A couple days later
“OK, here we are,” Dan announced after they’d been walking quite awhile. Four blocks past St. Ignatius, where Dan worked and Jackson and Lyn had gone to school.
“Valence?” Jackson asked, using his mental map of the neighborhood to figure out what street they were probably on.
“Am I allowed to still be impressed by that?”
“I’ll take that as a no, then.”
Jackson had noticed the scenery had changed some over the few blocks, the large blurry multicolored forms he knew to be houses shifting on one side to a brick fence he’d even reached out to feel a few times as they walked along it. Above it, he could just barely make out a blur of gray. “A cemetery?” Jackson guessed, since it was the only thing that made sense, and Jackson knew there were several small cemeteries peppered throughout the Garden District.
“Yep. There’s a larger one closer to St. Ignatius, but this one’s more rundown and atmospheric. I wanted to take you to this really cool one in the Marigny, but I figured this was a good place to start since it’s closer to home.”
Jackson commanded Molly forward, following the sound of Dan’s footsteps and voice. “I’ve lived in this city all my life and have walked past a few of these, but the only cemetery I’ve ever been to is the one where my parents are buried.”
“This one takes up a full city block, with a road that leads through the center. That’s where we are right now. There’s a brick fence that goes all the way around it, more or less. It was recently repaired. It had been totally knocked down a couple years ago. It’s pretty neglected. There’s grass and weeds growing everywhere, even on some of the tombs, and there used to be a few open graves, but I’m pretty sure they were closed a few months’ back. Even in the day, it’s spooky place, especially with all the vaults in their state of disrepair. Supposedly, this place is haunted, but I don’t believe in ghosts. Do you?” As he talked, walking very slowly, Dan occasionally stopped to take a picture or two; Jackson could hear the click of the shutter.
Jackson ignored the question. He normally felt pretty confident navigating New Orleans on his own, especially now that he had Molly and GPS, not to mention his own years of exploring every street in the area walking distance from his home and any tactile map he could get his hands on. Most sighted people were clueless, but from the beginning Dan had always been great about giving Jackson a good layout of an area so he’d know where to go and what not to run into. Maybe coaching ahead of time from Lyn. Even so, Jackson needed a lot more info right now, especially if this cemetery was as run down as Dan claimed it was. “How is this place laid out?”
“Like most old New Orleans’ cemeteries. A city for the dead, streets stretching out more or less in a grid, lined by stone tombs that look like houses punctuated by the occasional vault apartment complex.”
Jackson let out a small laugh.
“What? It’s true. Here,” Dan said, taking Jackson’s left arm and encouraging him to follow.
Jackson sighed but dropped Molly’s harness, commanding her to stay; he didn’t need to be pulled in two different directions. “I don’t do very well on uneven ground, so warn me if this place is really as forsaken as you claim it is.”
Dan tightened his hold on Jackson’s arm, not in a painful way, but to ensure he had a good grip and maybe to reassure Jackson that Dan wouldn’t let him fall. It made a surge of something that was half lust and half--Jackson wasn’t even sure what--flow through him in a pleasant wave. “Right in front of you. Here. Careful, there’s some weeds and loose stone a few inches in front of you, slightly to your left.” Dan did his best to help lead Jackson to relatively stable ground.
“This is one of the vaults I was telling you about. There’s four rows of six, then nine smaller ones on top. There’s a decorative arch on the top, but the rest of the tomb is pretty plain.”
Jackson stretched his hand toward the blur of gray in front of him. “Promise you won’t let me touch a big bug or stick my hand in an open grave, OK?”
Dan laughed a little evilly. “Where’s the fun in that?”
Jackson withdrew his hand and used it to slap toward Dan, thankfully making contact somewhere and causing the man to let out a grunt, even though he hadn’t hit him very hard. Probably playing it up.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Dan said. It was innocent enough, especially in the context, but it made a jolt shoot up Jackson’s spine, and his heart began to beat faster.
Stupid body. He’s straight, and even if he wasn’t, all he would want is a quick fuck anyway. Though Jackson would take that at this point.
“You don’t need to touch it if you don’t want to,” Dan said, clearly misreading Jackson’s hesitation. “I just remembered what you told me about how touching things helps you understand what you’re seeing and connects you to the world.”
