The fierce banging on the door echoed through the hallway and all Scottie could hear was the sound of her breathing and a wild ringing in her ears. She felt like she might jump out of her skin if he didn’t open up immediately. Her fist vibrated with the force of her wrath. That wrath had carried her ever since she slammed Kristin’s door and pressed on the gas.
Finally, the door opened, and she practically fell over the threshold, the forward momentum of her anger pushing her almost out of her physical body. Cory stood there, infuriatingly bewildered, a dish towel draped over his shoulder and a glass of wine in his hand. Judging by the expression on his face, Scottie must have looked absolutely deranged.
“Let me uh, take your coat,” he offered, stepping toward her. She took a hard step backward, edging away from him, and banged into the wall behind her. She hadn’t had anything to drink, but she suddenly felt very intoxicated.
“I’m fine,” she insisted coldly as she pushed past him into his apartment. It smelled like something was cooking, and the scents wafted toward her. Instead of lowering her guard, which she supposed was his intention with the home cooked meal and the glass of red wine waiting for her on the counter, she coiled herself tighter, readying herself to spring.
“Here,” he offered as he appeared behind her, reaching around her and handing her the glass of wine. His hand grazed her lower back and she went rigid at his fingers.
“Thank you,” Scottie replied stiffly as she received it, careful not to crush the fragile stem in her rage. She clenched her teeth instead as Cory walked around the counter to face her, leaning down on his forearms and twisting his own wine glass stem between his fingers. The red liquid swirled and danced along the edges. To Scottie, it just looked like blood.
“Drink,” he encouraged smiling with all his teeth showing, like the wolf must have smiled as he considered Red Riding Hood for dinner. Scottie rolled her neck around in a circle and lifted the glass delicately to her lips. The smell made her stomach roil. Swallowing, she pressed her feet into the floor, and without a warning, or even a flinch, she threw the wine at Cory, drenching him. He sputtered backward into the sink behind him as she held the empty glass in her trembling hand.
“What the fuck,” he screamed, wiping at his face with one hand while reaching for the dish towel on his shoulder with the other. “This is a $200 bottle of wine.”
“Good,” she spat back, her shoulders heaving. She didn’t know what she wanted out of this, but she wanted him to know she knew. She knew everything.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he yelled, his eyes bulging. Scottie was struck by how truly ugly he was, despite everything she’d ever thought about him. Despite how smitten she’d once been. The disgust of all the people who had let her down eddied together into a disgusting swamp—her dad, her mom, her sister, her high school boyfriend, her grandparents, J.J., and now Cory.
“Wrong with me?” she asked deliberately, her breathing slowing down.
"Yes,” he pressed, stepping toward her around the side of the counter.
“You know what I know. I saw her. I went to New Jersey.”
“Saw who?” his voice went up at the end, his head cocked arrogantly to the side.
“You’re acting insane,” he jeered, laughing a cold hollow laugh that sent shivers across Scottie’s skin.
“I’m acting insane?” she questioned, disbelieving, voice rising again. He stared at her blankly without a flicker of guilt, remorse, or recognition. His indifference made her reckless.
“All this time,” she alleged, voice quaking, “he thought it was him. He blamed himself.” There was a pause, a full and heavy silence that reverberated between them.
“For years,” she shouted at him, “he blamed himself. Does that mean nothing to you!?” Cory flinched at her volume, but before he inhaled to retaliate, his features changed—distorted and foreign.
“Fuck you,” he murmured, his tone noxious.
“Fuck me? Oh, I bet. I bet you’d like to go down that road again,” she hissed, feeling hot shame cover her from head to toe like someone had just dumped scalding soup over her. Cory reached out and grabbed her slender wrist, pressing his fingers down into the skin. She didn’t recoil. She didn’t budge. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She was daring him to lay a hand on her. Do it, she thought fiercely. Do it.
She was simmering as pushed her roughly and pressed her up against the refrigerator, holding her arm bent over her head. His other hand hovered over her neck as she turned her face to the side, so she wouldn’t have to look at his blotchy face. He breathing was even and steady and smelled like wine as his gaze bore into her, eyes lit and wide. Then both hands dropped by his side and he stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest. Scottie stood there, aware of him in front of her, and suddenly incredibly uncomfortable with the fact that she was alone in his apartment with him.
Steeling herself, she turned and looked directly at him, eyes narrow, hands shaking, but voice flat, firm, and low.
“You have twenty-four hours to tell him. Or I will.” And with that, she turned and slipped out of the kitchen, her feet moving much faster than she even realized until she was back out on the street, throwing herself into the driver’s seat of Will’s car. It smelled mercilessly like him.
Cory had been drunk and the awful terrible truth was that he’d been driving—not Will. Will had been asleep across the back seat without a seatbelt. And Cory had moved him.
