They got back to the city on Saturday night—much later than expected. After hitting terrible traffic on the way down 87, they were able to bypass the worst of it by skipping Manhattan and shooting straight for Brooklyn. Pete and Lise dozed in the back after a tense few hours. Neither Will nor, Scottie wanted to inquire as to what was bothering them, so they allowed the tight silence to weigh on all of them as they sped south.
Once they’d both fallen asleep Scottie and Will shared a happy moment of relief at the lighter air around them. The unknown couples quarrel percolating in the back seat seemed to be, temporarily at least, put on hiatus. Will turned on some nondescript music and they settled into a relaxed silence.
Scottie, meanwhile, couldn’t quite pull herself out of her own head—she felt like she was still stuck up north with Will’s family. She kept replaying the last few days in her head and it was all becoming too much—her overwhelming sense of loss being replaced by something slightly better that she couldn’t quite put her finger on just yet. She felt as if she was in some kind of trance that had yet to be broken as the Manhattan skyline clicked by cinematically.
An hour after they entered the perimeter of the city, they finally pulled into the garage under Will and Pete’s building. The lights were aggressively florescent and unforgiving, and they were thoroughly spent. Will’s shoulder was still bothering him slightly, and he didn’t want to push himself too hard, especially after the long drive. So, Scottie assembled his chair after pulling it out of the trunk and Pete helped him into it with a professional ease that Will had rarely seen from his often-squeamish brother. Safely situated and in control, he was able to wheel himself smoothly to the elevator, the push rims sliding seamlessly through his open palms, taking advantage of the slight downward slope of the concrete.
Once upstairs, both Lise and Scottie disappeared into Pete and Will’s bedroom’s respectively to get ready for bed. Scottie kissed Will quickly while they both heard a door slam. Scottie shrugged and shook her head, and despite her growing closeness with Lise, decided against trailing her. She was clearly still harboring some kind of pent up anger toward Pete.
Pete, on the other hand, instead of following her in her huff, dropped himself heavily on the couch with a sigh and grabbed the remote, flipping the TV to life. Will grabbed his laptop off the counter where he’d left it, and rolled into the open family room. He eyed the couch for a minute, wondering if it was worth it to transfer, but ultimately decided he’d rather not go through the trouble.
“You’re working now?” Pete asked dubiously as he turned up the volume on ESPN Sports Center. The broadcaster’s voice was loud and clear and grating. Will cringed slightly as he typed his password, knowing he had a mess of emails to sort through, especially with how short Emily had been with him before he left for the holiday. He hoped some time off with her husband, who she supposedly loved, and her family would do her some good—but he didn’t let himself hope too much.
“It gives me peace of mind to know what I’ve got to get through this week,” Will answered honestly as he began to filter through his inbox. Pete guffawed and bent his arms with his hands behind his head in an exaggerated pose.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a lawyer?” Will asked mockingly.
“Indeed, and now I’ve paid enough dues to get first and second year associates to work the weekends for me,” he replied smugly. Will knew he wasn’t kidding, and he was slightly envious of Pete’s ability to unplug. With a boss like Emily, work leaked and blurred well outside of work hours. Business mixed freely with pleasure and Will, of all people, should know. He remembered more than one occasion where she’d produced her laptop out of nowhere after sex. They were still naked and sweating and she was trying to discuss a client while Will was trying to beat down his embarrassment at his lower half. He shuddered remembering it and instinctively shut his computer. He didn’t want to be like that anymore. He resolved to set better boundaries.
“Forget it,” Will said placing his laptop on the coffee table, “I’m beat.”
“Wanna watch Sports Center then?” Pete asked, an odd note of anticipation in his voice. His eyes remained stubbornly on the TV screen rather than on Will.
“Absolutely not,” he answered smartly, pivoting and starting to push himself lightly out of the room, cognizant of his shoulder with every rotation.
“Hey, wait up a second,” Pete said quickly, almost desperately. Will stopped short and spun around, his brow furrowed in expectation.
“Okay…” he replied, dragging the word out, with a tinge of irritation. Pete sat up straighter and rolled his neck, closing his eyes and moving his shoulders up and down. He was stalling. “Pete?” Will pressed, wheeling slightly closer to his brother, who refused to look at him. Instead he studied his hands, with particular focus on his right thumb nail, which had been bitten down as far as it could possibly go.
"You need to stop that,” Will said after a moment. He didn’t care that he was nagging. Pete clearly didn’t want to tell him something and if he was going to waste his time then he deserved a ragging.
“What?” Pete asked, still not looking up.
