Sunday, July 29, 2018

Update to Love Bites

Hi all!  I'm back with another chapter of Love Bites to conclude the cliffhanger in the last chapter.  This one is quite a bit longer than the others, and pretty devvy, in my humble opinion.  Also, we finally meet Hunter:

Chapter 3

Entire story

Also, some of you mentioned you'd like to see me write some historical fiction.  The book version of this story will go back and forth between Brooke's story and one that takes place in 1905.  I wasn't going to post the 1905 part because it wasn't vital to the other story.... they do eventually intersect, but not till near the end.  But I figured I'd try posting it and if it's something you guys enjoy, I can just post those parts in the TOC, so people who aren't reading that storyline aren't thrown off by it.  But if you don't care either way, I probably won't post because it's harder than not posting.  Obviously.

OK, now that I've babbled on about this for a whole paragraph, here it is:

Tom Blake, October of 1905

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Consolation Prize - Chapter 8


She clicked her nails on the door every so often, but it wasn’t until they pulled onto the highway after coming out of the Holland Tunnel that she said something. The sun was streaming in and her whole face was lit up with some of the golden coloring having returned. She pursed her lips and closed her eyes for a second. Will wanted to reach out and cup her face in his hands, but he didn’t for a few reasons—one being that she would probably slap him, and the other being that the car would go careening off the overpass. He strangled the steering wheel for a second to quell his frustration, letting out a loud sigh that earned him a curious look from Scottie. She raised her eyebrows at him and he shrugged an apology. When she spoke, her voice came out as barely more than a whisper.

“I’m so embarrassed,” she said. Will turned for a second to look at her, holding her brilliant eyes for as long as he could without looking at the road. Returning to face front, he squeezed the accelerator, but he could still feel her gaze carving into him.

“You don’t need to be embarrassed,” he replied softly, and he meant it. He’d pulled up to the address on 9th Avenue Scottie had given him, realizing it was an assisted living facility just as she pushed the front doors open. They hadn’t even closed behind her when a woman barreled through them angrily, heavily favoring her right leg and yelling something Will couldn’t make out. Scottie whipped around and put her hands up, as if she was trying to block an attack. Will realized he couldn’t make any sense of what she was saying because it was jibberish—or just heavily slurred and affected—he couldn’t tell. A nurse came rushing out, apologizing profusely, grabbing the woman by the hand, leading her back into the facility. She was still looking back and yelling when Scottie climbed into the car next to Will and shook her head, dropping her face in her hands.

“But I am,” she implored.

“Scottie,” Will stammered, “family, is…messy. I don’t want you to ever feel embarrassed about the fact that your mess spilled out onto 9th Avenue,” he said, grinning crookedly. She laughed, and it came easy, her shoulders relaxing a little as she leaned back in her seat, the tension in her brow unknitting. Scottie’s chest flooded with momentary relief—her mom hadn’t scared him away.


“She’s not always like that,” Scottie insisted, realizing that she was like that more and more these days. Her coherent moments were slippery as fish.

“Her memory?” Will asked, thinking of his late grandmother. He only remembered it in blurry flashes since he had been so young, but he saw her shouting at his dad, flailing irrationally. Scottie shook her head.  

“It’s severe brain damage,” she confessed, rubbing her face with her hands.

“Oh shit,” Will said, blowing the words out. Scottie nodded again, then turned to look out the window at the Elizabeth Seaport. Huge cargo ships floated in the void, the black ocean calm and bizarre. It made Scottie feel incredibly small. Will didn’t ask her what happened. He wanted to respect her right to make the decision to tell him.

“It was drugs,” she replied heavily after a minute. “She overdosed, lack of oxygen combined with whatever she put in her body. When they revived her, well…” Her voice tightened like a screw at the end.

“She wasn’t the same,” Will offered quietly.

“It was like the revived a different person,” she said flatly.  

“How long has it been?”

“Oh,” she replied, looking up to the car ceiling, gears turning, mouthing something. “I think about six years? I’m not sure.” She stopped cold and took a breath. Beginning to shiver, Scottie wrapped her arms around herself. Will reached over to grab her hand for a second to steady her. Then he reluctantly dragged it back to manage the break as they hit a bottleneck. He caught a glimpse of his useless legs as switched lanes and felt a pang of irritation at not being able to keep her hand in his. The information came out of her like she was chewing glass, and he found himself wondering if she had ever said it out loud before.

“I’ve never said that out loud before,” she replied, like she was inside his head with him. He stole a glance at her tenderly. 

“That must have been a shock,” Will said after a heavy beat of stillness, unsure of what she needed from him right then, but acutely aware of the fact that he might have an impact on her ability to tell anyone in the future. For whatever reason, perhaps dumb luck or bad timing, he’d run into her mom, and now he was the person she was opening up to.

“You know,” she replied thoughtfully, “it wasn’t. I think I knew it was coming. She’d been using for a long time. I suppose I thought an overdose would kill her instead of…this.” She gestured to the space in front of her and sighed. She tucked her hair behind her ears to no avail—it leapt free. Her curls seemed to have a life all their own and Will’s hand twitched with the desire to run it through them, but he couldn’t. They were about to merge onto the Garden State Parkway. She wanted to say more but there was something there holding her back. They were at an impasse, and she was sealing herself off. She felt like she had to because she sure as hell wasn’t ready to let everything out. She wasn’t even certain why she was considering it at all. Was it because he’d seen her mom laid bare on the street? Was it because she was finally hitting a wall in her late twenties and couldn’t keep everything inside anymore? Was it because Will had made her feel safe in a way she didn’t even know she’d missed?

Will let out a long breath and gripped the wheel tighter, squeezing the accelerator and sliding left. 

“It was almost a relief then," he offered softly. Turning to look at her, he felt his chest ache. There was so much welling up in her eyes— a rare kind of anguish. She turned pointedly toward the window and discreetly wiped her eyes.

“Yeah, in a way,” Scottie replied, “At least she isn’t using anymore.”

“And your dad?” he inquired innocently, without thinking. She visibly flinched, and he immediately regretted asking.

“He was never really in the picture. He stuck around long enough to saddle me with his name and get my mom pregnant again.” Scottie laughed and shook her head. Will thought of his own family guiltily. His was whole, and warm, and wonderful. His mom and dad had the kind of relationship he hoped he’d have one day. He had Pete and their two younger sisters Wynn and Olivia and everyone got along. There was so much life in the house when they all returned home. He was looking forward to being all together again. Unfortunately, it felt like Thanksgiving would be the next time everything would line up. 

