The Wrong Hollister Brother.
My mouth frowns at that last thought. More than any of it—more than the questions I know are coming about my drinking, about my fall from grace, about the tragedy that is my life—the fact that I know everyone in this room, including myself, wishes it were Evan sitting in this chair instead of me is what burns the most.
And then there’s her.
Maybe deep down, a small part of her wishes Evan were sitting here, too, but still…
Maddy takes the last seat on the end of our row, the farthest chair away from mine. She tucks the pink skirt of her dress under her knees, crossing her ankles under her body as she laughs at something the guy sitting next to her says. He’s a much better suitor for her. Yet even knowing that…
Her dark brown hair slides down her arm and obstructs her face from my view. I watch her anyway. I wait.
She is why I’m sitting here. She’s why I keep going. Maybe she’s why I picked myself up from bottom in the first place.
She is the last person I should be swimming for, but she’s the only one I want to.
None of that matters the second her brown eyes open on mine.
One more miracle, my uncle says. He has no idea that I used that last one up, too—and she’s sitting two-dozen feet away from me.
Six weeks earlier
I don’t think anyone has sat up here since the last time I waited for the Hollisters to drive through the trees and pull into the gravel parking lot outside. There’s a layer of dust on the windowsill thick enough that it practically looks like fur, and the window has a yellow film permanently burnt on the outside from where the sun hits it all day long.
A spot on the glass looks like a handprint, and I reach up to press my fingertips along the matching marks. The fit is exact. The print is mine. Four years old, but still my hands are the same.
I’ve known the Hollister boys since I could swim, which in a family like mine pretty much means birth. My father, Curtis Woodsen, won the gold in the fifteen-hundred freestyle in back-to-back Olympics two decades ago. It was the same Games my mother, Susan Shephard, won the gold in the one hundred and two hundred. My parents were made for each other. They wanted me desperately. After two lost pregnancies, I was their third and final attempt at having a baby. I wasn’t supposed to survive. My mom’s uterus was “hostile” according to the nine different doctors she sought care and help from to conceive me. But her insides weren’t hostile—they were…competitive. Like her. Like me.
I took to the water fast. I won young. I broke records, and I made them proud. This place—they built it for me…and it brought me Evan.
We were both sixth graders when we officially met, though I’d known of them from school. My parents had just opened the Shore Swim Club here in Knox, and the Hollisters were the first family to join. I remember my dad shaking hands with Mr. Hollister, their forearms flexing with their grips, competing even in this. It didn’t take long for their pissing match to send me and the two Hollister boys into the pool for a sprint. I lost to Evan by two strokes, and Will beat us both by a full body and a half. He should have; he’s two years older.
Every weekday evening began this way—the Hollister boys came to practice early, and we raced. I won twice over the seven years we sprinted in that water, and when Evan’s body caught up with Will’s in size, the race between the two of them was always close and could go either way. We trained hard; we laughed harder. We were close, more than family maybe. The three of us wanted things—wanted to win, to push ourselves.
We pushed each other.
Sitting up here in the attic office and waiting for them to arrive were some of my happiest memories. Only twice I sat in this window box seat without feeling joy—four years ago, when I knew their car would never come again, and today, when I know it’s only going to be one of them…the wrong one.
“Maddy, their plane only landed an hour ago. I doubt they’ll be here for another hour or so yet.” I startle hearing my mother speak behind me. “Sorry, I guess it is kind of quiet and eerie up here.”
“Like ghosts,” I say, my words soft. I didn’t mean for that to be aloud.
My mom breathes in deep enough that I hear it. She does it on purpose, a way for her to tell me she thinks I’m being dramatic without really saying the words.
“It’s not going to be as strange as you seem to think it will be. You haven’t seen him in years, and you two were so close. Somewhere, deep down in there, you’ve missed him,” she says. I close my eyes and breathe out a tiny laugh, then twist enough on the small window seat to see her. My eyes don’t bluff, and her head falls to the side when she reads my expression. “Maddy…”