“The nails, Pete, it’s a mess,” Will reproached, leaning forward slightly and resting his forearms on his thighs. His right leg tittered slightly but he kept it in place by pressing his weight on it.
“Oh yeah, someday, sure,” he responded, absently. The sportscaster in the background shouted at an alarming pitch and cheers ensured. Then an entirely unnecessary horn blew. The fanfare wasn’t amusing after an almost 6-hour drive and an irritating interaction with the sudden king of coy.
“Can we turn this the fuck off?” Will snapped, reaching instinctively for the remote.
“No!” Pete reacted, jumping to his feet to beat Will’s grasp.
“Wasn’t a fair fight,” Will said sharply as he watched his brother place the remote on the other side of the couch and sit back down. Pete finally looked up at Will and it was like looking in a mirror. Will leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Sorry,” Pete replied quietly. Will had to lean back in and strain slightly to hear him over the commentary. “I don’t want Lise to hear this. She’d kill me if she knew.”
“Knew what?” Will asked, going slightly cold at the implication that Pete was about to drop something drastic on him. He selfishly wished Pete had waited until tomorrow morning after he’d had a chance to shower and get a good eight hours of sleep to drop this mystery bomb.
“Knew that I was telling you this,” Pete admitted, wincing visibly as if the words were actually causing physical pain. Will waited, not sure he should say anything. He wanted to let Pete get there on his own. “I just need to tell someone,” he said finally. He was wringing his hands in his lap and his right leg was shaking uncontrollably, reflecting Will’s. He chuckled internally because it almost looked like he was having a spasm of his own.
“Okay, so tell me if you’re going to tell me,” Will pushed, his anxiety rising. He fought to keep it at a reasonable level, knowing it would be impossible to erase completely, as he’d learned too many times before. Pete took a deep breath and leaned forward, putting his face in his hands and rubbing vigorously.
“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Will reprimanded, grabbing one of Pete’s wrists harshly. “Just let it out, Pete. Whatever it is, it’s going to be fine.” Pete nodded absently and sat up straighter. The flash of the TV cast an eerie bluish flickering glow over his features.
“Lise is pregnant,” Pete stated flatly. He was staring blankly past the TV at the wall. Will was shocked, but not in an entirely terrible way.
“That’s great,” Will started but then immediately backpedaled at the incredulous expression on his twin’s face. “I mean, obviously how great it is depends on how you feel.” He paused, waiting for Pere to fill the gap, but he didn’t budge.
“Pete,” Will pressed, “how does this make you feel?” Will slowly reached for his brother’s knee and shook it slightly to knock him out of wherever he’d gone. “Look, it’s not like you’re sixteen and you knocked up Holly Moser under the bleachers.” That did it. Pete snorted at Holly’s name. They’d dated sophomore year in high school and Pete admitted, quite early, that he didn’t like her personality at all. She was incredibly pretty in the way that youth grants but had a terrible mean streak. He had been afraid of breaking up for her for almost six months.
“I’m scared shitless,” Pete confessed quietly.
“That’s fair,” Will replied earnestly. “I don’t blame you.”
“And she’s pissed.”
“I don’t know,” Pete answered helplessly. He shrugged and rubbed his hand roughly over his face again.
“Was she not on the pill?” Will asked. “You did use some kind of protection, right?”
“Of course, we did,” Pete snapped, “I’m not an idiot. She’s on the pill, but I read online it doesn’t work 100% of the time.”
“Right,” Will agreed, wondering how it was possible that Lise was the 1% case where the pill didn’t work. He felt a selfish twang in his chest as he considered what the doctors had told him after he’d been paralyzed.
“You might have some trouble getting a woman pregnant since we still don’t know if you can ejaculate, but even if you can, those boys won’t be strong swimmers.” He remembered the cheesy smile on the doctor’s face—as if he thought this was funny or even amusing. To Will, it was the least funny thing he’d ever heard. He’d always wanted to be a dad, and it crushed him that if and when he ended up with someone, she would have to go through what was bound to be a fertility nightmare just because he couldn’t hold up his end of the agreement. Will could ejaculate, but it was very rare and pretty weak.
Biting his lip, he returned to his brother in their living room, shoving his own self-centered insecurities into the box he kept them. This wasn’t about him. This was about Pete.
“So, she’s pregnant,” Will repeated quietly. Still, Pete shushed him. “Okay, I’m sorry.”
“She said her mom was really fertile. Got pregnant every time she tried on the first time. Lise is blaming herself,” Pete said sadly.
