Sophie and I text almost nonstop leading up to our Saturday date. We probably exchange ten-thousand text messages. That’s not an exaggeration. That is a very accurate estimate of the number of text messages sent back-and-forth between us.
I don’t mention the date to my parents because I know Ma will make me crazy over it. I’ll tell them the night of the date, maybe just as I’m leaving the house. Not before though. I’m already nervous as hell. I don’t need my mother making me more anxious.
I don’t go to the library again after the Storytime. As much as I want to go there and be with her, I don’t want to distract her while she’s working. Also, I know it sounds dumb, but I don’t want her to see me and somehow change her mind about us going out. It’s unlikely but not impossible. What if I go to the library and trip over a chair or something right in front of her? And then she thinks to herself, What the hell am I going out with a guy who can’t see for?
Safer to avoid any chance of that. I’ll wait for our date then I’ll charm her best I can. I hope I get a kiss out of her. It’s all I can think about.
On Thursday night, while I’m lying in bed, working my way through one of my braille books, I send her a text that says: Hey, I’m getting tired of having my phone read me your texts. Can I call you?
Her response comes after a minute: Sure.
I quickly call her. The phone rings twice, and then the sound of her voice immediately makes me smile: “Hi, Colin.”
“What’s going on?”
“I have to tell you,” I say, “I like your voice so much better than the voice that reads me your texts.”
She laughs. “What does that sound like?”
“It’s a female voice, at least. But it’s British.”
“Yeah, it’s not my first choice, but I can’t figure out how to change it.”
She laughs again. “I could try to figure it out for you.”
“That’s okay—I’ve gotten used to it. I’d miss her if it changed.” I hesitate. “Although if there were any way to make it your voice, I’d take that.”
“Don’t you think that would be weird though? If your texts from, like, your dad were read in my voice?”
“Yes, that would be really weird. Now I’m glad I can’t do that.”
She laughs again.
“Sophie,” I say, “can I ask you a question?”
There’s a brief pause on the other line. “Sure.”
“What do you look like?” I blurt out.
The second the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. Way to sound shallow right before we’re supposed to go on our first date. But the truth is, I’m dying to know. I’ve got a picture of Sophie in my head, and sometimes I wonder if it’s entirely wrong. Like when I first met her, I imagined she was a little chubby, but when I took her arm to let her guide me, I could tell she’s skinnier than I thought.
When she doesn’t answer right away, I quickly add, “I’m sorry. That was a dumb thing to ask. You don’t have to answer that.”
“No, it’s…” Her voice is soft. “I’m just wondering why you asked…”
“Just curious, I guess.” My laugh sounds strangled, even to me. “I wonder if the way I’m picturing you is right. Like… I don’t even know your hair color.”
Huh. Somehow I assumed it was blond. Maybe because she said she was part Polish.
I clear my throat. “And, um, how tall are you?”
“Five feet, five inches.”
“Perfect height,” I joke.
She doesn’t laugh.
“I shouldn’t have asked that,” I say quietly. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter what you look like.”
“No,” she says. “I can understand why you’d want to know. If I were you, I’d be curious.”
“Well, it’s just weird,” I say. “Most of the people in my life who I talk to a lot, like my family and Dan—I already know what they look like. But we talk all the time and I’ve never seen you. And… well, obviously, I never will.”
“Okay, so…” She pauses on the other line. “What would you like to know?”
“I don’t know. Um, is your hair straight or curly?”
“What color are your eyes?”
Brown eyes. Brown eyes and straight brown hair. “My eyes are sort of green,” I say.
She lets out a little chuckle. “Yeah, I know.”
Yeah, of course she knows. I’m the one who can’t see. I wonder for a moment if she thinks I stare a lot, the way Dan says I do. I don’t want to ask. It will just psych me out before our date.
“One hundred and twenty,” she says out of nowhere.
“Huh?” I say.
This time she giggles. “That’s what I weigh. I’m sure you were afraid to ask.”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“Also,” she adds, “C-cup.”
“Is there anything else you’d like to know?” she asks.
I close my eyes and picture this smart, sexy girl who is five feet five inches and one hundred and twenty pounds with straight brown hair, brown eyes, and perfect C-cup tits. I’m very happy with what I’m imagining. “No, I’m good.”
