07 - pt 1
“I don’t like being kept in the dark.”
“Is that a blind joke?” Dan’s voice was amused, incredibly sexy, and maybe even a hint of flirty? But Jackson was not getting distracted. When he was a kid he’d had no choice but to rely on others for things most other kids took for granted, and he had determined that when he was older he would be as independent as possible. And he didn’t appreciate when people condescended and acted as if because his eyes or legs didn’t work well it meant his brain didn’t either. Dan cleared his throat and came off much more serious when he spoke again. “Sorry. The guy was a total tool. He was trying to show off for his girlfriend. Thought he could take a shot at me or something, I don’t know. I just side stepped him and he faceplanted. Nearly took the whole table with him.” Dan paused, then he added. “Sorry. I shrugged. Really, no one was laughing at you.” The way his voice sounded, it was shockingly tender. On one hand, Jackson was touched, on the other, he was pissed that Dan thought Jackson was so delicate.
“People laughing at me is the anthem of my life. It’s the reason I have a PhD now.”
Dan was quiet a long time. Jackson could only guess at what the other man was thinking. Jackson could hear the clatter of one of the carriages passing by a few feet away, off to his left. Behind him, a woman was whispering about how tragic it was that such a young, good looking man was blind, and her friend was agreeing and was glad that his aide had stopped that horrible thug from attacking him. They were talking quietly enough that Dan probably couldn’t hear them, but Jackson’s more attuned ears didn’t miss it, especially since he was listening particularly hard trying to pick up anything he could from his roommate. But like earlier, Dan had gone completely silent.
Finally, Jackson couldn’t take it any longer. It wasn’t Dan’s fault he didn’t know the rules, right? “I don’t like silence,” Jackson finally admitted. “I want to know the layout of a space. I want to know when you leave or enter a room. I want to know your facial expressions or body language. I want to know any pertinent visual information that I can’t see. I don’t want to be left out. I--” Jackson balled up a fist and then hid it under the table. Dammit his legs hurt and all he could think about was how fucking pissed he was that he was going to have to go to that stupid Spring Fete. He ated that krewe and everything it stood for, but he couldn’t say no to his sister. She had done so much for him, sacrificed so much of her life to help him build up his own and gain the independence he had. He wouldn’t have Molly if it weren’t for her. She had stayed with him so many nights in the ICU after retinal surgeries when he couldn’t see at all and he was terrified that when the bandages came off he’d remain completely blind. He’d lie awake for hours listening to footsteps and beeps and voices, scared, but she’d hold his hand and make him laugh and tell him everything would be OK because no matter what happened she would be with him and she was going to get him a dog no matter what even if she had to train the fucking thing herself.
Jackson felt himself tearing up and quickly rushed to compose himself as he heard someone approach. A waiter, who set several plates on the table. After a hesitation, perhaps with some non-verbal direction from Dan, he said, “Coffee, here on your left, water on your right, and beignets in front of you. We’ll keep ‘em coming.”
Jackson slid his fingers along the tabletop until he’d gotten a good sense of where everything was, then greedily drank his water, but left everything else alone.
“I’m sorry,” Dan said. It sounded genuine. “Earlier, I forgot you couldn’t see what was going on like the rest of us could. I didn’t mean to make you feel . . . incapable. Shit. My eyes work perfectly well and I have coffee and powdered sugar all over me, and yet you’re perfectly clean.” Once more, Dan being Dan, saying something that someone else could have meant to be condescending but it wasn’t. It was like Dan found Jackson fascinating. A small blossom of hope formed again in Jackson’s heart, but he tried to ignore it. “Speaking of. You haven’t touched your beignets.”
Jackson paused to clean his hands with some antimicrobial gel he always carried in his pocket. His sister and students always teased him about it, but since he used his hands as much as he did to feel around his environment, he didn’t want to jump from digging around in an open grave to holding his sandwich without pausing to clean his hands first. Jackson could hear Dan let out a small, quiet chuckle as he did this ritual; clearly Dan was trying to keep his reaction to himself, but it didn’t escape Jackson’s notice even if he didn’t comment on it. Jackson pocketed his gel and then slid his index and middle fingers along the table immediately in front of him, his lip turning up when he found a puddle of spilled water--not his fault, likely from the waiter--till he nudged the plate.
