Today is my one day of Storytime, and I cherish it. The kids are gathered around me in their little semi-circle, sitting crisscross-applesauce on the carpet. I’m in my wooden chair, reading them a book featuring the Disney princesses. No, I don’t only read them books about the bad guys in fairy tales.
This is a cute book that has a different Disney princess on each page, who then talks about her favorite foods. For example, the Little Mermaid loves seafood best of all (which actually seems a little cruel, if you think about it), Cinderella loves pumpkin pie, and Snow White loves… you guessed it… applesauce.
“Now which princess is this?” I ask the children as I hold up the book.
“Sleeping Beauty!” shouts a little girl named Emma.
“You’re right,” I say. After I read the page about Sleeping Beauty, I turn to one with a picture of Belle. “And who is this?”
“It’s Belle from Beauty and the Beast!” says a girl named Katelyn.
“You guys are so smart!” I say. I report that Belle’s favorite food is French fries, then turn to the next page. “And who is this?”
“Princess Jasmine!” Ava C speaks up. She smiles up at me. “Daddy has naked pictures of her.”
She nods solemnly. “I found them when I used the computer in his bedroom.”
“Um,” I say, “are you supposed to be using that computer?”
“No,” Ava C said guiltily.
“Well, maybe it’s better if you don’t anymore.”
“That’s what he said.”
If Ava C’s dad wants to look at naked Jasmine pictures, I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. He just needs to do a better job password-protecting his computer. Sheesh.
I get through the rest of the book without any of the other children reporting naked pictures of the Disney princesses in their homes. The parents return to get their kids, and that’s when I notice Colin is standing by the entrance to the Children’s Floor. He’s got his white cane in one hand, his tinted glasses on, and a bemused expression on his face.
I can’t even pretend anymore that I’m not wildly attracted to him. Just the sight of him makes my whole body tingle. And more than that, it makes me feel happy. There are some people who make me feel happy at the sight of them, like Natalie, but never like this. The kind of happiness I feel when I lay my eyes on Colin is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’m really starting fall for this guy.
Get yourself under control, Sophie. He’s just a guy. Nothing special.
I walk over to him, trying to suppress the nagging fear that his mother told him my secret. He can’t be done with those books yet—I only gave them to him yesterday and he’s not that fast a reader yet. So why is he here?
“Hi, Colin,” I say to let him know I’m here.
His face breaks into a grin so wide, I know immediately nobody told him about me. He still doesn’t know. His mother never said a word, although I’m not sure why. “Hi, Sophie.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask him, trying to sound playful.
“That lady Jean told me you were up here reading to the kids,” he says. “I wanted to listen in.”
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Definitely.” He nods his head. “You were great. And good job dealing with the naked Jasmine situation.”
I groan. “You heard that?”
He laughs. “You bet I did.”
“Hey, it’s the dad who should be embarrassed.” He adjusts his glasses on his nose. “Although I can’t blame him—Jasmine is wicked sexy.”
I laugh. “She is, isn’t she?”
“That’s really cool how you read to the kids,” he says. “I can tell from listening how much they love it.”
A brilliant idea suddenly occurs to me. “You should read to the kids next week.”
The smile slips from his face. “I should… what?”
“That would be perfect!” The more I think about it, the more excited I am about this idea. “I can give you a kids’ book in braille and you can read it to them. They would get such a kick out of that. It would be really educational for them… and you’d have fun too.”
Colin’s already fair skin turns a shade paler. “No, I… I don’t think I’d do a good job.”
“Yes, you would,” I insist. I put my hand on his arm for a moment and he nearly jumps out of his skin. I pull away quickly. “I know you can do this. You were in the army, for God’s sake… I think you can read to a bunch of preschoolers.”
“It’s completely different.”
“No, it’s not,” I insist. “It’s about not being a wuss. Are you a wuss, Captain Kelly?”
“So why won’t you read a book to a few kids?”
A smile slowly spreads across his lips. “I guess I could try it…”
“And as you probably could tell,” I add, “their standards are not very high. You literally cannot screw it up.”
The smile broadens. “Okay, why not? I’ll do it!”
“Awesome!” I’m already thinking of choices for books. Maybe I’ll take a trip to the main branch myself to pick something out for him. “So was there any particular reason you came up here, other than to have me bully you into reading to the kids?”