Another car had hit them and knocked them off the road. The other driver had been struck unconscious at the impact. Will had as well, as he had taken the brunt of the force of the crash—the two in the front having been mostly unscathed aside from Kristin’s broken wrist and collarbone, and a few scrapes on Cory’s face.
Cory had been protecting himself. It would have been his third DUI and with that, he knew he was facing jail time. Will had been sober when the car flipped. Moving him into the driver’s seat while he’d been unconscious had been harmless, right?
At least that’s what Kristin had convinced herself of as she stood in the woods, shaking and in shock, watching Cory clumsily heave Will’s limp body out of the back and shove him into the front seat. There was no way to know for sure what the damage had been upon impact. But one thing Scottie did know for sure—from all the researched she’d done on spinal cord injuries back when she first started dating Will—was that the worst thing you could do for someone who had potential spinal cord damage was to move them.
And that’s exactly what Cory had done without any regard for anyone but himself.
Seeing the hand controls laying on the back seat sent a wave of sadness through her so overwhelming that she pressed her forehead into the steering wheel and cried for the first time since Kristin had told her the truth.
When Scottie finally got to Will’s more than an hour later, after crying her eyes out, taking multiple wrong turns, and finding herself in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge, she realized, as her stomach dropped out of her and her blood ran cold, that she was too late. Cory’s voice greeted her as she pushed Will’s door open, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hold his keys.
“Cory,” she croaked dryly, “What are you doing here?” He welcomed her into the apartment with a smarmy grin as he leaned back into the cushions on the couch. Will appeared from the kitchen with two beers and a bottle opener situated between his thighs. He was wearing a grey t-shirt, black sweats, and socks and his hair was wet—freshly showered. He smelled like peppermint as he reached for her hand and pulled her down toward him, so he could kiss her. Wrapped up in a heavy fog of shock and confusion, Scottie let him, but she didn’t take her eyes off of Cory as he watched their mouths meet.
“How did the storage hunt go?” Will asked her warmly, squeezing her hand before he let go to wheel over to the family room, his strong arms drawing her to him.
“What?” Scottie asked strangely, feeling disconnected from her body.
“New Jersey?” Will asked, turning slightly, “To find storage space for your grandma’s things.”
“Oh,” Cory mocked, “Is that why you were in New Jersey?” Scottie’s mouth went dry.
“You knew she was in Jersey too, then?” Will asked Cory casually. Cory nodded and smirked again.
“Yes,” he answered deliberately, “she stopped by my apartment on her way back here to uh, drop something off. Had I known she was heading right over here I would have asked for a ride.” Will frowned slightly and looked back at Scottie, a question playing on his lips. But he didn’t ask it. Instead he cracked open the two beers and handed one to Cory who sat smugly with one ankle resting on his other knee, his face smooth, relaxed, and so incredibly punchable. Scottie balled her fists at her side and dropped her coat and bag on the floor. She had to stop this before it even began.
“Come sit,” Will beckoned, “I want to tell you about my day. Fucking Emily.” He laughed aloofly and shook his head before tipping back a swig of cold beer.
“Will,” she said robotically, stepping toward him, hanging on to the last bit of her nerve with everything she could. She couldn’t lose it. She wouldn’t. Cory being here was a challenge and a threat, and she owed it to Will—the man she loved more than anyone—to expose the truth, even if it ruined everything.
“Scottie?” Will asked, suddenly concerned. He realized as he surveyed her that she didn’t look well. Her skin was a few shades too pale, her eyes sunken, and her whole body was shaking. “Are you okay?” he questioned, putting his beer down on the coffee table and rolling toward her. He pulled her onto his lap, but she wouldn’t look at him. Her gaze was haunted. “Scottie?” he pressed again, tilting his head down to get a glimpse at her face, this time his alarm rising. “Talk to me.” He shook her gently to bring her back to him. She turned slightly and caught his beautiful blue eyes in hers and took a deep breath.
“There’s something you need to know,” she whispered.
“Don’t,” Cory warned as he stood abruptly, his gaze razor sharp. Scottie ignored him and continued.
“You weren’t driving,” she confessed, feeling the words tumble out as if they were vomit. But at the same time she opened her mouth, so did Cory. Will struggled to peel apart the two statements, but his attention went to Cory’s which was “Scottie is cheating on you.”
“What?” he asked Cory, turning from him back to Scottie.
“Don’t listen to him, Will,” Scottie argued desperately, using her hand to pull his face back to hers. “Listen to me, he’s trying to distract you with lies, please.” Her voice was rising to an uncomfortable pitch as she realized she was losing Will to Cory.
“She’s been cheating on you with me,” Cory said quietly, fake shame shadowing his face.