Jackson couldn’t help smiling at the fact that Dan had remembered, and was making an effort to let Jackson experience this in his own way. He took a breath and reached out again until his fingertips met the stone that still managed to be cool even in the heat. Now that he had a tactile sense of what was in front of him, Jackson closed his eyes and explored. The side of the vault was stone. Old stone, because he could feel where it had been worn away gradually by years of weather and floods, could feel where algae or mold was growing in places, changing the texture subtly. He traced along the side, over the corner to the front, finding the outline of a grave opening, the stone giving way to brick and mortar. He laid his palm flat, pausing for a moment. “There’s no name.”
“A lot of these graves are too old to have one. Lost or worn away.”
“Proof that everyone is ultimately forgotten,” Jackson said, mostly to himself. He slid his hand upward, finding another grave, wondering how high it went. “You said there are four rows of these?” he asked, trying to imagine it based on the dimensions of the two graves he’d felt.
“Sorry. Nodded. Yes. Then nine smaller ones on top.”
“For babies,” Jackson said, stretching as high as he reached since he couldn’t stand on tiptoe, but still not able to hit those smaller graves. “You know, if I had been born a few decades earlier, I’d probably be buried in one of those right now.”
Dan didn’t say anything right away, but his grip on Jackson’s arm tightened. “That’s morbid.”
“I’m touching the face of the graves of people long forgotten, in a cemetery that’s little more than a pile of rock and weeds. What do you want me to say?”
Dan’s hold eased a little, but when he spoke, his voice was subdued. “I don’t like the idea of you not being around.”
Jackson opened his eyes, dropped his hand and turned toward Dan. Of course he couldn’t read anything there, but he wished he could. A hand on the man’s face to feel if there was tension in his jaw, or if the skin near his eyes were wrinkled, or if the space above his nose had furrowed. Ultimately, he wasn’t sure how to take Dan’s behavior once more, so he changed the subject. “I thought we came here so you could take pictures.”
“I will. I actually was hoping you’d let me photograph you. Well, you and Molly.”
“I find you interesting. How you interact with the world is so different than most people, and I’d like to capture that. But if you’re not comfortable with that, I can take some pictures of just the cemetery, and set up my tripod and do a few self portraits.” Dan’s words could have easily been patronizing, but his voice held that sincerity and passion that Jackson was growing to love.
Without responding, Jackson turned more toward Dan and gave in. He wiped his hand on his shirt, then he reached forward until he found Dan’s chest. Using that as a guide, he slid his hand up along firm muscle to Dan’s shoulder, then his neck, and finally the other man’s jaw. It was defined with just a light coating of stubble that tickled Jackson’s palm just as he’d imagined it would.
Instead of stiffening or immediately pulling away, Dan let out a low breath, and for a fraction of a second, it seemed like he was leaning into Jackson’s touch. But soon the moment was over and he let go of Jackson’s arm, retreating a few steps toward the main path, where Molly sat, panting. Dan cleared his throat. “Uh, this would make a great shot, especially if you could do what you were doing before, exploring the facade with your hand.”
Jackson didn’t really like his photo taken under most circumstances, but there was something excited and revitalizing about being a part of something Dan cared so much about. “All right. As long as I can stay where I am until you’re done snapping pictures.”
“Got it. Just pretend I’m not here. I’m going to shoot a huge burst from different angles.”
Jackson felt silly, but Dan relaxed him by interspersing commands for how to stand or where to put his hands with a brief history of the cemetery. It was apparently founded some time after the civil war and was the main cemetery back when this area was the town of Jefferson City. Apparently, another nearby cemetery’s residents had been relocated here when their original resting place was demolished, and even though Jackson didn’t believe in ghosts either, he found the idea of potentially living on top of a former gravesite a little unsettling.
“Wow, yes, that’s perfect. Just a couple more,” Dan said, obviously pleased by something Jackson had done. Boy, did Jackson wish he’d put even more thought into his outfit today than he had just because he was going out with Dan. “OK, done. Let me show you a few more cool things and then we’ll go catch the streetcar to the Quarter.” Something about how Dan always said things like, “look for yourself” or “let me show you” always struck Jackson. Not because they were parts of speech that normally had little real meaning for him, but because when Dan said it, he meant it in a totally different way. From that moment in the grocery store when he’d first moved in, placing the okra in Jackson’s hand, Dan had tried to help translate what he saw into a way that Jackson could understand. Photos or not, that’s what this little sightseeing tour was all about. How did a man who’d only known Jackson a few weeks seem to so seamlessly understand him? And why did he care? Could all these subtle hints Jackson had been picking up on not be just the product of wishful thinking and a vivid imagination?