“Yeah.” He nods enthusiastically. “I just wanted to tell you that… I took the bus here myself. And I lived through it. And I didn’t end up in Rhode Island or something.”
“Wow, that’s great!” I touch his arm again, and this time he doesn’t jump. “Congrats!”
“Also…” He reaches into his shoulder bag and fumbles around for a moment. He pulls out a bag with the David’s label on it. “I bought you a red velvet cupcake.”
He bought me a cupcake.
He went into the bakery with the purpose of buying my favorite kind of cupcake and surprising me with it.
Okay, that’s it. I can’t fight it anymore. I’m in love.
“With cream cheese frosting,” he adds as he holds it out to me. I take it from him with shaking hands. “Right?”
“Yes,” I breathe. “Thank you. That’s… really, really thoughtful of you.”
“My pleasure,” he says.
I swallow hard.
“So, um…” He scratches at the back of his neck. “Is there a place to sit down and have the cupcake?”
“Oh, why?” I tease him. “Did you get one for yourself too?”
“I did, actually.” He pats his bag. “I didn’t want to presume you’d share.”
I would have shared.
More than anything, I want to sit down and have a cupcake with him. But I’m under Carrie’s supervision this morning, and she’ll never let me take a break right now. I don’t even want to ask.
“I’m sorry,” I say quietly. “I can’t right now. I have to work.”
His face falls. “Okay. I understand.”
“But another time,” I quickly add.
“Maybe you could give me your phone number?” he says. There’s a tremor in his voice, and it’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard. “So we could work out that other time? Coordinate our busy schedules.” He offers me a crooked smile. “I’ve got meetings all day, you know.”
“Sure,” I say.
“Great,” he breathes. He digs around in his bag for his phone, but he’s having trouble because his hands are shaking as badly as mine. They’re still shaking when he finally pulls it out and recites to the screen, “Siri, add Sophie Pasternak to my address book.”
I laugh because he sort of sounds like he’s in an iPhone commercial. But I recite my number for the phone, and then he instructs his phone to “call Sophie” so I’ll have his number too.
“I’ll text you later,” he promises, and I know he will.
“Let me walk you to the elevator,” I say.
I touch his hand to let him know where I am. But instead of reaching up to hold my arm like he usually does, he turns his hand so he can gently slide it into mine. And then he’s holding my hand.
Oh my God, he’s holding my hand.
There’s a nervous smile on his face. I give his hand a squeeze to let him know it’s okay, and he gives me a squeeze back. We stand there like that for probably far too long, just holding hands. It’s really, really nice.
But I’ve seriously got to get back to work. Carrie cannot see this.
I tug on his hand, and we walk together to the elevator. I press the button for him, not because he can’t, but because I know he doesn’t want to leave. I don’t want him to leave either. But I have to get back to work.
He’s facing me as we wait for the elevator to come. That smile is still on his face. It suddenly occurs to me there’s a chance he might kiss me.
And that thought fills me with terror.
I want to be kissed—don’t get me wrong. The idea of a man kissing me because he wants to and not because he’s extremely drunk is very appealing. But if Colin kisses me, the gig will be up. He’ll feel what my lips are like. He’ll feel what my face is like. He’ll almost certainly recoil in confusion and disgust.
Oh Lord, I need to tell him the truth. I can’t let him find out that way. If I really care about him, I need to be honest with him.
But I can’t tell him now. Not when he’s smiling at me like he thinks I’m the greatest thing in the whole world. Not when he’s going out of his way to bring me my favorite cupcake. I just can’t. I don’t want him to treat me the way every other man does.
Fortunately, he doesn’t try to kiss me. The elevator arrives, and he reluctantly releases my hand to step inside. He feels for the buttons, which have braille numbers written next to them, and when his fingers find the right one, the doors close. And my secret is safe for another day.
“I feel like you’ve been avoiding me, Sophie.”
Natalie is peering at me over the rim of her coffee cup. We’re having lunch together for the first time since my non-date with Gabe. She’s not wrong—I’ve been avoiding her because I don’t want to tell her about how he canceled on me at the last minute. I’m sure she’ll yell at Chris, who will be forced to talk to Gabe, and… well, I just don’t want any of that.
