Two weeks into the new year, he huddled against the bitter January cold, against a brick wall late on Thursday night, his face half buried in the grey cashmere scarf Lise had given him for Christmas. It made him think of her, and how warm her body was next to his in the bed they shared in their—yes, their—apartment. They were about to start a life together. Albeit, in a bit of a nontraditional order, but that didn’t bother him anymore. It did at first, but he’d loosened up and let it go, realizing that things rarely went exactly as planned. He just wanted her, and their little unborn baby, and his family. He planned to propose soon enough, but he wanted to give them time to swing into a rhythm with the newborn first. Focus on him or her, then focus on them.
Pete had grasped, after everything that had happened in the last few months, that you had to hold on to the truly good people, because even though you thought you knew plenty, you probably fucking didn’t. People shed their pretenses soon enough. True colors weren’t hard to come by.
He exhaled and nervously checked his phone, and it showed the blue dot right where he’d been all day. Pete didn’t want to miss him. Tracking each other’s locations started as a funny running joke, and fortunately, for Pete, it had kept running long after things were no longer funny. It was pushing midnight, and he had to be heading out soon. He worked hard—but not that fucking hard.
Fifteen minutes, later, Pete saw him pushing out of the building in a crisp suit and long grey wool jacket. He had to hand it to the guy, he certainly ensured he looked important and above all, rich.
Crossing the street, Pete shoved his humming hands into the pockets of his bomber jacket and hopped up onto the curb. The sound of ice crunching under his sneakers caused the man in the grey coat to turn around just enough for Pete to land a hard punch on his right eye, knocking him into the wall of the building behind him. The sound of skin on skin was masked by the roaring firetruck siren on a nearby block. Otherwise, they were virtually alone. Considering it was a work block, not a residential one, Pete assumed that chances of someone watching from their windows were low, and them calling the cops even lower. Plus, if Cory tried to press charges Pete would absolutely bury him—that was a hill he’d be willing to die on. The sirens slowly died away, and the street went quiet. Pete could hear Cory’s heavy breathing and the quiet curses he was muttering.
“Jesus Christ, Pete,” he complained, “fuck.” Grabbing him by the collar, Pete pressed Cory up against the wall and looked him directly in the eye.
“You piece of shit,” Pete spat, breathing heavily, disbelieving that he was actually looking Cory in the eye after everything. They hadn’t spoken or seen each other since Cory had rushed out of their apartment the night it all came out. Pete felt his stomach clench as he tried to stymie the anger rising. “That first one was for me.”
Winding up again he collided with Cory’s cheekbone and Cory yelped like a dog. Shaking out his hand Pete huffed aggressively. “That one’s for Will.” And, he wound up once more, hitting Cory in the same spot again, his head banging back against the brick. “And that one, well that one’s for Scottie. I’m sure she’d like a few more, but I’ll keep things civil.”
And with that, Pete dropped him and stepped back. He slumped theatrically and slid down the wall into a heap on the ground, his expensive coat bunching up around him. He reached blindly for his face, the swelling already taking on a life of his own.
“I’m so sorry,” he murmured pathetically. Pete, who had turned to leave, pivoted and stared, disgust clouding his features. He felt childish, yet justified, all at the same time.
“Yeah, I’m sure you are now,” he replied with acid, spitting onto the sidewalk to keep from spitting on the man he’d once called a best friend. Then, Pete turned and crossed the street, his shadow spreading out ahead of him in the light of the streetlamp. He looked 20 feet tall.
Will had seen her, he was sure of it. But from his seated vantage point he couldn’t quite get a good enough view to confirm 100%. He pressed his hands down on either side of him, using his push rims, and lifted himself up to try to get a glimpse, but either she was gone, or obscured. Parker was still talking about something that Will had forgotten about when he realized that Will had entirely stopped listening.
“Dude, what’s happening?” Parker asked him with a cocked eyebrow and a strange look on his face. Will realized he was still straining to see over people’s heads.
“I thought I saw her,” Will said sadly, dropping his butt back down into his chair.
“You know,” Will replied with exaggerated exasperation.
“The Virgin Mary? Where?” Parker turned and made a big showing of looking around the bar.