There’s a long silence on the other line. “Colin,” she says softly, “I should… I should probably…”
“No,” I interrupt her. Christ, it was a dick move to ask the question in the first place. The last thing I want is for her to have to explain and apologize for all her bodily imperfections. I’m not going to let her to do that. “I told you, I’m good.”
“Are you sure?” she presses me.
“Very sure,” I say.
Friday morning is when things fall apart.
It starts out when I’m working on the Children’s Floor. A father and his little boy come into the library. I recognize the little boy from Storytime. His name is David, and he’s got blond curls that make him look almost like a girl.
“It’s Miss Sophie!” David yells as he runs to the desk so fast, I’m glad Carrie isn’t here to see it. “Miss Sophie! Tell us a story!”
I smile down at him. “Storytime will be next week. Maybe I’ll see you there?”
David nods eagerly. “Can you read us a story about monsters?”
Monsters. I remember how Declan Sheehan murmured into his mother’s hip that I was a monster, but this kid likes monsters. He’s craving them.
“Sure,” I say.
Right after David leaves, Steve enters the Children’s Floor. He hesitates at the door, a troubled look on his face. Then he squares his shoulders and walks in my direction. Right away, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. It’s very obvious Steve isn’t here to present me with good news. He doesn’t have the look of a guy who’s about to give me a raise.
“Sophie.” His voice is grim. “Can you come to my office?”
I don’t want to. I really don’t. But I follow him to his office in the back. I already have some idea of what he’s going to say to me, judging by the fact that I’ve seen Dawn Sheehan twice in front of the library with her clipboard in the last week. She avoided eye contact last time.
“Sit down,” Steve says as he closes the door behind me.
So now he’s closed the door so nobody can hear and has told me to sit down. None of these things are good signs.
As soon as I’m sitting across from him, Steve heaves a long sigh and runs a hand through his prematurely gray hair. “Sophie, listen…”
I brace myself.
“You already know about that petition Dawn Sheehan has been getting people to sign,” he says. As if I could forget. “So today I got a call from the mayor. The mayor. She went in to see him with her petition and all these notes from some quack shrink…” He rubs his face with his hands. “Look, it’s not like we’re firing you. They just don’t want you working on the Children’s Floor anymore at all.”
I swallow hard. “Right.”
“Sophie, I’m sorry.” He shakes his head. “I know I said I’d fight for you, but this was the goddamn mayor. You’ve got so many opportunities, but I can’t lose this job. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I say. And I mean it. I believe Steve tried to fight for me, but it was a losing battle. You can’t fight a woman like Dawn Sheehan. Women like her always get what they want. And she believes in her heart that she’s in the right.
He looks up at me with slightly bloodshot eyes. “I’d understand if you quit. I’d hate to lose you, but I’d get it. I’d… I mean, if you wanted to look for another position in Boston, I’d write you a glowing letter of recommendation.”
“Thanks, Steve,” I say. “But for now, I think I’m going to stay put.”
He nods. “And listen, in a year or so, I bet this will all have blown over.”
I don’t believe that. But even so, I say, “Yeah, maybe.”
Today is my date with Sophie.
I’m wicked excited. It’s all I can think about the whole goddamn morning. I try to read some of my books, but I can’t focus. Instead, I listen to my audiobook version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because it reminds me of her. (It really is a good book. Not as good as Garp, but I like it a lot.)
I call for a taxi to get me to the library. I’ve gotten good at taking the bus there, but I’m too nervous now. It’s a great time for me to go careening down the stairs or somehow miss my stop and end up at the Boston Opera House or who the hell knows where. A taxi guarantees I’ll get there on time.
I come out into the living room dressed in a nice pair of pants and a button-down shirt. I think it’s my blue shirt. Pretty sure. I wish I knew where that color identifier went.
I’ve got five minutes till the taxi is supposed to come, which is enough time to tell my parents where I’m going without giving them time to make a big fuss over it.
“Ma?” I call out when I get down the stairs.
Her footsteps draw close then stop abruptly. She draws in a quick breath. “Colin? Why are you dressed up?”
“I’m going out.”
I shake my head. “I’ve got a date.”
There’s another long pause. “Oh, Colin! That’s great! How wonderful!”
She’s so happy. So happy. It’s possible she might be happier than I am.