After the cemetery, they’d walked to St. Charles, Dan chatting idly about some of the shots he’d taken, occasionally trying to describe them to Jackson, then throwing in other locales he’d earmarked for his project, including the St. Roch’s cemeteries in the Marigny.
“St. Roch was apparently from medieval times and was the patron saint of dogs and invalids. Also bachelors and diseased cattle. Trying to see how those are all connected, but . . .” Dan let out a short laugh as they came to the intersection of Valence and St. Charles. “I shrugged.”
“Yes, I know who St. Roch is. He’s pretty much got my number.”
“Oh, yes. Mr. Medieval Scholar here.”
“That’s Dr. Medieval Scholar to you,” Jackson said with an easy smile. “I know about the cemetery, even if I’ve never been. The chapel where you leave a cast of your body part or your cane or whatever as a thanks for being healed. When I was a kid, I really wanted to go, because I thought maybe it would work.”
“You’re hardly an invalid,” Dan said, surprised.
“This is thanks to years of surgeries, physical therapy, and pure stubbornness, among other things,” Jackson said, indicating himself. Then he quieted and tilted his head, listening for traffic. It looked and sounded clear, so Molly led him across the street. “We’re going to get on the streetcar at Napoleon, right?” Jackson said, confirming with Dan as they headed in that direction.
“Yeah, makes more sense since we’re about halfway between Napoleon and Jefferson, and we’re heading toward Canal.”
“This is kind of nice,” Jackson half mused to himself.
“I’m so used to walking these streets by myself. I mean, I have Molly of course, but she’s not much for conversation.”
Dan let out a kind of hum. “It’s so beautiful today. The way the sun is shining through the canopy of live oaks. I love the pattern it makes in front of us. I have dozens of shots of these shadows. I love blending them in with other photos for an interesting collage effect. Though I still miss the days of film, layering negatives. Can you see any of that?”
“I know from experience what shadows are, but my brain doesn’t do the best job of interpreting them. Especially with the wind blowing the leaves, making the shadows move, they’re almost like a living thing, or like some dark ocean.”
“Wow, that’s poetic,” Dan said in his usual way, turning words that from anyone else would have been snarky into something genuine.
Jackson let out a half laugh. “This is Napoleon, right?”
“Yeah. I mean it. How amazing would it be to layer a shot of the leaves’ shadows with a photo of Lake Pontchartrain?”
Jackson listened for traffic. It seemed safe, and a moment later, Molly’s gentle tug urged him to cross. “I’ll take your word for it.” As they stepped up onto the curb of the neutral ground, Jackson could hear and feel the rumble of a streetcar not too far away. He turned his head first in one direction, then the other, searching for a blur of dark green, but the neutral ground was free of trees, leaving them unshaded, and even with his glasses the sun washed out some of his vision. He shielded his eyes with his left hand, wishing he’d brought a hat. But he had thick, dark hair that he’d been told more than once was his best feature, and he didn’t want to risk ruining it. Stupid, he knew, and if Lyn were around she’d tease him incessantly for constantly trying to look nice for Dan.
“Streetcar is almost here,” Dan said. At a distance, Jackson couldn’t be sure whether it was heading to Carrolton or Canal.
Soon the streetcar pulled to a stop in front of them, Molly ensuring that Jackson was at a safe distance from it. The doors opened with a small whine of complaint, and Jackson knew from experience the first step would have lowered as well. He wished the city would replace these green St. Charles line streetcars with the more modern red ones found on the Canal line, because those actually had a lift so he didn’t need to bother with stairs. But there were grab bars on each side of the stairs, so it was usually just a matter of pulling himself up with his upper body strength to help guide his feet into place.
“Do you need help?” Dan asked in a tone of voice Jackson couldn’t determine.