“No, I haven’t,” I insist.
Natalie looks at me suspiciously as I dig into my eggs. We’re eating at a diner in Quincy that has the best hash browns I’ve ever tasted. I could eat these hash browns every day from now until my death. I’ve paired them with two eggs over easy, but the eggs are irrelevant. I came here for the potatoes. Although it doesn’t hurt that they drench the toast in butter.
Natalie picks up a packet of sugar and shakes it. As she drinks her coffee, she always adds sugar as she goes. I don’t understand the logic behind this because the sugar sinks to the bottom, so when she gets to the last of the coffee, she’s essentially drinking pure sugar. Actually, maybe that’s the logic.
“So how was your date with Gabe?” she asks me.
I pop a hash brown in my mouth as I avoid her eyes. “Okay…”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Just okay?”
“Yes, just okay.”
Natalie throws down her sugar packet. “Sophie Pasternak, you tell me right now what happened on that date.”
I sigh. “He canceled.”
Her eyes widen. “He canceled? How could he do that?”
“He said his dog was sick.”
“His dog was sick?”
“Dogs get sick, Nat.”
She shakes her head angrily. “I’m going to talk to Chris about this.”
“No, please don’t,” I say. I glance around us. “Look, I was thinking of canceling anyway. There’s… there’s actually someone else I’m interested in. Very interested.”
A slow smile spreads across her face. “Is that so?”
“Yeah.” I duck my head down, unable to keep from smiling. “I met him at the library. He was looking for books.” I don’t mention the braille bit. Yet.
“That’s awesome, Soph!” She takes a bite of her own hash browns. “What’s his name?”
“And what’s he like?”
“He’s really nice,” I say. “Smart. Funny. He likes to read. I told him my favorite book was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and he borrowed it so he could read it.”
“Hashtag adorable,” Natalie sighs. “Does he live around here?”
“Yeah, he’s from Dorchester. Dawchestah.” I grin, thinking of that Boston twang he’s got.
“Really?” Her face lights up because she grew up in Dorchester too. “What’s his last name?”
Her eyes fly wide open. “Colin Kelly! Oh my God, I know him from high school! He was a senior when I was a freshman. He played football! He was…” Her eyes cloud over slightly. “He was cute, actually. Really cute.”
I know what she’s thinking. The cute, sexy football-playing senior she knew in high school would never be interested me. Poor Sophie is deluding herself.
“So, um…” She bites her lip. “Has he asked you out or…?”
“No,” I say. “But we exchanged phone numbers.”
This too makes me smile. Colin and I have been texting nonstop in the few days since we exchanged numbers. I’m learning a lot about him, although most of what we text is just random stuff like that he can’t stop listening to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He texted me this morning that he thinks he has a black eye from walking into a wall and he wanted to know if I think it will freak out the kids. I told him not to worry about it.
“Oh,” she says. “Well, that’s good.”
I can’t stand the uncomfortable look on her face another minute. I have to tell her the truth, even if it’s going to probably result in my getting reprimanded.
“Natalie,” I say, “you know Colin enlisted after high school, right?”
She nods slowly. “Yeah, I think I heard that…”
“Well…” I look down at my plate of food. “While he was in Iraq, he was injured by shrapnel and permanently lost his vision.”
My best friend’s mouth falls open. “Are you serious? Colin is blind?”
“Holy…” She clasps her hand over her mouth. “So why is he at the library then?”
“He’s trying to learn braille,” I explain. “I’ve been helping him find books.”
“Oh, Jesus.” She shakes her head. “Poor Colin. He was a nice guy. Not like some of those asshole football players.”
I can see Natalie mulling this over in her head. The smile returns to her lips. “So you and Colin Kelly, huh?”
I return the smile. “Well, nothing has happened yet. But a few days ago, we sort of… he held my hand.”
“Aw!” Natalie cries. “Hashtag sweetest thing ever!”
I groan. “Nat, can you quit doing the hashtag thing? It’s irritating.”
“Sorry.” She grins. “I just wanted you to find a nice guy, so… I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks.” I take a deep breath. “There’s only one issue.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Dish.”
“He doesn’t…” I lower my voice a few notches. “He doesn’t exactly know my… situation.”