No, not possible.
“Thanks,” I mumble, my ears burning. “Do I, you know, look okay?”
I know I’m wearing clean clothes, but the details are missing. Do my clothes match? Is my hair sticking up? Do I have crap on my face? Are my shades crooked on my nose? I have no idea. I stand up straight as I can, waiting for my mother’s verdict.
When she finally responds, her voice breaks on the words. “You look really handsome, sweetie. I’m sure she’ll be very pleased.”
“Okay, good,” I say, trying not to let on how much I care.
“Who are you going with?” she asks. “Anyone I know?”
“Sophie, the girl from the library.”
My mother is quiet for a long time. So long that I finally say, “Ma?”
I’m standing there, waiting for her to tell me why she clammed up when I recognize my father’s footsteps. My mother’s voice says, “Henry, Colin is going on a date with that girl Sophie from the library.”
And now my father is quiet too.
What the hell?
“You don’t want me to go out with Sophie?” I ask. I’m trying to keep the anger out of my voice but it’s hard. I have been looking forward to this for a long time—they will not ruin it for me.
“Of course not,” Ma says quickly. “We want you to go out with women again, Colin. Don’t we, Henry?”
“Yes,” Dad agrees. “We certainly do. It’s just that…”
“You don’t like Sophie,” I finish for them.
“No, that’s not it at all!” Ma says.
They’re lying. I don’t know why, but they definitely don’t like Sophie. What they could possibly have against a smart, nice girl like her is beyond me. She’s a librarian, for fuck’s sake—not a biker chick. This is the last thing I need right now.
“Listen, I got a cab coming any minute,” I say. “So unless you’re going to barricade the door, I’m going.”
“Please don’t be angry, Colin,” Ma says. “We’re just looking out for you.”
“Why don’t you sit down for a minute?” Dad says. I feel his hand on my arm. “Let’s talk about this.”
“No,” I snap at them, yanking my arm away from my father’s grasp. “The cab’s supposed to be here and I don’t want to miss it.” I fumble in my bag for my cane, feeling reassurance at the cold metal beneath my fingers. “We can talk about this later.”
“Colin…” Ma says.
“Don’t you think I’m nervous enough?” I say in a voice just short of yelling. I’m really pissed off—not quite punch-another-hole-in-the-wall pissed off, but getting there. “Just… let me go.”
They’re both quiet now. I don’t know what terrible lies they want to tell me about Sophie, but I don’t want to hear it. Not now and not ever. But definitely not now.
The taxi is waiting for me when I get outside the house. The driver’s horn blares as I step out toward the curb, giving me the heads up. I told the company I was blind, so the driver would be aware. It just makes it easier. As I tap my way to the curb, his door clicks open and his footsteps rush across the pavement to grab my door.
“I got the door for you, mister.”
“Thank you.” I collapse my cane, feel for the roof of the car so I don’t bash my head, and climb in.
“So you’re going to the library, huh?” the cabbie asks me.
“A blind guy going to the library,” he says. “That’s something you don’t see every day.”
I don’t comment.
“Of course, they got audiobooks, right?” he goes on. “You probably borrow those, right?”
The driver eventually gets the idea that I don’t feel like talking and he turns on the radio. It’s a local pop station. I’m not a huge fan of the Billboard music, but right now I’m fine with leaning back in my seat and listening to Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars as the wind makes a mess of my hair. Except then an idea suddenly occurs to me.
“Hey,” I say to the cab driver. “There’s a florist on Pleasant Street. Can you stop there?”
“Sure, I know the place,” the guy says. “You gonna buy some flowers?”
“For the library?”
I grip my cane in my fist. “I’m meeting someone there.”
“Oh!” The cabbie chuckles. “You mean you’re going on a date?”
I can’t figure out what’s funny about that. I almost tell him it’s none of his goddamn business, but I don’t want him to take off when I’m at the florist, so instead I say, “Yes.”
“Hey, that’s great,” he says, “good for you.”
A vein throbs in my temple. I don’t want to lose my temper over this idiot. He’s not worth it.
The car comes to a screeching halt. I open the door, hesitating before I get out. “You’re going to wait for me, right? I don’t need to pay you first?”
“Don’t worry about it,” the cabbie says. “It’s not like you’re going to take off running or something.”