“Wow,” Will replied, his mind drifting devastatingly to his own “slow swimmers.” He wondered if he would be able to get Lise’s mom pregnant. Then admonished himself for mentally impregnating Lise’s mom. “Well, it’s definitely not just her fault, considering it takes two.” Will laughed and Pete returned a frail smile.
“I just don’t know what we’re going to do,” he replied miserably.
“How far along is she?” Will inquired.
“Eight or nine weeks, we’re not sure. She took a test at mom and dad’s. We haven’t seen a doctor yet, but we’re guessing she’s due around the end of June.”
“Pete, just my point of view here. I’m assuming you want it?” Will asked sarcastically. Pete nodded and rolled his eyes.
“You’re 30. You’re both lawyers. You’re in love. You’ve got time to prepare.” Will stated matter-of-factly. “There isn’t any reason I can see not to have the baby and raise the baby together. Right?” Pete bobbed his head slowly. “Am I missing anything?” He shook his head and looked down at his hands.
“I just don’t feel ready.”
“I’m not sure you’re ever going to wake up one day and just be ready, you know?”
“I guess not,” Pete replied flatly, “I’ve never really thought about it.” And it occurred to Will, that Pete probably hadn’t ever thought about it. He was never a planner. The future never interested him. He was here for the now, the present, and he swung through his life from branch to branch without a care in the world. Things came easily to him, and they always had. This surprise pregnancy had profoundly fucked up the easy-going algorithm he’d unknowingly figured out for his life. It was the kind of bulletproof youth paired with his laid-back nature. Will’s youth and carefree attitude had been shattered along with his spine, but Pete’s had hung on for years and years. It was bound to be shaken up at some point.
This was that point.
“We’re happy but confused. We wanted it to be on our terms,” Pete lamented, responding to Will’s silence.
“Things rarely happen on your terms in life, little bro.” Pete gave a weak laugh at the dig as Will reached over and rubbed his brother’s back. He was slumped forward. Inhaling sharply, he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I just told you what I think,” Will replied.
“No but, what do you think about me being a dad?” he questioned, his voice shrinking to a whisper as the question worked its way out of his mouth. The TV was still blaring, and Will wished he could flip it off.
“I think you’re going to be a great dad, Pete. I really, really do.”
“I just wish you were going to be a dad first,” Pete said earnestly, looking over at Will with a frustration in his face that wasn’t there before. Will wasn’t sure how to answer. His tongue was thick in his mouth. He wasn’t ready to be a dad yet, but if he managed to get Scottie pregnant, he’d do everything he could for that baby. He’d throw himself right into fatherhood headfirst, without a safety net.
“What? Why?” he finally managed to say. And much to Will’s surprise, Pete managed to look shocked.
“So, I could copy you, duh,” he replied with a tone that made it clear he thought this was the most obvious thing in the world.
“What?” Will asked, feeling dumb and confused at the same time.
“I always thought you’d make a great dad, and I was gonna copy you, so, you know, I didn’t fuck it up too bad.” Will felt a chill ripple through him and yearned, in a kind of primitive way, for the chance one day. He smiled sadly and patted Pete on the shoulder.
“Pete, you’re going to be great. Both of you. I have no doubt.” Pete grinned, and Will could almost see the excitement inflate him.
“Fuck,” he said in disbelief.
“Fuck is right,” Will answered, his smile creeping from sad to hopeful. He didn’t know if he’d ever be able to be a dad, but he did know he’d do everything to be the best damn uncle in the world.
Opening the door to his room, Will thought he might be sick. He was having a hard time processing what Pete had told him. He needed some quiet and some sleep.
He expected to find Scottie curled up in his bed, buried by the oversized grey comforter she had quite a knack for hogging—but she wasn’t. The room was dark, but there was light peeking out from under the bathroom door, which was shut. Will could hear the shower running.
“Scottie?” he said, knocking lightly and leaning his face against the door. “Can I just grab a few things in here?” He could do some of his routine in the hall bathroom, but he would need to get into his own bathroom before he got into bed. What he really wanted to do was climb into the shower with her, but they hadn’t done that yet, and he felt self-conscious at the thought of how clumsy he’d be with his floppy slippery legs, not to mention the crippling nervousness he still had to beat down whenever they had sex—which admittedly wasn’t very often. They preferred to fool around, usually ending with him going down on her. She seemed to be satisfied, and if she was satisfied, then he was, too.
“No, don’t come in,” she answered in a thick muted voice. She was close to the door, so she definitely wasn’t under the water. He found himself in a family place, reminded of the first time they’d met—without even knowing they were meeting—when he’d knocked on the bathroom door at Wave Hill. Then again at his apartment the next morning, when she slammed this same bathroom door in his face. He’d found himself tentatively knocking, afraid he’d scare away—not like she’d be able to climb out the bathroom window on the 8th floor, but still. But this time felt slightly different. She sounded more vulnerable and less apologetic.
