That’s why when Scottie picked up her phone on a Wednesday morning on her way to a meeting in downtown Brooklyn, balancing a to-go cup of coffee in one hand, her purse and jean jacket in the other, and shoved it in between her shoulder and ear, she didn’t expect there to be anything wrong. But there was, and Scottie was in a cab with spilled coffee all down her shirt before she could even blink.
Lise was at New York Presbyterian in Lower Manhattan, so it didn’t take Scottie too long to get there. It was pretty much a straight shot over the Brooklyn Bridge, but she was reminded of the cab ride she’d taken almost a year earlier when she’d just gotten back to New York. So much had happened since then, and despite losing Will, she was in a better place than she’d been in a very long time. She was wearing shoes, and not drinking gin out of little airplane bottles, and was rushing to be there for someone whom she cared deeply. She might not have been out of the woods, but as she willingly and gladly tipped 20% to the cabbie who hadn’t stopped so short she banged her face on the divider, she couldn’t help but think she was on her way, and that was encouraging.
Hurrying through the double doors, Scottie gave the receptionist Lise’s full name and stood buzzing as the woman typed Lise Catherine Lee into the system. She had to spell out the entire thing as she went and it was infuriatingly slow. The woman hummed a moment as it loaded then looked Scottie up and down. Her white t-shirt had a coffee stain from collar to bottom hem.
“I was rushing,” she offered, slightly irritated. The woman smiled and nodded, tapping her nails on the counter.
“Okay, it looks like she’s in the maternity ward. 4th Floor, take a right out of the south elevators. Depending on her directive they might not let you see her. She’s in labor.”
“What?” Scottie deadpanned, eyes wide. “But it’s too early.” Her voice was strained and desperate, as if arguing with the receptionist could possibly change the course of events. Lise still had about five weeks left. When Scottie had answered Lise’s call, she’d been panicked, but was trying to keep her tone even and calm. Scottie could hear her doing breathing exercises as she hung up. Lise had called a car and rushed herself there as a precaution because she’d had some significant pain in the last few weeks. The doctor assured her that the cramps were simply false labor, and put her on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy. She assumed it was just another bout of pain and she’d be sent home in no time, but she didn’t want to take any chances. Pete was in London again—supposed to be through Friday. It was supposed to be his last big trip before the baby. He didn’t want to cut it any closer…just in case.
“Look, I’m just telling you what it says in the system, mam,” the receptionist pushed back lazily, fluffing her overbrushed mousy brown hair as she talked. “Go upstairs and see for yourself.” Scottie nodded and gritted her teeth in frustration as she hurried to the elevators.
When the doors opened, her eyes widened, and her heart thumped something powerful. A man in a wheelchair with dark hair and blue eyes looked up at her for a split second before pushing himself out of the cab inches from where Scottie stood planted. She couldn’t tear her eyes away, and in retrospect, she was sure he thought she was just another fucking rubbernecker, and she hated that. But at the time she simply couldn’t shake herself out of her stupor—mouth bone dry and adrenaline exploding through her.
It wasn’t him. It was just a stranger, but she supposed, at this point, he might feel like a stranger, too.
Will used his arms to lift his body up, maneuvering himself, once he had the leverage, to sit on the edge of the pool, his unfeeling legs still bobbing with the flow of the water. His hip flexors were a little tighter than he liked, and his legs had hung down slightly with his strokes, not quite perpendicular, but enough for him to feel the drag. This was from all the hours he spent sitting, and he made a mental note to stretch them out before swimming next time.
Removing the band around his quads and ankles, there to keep his legs securely together, he scooted back to his chair, which he’d left a few feet back from the edge of the pool. Two towels were folded neatly on the seat. He immediately grabbed one and toweled off as much of himself as he could. Then he set the other towel on the seat, so he wouldn’t get his chair all wet. Clicking the brakes, he pushed himself off the ground and up into the air—butt first. It was clumsier than intended, but his arms were exhausted, and they shook as he finally situated himself safely. Pulling his splayed legs toward him he arranged them on the foot plate, grabbed the other towel and set it on his lap, then unlocked his breaks, enjoying the smooth glide of the concrete floor under his wheels as he made his way into the locker room.