“To quote you at the wedding, I have no idea what to say to that, but I feel like sorry is the wrong thing,” he said honestly. This time she was the one to reach across the middle console for his hand, but he was pressing on the brake, so she found his wrist instead. Her skin was cool and soft, and Will felt a rush of electricity. It ran through him like a whip. 

“Sorry is a stupid word,” she declared, giving him a squeeze. Another whip ran through him. He dragged in a stunted breath, willing himself to focus on the road.

“It’s an awful word,” he agreed strongly, almost tasting bitterness in his mouth from how many “sorrys” he’d gotten in the last eight years—even now.

“I won’t say it if you won’t,” she proposed as if they were planning a heist. A smile glimmered across her face and he wanted to latch on to it.

“I absolutely won’t say it if you won’t,” he agreed unequivocally, smiling back. She laughed heartily, and Will found it refreshing as hell, earthy, hoarse, delicious. He risked a glance at her and saw that her eyes were shining under fading light in the sky, the color truly unlike anything he’d ever seen, dark green and earnest. They made Kristin's look like muddy water in comparison. He took note of, as if sketching in his memory, the freckles across her cheeks and nose, the high cheekbones, thick dark eyebrows, full pink lips. He lingered there for a minute until she turned slightly and eyed him.

“What?” she asked with a crooked grin. He shook his head shyly and turned back to the road. They had another full moment where it was like all sound in the world stopped. Color rose in Scottie’s speckled cheeks.

“There’s something about you,” she said softly, but then immediately covered her mouth and furrowed her brow. Will tempered his response, trying to calm the sheer joy that was budding inside of him.

“Me?” he teased, laughing.

“Oh my god,” she bent forward with her face in her hands and groaned. “I thought I was saying that in my head,” she said as she sat back up, incredulous.

“Happen to you a lot?” he asked playfully.

“No!” she shouted, hitting him playfully on the arm, a golden, telltale, fool proof sign of flirting. He couldn’t help but beam like an idiot. Scottie was intrigued by how content he seemed, how welcome her words had been. She took a deep breath, consciously considering what she was doing. She was lowering her guard, something she hadn’t ever been good at, something she’d never practiced, opting instead to keep everyone far enough away where she could run if she needed. She felt her resolve harden. Will wasn’t like anyone she’d ever met. There was this understanding passing between them. He had her.

“Usually I’m a steel trap,” she continued, throwing herself back against the seat.

“Easy over there, steel trap,” he cautioned, pulling his hand off the accelerator and reaching for her. She met him halfway, her hand sliding suspiciously easily into his, their fingers laced together. She rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb and he didn’t want to let go, but reluctantly he pulled away, refocusing on driving.

“Your hands are like sandpaper,” she commented, pressing her palm into his before he let go. He sighed.

“I know.” His voice was apologetic. “It happens with, you know.”

“I like it,” she reacted, shrugging. “It’s rugged.”

"You should have seen me in high school,” he reminisced, laughing distantly. “I thought I was a mountain man.”

“Don’t listen to what people say about Will Nash,” she teased, “but he’s rugged as fuck.” Will shook his head, chuckling to himself.

“What are people saying about me?” he asked incredulously. She shrugged and smiled, turning to look out the window as Will slid into the express lane without a second of hesitation. A few minutes passed in comfortable silence. Scottie focused on the stream of cars that Will was passing at an increasing speed. Will veered left into the next lane, sliding through two lanes in the process and cutting ahead of the car slowing down in front of us, speeding ahead as the divider between local and express rose up out of the asphalt on their right. A little thrill bloomed in his stomach as he accelerated.

“You drive like a maniac,” she assessed.

“First complaint,” he replied seriously.

“I was obviously distracted before,” she laughed, “family tragedy, remember?”

“Next time,” he responded in a snarky voice, “you can take NJ Transit.”

“With pleasure,” she retorted as she reached over and squeezed his shoulder through his t-shirt. He tensed at her touch, afraid of how much he wanted it, and afraid that he would come across as too eager, too desperate.

Silence settled over them as she pulled her hand back to her lap. But, oddly, it felt comfortable immediately. He turned on the radio but had trouble finding a station before he needed to take his hand back to squeeze the brakes. She slipped in seamlessly, turning the nob to a channel he’d never given a second thought to. The electric piano intro to Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger filled the car and Will unconsciously smiled.

“I love this song,” he said simply.

“You can sing along, you know,” she ribbed, he shot her a dirty look coupled with a wry smile. “I bet you know every word, too,” she continued. He was smiling a smile that she remembered swooning over when she first saw him only a few weeks ago. It was a bit crooked and his one dimple peeked out.  It felt warm and genuine, like he had no control over it.

“Every word,” he barely managed to say as he watched her tap her fingers on the dashboard. He was inflating on her energy.

And then she sang. She wasn’t good. Not by a long shot. She was pitchy and all over the place, up and down, loud and soft, her already husky voice cracking on the high notes and it was fucking glorious. He felt like he’d known the girl next to him for a long, long time. It was absolutely inexplicable. She made him comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. He felt like a wreck. Trying to pull himself back down to the car and out of whatever fucking fantasy land he was living in. He didn’t want to get ahead of himself. Even able bodied, she felt out of his league. And paralyzed? Who was he kidding. He didn’t want to drag her into this. It felt especially sensitive after he’d thought about how selfish he’d been with Kristin. Who was he to put the reality of his new life on her. Maybe, he thought anxiously, he had to let her go.  

Then she started into the second verse. “Now some they do and some they don’t, and some you just can’t tell..”

His doubts dissipated as quickly as they came, and he joined her.

<> 

They pulled up to Cory’s family’s house on East Ave and Will immediately remembered simultaneously that he hated and loved this house. Somehow, every year between 4th of Julys, he managed to forget the rocks and the stairs, as if he was wiped clean and scrubbed of the memory of humiliation. Then each year he would pull up to the house and metaphorically kick himself for forgetting. It was a stinging reminder of everything that had changed since his childhood. Will had asked Cory to get a ramp the first 4th of July he
came out after rehab. And rampless the stairs remained.

He used to come down all the time as a kid. His whole family—mom, dad, Pete, Olivia and Wynn—made the drive down from New Hampshire in their Station Wagon. It had been one of his favorite places—a place of carefree possibility. Now it just reminded him of all the things that he couldn’t handle, and all the resentment that had built up between Cory and him. He had just disappeared on Will. He just fucking vanished when Will had needed him most. Why? 