“I’ve been riding the streetcar on my own for years.” Was Jackson’s only reply. He had Molly lead him to the door, then dropped her harness and commanded her to wait for him. He stretched out until his hands met the metal of the bars and used them to heave his body up, holding himself there until he was certain both his feet were on the step. He didn’t care much for exercise beyond walking, but he did enough to make sure he could stay independent.
It took a little more effort to get up the next step, but he managed, and once he was certain of his footing, he stretched a hand out for the fare box. Once he found it, he reached into his back pocket for his wallet and felt for the labeled pocket where he kept his jazzy pass. It felt different than his faculty ID card, his state ID card, or a credit card, of course, but the label made orienting himself quicker. He slipped the card out, then used both hands to help find exactly where the box was, one finger marking the slot so sliding the card would take less trial and error. Still, it always took a few attempts before it worked.
“You got it,” the driver told him. “Watch the second step up. There’s a pole in the middle and on each side.”
Jackson already knew this, but he appreciated it all the same. “Are there any open seats?”
The driver sucked in a breath, and shifted in his seat with a creak. “Holidays. Northerners enjoying our warm winter weather, you know? Standing room only. But you can ask someone to move.”
The blur of colors that blended together when Jackson turned his head toward the car had already made him suspect as much. “Thanks. I’m going to the end of the line,” he added, then he called Molly to return to his side.
Jackson grabbed her harness as he heard Dan get in behind him, using her help to guide him to the next step, that led up to the seating area. He found the central bar easily enough, and with that and a little help from Molly stepped up. Normally he would have asked someone in the front inwardly facing seats if they minded moving, but for some stupid reason he wanted to impress Dan, and no one offered. Plus, there were already people standing there, so he commanded Molly to lead him to the back.
It was tight quarters, and even with Molly he bumped into more than one person until he found a free enough space to stand, gripping the back of the seat for support.
“Maybe I should have driven,” Dan whispered in Jackson’s ear as the man slipped in behind him. “Are you sure this is OK? I can’t believe no one would give you a seat.”
“I’m fine,” Jackson insisted, but as soon as the streetcar lurched into motion, he lost his balance and was thrown back into Dan.
But Dan barely moved, wrapping an arm around Jackson to secure him. “Fine, huh?” he said, but he was teasing. “You can lean against me if you need to. I don’t mind.”
Jackson definitely didn’t mind, even if he couldn’t understand why Dan was being so nice. He momentarily forgot about his vow to be stoic and independent, or the fact that there was a streetcar full of people probably looking at the two of them essentially hugging front to back. No way Dan could be straight, right? Straight guys didn’t touch other men like this, especially if the other man was gay.
The intimacy of the position and the warmth and security of Dan’s strong arm around him made him instantly hard, and he hoped he wasn’t flashing his erection in some poor tourist’s face. Well, maybe their fault for not wanting to give him their seat. Jackson had to shift his feet to try to find a more comfortable position, and he unconsciously leaned even farther against Dan, feeling something pressing into his lower back. Was Dan hard, too?
Hard dicks didn’t lie, and it made a surge of hope rush up. After all, Dan had never claimed to be straight. He hadn’t said anything about his sexuality, never talked about sex or previous lovers with Jackson. Of course, they barely knew each other, and as easy going as Dan seemed to be, he also came off as a pretty private guy. Other than photography, Dan rarely talked. Everything Jackson had picked up about the other man’s sexuality was one-hundred percent his assumption.
Whatever Dan was, all those moments Jackson had thought were imagined must have come from somewhere, some real connection that wasn’t as one-sided as he’d thought. Dan liked him. Dan wanted him.
After a couple stops, Jackson heard a few people get off behind them, and then one of the men standing nearby informed him that there was a seat now free in the back. Jackson thanked him, relieved to be off his feet--keeping his balance like this, even with Dan’s help--against the movement of the streetcar was very taxing, and he also hated being in the way. Though he was a little reluctant to separate, he used Molly and a left hand to help guide him toward the back sideways facing seats, using the pole in the center of them to help him sink down with a small sigh of relief.
A short while later, Dan joined, his cologne smell more muted, blending with clean sweat and his innate aroma that was even more arousing than the cologne alone. Jackson was about to say something when a woman nearby spoke to him.
“Thank you for your service,” she said.