He went right for the clean towels then over to the only handicapped shower stall. About 90% of the time it was empty, but on the rare occasion there was someone—always decidedly not handicapped—in there, Will had to sit and wait, damp, bored, and irritated. But then he’d always find himself going shy when it came to saying something. They most likely didn’t know, but wasn’t that really the issue? He felt like chickenshit for taking the easy way out just because he didn’t want to have to get into anything just to take a damn shower. He just wanted to be clean, and dry, and go home. Was that so terrible? Today he didn’t have to worry about it, because the shower was empty when he got there.
After a few minutes in the sauna and a good rinse and scrub in the shower, Will got dressed next to his locker. It was more difficult to get dressed in his chair rather than on his bed, or flat surface, but he’d had plenty of experience, and he shimmied his jeans over his butt by rocking his hips back and forth with practiced movements. He slid socks over his limp feed and carefully fed them into his unlaced sneakers. He’d found the perfect tightness for the laces so the shoes would slide on and stay on, without being too tight. Finally he pulled a grey crewneck t-shit over his head he leaned over to grab his keys, wallet and phone. Pressing the button on his phone he realized, going quite cold quite suddenly, that he had 18 missed calls.
Eight from Lise. Ten from Pete. Plus, five voicemails. Frantically he hit the callback button for his brother first, deciding that with ten calls he must have been at the epicenter of whatever was happening.
“Thank God,” Pete’s voice boomed over the line so abruptly, Will had to hold the phone slightly away from his ear.
“Pete, what’s going on? Is everyone okay?” Will asked, his mouth feeling incredibly dry and cracked. He swallowed in an attempt to get some saliva going.
“Where the hell have you been?” Pete yelled, his voice betraying he wasn’t angry, just desperate and shaken.
“I was swimming, I didn’t have my phone. Talk to me, Pete, talk to me. What can I do?” Will asked, trying to appeal to his brother’s anguish rather than argue with him. Will could hear an announcer’s voice ring in the background, paging a passenger. Pete must have been at Heathrow.
“You need to get to New York Presbyterian. Downtown. Right now. I’m getting on the first plane I can. Lise is in labor.”
The irony of parking in a handicapped parking spot at the hospital on the occasion when your twin brother’s girlfriend/baby mama was in premature labor wasn’t lost on Will as he assembled his chair with shaking hands, wishing he could just leap from the car and dart through the double doors, but if he could do that he’d be parked much—much—further away.
He always hated being in hospitals, even before his accident. As he blew through the lobby to the receptionist’s desk, he was inundated with memories of when Wynn was little, and she split her chin open, or when his dad had hernia surgery, or when his mom had to go in for fluids after having a particularly nasty bout of pneumonia. And then there was the whole breaking his back fiasco, that led his entire family to loathe hospitals—since they spent a few nights not knowing if Will was going to make it and then countless months by his bedside then taking turns visiting him at the rehabilitation facility. They’d all had enough time with hospitals to last a lifetime.
Will assumed that being in a wheelchair in a hospital full of people in wheelchairs would make it difficult to differentiate himself from the patients to the staff. But, as the woman told him where he could find Lise, he pushed efficiently through the halls toward the elevator bank, keeping his head down in an effort to avoid any strange looks or prying questions, or unnecessary obstacles. He realized, quite suddenly and happily, that no one was giving him a second look. He was passing through unnoticed, un-stared-at, and under the radar. It buoyed him as he got to the maternity ward.