In the beginning, Cory couldn’t bear to look at him. It was too painful. Pete couldn’t either, but he stayed. And Nick? Well it had always been Nick and Will, Cory and Pete. Will wasn’t surprised that Nick had been there day in and day out. He smiled remembering Nick grabbing one of the rehab center’s wheelchairs and racing Will down the halls, then careening down the ramp to the cafeteria, crashing into Will and throwing them both from their chairs. They’d gotten in trouble, but Will hadn’t laughed that hard since he’d been hurt six weeks earlier.

But Will didn’t see Nick all that often now that he and his wife had moved to Chicago. But he saw Cory all the time, and it still hurt after all these years. Will had believed that Cory meant it when he said, “We’ll get through this together” when Will was in and out of consciousness right after everything happened. When he woke up, Cory was already gone.

Well, Cory could look away, and he chose to, but Will couldn’t. He was the one who was stuck in the chair for the rest of his life while Cory’s life continued to clip by golden and unhindered. Will wished so badly that he could move past it, just fucking let it go, water under the bridge. And some days he felt like maybe he could. He’d been able to stomach being his best man for Christ’s sake. But sitting there, in the driveway of the beach house that marked each of their summers, the north star they’d always returned to, tallying all the ways it wasn’t meant for him anymore, Will realized, quite suddenly, that he’d been branded with Cory’s inadequacy.

Will gave a self-conscious laugh and took a quick steadying breath.

“What’s up?” Scottie asked, undoing her seatbelt.

“What do you think?” Will replied, turning to look at her as he undid his own. She paused for a second and leaned forward to look up at the house through the windshield.

“Fucking huge,” she quipped, laughing. “But stunning. It looks different than I remember.”

“Yeah,” Will replied absently, trying to remember the excitement he used to feel.

“You seem…” she fished, letting her voice trail off into nothing.

“Nervous?” he finished.

“I was going to say uncomfortable, but yes, also nervous.” She didn’t take her eyes off him and he looked down at his hands fidgeting in his lap.

“Uhh,” he replied with trepidation. She was going to see him embarrass himself anyway, so he decided that he might as well just be honest. His self-loathing was crawling all over his skin, wedging its claws into him. He tried to shake it off. “I always forget about the rocks, and the steps, and Cory still hasn’t gotten a fucking ramp even though I’ve been asking him for years,” he said, his voice tight and fast. Too fast, but he couldn’t slow down. “And all the bedrooms are upstairs. The only one on the first floor is for the kids. It’s the same one that we used to sleep in when we would come down years ago.”

“Oh no,” she said, stifling a laugh, but still managing to show compassion. “Bunk beds. I remember.” Scottie wasn’t sure how to respond to Will’s frustration. It wasn’t something she could relate to, but she did know the feeling of being left out, forgotten, and unable to do something. She imagined though, that what Will was feeling along those lines, was on a magnitude she’d never encountered.

“Bunk beds,” he responded, his voice flat. He looked at Scottie and her lips were quivering. And it was like a reflex, erupting out of him. He couldn’t stop it. Laughter filled the car as Scottie matched him. It was suddenly the most hilarious thing in the world that he was forced to sleep in a bottom bunk bed under a quilt stitched with sailboats and seagulls because he couldn’t get up the goddamn stairs to where the adult quilts were.

As they caught their breath, Will noticed that the windows of the house were open wide, and it seemed like all of the lights were on, illuminating the wrap-around porch.

“Ready?” she asked, wiping tiny laugh tears from the corners of her brilliant eyes. He wanted to kiss her right then and there, but he opened his door instead. A warm breeze met him, and as he inhaled the fresh salt air hungrily, he felt some kind of shift inside himself. His entire demeanor changed and he was lifted by the fact that there were good things about this place, too. It held good memories, the kinds of memories that he’d, god willing, want to tell his children someday. Wrestling in the sand, staying up too late and sneaking chocolate ice cream out of the freezer, learning how to play backgammon with his dad, biking down to the bakery in the chilly mornings and coming back with armfuls of crawlers and Danishes, sitting on the porch in the late afternoon with suntanned skin and popsicle juice dripping down our arms. The very porch he was looking at right then. These were the kinds of threads that made up a good childhood, and he was lucky enough to have them. He looked over at Scottie and wasn’t sure that he could say the same for her. He hoped she had threads like these, too.

He took a deep breath and made a conscious decision. He decided to do everything he could that weekend to forgive Cory—to simply let him off the hook for handling a fucked-up situation in a fucked-up way. How was Cory supposed to have known what Will needed? Will didn’t even know what he needed in those blurred hours, days, and weeks that followed. It might have been too much to ask of anyone. Cory’s wedding and seeing Kristin had dredged up all this old muddy resentment that he thought he’d cleared. Turned out it was just collecting at the bottom of a lake, waiting to be disturbed.

And it was at that moment that she opened her door and the breeze carried her peppery scent over to him. He shivered, breathing as much as he could. She didn’t offer him any help, but he could tell she wouldn’t mind.

“I think I might need your help,” he said as casually as he could, willing himself not to give in to his self-consciousness.

“Okay tell me what to do,” she said smiling at him like she couldn’t think of anything she’d rather do than push his ass over those fucking pebbles. He felt a tender gratitude radiating out of him toward her and he wanted to reach out, but his hands were trembling slightly at the thought. Instead, he twisted around and grabbed the frame of his chair from the back seat.

“Let’s just see what we’re up against, huh?” he mused, feeling his resolution from a few minutes ago begin to take hold. He dropped the frame down on the deep bed of little white rocks and reached around to grab the wheels. Scottie popped out of the car and opened the trunk, pulling out both of their bags and running them up the steps to the door before he could tell her that he could carry his own.

Will transferred out of the car and adjusted his legs on the single footplate, pushing back slightly to close the door as she padded back down the steps like she couldn’t wait to get back to him. Scottie smiled as she crossed her arms and leaned against the hood of the car.

“So,” she said coyly.

“So,” he mimicked her, and she laughed, looking down shyly and attempting to brush her hair behind her ears.

It turned out that Will only needed a couple of light pushes to get through most of the rocks, and he could tell Scottie was unsure of where to put her hands since his chair had no handles. He could feel her waver over his upper back then down to the top of the seat of his chair.

“I’m gonna need some direction,” she finally stated. Will laughed in spite of her and she playfully squeezed his shoulders.

“Aye aye,” He answered jokingly. Then, after telling her she could use the back of his chair to get the most leverage, she bent down to get a good grip. She had to get down quite a bit because she was tall, and the back of his chair barely came up above his butt. With his level of injury, he still had good trunk control so he opted for the lowest back he could find.