Because Jackson was so young, because he was both blind and disabled, it wasn’t the first time someone had figured he’d been hurt in Afghanistan or Iraq. Especially because of Molly, who had a very military look, he’d been told more than once, even though she was obviously a seeing eye dog.
Before he could correct the stranger, she asked, “German shepherd?”
Another common misassumption. “No, ma’am. Belgian malinois. Like the German shepherd, only from Belgium.”
“She’s beautiful. Her coat . . . it’s almost irridescent.”
Jackson smiled and petted Molly’s head with affection and pride. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”
“Oh. Oh I’m so sorry,” the woman said, flustered.
Jackson kept his smile in place. “Don’t be. It’s OK.”
The woman muttered some additional apology and then Jackson heard her get up and move to a different part of the streetcar. Jackson had to keep from laughing. He honestly didn’t understand why sighted people saw being blind as such a horrible thing.
Beside him, Dan leaned in to whisper, “Does that happen a lot?”
“At least once a month.”
“I guess it’s easy to see you and make assumptions.”
“You made an assumption about me only a few minutes ago.”
Dan didn’t respond, and Jackson knew he’d surprised him.
“When you asked if I needed help getting on the streetcar?”
“Oh. Sorry. I thought of the other day, and . . .”
“It’s OK.” Jackson adjusted his glasses and turned to face Dan. “Everyone makes assumptions all the time. It’s how the world works. Because of my sight, I have to make them constantly. About the world around me, about people. I can’t see facial expressions or gestures, so I have to use my ears. What they say, what they don’t say. When they pause. For how long. Their breathing patterns.”
“You can tell what I’m thinking based on my breathing?” There was something amused and so attractive by the sound of Dan’s words when he said that, like he was relaxed, had all his focus on Jackson. Was smiling.
Jackson wanted so badly to touch Dan’s face, to feel that smile, but he resisted. “Well, I can make assumptions.” Jackson took in a breath. Went for it. “So, earlier, when we were standing up, and you were keeping me from falling on my ass--or more likely, onto some poor tourist--I felt something.” Jackson hoped his inflection would clue Dan into what he was trying to say.
“Yes?” Apparently not.
Jackson let out a concealed sigh and realized he’d have to be a little more bold. “I was just wondering . . .” His palms were sweating, and he rubbed them on the fabric of his jeans. “What I mean is . . .” His heart was thundering so loud he felt like he was fourteen and trying to ask out his first crush.
That had gone epically badly. He’d snuck away from his aide and down to the swimming pool, intending to somehow find the incredibly hot-sounding captain of the junior varsity swimming team, whose voice had completely changed and never cracked the way Jackson’s did. But that was before Jackson’s surgery, and his balance and gait were very bad back then, especially on his own and after he’d been walking a lot, which he had by the time he got down to the natatorium, and he misjudged, slipped, wavered, and ended up in the pool. He probably would have drowned, too, since it was after school and the team was all in the locker room, except Jackson’s father and his physical therapist had both insisted on plenty of aquatherapy and swim lessons to help strengthen his body and help with his balance and coordination.
The mortification Jackson had felt then felt similar to what he was feeling now, though. “Was that . . .” Jackson leaned in a little and dropped his voice. “Was that a pencil in your pocket, or were you just happy to see me?”
Dan hesitated, and then there was a short laugh, then, “What?” Then another pause in which Jackson thought he was going to burst into flames from the embarrassed blush he could feel creeping its way up his neck, and finally, “Oh. Oh! Oh.” And a chuckle. “Sorry. That was one of my camera lenses.”
Jackson’s stomach sunk. “What?”
Some rustling from Dan, the rip of velcro. “I don’t want to assume that you know anything about high-end cameras, but the lenses are interchangeable. I can take them off and switch them out depending on what kind of shot I’m trying to get, or how close I want to be. I store it with the smallest one because it fits in my bag easier, but in the cemetery I wanted closer shots, so I’d changed it and shoved it in my pocket and forgotten about it.”
Jackson’s stomach fell even further. “Really?” he asked, trying to sound interested and not dejected.
Dan took Jackson’s hand, his traitorous body igniting from the brush of the other man’s rough thumb, and soon something plastic with weight was placed into his palm. “Here. See for yourself.”