Pete was frantic and worried, but most of all, he was pissed at himself. He kept calling himself a fucking idiot for going to London so close to her due date. Will had tried to reassure him that it wasn’t that close, and that they had no idea she would go into labor early, but Pete was absolutely and utterly inconsolable. And now he was on a plane, most likely unreachable judging by how reliable airplane WiFi was, somewhere over the Atlantic. They had about six hours still until he’d walk, or run rather, down this hallway. Will was determined to do everything he could for Lise in the meantime. He wouldn’t leave her alone. She was his family now.
But when Will buzzed the door of the delivery ward—a short, sequestered hallway that required approval to enter—a petite young nurse with wide hazel eyes and a long blonde ponytail in scrubs, a bright green cap, and matching mask opened the door and ushered him into the hall.
“You must be Will,” she said brightly, turning quickly and walking with a distinct pep in her gait toward the end of the hallway.
“She told you to look for the chair, huh?” Will asked jokingly, following closely behind, careful to curb his strong strokes, as not to overtake her. The nurse shook her head and smiled blandly, turning to Will. He couldn’t see her mouth but he could tell she was smiling by the way her eyes crinkled at the sides.
“Actually, it would have been a good thing to mention, but she didn’t. She showed me a picture of her husband on her phone and said you looked exactly like him,” she laughed lightly, “she wasn’t wrong, you handsome devils.” Will blushed and looked away for a second, unsure if the nurse was hitting on him.
“How is she?” Will asked, clearing his throat and deftly pivoting from the subject, one of his favorites, of his devilish good looks.
“She’s hanging in there,” the nurse said positively, stopping at a closed door with her hand on the handle. “We’re closely monitoring the fetus because of how many weeks early she is, but we’re confident.”
“Thank god,” Will breathed, doing a quick pressure shift to release some of the anxiety he’d been holding in his shoulders and neck.
“I have to warn you though, she’s almost fully dilated at this point, too late for the epidural, so we’re rearing to go.”
“Okay,” Will replied, steeling himself for whatever was on the other side of that door.
“Her husband is flying?”
“Yes, well, it’s not her,” Will started but realized that semantics really weren’t all that important at this point. He cleared his throat and started again. “Yes, he’s flying from London, he left about an hour ago.” The nurse nodded and bit her lower lip.
“We won’t last that long. You’re just in time and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Her friend, though, has been amazing at keeping her calm and breathing.”
“Her friend?” Will asked vaguely, realizing the question was lost, as the nurse pushed the door open. And then he saw them.
Both of them.
Lise and Scottie.
But neither of them saw him.
Scottie had Lise’s hand in hers and was holding a cold cloth on her forehead. Lise’s face was distorted with pain, and she let out a little whimper as Scottie whispered something in her ear.
“Don’t. Make. Me. Laugh,” she managed through clenched teeth and a gritty smile, her cheeks red and slick with sweat. Scottie pushed Lise’s dark straight bangs back and out of her eyes as she whimpered again, this time her voice quaked even more. There was a tall woman with thick black hair coming out of her cap on the other side of the room. She was head to toe in scrubs and was snapping on a pair of latex gloves. Turning, she saw Will through thick-framed black glasses.
“Is this the husband?” she asked the nurse while giving Will a thorough once over. Surely this doctor knew all the statistics and procedures he’d need one day. Surely, she knew that fathering a child as a paraplegic was a challenge, but not an impossibility. He felt exposed as her eyes swept over him once more before turning to meet his eyes.
“I’m his brother,” Will said firmly, wheeling closer. And the sound of his voice caused Lise to crack open her eyes and Scottie to turn around. Looking at her there, under the grim hospital lights, hair pulled back messily into a puffy ponytail, eyes with a green clarity he’d never seen before, with Lise’s hand in hers, made him tremble. It was an incredible vision, and the only word that he could wrap his mind around what he was seeing was “family.”
“Will,” Lise croaked between exaggerated breaths, “thank god. Thank god my baby daddy has a twin brother. I won’t know the difference.” Scottie snorted and shook her head as Will followed suit. Laughing with her, even for a second, was like the first cup of coffee in the morning—familiar, rich, and energizing.