Scottie had no trouble until they got to the final push which included a sharp lip up onto the stone path to the porch. She really had to dig her heels into the grit in order to get enough lift as he raised the front casters, balancing in a wheelie position. She burrowed in so deep and pushed so hard that the second Will’s wheels broke free over the edge, she fell forward. He whipped around to see her lift herself up slightly only to roll over onto her back with her face in her hands.

“Scottie,” he whispered, a little too loudly to be a whisper. He didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Scottie was lying in the driveway rocks and it was absolutely his fault. If there weren’t literally five feet of rocks, he probably could have managed by himself, but there seemed to be no solid surface below them. “Scottie,” he said again, voice straining, “I’m so sorry, shit, are you okay?” He didn’t want to wheel any closer to her because then he might get stuck again and that didn’t help goddamn anybody. When she finally pulled her hands away from her face she was completely captive in the throes of silent laughter. Her face was squeezed tight and her mouth was open, the porch light bathing her in a golden glow. Will’s chest ached with how much he wanted to go to her. Propping herself up on her elbows she struggled to catch her breath.

“You said you’d never say it!” she gasped, pointing at him accusingly.

“What?” he asked, genuinely confused.

“You said you’d never say it. You said you’d never say sorry.”

“Shit, sorry,” he said before he could stop himself. She broke into more quiet laughter and closed her eyes, shaking her head. “Fuck,” Will whispered, joining her.

“What a fucking disaster,” she managed to say as she leaned forward and reached out to him. He locked his wheels and bent toward her, bolting his hand around her wrist. Pulling her up, in a similar turn of events, he used too much force and she flew forward, stumbling into him and landing half on his lap and half on her left foot. Her right hand was firmly on his shoulder and her left hand on his leg. Scottie’s breath caught in her throat as she looked at the man in front of her—leaning into the warmth of his body and inhaling the woody smell of his skin. He was so close to her.

Will could feel her body tense around him, unsure of how to move, or if she should move at all. As she raised her gaze from his lap over his chest, then to his neck, then eye to eye, he couldn’t speak. Neither of them dared breathe. There was laughter drifting from the house lazily, but it seemed to fade away and all Will could see, think about, smell, feel, was her.

“Scottie,” he breathed. She pressed her forehead to his, slowly lowering herself properly onto his lap and reached up, taking his face in her hands. Her slender fingers were working their way through his thick hair. He reached up and put his hands on her waist, savoring the feeling of her smooth skin between her jeans and her t-shirt.

Scottie couldn’t believe what she was about to do, her mouth tingled with anticipation. This felt different than she was used to, visceral and real—not a person to hide behind—and she knew she’d always regret not giving in.

"Don’t talk,” she rasped, her breath mingling with his. A kiss was percolating dangerously between them, but Will wanted to let Scottie initiate. He was testing her stubbornness and it seemed, she was testing his. His heart, slammed against his rib cage, fighting to get out of his chest. The summer breeze ruffled her hair as she looked at him and he ran his hands down her back. She leaned into him even more, her lips grazing his then pulling back slowly, like she was measuring the moment, considering the ripples, steeling herself to jump in.

“Let’s try this again,” she whispered.

“Will you run?” he asked even quieter. She shook her head lightly and looked into his eyes, pulling her hands out of his hair and down to his shoulders. He knew in that moment, without a shadow of a doubt, she wouldn't.    

And then, she closed the gap.

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

I think ya'll are going to like this chapter. We get some good Scottie and Will 1:1 time. 

I'm traveling this week so I had to schedule this post ahead of time, so I hope it goes off without a hitch. If not I promise to post as soon as I can! 

Excited to hear your thoughts! 

Chapter 8 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Update to Love Bites

So I am currently traveling and have scheduled this a week in advance, and whether the link below works depends on whether I'm able to get to a computer to hit publish.  Exciting!  I also don't know as I'm writing this if you guys liked or hated the first chapter.  I hope you liked it! 

I am working on something a little different currently, so if this just isn't everyone's taste, I might be able to swap to posting that earlier than planned, although life is very busy, so.... well, I hope you like this one!  Please let me know!  Your comments are immensely helpful!

Here is (or not):

Chapter 2

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Consolation Prize - Chapter 7

The air around him had chilled considerably, and he shivered involuntarily. Will’s mind had gone numb and so, too, had the parts of him that weren’t numb already. He felt entirely trapped in a body that he didn’t know how to move. Closing his eyes, he pulled his hand back to his lap, out of her warm grip. He wished, almost desperately, that she wouldn’t be there when he opened his eyes. Perhaps it had all been some kind of fuzzy dream world. 

But when he did finally return to the scene, Kristin was still there, so close he could smell the perfume she always wore. It was flowery and too strong. He’d never felt that way before, but he didn’t like it. It made the air thick. He pulled his gaze from her and watched Scottie down two shots at the bar, hitch her bag up onto her shoulder, and do an about face, heading toward the exit. He swallowed hard and fought the urge to race after her. 

Kristin was saying something, probably something he had always wanted to hear her say, but as much as he tried, he couldn’t make himself listen. His eyes followed Scottie out the doors, muddled with confusion. She had such angry purpose in her stride, seemingly from nowhere. Had she seen him holding Kristin’s hand? Or rather, Kristin holding his? He felt like a prisoner in his own body. 

Cory shouted something that Will couldn’t make out and started jogging over to their table, as he tried to surface from the mental flood he was currently drowning in. Kristin leaned closer to him and he winced reflexively. Her beautiful face had aged gracefully, of course it had, and it was wide and pale, but soft and kind. And, quite inappropriately, he wanted to punch it. And that thought broke him through the surface, he took a deep breath and unlocked the wheels on his chair. Taking control, he pushed backward away from the table.

“Will,” Kristin’s voice came from the top of a well. There was concern. She had no right to be concerned. But he realized it the moment it was too late—he’d forgotten about the fucking step. It all happened so fast. The polished wood floor rose up swiftly to meet the back of his head. He heard gasps and frantic whispering erupt all around him. Great, he thought bitterly, let’s give ‘em a show. 

Kristin’s face was inches from his and she was saying his name over and over like some demented record player. She had her hand on his shoulder and was motioning to someone he couldn’t see from the ground. He mumbled that he was fine and struggled to push himself into a sitting position, his legs tangled grotesquely in front of him and he felt his face flush. He hated feeling helpless. Because he didn’t use any straps—he had enough trunk control not to need them—there was nothing keeping him in the chair except his own weight. When it tipped he was thrown backward and embarrassingly, sprawled out on the floor in front of everyone, and their mother. Kristin then tried to help him up, but he shook her off. 