“I don’t want to break it or ruin it.”
Jackson explored the lens with his fingertips, feeling the ridges around the center, how there was a piece that moved, and then the lens would grow outward. It was almost funny the analogy literally extending there, too. Harder, but less dense plastic on each end, circles, maybe the lens covers, since he felt a little indentation where you might press to release them. “I actually had no idea what a camera lens looked like,” Jackson said as he offered it back.
“Well, that’s what this project is about for both of us: to experience things we haven’t before, right?”
Standing, Jackson could do. Walking. Even climbing in very small, careful doses, post surgery. But keeping his balance against continued resistance, like on the streetcar? That wore him out very fast, especially if he’d already been doing quite a bit of walking and standing before that. Needless to say they were only halfway toward their next planned destination when Dan decided they were going to take a detour.
“Cafe du Monde. In the Quarter. Seriously? Only Tourists go there.” That place was always a madhouse, and he really didn’t feel like being in the background of some soccer mom’s facebook page as she drone on about how she felt so bad for the poor young blind gay man she saw when she was there and could her church please pray for him.
Dan seemed oblivious to Jackson’s bad mood. “Don’t knock it. I had coffee there all the time when I lived down here. You just have to know how to work the system. Besides, I figure someone with a sweet tooth as big as yours has to love beignets.”
That part was true. As much as Jackson hated car rides, Lyn would take him to the one in Metairie once a month, stuffing themselves with the powdered donut treats until they were sick. Thinking of Lyn made Jackson sad and mad at the same time, and even more furious at his own stupidity. He should have been able to tell the difference between a dick and a fucking piece of camera equipment.
Dan finally realized Jackson was walking slower and limping more. Molly was doing her best to compensate for him, but he was tired and his muscles were tightening up and it was throwing off his gait cycle, which meant walking was even more laborious and exhausting. By the time they got to Cafe du Monde, Jackson didn’t have the energy to complain.
The vivid green awning of Cafe du Monde stood out clearly in the murk of Jackson’s vision, battling among his other senses that came at him far stronger. This part of the French Quarter didn’t smell bad. It smelled old. Like old stone and decaying wood. Like humidity and people, and because they were at Cafe du Monde, like coffee. That fortunately mostly masked the hint of horse sweat and manure from the carriages that circled Jackson square nearby that tourists loved. The din of distant cars and multiple voices, the clink of spoons and mugs and phones taking selfies surrounded Jackson as he and Molly navigated through the maze of tables, following Dan’s voice to find an open spot. It was difficult through the cacophony, but Jackson had instructed Molly to follow Dan, and her ears were much better than his own. It helped that Dan had no shame in guilting a family who were overstaying their welcome.
“Dude, you just stuck your finger in my coffee!” A voice exclaimed. It was ahead of Jackson, off to his right. About six feet away. He instinctively turned his head so his ear was facing that way. The owner of the voice sounded male, maybe college age. Perhaps someone who went to school here who had come back early, or maybe a yankee taking a respite from the northern weather before spring semester started.
“It’s cold. That means you’ve been sitting here, taking up a table when this place is packed. It means you’re rude, and probably a douchebag.”
Jackson felt Molly signal to him to stop, so he did, and he listened. He felt a heaviness in the air, and got the feeling everyone around him was listening too. He heard the screech of a chair being shoved out, and the rattle of ceramic and glassware as a table shifted, perhaps as it was pushed. Was Dan going to get into a fight with the douchebag? Dan seemed so laid back, Jackson found it hard to believe that the man had immediately jumped into the whole finger-in-the-coffee thing. There had to have been a series of visual exchanges he’d missed before that.
“If you think I’ll leave just because you’re boyfriend is blind, you’re wrong.” One thing was certain, Jackson could tell by the man’s voice that he wasn’t from New Orleans. Not even from the South.
Despite the situation, Jackson had to hide a small smile at the insinuation, even if it was meant as an insult, that Dan and he were a couple. “Dan, if there aren’t any tables, we can leave.”
“It’s fine. Just stay there. I’ll handle this,” Dan said in a calm but authoritative voice that went straight to Jackson’s dick.