“For fuck’s sake,” Will laughed and threw up his hands. He’d been spending more time with Parker than ever since he moved down to south Brooklyn. Parker lived in a loft in Gowanus and worked freelance, like Will for the time being, so he was pretty much open any time Will called. Plus, with Lise in her third trimester now, Pete had his hands full most of the time. Will couldn’t believe the baby would be an actual thing in 7 short weeks. It was such a weird and exciting feeling. He quietly hoped the baby liked him.
“Dude she got to you,” Parker observed, leaning back and taking a big sip of his Old Fashioned. Will stared down at his own and reached for it.
“Of course, she did,” Will agreed, trying to appear nonchalant.
“Not did, does. She still does,” Parker countered. Will gave him a pointed look and rolled his eyes, secretly trying to get a glimpse of the woman he was sure was Scottie. “Dude, just call her,” Parker interjected with frustration. “She’s probably still interested, although I can’t exactly see why.”
Will snickered and took a sip of his drink, tying to relax a bit. They’d been coming to Brooklyn Social a few times a week since he’d moved into his apartment. He still felt a little awkward maneuvering around a smaller space, but it was growing on him. He liked having his own place. He liked things being exactly how he left them when he got home. He liked being by himself. He could get used to living alone—too used to living alone. He could see himself adopting a cat at one of the adoption events at the pet store on his block and his fate would be sealed. The crippled cat-owning single hermit freelancer—it had a nice ring to it. In this city, it would be so incredibly easy to never leave your apartment since you could get virtually anything delivered. But now that it was warm out, the snow having had its last hurrah in the middle of April, Will had no valid excuse to hole up. At this point, Will was very grateful for Parker, even though he didn’t want to admit it to him—or himself. He also didn’t want to admit he hadn’t called Scottie. Something was keeping him from doing it, and he wanted to get there on his own time.
It had been almost two months since he’d seen Kristin, and he’d left the bar shook most by what she had said at very the end. Or rather, what she’d encouraged him to hold onto. His mouth had gone dry as he watched her go. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there without moving, but the kid waiter eventually came over and asked him if he wanted another beer. Will must have said yes, because another beer appeared in front of him, cold and foamy and welcome. He drank it quickly and left a little extra cash on the table to supplement what Kristin had left.
He pushed himself the few blocks home like a zombie. He rolled his apartment completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, and completely wrung out, only to find Pete sitting around shooting the shit with a couple of guys Will didn’t know. They were still in suits, and had Chinese food containers littered about the kitchen and living room. Pete was talking through something on his laptop while swigging from a bottle of Sam Adams. March madness blared over the TV. Will surmised they must have been colleagues from work. He wished he could just disappear without having to say anything, but he had to pass through the living room to get to his bedroom, so he was essentially stuck with the meet and greet.
One whoosh of his wheels over the threshold and immediately the room went quiet save for the sports caster who was inanely reviewing the stats from an earlier game. It all blurred slightly as Will propelled himself toward the two unfamiliar but confused and gawking faces. Pete stood and introduced them all, and Will shook hands out of obligation and decorum. Despite the pleasantries, their strange looks didn’t falter, and he bit his lip and took a deep breath to try and temper his rising frustration. What he would give to just enter a goddamn room and be a normal fucking guy.
“I was in a car accident,” Will offered tersely looking from one to the other. “That’s why I’m in a fucking chair.” One guy blanched and the other smirked out of discomfort, bending his head down to look at his shoes.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, killer okay,” Pete sputtered awkwardly as he stepped toward Will and patted his shoulder. “Let’s chat in the other room okay?” he urged, trying to keep his cool.
“No, I mean, if they have questions then they should ask instead of staring,” Will pressed crossing his arms over his chest and staring¬—infuriatingly—up at his brother who happened to be the exact same height he used to be. He was so sick of the wheelchair all of a sudden, he thought he might scream.
“Will,” Pete warned, pushing him back with a hand on his chest, the wheels gliding with the force. Will reached down for his push rims and stopped the wheels cold, causing Pete to stumble. “Come on, man,” Pete advised, his blue eyes widening slightly in warning and his head gesturing to Will’s room. There was a heavy second where they both just stared at each other—stared into their own faces. Then Will broke first, reversing his wheels and pivoting toward the hallway.