“Fantastic,” the doctor nodded at him and gestured for him to take up the post on the other side of Lise’s bed, across from Scottie. “I’m Dr. Kapoor,” she offered as Will glided past her and up to the edge of the bed. Lise reached for his hand, grabbing it like she was hanging off the edge of a cliff.
“Jesus Christ your hands are rough,” Lise exclaimed weakly, ending it on a theatrical groan.
“You’re doing great, Lise,” Dr. Kapoor encouraged, taking up her place self-assuredly at the end of the bed on a stool.
“Did you know how rough his hands were?” Lise asked Scottie deliriously. Scottie’s face immediately flushed involuntarily at the memory of Will’s rough hands and exactly what his rough hands were capable of when in the right place. She smiled in spite of herself, raising her glance ever so slightly so she was making direct eye contact with Will. His blue eyes glittered with something she couldn’t quite place.
“I did, in fact,” Scottie replied with a wicked smirk that definitely didn’t go unnoticed by Will. There was a strange but welcome tingling along the defining line that skirted the waistband of his jeans. He wished it was her finger, tracing the route that divided what he could feel and what he couldn’t.
Then Lise shrieked and squeezed each of their hands harder, yanking them, quite violently, out of their moment of lust. Will squeezed her shoulder and kissed her on the temple.
“Lise, you can do this, you know that?” he murmured encouragingly. She turned her brown almond eyes to Will and locked on his. He was pretty sure she was imagining that Will was Pete, and while it weirded him out on some level, he understood it on another and certainly wasn’t going to stop her.
“Fuck,” she whispered, closing her eyes in pain.
“You okay?” Will asked, edging as close as he could in his chair. He looked down and saw his knees right up against the edge of the bed.
“I’m going to fucking kill Pete,” Lise exhaled, her words heavy with agony. Will chuckled as he caught eyes with Scottie again, she was also stifling a laugh.
“Okay, Lise,” Dr. Kapoor warned, “this is it. The baby is coming.”
“The baby is coming,” Scottie muttered to Lise.
“The baby is coming,” Will reiterated as Lise looked from him and then back to Scottie.
She smiled one pained smile that looked more like a grimace before screaming bloody fucking murder and squeezing their hands until they went white. But neither Scottie nor Will let go. They held on, despite the exquisite pain because, in the end, they knew it would be worth it.
She could hear the tires of Will’s chair gliding seamlessly over the linoleum behind her and it was so surreal she almost tried to shake herself. She was in the same room as him. She was breathing the same air as him. And yet, she couldn’t think of one single thing to say except “I love you”, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to jump there. It was over. He had made that explicitly clear.
“I’m going to grab a cup of coffee,” she stuttered, her tongue dry, as she turned slightly to face Will as they got into the waiting room. “Uh, in the cafeteria. Do you want anything?” Will didn’t answer right away. He slowed his chair to a stop and regarded her for a second, his eyes moving slowly over her face.
“Are you going to run?” he asked flatly, but without anger. It was simply a question. Scottie blanched and fumbled for the answer. The truth was, she didn’t know what she was going to do. She’d considered it, surely, but she wasn’t sure if she would go through with it.
“I don’t think so,” she answered honestly, shrugging. Will smiled, his dimple poking its beautiful head out. Her knees felt like jelly.
“You can if you want,” he offered quietly, “I can wait for Pete and be here if Lise needs anything.”
“No,” Scottie heard herself say with an unexpected conviction. “I want to stay.”
“Okay,” Will answered softly, nodding without taking his eyes off of her. “I’ll have a coffee then.”
“Black,” she supplied with a smirk.
“Black.” He pursed his lip, but a knowing grin was pushing on the edges. Scottie didn’t want to get ahead of herself, but if she didn’t know any better, she would say he wanted her to stay. He really, really, wanted her to stay.