He dipped his fingertip on the edge in some powdered sugar and dabbed it on his tongue, but it seemed to have no flavor. All he could think about was his first krewe party, the one that forever soured the whole organization in his memory and had determined him to make himself as independent and successful as possible. “I’m not hungry.”
Dan scoffed. “Weren’t you the man who told me only a couple days ago you didn’t need to be hungry to eat dessert? Are you still pissed about earlier?”
“No.” Jackson’s eyes were so dry. Because of all his surgeries, his eyes didn’t make tears well on their own. Although he used a couple prescription drops twice a day that helped enormously, it wasn’t enough on their own. But he was in the middle of the French Quarter. He wasn’t about to put eye drops in where everyone could see him. Especially Dan. Jackson made sure one of his fingers was clean before slipping it under the lens of his sunglasses to rub his bad left eye. He hoped Dan couldn’t see anything.
“Here’s some more beignets and coffee,” the same waiter from before said. “I’m just going to leave a carafe right here in the center.” He paused, then added awkwardly, perhaps with some prompting from Dan, “Uh, it’s uh, um. To the right of your plate?” Jackson could hear the waiter swallow. He was definitely younger than both Dan and Jackson was about college age.
“I’ll find it. Thanks.” Jackson smiled at him.
“Great,” the kid said, sounding relieved. “You and Dan can stay as long as you want and the manager says the food and coffee is on him so don’t worry about anything, OK? OK. OK. OK. I’ll be back later to see if you guys need anything else. OK. OK. Bye.”
Jackson chuckled at the kid’s awkwardness. Not like Jackson was attracted to him or anything. Jackson had always gone for men older than him, never younger, and why would he want a bumbling kid when he had Dan? As if he “had” Dan. Jackson sighed. Thought about pulling his fingers through his hair and then remembered his sister told him that messed it up and made it look weird and he apparently had beautiful dark, thick Italian hair that was one of his best features, so if Dan was at all attracted to him, he didn’t want to ruin it. Shit. He was nervous now, as if the kid’s anxiety had worn off on him. He forced himself to take a deep breath. He found his mug and carefully. Cafe du Monde had a tendency to overfill their mugs and he really didn’t need to add a lap of hot liquid to his list of ailments. He took a sip and instantly felt a little better, the bitter taste of chicory coating his tongue. God he loved Cafe du Monde cafe au lait. No one else seemed to do it like they did. “My sister and I belong to a krewe. January 6 is the official start of the Mardi Gras season so they have a ball they call the Spring Fete every year that I avoid, but Lyn’s begged me to go and I can’t say no to her. That’s why she called.”
Jackson could hear Dan wolfing down his donuts and coffee like he hadn’t eaten in a week and it made a sliver of a smile cross his face even if he was tired, in pain, and irritated with his sister for making him go to this party. After a moment, Dan came up for air and asked, “Don’t bite my head off for this, but isn’t it it a little weird for a blind guy to belong to a Mardi Gras krewe?”
“We inherited it.”
“Inher--wait. What krewe is this?”
Jackson heard a choking sound, then Dan chugging his water. How did the man sound so hot just drinking water? Jackson desperately wanted to reach across the table and lay a hand on Dan’s throat, feel his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed.
Jackson’s lips went dry. He had to shift in his seat and he prayed his erection wasn’t too visible.
“Cadmus. Isn’t that he krewe that was banned from parading because they wouldn’t integrate?” Dan sounded horrified. Like he was analyzing Jackson in a whole new way, as if he’d suddenly realized he’d moved in with an axe murderer or a racist.
Jackson started thinking of the episode of the Chapelle Show where the head of the Klan was a blind black man who didn’t realize he was black. Jackson started to chuckle but quickly quelled it when he realized he was laughing at a joke in his own head and that was something only crazy people did; Dan probably already thought he was weird enough. “You’re thinking of Comus. Cadmus is still one of the oldest krewes in the city. Founded just after the civil war by five families: the Gautreauxs, the Flemings, the Castellons, the LeBlancs, and the Santoros.” Jackson heard Dan come to a dead stop. The typical reaction when anyone put the pieces together about who his family was.
“Holy shit. I should have realized it sooner. You’re those Santoros. New Orleans’ blue bloods.”