Jackson felt Molly tense, and he heard the sound of chairs and tables being suddenly shoved out of the way, the rattling of glasses and ceramicware, and a sudden oomf as if someone had fallen. A pause. Then an explosion of laughter and applause. Had Dan knocked the other guy out or something? Or embarrassed him somehow? Then a confusion of sounds Jackson couldn’t distinguish, and Dan’s voice was suddenly relaxed as he spoke to another, new man. Jackson definitely made out the slap of fists and hands as they met in greeting, not in a fight, and Molly’s tension also ebbed.
“I’ll get this table cleaned up for you. I’m very sorry for the trouble,” the man Dan had spoken to as if he were an old friend said to Jackson in a conciliatory fashion. Did he work for the restaurant?
Jackson felt extremely confused and he hated being disoriented. He gripped Molly’s leash and harness a little tighter, almost as if she could tell him what had happened. As much as he wanted to sit, his instinct was to stay where he was when he wasn’t certain of his surroundings. Jackson flinched when he suddenly felt Dan’s hand on his left arm. It seemed like Dan had thrown the guy out of his chair, but if he had, why had the waiter been so friendly, even apologized to them? Was it because Jackson was blind and everyone was so fucking sorry about that? Jackson’s phone started to ring, the computerized voice notifying him it was his sister since he wasn’t wearing his earpiece because with all the commotion he’d wanted to know exactly where he was and what was going on around him.
“What the hell is going on?” Jackson shouted, only afterward realizing it was probably too loud even for the crowded outdoor restaurant, and people were likely staring at him even more than normal, even more than whatever altercation had happened between Dan and the college kid who wouldn’t give them the table. But he didn’t care. His knees and ankles were hurting right where the muscles met the joints, and he desperately wanted to stretch them properly.
“It’s OK, sit down. There’s a chair right there,” Dan said, then seemed to catch himself. “On your right, a little ahead. Right there. Yeah. Reach out and you’ll find it. You got it. Sit. I’ll be right back with coffee and beignets and I’ll explain everything.”
Although on one hand Jackson appreciated that Dan hadn’t used Jackson’s disability to get them a seat--which would have been the easiest thing to do, and which Lyn had done before, even when he’d protested--the fact that he was treated Jackson like a kid did not sit well. “Why can’t you explain now?”
“Shit. I’m sorry. I forget you can’t see. I know that’s stupid. You have the dog and everything.” A soft thud. Maybe he’d whacked himself in the forehead. A sigh. Dan sunk into a chair and it sounded almost like an elephant collapsing into a small bushel of boxes. And yet, earlier, when dealing with the squatter, he had been almost completely silent.
Jackson’s phone continued to ring.
“Do you need to get that?”
Jackson sighed. “She’ll just keep calling until I answer. She’ll assume I’m dead in the gutter otherwise. But to me it sounded like you were about to fight the guy but then have a tea party. So you can see my confusion.”
Dan burst out laughing.
Jackson fumbled for his earpiece, fitting it in his ear so he could navigate his phone and answer his sister’s call. Dan was still laughing when Jackson finally managed to do so. “Hello?”
“Jacky? Where are you? I’ve been calling you for like an hour. Are you OK? Are you hurt? Are you lost?” Lyn had never admitted it, but Jackson knew that her biggest fear was that Jackson would have a spastic episode while she wasn’t home--basically fall and not be able to get back up, and be seriously hurt, just like in those cheesy commercials--or be out somewhere and get disoriented and lost, and seriously hurt. Long story short, she was afraid of her little brother getting seriously hurt.
“I’m fine. I’m with Dan and Molly. We’re in the Quarter. Dan’s doing a photoshoot project and I’m helping him. I told you about it, remember? We’re actually at Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square right now. Can I call you back?”
“OK, but before you hang up, I really want you to consider going to the Spring Fete.”
“I know how you feel about these krewe events, but it’s important to Kevin, so I’m going, and I’d really like it if you were there, too. You haven’t attended anything in years.”
“Because I don’t fit in with those people. Lyn--”
“Please, Jacky. I never ask you for much. It’s just one night, and you already have a tux from my wedding. This will give you an excuse to wear it again.”
Jackson grumbled out an agreement and barely heard his sister’s squeal of joy before he hung up, tearing out his earpiece and throwing it on the table. “Do you want to go a party?”