“I’m fine,” he muttered, voice sharp as a cleaver. Kristin looked as if she’d been slapped, retracting her hands sharply to her sides. She stood up and backed away slowly, wrapping her arms around herself. Will refused to feel bad for even a second. He didn’t have time to consider it for long though, as Cory and Pete appeared on the fringes of the crowd that had gathered, and Pete cursed audibly and Cory looked as white as a sheet. Cory stepped to put his hands under Will’s shoulders, but Will protested, and Cory stumbled backward, like he’d seen a ghost. He was staring at Kristin who was staring at Will. Will felt a momentary stroke of gratitude at Cory’s reaction to seeing her again. 

The Carnival cruise guide emerged from behind Will and shook his head. Will felt confident that nothing like this had ever happened at the Royal Palms Shuffle Board Club. And if it had, it certainly hadn’t happened to a clumsy, flustered, newly thirty-year-old, guy in a wheelchair who’d only had two drinks. He longed to be that able bodied twenty-two-year-old who’d been over-served and had slipped on his untied shoelace. Will motioned silently for Pete to right his chair, which he did, and bring it over to him, which he also did. 

“How much have you had to drink?” Pete asked quietly, crouching down to Will’s level. His tone and eyes were admonishing and stern. Will scoffed, looking up at Pete. 

“How much have you had to drink?” Will mocked incredulously. 

“Dude,” Pete started to argue, but Will interrupted swiftly. 

“Can we not do this here?” he snapped. Pete nodded solemnly and backed away, knowing that Will wouldn’t accept his help, no matter how many drinks he’d had. Pete skirted his role as brother, never fully stepping into it, but never fully stepping out of it. And Will was forced to waffle between being thankful and resentful for his brother’s concern. It was absolutely infuriating. 

Kristin hadn’t taken her eyes off of Will since he’d hit the ground and it made him want to scream. He hadn’t seen her in eight years—eight fucking years—and this had to happen? Her soft blonde hair framed her heart shaped face with the birthmark below the curve of her bottom lip, and her green eyes—those eyes—were crinkled with worry. He couldn’t remember a time when he had ever fallen out of his chair since being in rehab. And at least, if he had, it had been in private and wholly uneventful and unimportant. And even if it had been in public, it hadn’t been in front of the girl—the girl he’d once intended on marrying—who’d left him because he’d been crippled by no fault of his own. And she hadn’t stuck around long enough when he’d been in rehab to see him struggle. This was now, essentially, the only experience Kristin had had with him after getting injured. He was probably even less of a man in her eyes than he had been previously, and that was enough to make him scream. But he didn’t. He took another deep breath and faced the task at hand.  

Reaching up he locked the brakes and then pulled his weight up and over into the chair. It wasn’t an easy transfer, it sure as shit didn’t look graceful, but he was practiced, and his upper body could handle it. His face burned with effort and embarrassment as he lifted his legs at the knees and arranged his feet on the footplate. There were so many eyes on him, it almost felt like they were physically pressing into his body. He took a deep breath, looked up, and smiled at the crowd that had formed. Forcing a laugh, he ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. He made some inane joke about wheelchairs, and steps, and alcohol, and shuffleboard fandom not mixing, and to his relief, people laughed. The mood shifted just enough for the burden to lift on the rubberneckers, now that it was clear he wasn’t hurt. It had been a spectacle that would fade into a good cocktail party anecdote, that would fade even further into the oblivion of “remember that one time?” and finally a foggy, but jagged memory he only thought of from time to time. But in that moment, it was crushing him. 

“Will,” Kristin pleaded, reaching for his hand, the look in her eyes a heady mix of pity and regret that made him feel nauseous. “Please talk to me.” He focused on unlocking the breaks and then backing away from her. He wouldn’t make eye contact. He couldn’t look at those eyes again. 

“I need some air,” he replied flatly, pushing past the girl he once would have done anything for, the pain of their breakup as fresh as if it had been yesterday. A ghost of his past, rising out of nothing but a chance meeting at a popular bar in New York City. He hadn’t even known that she’d moved. The last he’d heard she’d lived in Boston. 

The crowd had thinned but he got an excessive number of stares as he made his way smoothly to the entrance. He saw Parker near the bar and Parker waved him over. 
“Wicked fall, man,” he quipped. Will heard himself laugh before he realized he’d decided to—a true, honest to God, reflex. It felt fresh, and good. He shook his head as Parker clapped him on the shoulder. “You know how to make a scene, that’s for damn sure.” 
They walked out together, and the bouncer held the door open for both of them. It was something he did for everyone, but it felt like he was mocking Will. He hated the frustration that had risen in him. Parker pulled out a cigarette as Will looked around the barren street for any sign of Scottie. It was clear she was long gone. 

“At least Scottie didn’t see it,” he reasoned as he waved away Parker’s offer for a cigarette of his own. Parker lit his and inhaled, laughing. 

“She’s cool,” he said simply. “I liked her.” And for Parker, that was the best endorsement he would give. He was a man of few words and an excellent judge of character. Will glowed. 

“I like her too,” Will concurred. 

“I can tell,” Parker replied knowingly. Will smiled and leaned back, shifting his weight. The back of his head throbbed a little from the alcohol and get-together it’d had with the wood floor. 

“Wild that Kristin was here,” Parker mused as he leaned against the ramp railing behind them with one foot up. He took another drag as Will shook his head then rubbed his face. 

“I haven’t seen her since—” 

“I know,” Parker interrupted.

“But you knew she lived here?” he asked. Parker nodded. Will didn’t care that he hadn’t told him. What good would it have done? He wouldn’t have changed anything had he known there was a chance of running into her. It was New York City, the smallest big city in the world. 

“I think,” Parker started then dithered, looking down at the ground. “I think Scottie might have thought that she was your girlfriend.” Will’s mouth dropped open and he turned to Parker. “And I’m afraid I might have played a part in that. I was a little, um, unclear when she asked who Kristin was, unintentionally.” His teeth were gritted, and his eyes scrunched slightly. Will laughed lightly after a minute, rolling his eyes. “But after replaying it in my head, it kind of sounded like, well, you know.” 

“Of course, she thinks that,” he said, laughing harder. “Of fucking course.” 

“Happy birthday, man,” Parker joked, patting Will on the back. Will felt grateful for Parker in that moment. He’d never wavered in his friendship, never even blinked when he came to see Will in the hospital, then at rehab. To Parker, Will was the same guy, even if that wasn’t always true—because Will knew he wasn’t the same person after it happened. He also knew he wasn’t the same person from twenty to thirty, but who was? He didn’t realize how much he would cherish people just treating him like a person rather than someone or something to fuss over. Parker had an easiness about him that made you feel like you were sitting on a sun-drenched porch with a light breeze, the temperature perfect, birds singing, not a care in the world. 