Will couldn’t stop thinking about the baby—a little boy. He was 4lbs, 1oz and 16.2 inches long—considered small for a full term baby, but boded well for a preemie. He’d passed all the initial tests but was whisked off to the NICU to make sure that everything was in working order. Lise had been absolutely relieved—for both the healthy birth, and for the simple fact that the birth part was over. Scottie and Will had left her to sleep until Pete arrived. He’d probably still be a few hours.
Will fidgeted in his chair, readjusting his position, and cracked his knuckles. He was nervous for Scottie to come back with the coffee. He ran his hands through his hair a few times, wondering if he looked halfway decent, remembering how quickly he’d rushed here after showering at the gym. It wasn’t the ideal time to see her. But seeing her was seeing her, and whatever had been holding him back had shaken loose the second he saw her holding Lise’s hand. She was it. Scottie was absolutely it.
“Hi,” her throaty voice shook him out of his own mind. He realized he’d slouched forward, with his elbows resting on his thighs and his head in his hands. Shooting up he took her in, standing there, in a coffee stained shirt.
“Hi,” he whispered, a smirk threatening to break free.
“What?” she asked quietly, sliding into the seat next to where Will parked himself. Handing him his coffee she scooted back in the chair and pulled her long legs up, feet resting on the edge.
“Your shirt,” Will murmured, gesturing with his chin. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”
“Oh this?” she snorted a laugh, “no this is from this morning. I’ve been wearing a coffee covered shirt all day.” Shaking her head, she took a tentative sip and sighed. Coffee was always a comfort, and for one second, she was able to forget that the man she loved was right next to her and he didn’t want her.
“I can’t believe I didn’t notice in the delivery room.”
“There were other things to distract you, I’d say,” she countered, cocking her head and staring at him sideways.
“Like your beautiful face?” he wanted to ask, the buzzing words were pressing against his lips. But he didn’t. Instead he smiled blandly and nodded. “There were indeed.”
“It’s good to—“Scottie started at the same time Will said “I’m sorry I haven’t—” They both stopped like they’d hit a brick wall, each staring expectantly at the other. Finally, Will motioned for her to go first.
“No, you can go,” she argued.
“No seriously, it’s okay. You first,” he insisted. She couldn’t tell if he was being polite or intentional, but she conceded that she probably owed him first. Looking at him for a long moment, his eyes, the slight tilt of his head, his strong hands wrapped around the coffee cup, she knew she’d probably never feel the same way about anyone else, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t find someone to share her life with. And with that realization, she felt full of air, light, and hopeful in spite of the crushing blow of knowing she’d lost him.
“I just wanted to say, that it was really good to see you,” Scottie appealed to the part of him that remembered what they’d had. And by the shifting expression on his face, it seemed for a second, that she had.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called,” he murmured so only she could hear it, despite them being in an empty waiting room.
“It’s okay, really, I just want you to be happy.” Her voice sounded so high pitched and foreign to her ears, but she had said what she wanted to say. Slowly she stood, hating that she had to look down at him right now, but she needed to put distance between them. “I should go,” she asserted sadly, gesturing vaguely to the space behind her, and spinning slightly on her heel.
But Will’s rough hand caught her wrist before she could even take a step. Turning, she felt her breath catch as he pulled himself closer to her so his knees were touching her legs.
“Don’t,” he whispered, even quieter than before. Scottie cocked her head and considered him, her heart pounding all of a sudden.
“Why not?” she asked numbly, challenging him with her stony gaze, unwavering, desperate not to show her hand just yet. Instead of answering Will leaned down and placed his coffee on the floor then used his hand against his knee to right himself. He looked back at her boldly and pulled on her wrist with both hands, bringing her face down to his. A heady moment passing between them as they stared at each other, just inches away, their shallow breath mingling, their lips practically humming.
Then he leaned in and closed the gap, kissing her in a way that made her knees buckle. And when they did, he caught her and pulled her into his lap where she belonged.