“What?” Will asked, incredulously, pushing the wheels of his chair back as if to get away from her. She was still on his lap but Will’s eyes flashed dangerously when she reached for him again. Instead she carefully extricated herself from him and sat down on the couch. She didn’t want to have this conversation above his head. She needed to be on his level.
“Will, he’s lying.”
“Have you slept with him?” Will asked, ignoring her pleas. Scottie’s heart almost choked her and she stopped cold in her denial. She had to be honest—the pull of dishonestly was incredible and strong, but she beat it back.
“Yes,” she admitted quietly, “but it was before I even knew you, Will. It was right when I first lived here and, and, and…”She caught Cory’s smug smile out of the corner of her eye and felt the rage rise with force within her. “I was young and stupid, and Cory and I slept together, okay?”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Will barked, rolling away from her even further, the sting and jealousy of knowing she'd been with his douchebag able-bodied friend coursing through him.
“I was embarrassed.”
“And she was cheating on you, and betraying her best friend,” Cory added haughtily. He thought he had won, and Scottie would go down with him if that was what it took.
“How could you do that to Nora?” Will asked, his tone cracked with disbelief.
“Will I was awful to her. I was an awful friend. But this all ended when I met you. I promise you. I never cheated on you.”
“You’re going to believe that?” Cory goaded, stepping closer. Scottie reacted like a cornered cat and pulled herself up on the couch in a crouch, so she could spring forward if necessary.
“You,” Will shouted, “stay the fuck out of this. While Scottie was fucking Nora over, you were busy fucking me over, so back the fuck down.” Cory stared at him like he’d been shocked but didn’t fight back or defend himself.
“Will, I never cheated on you. I promise. You have to believe me. Cory is lying. He’s lying to cover up what he doesn’t want you to know.” Scottie hated the sound of her own voice, thin as a string, desperate as all hell, fraught with contradictions. She felt like a little girl arguing with her sister, trying to prove to an adult that what she was saying was valid.
“What?” Will asked her flatly.
“Will, she’s lying, that's just what she does. She's a liar,” Cory interjected severely.
“I said that’s enough out of you,” Will retaliated, his chest visibly shaking. Scottie saw his knee bouncing up and down, the foot lifting off the footplate, but he didn’t notice, he was too rattled as he turned back to his girlfriend. Her eyes were like nothing he’d ever seen before and it scared him. “Tell me. Now.” Scottie took a deep breath and pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes to keep from exploding.
“Your accident. You weren’t driving. Cory was…”
“She’s a fucking liar,” Cory shouted, jumping at her. Will slid forward, striking like a snake, and checked Cory hard into the other side of the couch with his shoulder. The look on Cory’s face was utter disbelief. He couldn’t believe that his crippled friend had intercepted him like that, and if the situation had been different, Scottie would have cheered. But it wasn’t, and she didn’t.
“Don’t fucking touch her. Let her speak,” he sputtered through heaving breaths.
“Cory was driving,” Scottie continued mechanically, “he was drunk. Facing his 3rd DUI. He was pretty much unhurt, but moved you while you were unconscious, into the driver’s seat. Kristin saw the whole thing. She had been seeing him on the side at the time, so she felt conflicted. And since then, Cory’s been paying her off monthly to keep her from telling the truth. She was who I went to see in New Jersey.” Silence followed heavy and loaded.
Will’s head whirred and spun, thoughts and realizations sliding over each other like a TV on fast forward, sound and pictures unintelligible, but the nagging sensation that he needed to rewind and slowdown in order to fully understand. The whole room seemed to shift out of focus and he felt uncharacteristically unsteady in his chair, like he might topple over at any second. Cory moved him when he’d probably already injured his spine. Will knew what kind of damage being moved could have done—the difference between an incomplete and complete injury, the difference between being paralyzed permanently and achieving recovery—and the back of his throat felt thick. He didn’t remember anything about that night…but somehow, what Scottie was saying, made sense. Cory’s voice was tortured and pleading in the background.
“Get out,” Will said quietly to no one in particular as he stared down at his lap, feeling the numb weight of his useless lower half in a way that he hadn’t since he’d first woken up in the hospital. When no one moved or answered his head snapped up and he lost his cool. Reaching for the bottle of beer on the coffee table he grasped it then threw it across the room into the foyer. It hit the front door and shattered, foamy beer erupting among pieces of skittering glass.
“GET OUT,” Will heaved, his voice giving him away only at the end where it cracked and rose.
And that was when the door opened.