And as far as Scottie went, thinking about her when Kristin was right in front of him was hugely significant. He was moving on, even if the pain was still fresh. But he also felt silly chasing after her. She did, after all, leave him hanging in the front seat of his car. As far as he knew, she came to the party for Cory and Nora. Maybe she was just being nice to him when she came over with a beer. He didn’t know what to do next. He just knew he didn’t want to lose her before he even had her to lose. If he did, he knew that she wasn’t the first, and she probably wouldn’t be the last. But he damn well thought that she just may be the best.

<>

They’d called while he was at work. 

He was at his desk, pulling together a final brand presentation for a new client in Keynote. The mid-afternoon light was streaming through the warehouse windows in the studio and he could hear cars honking down on Houston street. Rubbing his temples, he put his elbows up on the desk and closed his eyes. His computer pinged innocently and he looked up. 

EMILY: Go home. 

He rolled his eyes and straightened up to reply, looking around, his heart speeding up at the thought that maybe she was here somewhere in the office. But one sweep of the small space told him he’d let his hopes get the better of him. 

EMILY: Seriously. Go home, Will. 

Will stared at the chat on his screen. Emily was always worrying about him. She was a few years older than him, Will guessed around 37, and married to a really nice guy named Steve who Will happened to like quite a bit. She invited Will over for dinner at least twice a month, insisting he didn’t get enough home cooked meals. She was probably right about that, as he practically was in a relationship with his Seamless account. Maybe that was why he was single? Emily always sent him home with a full Tupperware of leftovers. And, true to her meddling nature, she had tried, in vain, time after time, to set him up with women she knew. The dates had never gone well. 

“Does she know about the wheelchair?” Will had asked, religiously, each time she’d pulled up a new woman’s Instagram account. 

“What?” she’d hedge predictably, playfully rubbing his shoulder as she leaned over him to proof something on his computer. “You know it’s not a big deal.” 

“Great. If it’s not a big deal, then telling her shouldn’t be either. Does she know?” he’d press, ignoring her platitudes, ignoring her touch. 

“Of course, she knows,” she’d say to his screen instead of his face.

Predictably, she didn’t know—of course, she didn’t know. She never knew. Will couldn’t believe that he kept believing Emily. Seeing the surprise on the women’s faces as he approached them was a particular brand of humiliation, and he felt like he had a pretty high tolerance for it after spending weeks having people do even the most basic things for him. He didn’t blame them though. No one—himself absolutely included—wanted to be ambushed. 

Anna, the most recent in a string of them, an old colleague of Emily’s, had actually been warned after Will demanded proof that she’d been told. Emily reluctantly sent a text while Will watched. But Anna had apparently not done her research, or even cared enough to do so, and picked a restaurant that wasn’t accessible—four narrow stairs down into a garden space in NoHo—and instead of offering to go somewhere else she’d said she would just rather call it an early night. Right. They shook hands at the corner of Lafayette street and she disappeared down the steps to the 6 train. 

Will had called Emily after that most recent prickle and she’d met him at a bar down the street. When she arrived she had been fuming, and the way her face lit up when she tore into the Anna, specifically her ignorance and closed mindedness, was one of the sexiest things Will had ever seen. They’d each had three or four cocktails by the time Emily leaned into him, taking his large hand in her small one, honey golden hair draped over her shoulder. Her cheeks were flushed, and her wedding band glinted when the overhead light caught it. Then she propped herself up with her elbow on the table and Will could smell vanilla on her skin. All trepidation of what was about to happen fell away and she kissed him like she’d been wanting to kiss him every day for the last six years. That night was the first time he slept with his boss. Since then, Will had lost track. It was comfortable, and casual. Emily had rebuilt some of the confidence that Kristin and Katie had torn down. She’d stacked it back up, brick by fucking brick.

They’d always go to Will’s place, but only when Pete wasn’t there. Or they’d find a hotel and get a room for an afternoon, laughing like teenagers as they slipped the card key into the lock. Emily didn’t like to have sex in the dark, so the shades were always thrown open or the lights were always on. Will had argued with her, preferring the shadowy safety, but she’d just smiled that sexy smile and ran her hands through his dark hair. The lights stayed on and Will was forced to face his own broken body. He tried desperately to see it through her eyes. She was cheating on her husband with him—with him. He loved her, and she loved him, he knew that. And they both knew that it would never blossom into something more than it was. They fell into each other’s company like falling into bed at the end of a long day. 

Will prickled a little bit at the thought of her muddling in his life still. The night he’d punched a man at their spot in Williamsburg, Emily had been cooling things off, deciding that they had to stop seeing each other for the time being. She’d been having a crisis of conscience and was worried that Steve knew. Will, however, was staunchly convinced that Steve had known, somewhere deep down, since the very beginning. The way Emily acted when Will came over for dinner after they started sleeping together—like a lovesick teenager—left very little room for interpretation. She all but kissed him at the dinner table. Will knew that Emily called the shots in that relationship—he could feel phantom threads of that kind of dynamic in their own relationship. Steve was easygoing and sturdy—he never wavered. Did Steve not believe Will to be a threat? 

Will could handle a breakup. Nothing could rake him through gravel like his breakup with Kristin. But no, it was from that kernel of anguish that Steve didn’t think he was worthy of his wife that the punch came. Will supposed it was better to cut ties now and try to find his own happiness outside of Emily. She would always mean the world to him, but that was all she could ever be. He knew she’d never leave Steve, and Will, when he was honest with himself, didn’t want her to do that. 

WILL: You’re on vacation, get offline.
EMILY: Touché. But seriously, go to the beach. Get some goddamn sun or something. God knows you need it. 

He wanted to want to go to the beach. He wished it were easier. Last night he’d called Cory to back out of the weekend down the shore for the 4th of July. He’d predictably blamed work and Cory had groaned calling him a workaholic nutcase. Will knew Cory didn’t believe him, but Cory had steeled himself for an argument he wouldn’t win. Nothing he said made a dent, and they’d ended the call when Cory finally threw in the towel, cursing him out and then quietly asking Will to let him know if anything changed. His voice had a bit of an edge, an underlying tone, that Will didn’t like. It was like they both wanted to say something they couldn’t say, and it colored everything. 