“Sorry, guys, I—it’s been a rough day,” Will apologized flatly.
“Saw his ex,” Pete offered and cringed theatrically. Pete’s friends laughed awkwardly and turned back to their computers as Pete followed Will out of the room.
Will didn’t look back at his brother, his anger frothing like the beer he’d just downed callously.
“What the fuck was that?” Pete cracked roughly as he slammed the door hard behind him.
“The fuck was what?” Will replied stubbornly, as he rummaged around in his drawer for a new shirt. The one he was wearing suddenly smelled like her.
“I know you’re having a tough time right now, but…” His argument against Will's outburst felt like cardboard.
“Oh, you do?” Will asked sardonically without turning around, his voice jagged. He couldn’t manage seeing Pete’s smug face.
“Will don’t be like this.” Pete stood against the door and suddenly felt a heavy wave of exhaustion roll over him. He’d been putting in long hours at work, so he could take some time off with the baby coming. The baby. Jesus Christ. He was so nervous.
Trying to beat that down and out of his consciousness, he looked at his brother across the room. He was leaning against the low and long dresser on his forearms, his head angled down, so Pete couldn’t see his face in the mirror. Slumped slightly in his chair, something he almost never did, he looked like he’d just been through hell and back.
Pete walked carefully toward him and sat down on the edge of his bed gingerly. He wanted to be on Will’s level to keep things even. Pete had never really thought about how weird it must be for Will to see him walking around when they looked exactly the same. It must have been bucket after bucket of salt in the wound. Then Pete was struck with how selfish he could be sometimes. How easy it came to him to just not think. He couldn’t be that way with the baby. He had to be better.
“Will,” Pete offered softly reaching out to squeeze his twin’s shoulder. When his hand made contact, he was surprised to feel him shaking, ever so slightly.
“Will?” he asked, twisting his neck so he could get a glimpse of Will’s face. “Will?” But what he saw startled him. Will was crying that kind of silent sobbing that Pete had never done himself. But he’d seen his sisters do it. He’d seen his mom do it. He’d seen Lise do it. But seeing his strong, upbeat, resilient, reliable brother break down like this left him shaken and speechless.
Pete wasn’t sure what to do, and Will’s wheelchair made it hard to get physically close to him, but Pete just moved without parsing it apart. He was down on his knees as he wrapped his arms around Will, pulling his trembling brother as close as he could. Will didn’t resist, but rather, leaned sideways into Pete, moving effortlessly, pressing his face into his shoulder. He continued to shudder for a few more minutes before surfacing. Pete patted him on the back, trying to ignore the shooting pain in his knee caps. Looking down at Will’s silent and much knobbier knees took Pete’s mind off the pain. In fact, he found himself grateful for it, considering Will couldn’t feel anything.
“It’s okay,” Pete soothed, thinking about what their mom used to say when they were kids and they’d come home hurt or upset. She’d rub their backs and hold them tight, talking in their ear, warm breath an odd comfort. “Let it out, Will.”
Finally, after a final sniffle and inhale, Will straightened up, wiped his eyes with his forearms, and exhaled a great rambling breath.
“Jesus Christ,” he muttered as he pressed down on his pushrims and lifted himself up slightly to readjust. Pete laughed quietly and squeeze Will’s shoulder as he stood and backed up to the bed, sitting on the edge again. Will sighed heavily and turned his gaze to the ceiling, shaking his head.
“Thanks,” he whispered finally and self-consciously, sniffling slightly. His face was red, and his eyes were glassy, but he was laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Pete returned with a chuckle of his own.
“This? Me? I don’t even know anymore,” Will laughed and shook his head.
“Seeing Kristin was that bad, huh?” Pete probed. Will considered for a minute.
“I wasn’t bad or good. It just was...”
Pete quirked his head but didn’t say anything. He could sense Will wasn’t quite done. Will pivoted his chair and turned toward the dresser again, looking at his face reflected in the mirror before he turned back to face Pete.
“She apologized, and it was hollow, as I think we both expected. Then she told me more of the story, and that was painful but somehow less so. I weirdly felt more sad for her than for me. Does that make sense?” Pete was struck with his brother’s incredible capacity to forgive. It left him with nothing to say. He nodded after a second, shaking himself out of the trance. Will sighed and continued.