“Scottie, I’m sorry, but I’m coming in.” He deftly turned the knob and pushed the door open, and there she was, curled up, compact, and crying. She was sitting on the closed toilet with her knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them, face obscured by her dark hair cascading down over her legs, and she was absolutely convulsing with racking sobs.
“Jesus Christ,” Will gasped, grabbing the push rims of his chair and gliding swiftly to her with one stoke, coming to a smooth stop right in front of her. She shuddered once more and lifted her head slightly, face blotchy, red, and soak.
“Your cheeks,” she whispered wetly, trying to sniffle at the same time. Will’s hands flew to his face to find his cheeks had warmed and colored from a potent mix of the news he’d just received and the swelling steam swirling around them.
“They’re red?” he asked. She nodded and gave him a feeble smile. He grinned back and tilted his head down slightly to be at eyelevel with her. It was odd adjusting for someone else when he was so used to everyone adjusting for him. “Yeah well,” he continued, reaching to wipe her cheeks with his thumbs. She let him, closing her eyes for a second and savoring his coarse touch. “Yours are pretty red as well.”
She stifled a laugh, suddenly feeling incredibly stupid for falling to pieces in his bathroom. Carefully, she unfolded herself, straightening her long legs out on each side of his wheelchair and reaching timidly for his hands. He took them in his and rested them on his lap, pulling her closer. She obliged and pressed her forehead against his, her eyes closed, her breathing ragged.
She was wearing a white ribbed tank top without a bra and a pair of Calvin Klein white underwear, and Will felt his breath catch in the back of his throat. She had never looked more beautiful.
“What’s wrong, Thea?” Will asked, his voice low and soothing. The sound of the water pounding the tiles and the heat of steam oddly comforting and intimate.
“Your family,” she whispered, leaning back slightly to look him in the eye. Will felt his heart drop. They were too much for her. They were scaring her away. His arms suddenly went cold and numb and he felt panicky at the sensation of not having feeling anywhere in his body.
“Jesus, I’m so sorry, they can be…” he managed, but his voice trailed off as she started to shake her head.
“Stop it, silly, I mean, your family is, is,” she searched for her next word, throwing her eyes to the ceiling and furrowing her brow.
“A lot?” Will offered. She laughed and sniffled at the same time, tears welling in her eyes again, magnifying their magnificent color, threatening to spill over.
“Amazing,” she interjected. “They’re amazing, Will.”
“What?” he asked, dumbfounded. “My dad acted like a total dick.”
“I know, I know,” she admitted, finding a smile in her pout. “But at least he cares enough to act like a dick,” she argued.
“But,” Will protested weakly, not knowing quite how to navigate the conversation. He was impressed at her ability to read between people’s line and dig into their nuances.
“He cares, Will,” she whispered in awe, like it was the most incredible thing she’d ever seen. “They all care.” And watching the admiration and wonder carved across her face, Will realized that this was all novel for her. He reproached himself for not seeing it sooner. He’d shown her what a real family—visceral, and rude, and incredibly raw at times—was like. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And she’d seen the good above all else.
Scottie searched Will’s face for an indication that he had heard her, but he just had this blank look, wide-eyed, mouth slightly agape.
“Will?” she said quietly, reaching up to wipe a rogue tear on her face but there was steam all around them now, and her face was so damp it was hard to tell what was tears and what was condensation. He had averted his gaze for a moment, down to their intertwined hands in his lap, but he slowly looked up and met her eyes and shook his head.
“I love you,” he avowed suddenly, without a shadow of doubt. “I love you so much.” Scottie went to speak but found that all of her words had been swallowed up. She sensed the tears again, heavier, happier—a release. They bowled down her cheeks with abandon, and she pulled her hands from his to cover her face. She was losing control.
“It’s okay,” Will assured her, “It’s okay, come here. You don’t have to say it back.” He pulled her closer, frustrated with his legs and his inability to get nearer to her because of his chair.
“Will,” she sniffled, “Will.” She was hiccuping and pulled back from him, rubbing at her face furiously. The steam had dampened her hair and it was sticking to her forehead. Will chuckled and reached up to wipe it away and tuck it behind her ears. Heavy with moisture, it stuck.
“It’s okay,” he whispered reassuringly, rubbing her upper back with his good arm.