Natalie looks confused for a second, but when I wave my hand at my face, her eyes widen. “Sophie! He doesn’t know?”
“Well, why would he? He’s blind.”
“Yes, but…” She shakes her head. “He’s going to find out. Eventually. You need to tell him.”
“I know, I know,” I grumble. “I’m just… I’m worried about how he’ll take it. You know?”
“The longer you wait to tell him, the worse he’s going to take it.”
Natalie reaches out to grab my hand across the table. Before Colin, she was the only person who ever touched me with any frequency. “Sophie, promise me you’re going to tell him soon.”
I lower my eyes. “I promise.”
I want to tell him. I really do. I know I have to.
But I just don’t want to risk it all being over before it even gets started.
Dan talked me into going out tonight. He initially wanted to go out to a bar, but I had an idea how that would end—I’m not interested in hitting on any girls who aren’t Sophie Pasternak. So we compromised on Dunkin Donuts. Dan grumbled about how Dunkin Donuts was not a fun place to have a night out, but I don’t see anything wrong with Dunkin Donuts. They have sandwiches. They have coffee. And they have donuts. Really, they’ve got it all.
I explain that to Dan as we’re waiting in line to order, because he won’t stop bitching about it. “They don’t have beer,” he points out.
“So we can’t have a good time without beer?”
“Christ. Ya know, I’m not even sure who you are anymore, Kelly.”
I shrug. The truth is, drinking alcohol has become less and less appealing to me lately. It’s hard enough to get from Point A to Point B without falling even without alcohol in my system. Now that my vision is dulled, I want all my other senses to be as sharp as possible. Namely, my sense of balance.
I let Dan order first. I hear him getting some kind of egg/bagel concoction. When he’s done ordering, I hear the cashier say, “And what would he like?”
She means me. I’m “he.” It will never stop pissing me off that people act like I’m not capable of answering for myself. It’s a reminder of how much the whole world sees me as fundamentally different and maybe even less of a person than everyone else, thanks to my disability.
Usually, it would have pissed the hell out of me. It would have sent me in a tailspin of feeling sorry for myself. I might have snapped at the cashier. Okay, I probably would have snapped at the cashier.
But today I just lean forward and say, “I’ll have a bagel with chicken salad on it with a small black coffee.”
Dan helps me find an empty table and I sit down while he waits for our food. I leave my tinted glasses on because I don’t want any snide jokes from Dan about how it looks like I’m staring, but I collapse my cane and stuff it in my bag.
I didn’t realize how hungry I was until Dan gives me my bagel. I accidentally skipped lunch today because I was so busy practicing reading the children’s book Sophie gave me. I’m reading to the kids tomorrow. I’m wicked nervous.
“The bagels at Dunk’s are the best,” I say as I take a bite of my sandwich.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Dan says.
“What? They’re good.”
“It’s just…” I hear Dan chewing. “Last time we went out, you were pissing and moaning about every little thing. Now you’re acting like Dunkin Donuts is the best thing in the world and you’re smiling like a dumbass. So, just wondering… is it a girl or what?”
I can’t keep myself from grinning. “It’s a girl.”
“Shit, I knew it!” He laughs. “Okay, congratulations, Kelly. Who’s the lucky lady?”
“Her name is Sophie,” I say. “She’s a librarian.”
“Ha! I always thought librarians were wicked sexy.”
“Yeah. She’s… incredible.”
I shake my head. “No. I mean, I don’t know. We’re not there yet. The truth is, we haven’t even gone out on a date yet.”
“Did you ask her?”
I rub the back of my neck. “Not yet. We’re texting a lot and… I’m going to ask her.”
“What—are you scared?”
“Yeah, I’m fucking scared!” I sigh. “But… I think she’ll say yes. Probably. Good chance.”
“When are you going to ask her then?”
“Tomorrow,” I decide. “I’m going to see her tomorrow. I’m reading to some kids at the library, and after we’re done, I’ll ask her to dinner.”
“And then you’ll tell me how she is in bed.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Dan laughs and so do I. I take another bite of my bagel, feeling the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
And that’s when I smell it. Even though the room is filled with the aroma of fried sugar and (slightly burnt) bagels, I can still make out the faint but very familiar smell of flowers. I lift my head and say, “Sophie?”
To be continued....