“It’s like my hands when I first landed in the chair. They had to callous over. I feel like I might be getting to that point. Not yet, but, well, soon.” Will shrugged and slipped his shirt over his head, tossing it haphazardly toward the hamper in the corner of the room. Pete always forgot how ripped Will’s chest, back, and arms were, and found himself memorized as he moved to grab another shirt and slip it over his head. It put his own definition to shame. I guess you win some, you lose some.
“Doesn’t mean I want to smell like her. It was probably in my head, but,” Will qualified and ran his hands through his hair a few times.
“How’d it end?” Pete asked, watching carefully as Will twitched vaguely and fidgeted, shifting his weight again. He didn’t answer right away, bending down and grabbing his right ankle, using his other hand to press down on his knee to sit back up. He rested his right ankle on his left knee and began undoing the laces on his sneaker.
“She told me to hold on to Scottie,” he stated flatly, staring down at the shoe he was easing off his limp foot, his brow furrowed.
“She told you what I told you, then,” Pete observed, crossing his arms over his chest. Will glanced over at him then looked back at himself in the mirror, sighing heavily at how tired his eyes were. He plopped his right foot back down on the single black footplate and repeated the process with his left foot.
“Pete she was with Cory,” Will persisted, shimmying the other shoe off, tossing it to the floor, and dropping his foot haphazardly on top of the other one.
“You don’t know that,” Pete countered, watching Will adjust his legs by lifting under the knee and straightening out his feet.
“I do though, she admitted it,” he answered once he was satisfied with the placement. He looked up at Pete and sighed again, this time with even more frustration behind it.
“But you don’t know when,” Pete pressed on the word when like it was a button. He couldn’t understand how Will couldn’t at least hear Scottie’s side of the story, and he’d told him that much. He’d yelled at him over it in the days after when he could barely get himself out of bed. It was infuriating to see his brother crumble the way he had, but even more infuriating to see Will let it break him. Pete had always been the more reckless of the two, following impulses into the dark without thinking. He’d never told Will about jumping Cory back in January. He had an inkling that Will wouldn’t approve of what Pete had done.
But, watching his brother right then, he realized he couldn’t even imagine what he would do in his impeccably unscuffed and unused shoes. He hadn’t lost his legs when he was just 21. He hadn’t spent the last 9 years in a wheelchair, gathering stares everywhere he went. He hadn’t blamed himself for the worst thing that ever happened to him, only to find it out was really his best friend’s and ex-girlfriend’s faults. He hadn’t ever had to prove that his life still had value.
Will exhaled and dropped his shoulders, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “You’re right. I don’t know. And I should find out.”
But he hadn’t found out. And there he sat, in the bar across from Parker, and two months had gone by and he was 90% sure that Scottie was across the crowded room. Her height, her freckles, her hair. It was all so distinct and solidly seared in his memory that he could taste her—her mouth, her breath, between her legs. It sent a shiver through him.
“I’m going to grab us another round. Beer this time. Do you want me to go and check while I’m at it?” Parker asked, feigning annoyance. Will was bothered that he couldn’t check himself, but he also wasn’t an idiot. Him going to check would certainly draw attention, and if was indeed Scottie, then he’d be stuck with a big bright stupid spotlight on his head, sitting in the middle of the bar, trying to get a glimpse of his ex.
“If you wouldn’t mind?” Will surrendered.
“I got you, man.” Parker rose and shimmied through the crowd toward the bar. There were still too many people to see her clearly, but Will got a glimpse of the woman’s curls and they were a dead ringer. His heart tightened, and he rubbed his sweaty hands on his thighs. Fuck.
Five minutes later Parker appeared with two drinks in hand and instead of weaving his way back to Will he nodded to the left toward the doors to the patio. It wasn’t hot out by any means, but it wasn’t cold like it had been. The patio was open, fairly empty, and a little too chilly for comfort. But Will stiffened at Parker’s signal and unlocked his breaks, backing up carefully and hugging the wall as he wheeled over to the door Parker was now holding open with his elbow.
“Thanks,” Will murmured as he led the way to a table in the back. He parked in between two chairs, pushing one slightly over to make enough room. Parker put his drink down—another Old Fashioned.