Flooded with relief, he’d slept like a baby. He didn’t realize how much he had been dreading the trip until it was no longer happening. He just wanted to take this weekend to laze around his apartment and recharge. It felt like the summer had been busier than normal and he was starting to feel it. His shoulders and back had been bothering him the past few days and he could use a break from his chair, as much as he could reasonably manage. He just spent too much time sitting. His body wasn’t made to sit for so many hours. It was as simple as that. Also, the back of his head throbbed every few hours, an acrimonious reminder of his spectacle of a fall last weekend. Cory had also listed the people going, and it didn’t include the one person who he desperately wanted to see. 

The office was mercifully quiet, and he had been able to focus for the past few hours, losing himself in the work while Monica hummed quietly two seats down as she worked on the outstanding renderings, and Jack stood, attached to his headphones, on the other side of the room. Travis had run out to get coffee for all of them. These were the best kind of work days—especially since he didn’t have Emily hovering around him as he worked. 
The smooth white surface of his desk buzzed against his elbow. Pulling out his own headphones, he stared suspiciously down at the unknown number, and in a fog of hope that it was Scottie, he’d picked up too quickly. But the second he had the phone up to his ear, before he even spoke, his stomach twisted, and he just knew. He just knew it was her.

“Hello?” her voice was wavering and timid over the line. He scrunched his eyes closed and rubbed his forehead. 

“I thought I’d be hearing from you,” he said flatly, pressing the phone against his ear. 

“Oh, Will,” her voice was like honey—too sweet. “How are you?” 

“I’m well,” he replied coldly. Tension cackled over the line. He could almost see her struggling, twisting her hair around her index finger like she always did. He didn’t want to break first, but oddly enough, pity eeked its way into his consciousness. “Kristin?” 

“Oh, Will, I’m so sorry. I know Saturday was awful and I didn’t mean to ambush you,” she pleaded. 

“I thought you’d run into me by chance?” he asked, suddenly dumbfounded by his own stupidity. Of course, it hadn’t been an accident. “Someone told you I’d be there.” 

“Well, I knew it was Pete’s party from a friend, so I just assumed,” she hedged. Something wasn’t sitting right with Will. He didn’t like how dodgy she was being, but at the same time, he didn’t want to give her another minute of his time. Just the sound of her voice brought him back to the sound of his own sobs when she’d left him at the rehab center. 

“It’s just not how I saw my future,” she’d confessed quietly, her shame radiant. She’d managed to untwist and de-tangle their futures. They used to say “our” and now she was saying “my.” That word haunted him. She could walk away, and she did. He couldn’t. 

“What do you want, Kristin?” he asked, his voice genuine and firm. 

“I just wanted to see you,” she said quietly. 

“It’s been almost 8 years.” 

“I know,” she agreed. 

“So, why now?” he asked. There was silence over the line. Then Kristin let out a huge breath. 

“You looked really good,” she replied finally. Will bristled, shook with her tone. Was she trying to back track on the last eight years? 

“Kristin,” he countered resolutely. She let out a nervous laugh. It was odd hearing it again. He knew it was reserved for situations where she didn’t know what to say, as a way to ease the tension. She didn’t like conflict. 

“I mean it, I thought you looked really good,” she continued, voice rising a decibel. 

“Did you not expect me to look good?” Will snapped, unable to contain his hostility. 

“No, Will, that’s not,” she scrabbled quickly, but then stopped as quickly as she started. It has become clear to her that nothing she could say would be right. 

“Kristin,” Will pushed, “just tell me what you want from me. I can’t be your friend I’m so sorry, but I just can’t go there.” 

“That’s not what I want,” she whispered, more to herself than to him. 

“Well?” He hated the sound of his own voice. The pent-up anger was bringing out the worst in him. He took a deep breath and tried to soften his resolve. 

“I did a fucked-up thing. I realize that now. I realized that then, but I just couldn’t handle it.” 

“You couldn’t handle it?” he retorted, his volume drawing the attention of Monica. He pushed himself back from his desk and purposefully didn’t make eye contact as he wheeled to the back of the office near the copy and printer room. He felt like springing out of his skin.

“I know. I know,” she plead, “I didn’t give us a chance, after all we’d been through, I ran away, and I’ve regretted it for so long.” Will heard her words and didn’t understand how he was supposed to respond. Was he supposed to just say he forgave her for breaking his heart at the lowest point in his life? Part of him, the rational part, didn’t even blame her that much. If he had been a better man he should have given her a way out, and maybe he would have once he’d learned and lived the extent of his injury. But she didn’t even give him the chance to get that far. “I just want to apologize for that, and for,” she continued but then she stopped short. Will listened for a second and when she didn’t start speaking again he pressed her. 

“I’m just very sorry,” she squeaked quickly. “Maybe we can get coffee sometime, and if not, that’s fine, but the guilt over…everything…has been killing me. I just had to tell you that. If you change your mind call me, okay? I have to go but I’ll always answer. I’m so sorry.” And just like that, the line went dead. Will pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it, like he couldn’t quite comprehend what had just happened. 

He’d just gotten back to his desk, fighting off the shell-shock, when his phone started vibrating again. He thought that it might be Kristin calling back, but it was a new unknown number. His heart fluttered.  

In the warmth of two beers later, back inside Royal Palms with Parker, he’d decided to call Scottie the next morning and explain everything. But waking up at dawn, blinking stupidly at the weak sunlight peeking through his blinds, his head throbbing from drink and from hardwood, he reconsidered. It became startlingly clear how presumptuous it would be. What was he even supposed to say? Calling her to explain who Kristin was felt incredibly invasive and personal for a woman he had met at a wedding, brought home—not to sleep with— and then kissed impulsively in the front seat of his car. She seemed to like him. She seemed to really like him. But it still felt crazy to call her out of the blue to explain something away he wasn’t even sure she thought. What if she laughed in his face? What if she had left for reasons completely unrelated to him? What if she was relieved that Will had another woman interested in him so she could quietly slip off the hook? The blizzard of questions that had plagued him Saturday morning was picking up steam, so Will took a deep breath to steady his voice before picking up the phone. Oh, and another reason he didn’t call? He was too chickenshit and full of pride to ask Cory for her number. 

“Will Nash,” he said professionally, as if expecting a client. There was some rustling on the line then some kind of clicking noise. “Hello?” he asked curiously. 

“Oh!” she nearly shouted. It was her and her voice was a little bit hoarse. He felt excited. She’d called him after all. Will sensed a slight flicker of embarrassment in her tone. He flexed his hand on the phone and inhaled. 

“Will?” she asked, “It’s you?” 

“It’s me,” he replied.  

