one of the handicapped outlined spots right in front of the restaurant. The blue stick figure in the wheelchair on the sign seemed to mock them all as John put the car in park.
“Happy?” he asked sharply.
“Dad,” Olivia chimed even sharper. “You’re being a jerk.” Will, turned swiftly to look at her, a smirk spreading across his face. She shrugged and raised her eyebrows. “What?” she asked, “he is.” Then she turned back to John. “You are.” Scottie wanted to laugh but she kept her lips pursed tightly over her teeth to keep it under wraps. She wasn’t a member of the family and didn’t anticipate laughing at the patriarch’s expense would go over well.
“Livie, I’m surprised at you,” John said after a moment of staring her down.
“I’ve told you a million times, I hate it when you call me that,” she snapped and opened her door, hopping out onto the pavement and slamming it behind her. The silence that ensued was deafening.
“She didn’t mean it, honey,” Ari offered delicately, but her face told the truth.
“Of course, she did,” John replied quietly, shaking his head. “Let’s just go, Barry is going to be wondering where the hell we are.” Barry, as explained on the way over, was John’s best friend from growing up. He’d opened a brand new restaurant a few towns away and had saved a table special for them. John had been excited in a way that Scottie had never seen—though to be fair, she’d just met the man. He’d been giddy but fragile, at risk of crumbling with any little thing that threatened to go wrong.
Slamming his door, he walked around to open the door for Ari. She stepped out cautiously and took his hand. The two of them got straight to talking in hushed voices.
“Sorry,” Will murmured as he shifted toward the right-side door where there was enough space for him to transfer.
“Oh, please don’t apologize,” Scottie remarked as she kissed him on the cheek. “This is how families are with each other—I assume.” Will laughed at her, feeling the annoyance at his dad ebb away. John could be a real asshole, that was for damn sure, but Will understood what Scottie meant. Families were hard on each other. The pain of years of wear and tear bread pockets of intense frustration that could only be needled by the people who knew you best.
“I’ll get your chair,” Scottie said as Will turned to her, before he could even ask. She had this way of anticipating his needs, desires, and feelings before he had a chance to express them or even understand them himself.
“Thanks,” he replied tenderly as she scooted out the left side and sauntered around the car to the trunk, popping it open, pulling out the pieces, assembling it expertly, and pushing it into the exact position he needed. He felt his cheeks go red when she even knelt down to lock the brakes for him. It wasn’t uncomfortable receiving help from her. He didn’t even see what she was doing as help. He saw it, felt it—tasted it even—as love.
John had made it all the way to the top of the step at the entrance before he realized why no one was following him. Turning around he caught his wife’s eye first and the fire there was wild. He’d been careless, he realized, not to ask the question that seemed to be the only questions that mattered ever since Will got hurt. Is the place accessible? Can a wheelchair fit? Are there any steps?
He felt a nagging sense of shame tug at him as he looked over at Will whose expression was stony, cold, and to anyone who didn’t know him, unreadable. But John did know him, and it was the face—albeit rare—he made before he started to cry. He’d made it all his life—ever since he was a little boy skinning his knee or being sent to his room. It was the face he’d made when they’d told him he’d never walk again.
“Jesus Christ,” John admonished himself as he dropped down the four steps to the sidewalk, “I fucked up big time here, Will. I was so excited about Barry’s restaurant I didn’t even think to ask.” Hid dad’s voice held authentic remorse, and it was something that felt slightly foreign to Will. He swallowed as he looked down at his paralyzed feet and took a deep breath. That was the problem with his dad and Pete. They didn’t think, and that perhaps hurt the most of all. But as he looked up at his dad he felt his anger and utter humiliation fade, and compassion slid into its place. His dad looked as if he might get sick all over the sidewalk, and Will knew it was a genuine mistake.
“I’ll go see if there’s an accessible entrance around back or something,” Ari offered, hurrying up the steps and through the front door.
“It’s okay, dad,” Will relented, running his hand through his hair and grabbing the skin on the back of his neck. The door to the restaurant opened, carrying the chorus of chatter from the patrons within that hushed as it swung closed. Ari stood shaking her head with a big man—both in height and girth—at the top of the steps. Barry hadn’t changed in the last decade since Will had seen him. It was, in fact, Will who had changed dramatically.
“Aw, shucks, I hadn’t seen yous since you were in high school and I didn’t even think about it,” he apologized in a thick voice, “I feel likea real heel here Johnny.” Will smiled at hearing his dad’s childhood nickname.
“Hey, Barry, don’t worry about it,” Will offered warmly, “really, it’s fine. I climb steps all the time.” Barry chuckled uncomfortably.
“Yous kidding right?” he asked after a minute.
“He’s actually not,” Scottie chimed in, feeling that her interference would offer more credibility.
"What?” John asked, confusion marring his face. Will shrugged and spun his chair around, backing up to the bottom step.
“Just a little something I picked up,” he said more nonchalantly than he felt as he prepared for the same feat he’d accomplished at the wedding all those months ago. Will could tell that his dad was quietly impressed.
Taking a deep breath, he eyed Scottie. She nodded ever so slightly and smiled. It was the encouragement he needed. He raised his eyebrows for a quick second and she winked at him.
But this time didn’t go quite as smoothly.
With his right hand crossed over his body, grabbing on to his left wheel and his other hand on the railing, he thrust the left wheel in an upward motion and the entire chair rose up onto the first step. His chest flooded with confidence, but he hadn’t earned a respite just yet. His feet slid back slightly on the footplate because of the severe angle, but he ignored it, sharpening his focus to a pinpoint.
Scottie didn’t break their gaze and offered a quiet nod. He smiled back, a weak, strained, teeth-clenched smile. He was using all of his bodily strength to keep himself there, his arms twitching slightly. He performed the maneuver again and was greeted with success on the second step. And then the third.
“Whoa, Will my man,” Pete’s voice floated toward him as he, Lise, Wynn, and Shawn approached the restaurant from their parking spot around the corner. Will gave a quick tight smile and roll of his eyes before setting himself for the final lap.
It wasn’t until the final stair where everything went awry. As Will jerked the wheel for a final time he felt a bolt of pain ricochet from his bad shoulder—which was holding all of his weight—all the way down his arm and back. He yelped like a kicked dog and shuddered, lurching forward involuntarily. He could hear Scottie say his name as the inevitable happened. With his weight shifting violently forward the chair went with him and dumped him onto the concrete, tumbling after him as he rolled down the three steps he’d just conquered. He landed on his shoulder with a thud and a groan escaped his lips. Then his chair landed on top of him and teetered to the side landing on one wheel with the other spinning lazily in the air.
He sensed all the progress he’d made with his family—and perhaps even Scottie—get snatched away in one swift and vicious move—hitting him so hard he felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him. No one moved as he pushed himself into a sitting position, wincing at the twinge in his shoulder as he did, wishing he could simply sink into the sidewalk and let them all enjoy the dinner without him. But the looks on their faces, especially his mom’s—which was somewhere between terror and relief—and his dad’s—which was more in the disgust and pity ballpark—quickly proved that his wish—no matter how hard he fought them—would be fervently denied. But everyone stood their ground and didn’t rush to baby him. There was a kernel of pride and gratitude blooming in his chest as he regained his composure.
Then Scottie, without being asked or prompted, the picture of poise, knelt down to right his chair. Then, like an expert she scooted it closer to him and discreetly locked his brakes. And as he tried to transfer from the ground to the seat, he wobbled with even less grace than usual. But then, his shoulder gave out.
The second time he hit the ground; no one kept their cool.