“What the hell is going on here?” Pete asked, bewildered, as he slowly unwrapped his scarf and stepped over some of the beer and broken glass. Lise was standing behind him slightly off to the left, her hand protectively covering her stomach. She was starting to show, and her face was equally shaken. They must have heard the commotion from the fucking lobby. Pete looked from Cory, to Scottie’s tear-stricken face, to Will, who’d gone so pale and stony his skin looked cold to the touch. Immediately overcome with concern Pete stepped toward his brother, going low so he could get on his eye level. Will edged back slightly and turned away, taking a deep labored breath before speaking.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, “I just, please, don’t touch me right now.” Pete hovered for a second then stood up, turning to Cory and Scottie, a question in his eyes and a threat on his lips.
“Can someone tell me what the fuck’s going on here? Why is there glass everywhere? And why does it look like my brother has seen a goddamn ghost?” Pete snapped authoritatively. Scottie had never heard Pete take on that tone, and it startled her.
“I was just leaving,” Cory declared, snapping up and glaring at Scottie. With that, he turned on his heel and pushed past Lise, slamming the door hard behind him. Everyone listened in silence as his footsteps got quieter then disappeared with the ding of elevator.
“And so was Scottie,” Will added coldly, tilting his head up and looking her in the eyes for the first time since she’d blown everything to hell. She felt herself begin to crumble, like a wrecking ball had hit her and was coming back around to finish the job. Will was gripping the push rims of his chair so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.
“Will…” Scottie blanched, throwing her arms up in the air slightly then thinking better of it halfway through.
“Oh no, I am not the bad guy here, Thea,” he carved his words out individually so they all shone bright and raw with malice. He was hurting, struggling for air, struggling to understand. He felt like he was going to be sick. Covering his mouth with his forearm, he closed his eyes.
“Will,” Scottie whispered, standing up and taking a step closer to him. “You have to believe me.”
“I do?” Will asked, his eyes flying open, head tilted toward the side, voice as sharp as ice. Pete looked back and forth between them.
“Will, I’m sure…” Pete started to say but Will’s glare sliced into him and his words dried up in his mouth like ash.
“Pete, after what I just heard, I’m not sure you’re sure of anything. I sure as hell am not.” Will’s strength seemed to be fading. He was shrinking into himself. Scottie resisted the urge to run to him and pull him into her arms. Her love for him seemed to take on a physical presence in front of her.
“Will please,” she begged, hating how small her voice sounded. “I love you.”
“Go,” he countered.
“I promise you, what I’m saying about Cory is the truth. His accusation is retaliatory. We were together, but it it it it it happened before you and I got together. Before we even knew each other.”
“I need time to process everything,” Will stated firmly, leaving no room for interpretation.
“Please just understand.”
“I need you to go.”
“Will.” It was her last word before he rounded on her, wheeling toward her and sweeping his arm toward the door. She reluctantly backed toward it, bending down and picking up her beer-soaked things. She clutched her bag and coat around her as Lise and Pete stood to the side, mouth’s agape.
“If it happened so long ago and was so over, why didn’t you tell me about it?” Will inserted his knife, twisted, and peeled back at her wound. She closed her eyes for a second and shook her head. Then she opened her mouth to speak but shut it almost immediately, giving into that familiar swallowing of words. She had absolutely nothing to say to that. She’d been afraid of his reaction, she had been embarrassed about what she’d done to Nora, but that would never hold up—not now. Not after everything. She’d deliberately hid it from him, and now that it was out in the open she was raw, exposed, and without an excuse.
“That’s what I thought,” he replied rigidly. “Go. We’re done here.” Scottie nodded and opened the door, stepping over the broken glass and the threshold clumsily into the unforgiving light of the hallway. Will wheeled up to the door and looked at her, his heart pounding so hard against his chest he thought he might be able to reach out and grab it with his hand. He was certain she could see it beating. She reached into her bag and pulled out his car keys and he took them from her, their fingers brushing for a single shining second where she felt her breath hitch. She couldn’t lose him. She just couldn’t.
Will didn’t want to do this, but he didn’t know what else to do. He needed time away from everyone to understand what had just happened—a betrayal from every angle in a matter of ten minutes. Unsure of who to believe, his head was spinning out of control. He was half expecting to slam the door only to have Pete tell him they weren’t really brothers.
Holding his breath, he commuted every beautiful inch of her to memory—the slope of her long nose, the exquisite color of her eyes, the smattering of freckles on her face and peeking out along her collar bone, the kinked ringlets of her hair, the way her sweater lay over her chest, the crooked way she stood, leaning all her weight on her right leg, the peppery fresh scent of her. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he saw them roll down her cheeks. He had to close the door. It was time.
“Please don’t come back here,” he whispered, the words hurting him almost as much as they hurt her. She whimpered an unearthly sound, a choked and cuffed sob scraping to escape her lips. She thought her knees might give out, and they did, but it wasn’t until he quietly closed the door and she heard the lock click and the slight whoosh of his chair wheeling away that she finally let herself go, crumbling into a heap in the hallway.