“It’s me,” she repeated, but then self-consciously she pulled back, her voice thin. Scottie didn’t think she merited an “it’s me” introduction and she mentally berated herself for skating into it. “It’s Scottie,” she corrected clinically. Will knew, but his heart soared at the sound of her name. 

“Scottie, hi,” he responded, gauging his tone. 

“Uh,” she started again, clumsily, “I, well, I’m sorry to call out of the blue like this. I didn’t mean to surprise you if you’re uh, in the middle of something or with someone.” She faltered for less than a second, but Will knew is that dip of sound that she thought Kristin was his girlfriend. “I hope it’s okay that I got your number from Nora.” 

“Oh, of course,” Will replied, trying and aching with effort, to keep his voice casual. 

“I should have gotten it when you dropped me off after the wedding,” she admitted quietly. “When we—"

“I would have gladly given it to you,” he said over her. He could almost hear her blushing on the other end of the line. 

“I know,” she stammered, “I was, well, I was rude. I shouldn’t have taken off like that.” 

“It’s okay,” I answered, voice kind, “it was a long night. I probably assumed too much.” 

“No,” she nipped, too quickly. Will could feel her backtracking and gauged when he could needle in his apology. “No,” she said again, this time it’s measured and composed. “We can just chalk it up to, well, weddings, I suppose.” The mortification in her voice was plain and she hated the way it sounded over the line. “Well. Anyway, I wanted to apologize for just running off like that.” The air between them crackled and neither of them said anything for a moment. 

“Scottie?” Will asked abruptly. 

“Yes?” she replied. 

“I think I actually owe you an apology,” he said quietly. She could picture him fiddling with the push rim on his chair, his mind working. She steeled herself for his confession of infidelity and regret. She’d already decided that she wasn’t going to make a big deal of it. What was done was done and they could be friends and move forward. “I’m afraid you got the wrong idea,” he continued inelegantly. She went from calm to irritated in a matter of seconds. Where the fuck would she have possibly gotten the wrong idea from when he was the one who kissed her? 

“Okay…” she said, voice lingering. 

“Parker mentioned on Saturday that you might have thought that Kristin was my girlfriend. My, uh,” Will swallowed and pushed forward. “My current girlfriend.” 

“That’s what he said,” she confirmed bluntly, just wanting him to come out and fucking admit he’d cheated and led her on and was generally shitty. But he didn’t say anything for a minute. She could still hear him on the other line, his breathing quiet and measured. 

Will bit his lower lip, unsure how to sum up one of the worst times of his life. It felt trite and dismissive. But if he was going to see more of Scottie, if he wanted to see more of Scottie, which he did, then he was sure there would come a time to truly tell her about this—about everything. Will was acutely aware of Monica eavesdropping again, so he awkwardly wedged his phone between his shoulder and cheek and wheeled into the empty office kitchen. 

“She was my girlfriend,” Will finally acknowledged. Scottie exhaled, feeling vindicated, but only slightly. “What I mean is,” Will fumbled and sighed at his own inability to string two fucking words together. He took a deep breath and focused on the blinking clock on the microwave. It had never been set properly and always blinked 12:00. He didn’t know how long it had been like that, but no one ever changed it. Oddly he found the rhythm comforting. 

And then, as if on cue, the story spilled out without an ounce of finesse. “She used to be my girlfriend. A long time ago. I mean, a very long time ago. In college, which was a long time ago. You know, I just turned thirty. Of course, you know, you were there, right. Well we were together when I got hurt and the relationship didn’t survive it. Not that I blame her,” he lied, “But that, well that was the first time I’d seen her in years and I just didn’t really know how to handle it. Clearly, I didn’t handle it well, but I was pretty shocked to see her.”

The silence hung heavy like wet laundry on a line. Scottie sighed and laughed, the relief palpable in the way she exhaled. Will felt a smile tugging at his lips.  

“Oh,” she said finally. “I definitely did have the wrong idea then.” She felt a bit stupid for her reaction that night. Ripping two shots and storming out? What was she, eighteen? That was something the old Scottie would have done. Not the new Scottie who was getting her life back on track. Or trying to, anyway.  

“Is that why you’re calling?” Will asked in a voice that sounded lighter than he felt. Just saying Kristin’s name sent a shiver down his back. “To get the truth out of me?” She laughed again, deep and bright at the same time. 

“Well, I can’t say it’s not a very nice bonus, but no, I’m actually calling about something else.”

“Okay,” he replied, waiting for her to go on.  

“Well, Nora told me you probably weren’t coming this weekend, but I wanted to check. I wasn’t coming this weekend either, but I…well…I changed my mind. I decided that some time out of the city would be good.” His attitude shifted. He didn’t need the weekend to rest his shoulder. He could go if he wanted, right? 

“Coming to the shore?”  he clarified.  

“Yes,” she said quickly, “I actually don’t even like the beach, but it was always a tradition to go to Cory’s when I first lived here and I kind of want to get back into it now that I’m back.” 

“Well,” Will hedged, “I was thinking I would try, but I’ve been slammed with work.” 

“What do you do?” she interjected with sincerity. 

“Oh,” he stuttered, taken slightly off guard, “I, well, I’m a creative strategist, a creative director, really. I work at a boutique agency in SoHo. I’ve been here about six years. We help new brands, or struggling brands, create or redefine their identity.” 

“I love that,” she replied simply, “I can see it.” 

“Can you?” he teased. 

“I really, really can. You’ve got good taste, Nash.” Will smiled.

“And you?” he asked. She laughed quietly. 

“I’m a writer. I was a copywriter in LA for a few different agencies. Still working through something here. I’ve been freelancing a little bit. Trying to get my bearings, you know, new city stuff.” Will had forgotten that she’d just moved back here. She’d mentioned growing up around here, or something like that. Apparently, according to Cory, she’d come back because she’d broken up with some boyfriend out there. Will felt a chill go down his back at the thought of her with someone else. And immediately, he reprimanded himself for moving too quickly. 

“I can see that, also. You’ve got wit,” he complimented. 

“That’s good, I’m glad you think so,” she responded with gratitude, her smile radiating through the phone. “Look,” she said, shifting gears, “I was going to try and get down there tonight, and I just wanted to check with you before I made plans, in case you were driving or wanted to take the train. I’ve already missed the cars heading out of the city. I was just thinking, if you were going, it would be nice to, well, go together…” She trailed off and laughed.

He smiled in spite of himself. Butterflies ravaged his stomach as he began to feel that kind of naïve teenage hope rising in his chest. The kind of thing you feel before you know much about the world, where anything is possible. 

Will guessed he was going to have to go down the shore.