“What happened to the beer?” Will asked, already knowing the answer.
“It’s her,” he said flatly.
“I fucking knew it,” Will replied, more to himself than to Parker. He felt himself flushing, his cheeks burning up. Quickly he took a big gulp of the drink and dropped it back down on the table with a deep breath. “Okay,” he declared, trying to pump himself up, “I’m going to go say hi. I have to just do it.” Parker held up a hand and intercepted Will’s path, catching him in the middle of the chest. He shook his head slowly and looked down quickly before meeting Will’s gaze.
“What?” Will asked, his stomach dropping considerably. He knew what Parker was going to say. He almost chimed in with him when he opened his mouth.
“She’s with someone.”
“Who?” Will asked, the edge in his own voice pissing him off.
“A date,” Parker confirmed as Will felt his upper body equalize with his lower body. Everything was numb.
“Could it have been a friend?” Will heard himself ask through a fog, hating the desperation he felt tightening around him. Of course, this would happen. It had been six months of absolutely nothing. What was Scottie supposed to do? Wait around for him forever? He couldn’t expect that of her.
“Nah, man,” Parker replied honestly, shaking his head and taking another sip. As much as it hurt, Will appreciated Parker’s honesty. It was something that never ever faltered, and that was comforting.
“I guess I fucked up,” Will swallowed, mentally kicking himself for being so stubborn.
“Dude, a date’s a date. And that’s what it looked like. It looked new, and new stuff, well, a lot of times that doesn’t last.”
“Yeah,” Will agreed absently, feeling the little bit of hope he’d been covertly harboring, a secret he realized, that he’d been hiding from even himself, dried up. He loved her too much to screw up whatever she’d found in their wake. He owed her at least that little bit of respect.
And just as he made his decision, he heard her—her perfect husky voice and rich laugh—carrying across the patio. She was wearing a long sleeve grey t-shirt and a jean jacket, paired with black skinny jeans that hugged her perfect legs and tight ass with white Stan Smith sneakers on her feet, her hair wild and unruly. She was exactly how Will remembered her. And then he—the man she was with—put his arm over her shoulders, draped across her, and walked to the curb, turning to look her in the eye as he stepped into the road to hail a cab. He was tall—over six feet with short brown hair, brown eyes, and glasses. He was much paler than Will, and had a Clark Kent look about him. Will didn’t like that his brain associated this probably douchebag with Superman. What the fuck?
Sure, he was well built but not overly so. But what stood out above anything else was that he was standing on his own two feet. Will wasn’t sure why seeing this was such a kick in the gut. Of course, he was standing. Of course, she’d be with an able-bodied guy. It would be weird if she wasn’t. But the sting of the string the simple things Clark Kent had just done with Will’s girl was spreading—growing from a sting to an all-encompassing and pulsing burn. He could barely see straight.
A cab pulled up and slowed to a stop and Clark Kent slid in on the closer side while Scottie jogged around the back of the cab and opened the opposite door. And just as she was about to hop in, as fate would have it, for no reason she could think of, she looked up.
And there he was.
His blue eyes were piercing across the patio. He gave her a smile, gentle, and incredibly sad, but with no anger in it. She held up her hand, palm out, in a stationary wave and smiled carefully back. She didn’t want him to know how much she missed him. How she ached in the middle of the night for his touch. How she longed in the morning for his breath on her neck. How hearing his voice would surely knock the wind right out of her.
But he had never called. Never texted. Never showed up at her door. It was a coincidence that they’d found each other at this bar, and maybe that was all they’d ever have. And she had to be okay with it. She had to. If his choice was to move on without her, then she had to respect that and let him know she was fine.
“Everything okay?” her date’s voice came through the cab as she stood there, turned-to-marble still and shivering faintly.
“Yes,” she stuttered as she gave an almost imperceivable nod at Will. “Everything’s fine,” she whispered to herself more than to the man she barely knew in the back of the cab. Her cheeks flared red and she could tell by the way Will was looking at her—as she finally ducked inside and pulled the door closed behind her—seeing her through those clear and honest blue eyes that she missed desperately, that her considerable blush hadn’t escaped him.