“I love you,” she said unequivocally, interrupting him. “I love you more than words can even…” She trailed off and started sobbing again. Will’s heart was so full in his chest he couldn’t breathe. Or maybe, it was the steam churning around them. Either way, it was a heady mix. He leaned in, scooting forward slightly precariously on the seat cushion, to kiss her. She met him halfway and took his lips in hers. He kissed her hard, running his hands through her wet hair with the kind of urgency that might come with it being their last. But it wasn’t their last. Not even close.
Scottie sat back after a few minutes and held his gaze, her green eyes smoldering. Slowly, sensually, she lifted her arms straight up in the air and held them there, suspended. The look on her face was one of invitation.
For possibly the hundredth time that night, Will felt his breath catch deep in the back of his throat. He reached over, equally slowly, and gently pulled her tank top over her head, revealing her perfect boobs and smooth stomach. She stood slowly in front of him, baring herself completely, as he leaned forward, kissing her along the waistband of her underwear, then slowly pulling them down her long legs. She stepped out of them gracefully and leaned down to nip his ear. He felt the electricity shoot through him and he shuddered as goosebumps ran down his arms.
Then, Scottie reached for his shirt, tugging it over his well-defined chest and pecs. He hesitated, feeling awkwardness and self-consciousness rear their ugly heads for a murky second. He took a deep breath, and instead of stopping her, making some kind of sorry excuse for his broken body, and leaving her to shower alone, he chose confidence, and raised his arms too, allowing her to pull his shirt over his head. She loved him.
They’d never showered together, and Will didn’t feel particularly sexy, but she’d seen him naked a bunch of times now. She knew what his body was capable of, and what it wasn’t, and they’d had fun exploring the gap between those two extremes. If they wanted to branch out of their usual, a tab of Viagra and a rubber band had been able to work wonders since Will was only able to have reflex erections with direct stimulation. His complete injury prevented him from having psychogenic erections anymore, so even as he looked at Scottie in front of him, his penis was uncooperative, as usual, but for the first time he could remember, it didn’t bother him. All he could see was her. She was the most captivating thing in the world. He hadn’t taken anything, but that moment didn’t seem to be about sex. It was deeper and oddly even more intimate than they had ever been together.
There was a tenderness in Scottie that Will had never seen before, and Scottie too noticed a novel vulnerability in Will, radiating from a place of strength, that made her believe they’d taken a serious step forward in their relationship in a mere matter of seconds. It was exhilarating.
Will bent down to depress his brakes then leaned back in his chair, taking all of her in, moving his eyes up her body as if he were part of a sacred ritual—all smooth skin and slender limbs. She leaned toward him, reaching for his pant button and zipper as he pressed his body upward and lifted his butt out of the seat just enough, so she could reach behind him and slide his briefs and pants down at the same time. They pooled at his ankles and she took each leg in her hands and gently threaded his feet out through the fabric, placing them softly back on the footplate. Will couldn’t feel her hands but watching her touch him was like fireworks—colors, sparks, and heat.
Unlocking his brakes, he reversed slightly, and she stepped forward and straddled him, wrapping her legs around his sinewy back. He was thankful for his considerable trunk control, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to support her so well as he wrapped his arms tightly around her body and ran his hands down her back. He loved having her whole being pressed against the parts of him that he could feel. She smelled damp and peppery as she laid her head on his shoulder and dipped her face into the crook of his neck. He inhaled deeply, committing this glorious moment to memory.
Then, he wheeled carefully into the roll-in shower, getting as close to the hot water’s spray as he could without getting his chair absolutely soaked. Scottie trailed kisses up his neck and onto his cheek as she reluctantly stood and stepped backwards into the hot water, transforming from a human—her form sharp and immediate—into a water deity—shadowy, ethereal, and untouchable. Needing to be near her in a visceral, primal way, he reached for his shower chair greedily. After a deft transfer, he used his considerable arms to push his chair back out of the shower, and scoot himself under the water. Scottie watched him with wonder, admiring his broad shoulders and the swell of his biceps, triceps, and chest muscles rippling with use. She knew all too well from her time with Will that it wasn’t easy being paralyzed, but sometimes he simply made it look that way. He was amazing, and he loved her.
He loved her. She couldn’t stop saying it in her head, turning the promise over and over, running it through the lens of her life. He loved her.
Slowly, after warming up from head to toe, she lowered herself onto his lap and pressed her mouth to his, and he took her in his arms, pulling her against him, skin to skin. The hot water came down like a wild kind of rain, their bodies slick, the steam fogging the glass, wrapping them in their own kind of paradise, suspended in the moment, where they were intertwined, soaking wet, and each other’s completely.