My jaw tightens, even though he’s right. I’d have a lot of trouble skipping off without paying my cab fare. Not to mention I’d have no way of getting to the library from here.
This florist is the same one my mother goes to. The chimes in the door jingle as I push it open. The overwhelming smell of flowers hits me like a punch in the nose. It’s too much. I need to get Sophie a flower and get out of here.
“Hello!” an elderly male voice greets me. I hear no other voices in here, so I assume it’s me he’s addressing. “You’re Arlene’s son, aren’t you? Colin?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“And what can I do for you, Colin?”
“I want to buy a red rose.”
“A red rose,” he repeats. “And is that for a lady friend?”
“Uh, yes.” As if there were any other conceivable reason a man in his thirties would be buying a single red rose.
“Well, good for you,” he says. The same words as the cab driver, in the same condescending tone of voice. What the hell—is it really so inconceivable I’d have a date with a woman? “Arlene was worried about you.”
“Yeah, well,” I mutter.
A few minutes later, the florist is pressing the stem of a flower into my hand. He refuses my attempts to pay, instructing me instead to, “Go get her, slugger.”
I hear the cab idling outside the florist. I let out a breath of relief, knowing if he’d taken off, I’d be late for sure. I get back inside, careful not to either bash myself in the head or damage the rose. Either one is tricky—both at once is a real challenge. I keep the rose in my lap the whole ride from the florist to the library, cradling it gently.
“Okay, this is it,” the driver tells me as the car comes to another gut-dropping, screeching halt. He hesitates. “You need me to walk you to the door, kid?”
“It’s straight ahead?”
“I can manage then. Thanks.”
I make my way to the front door of the library for what feels like the hundredth time. I’m supposed to meet Sophie on the main floor at six o’clock. I feel the display on my watch, which reads a quarter to six.
I’ve got fifteen minutes to drive myself crazy.
I go over to one of the tables. I ask out loud, “Is anyone sitting here?”
Nobody answers, so I sit and place the rose in front of me. I leave my tinted glasses on and lean my cane against the table while I wait for Sophie. I run a hand through my hair, which is messy from the wind during the taxi ride, although I keep it short enough that I don’t have to worry about it too much. I’m so goddamn nervous. I’m trying not to think of all the shit I can fuck up on this date, but it’s hard. It’s one thing for us to chat on the phone or at the library, but now she’s going to see my disability in action. What if after spending a night out with me, she doesn’t think it’s worth it to date a blind guy?
That would kill me. Sophie’s so great—I can’t even think about how I’d feel if she called it quits after tonight. She’s been the best thing in my life since this happened to me.
Maybe the best thing in my life ever.
Brisk footsteps head in my direction then abruptly stop next to me. I raise my head and see a fuzzy, dark outline of what I assume is a person standing next to me. All I know is it’s not Sophie—I would recognize her soft-footed walk and her flowery scent. “Mr. Kelly?” a voice says. It’s a woman. Maybe in her forties or fifties.
“My name is Carrie McNally,” the voice tells me. “I work with Sophie. May I join you for a moment?”
My stomach sinks. Did Sophie send this woman over to tell me she doesn’t want to go out with me? Would she do something like that?
No, she wouldn’t. Not Sophie.
“Uh, sure,” I say. “Go ahead.”
The woman, Carrie, sits down beside me. I turn in her direction, trying not to let on how anxious I am. “Is Sophie okay?” I blurt out.
“Yes, yes, of course,” she says. I don’t like this woman’s voice—she sounds smug. It’s funny how I develop mental images of people based on their voices—I imagine this woman is tall with sharp, angry features and shrewd eyes. “But… well, Mr. Kelly, I feel like there are some things about Sophie you ought to know before you go out with her.”
I shake my head. “What are you talking about?”
She pauses for a long time. “The thing is, Sophie’s been lying to you. She’s sort of been taking advantage of the fact that you can’t see.”
Sophie’s been lying to me? What the hell? This is the last thing I want to hear before the date I’ve been looking forward to all week. “What do you mean?” I ask carefully.
“I mean,” she says slowly, “Sophie… listen, I’m sure she never told you this, but she was badly burned as a child. Because of that… well, there’s no way you could know, obviously…”
“Know what?” I say through my teeth.
“Sophie’s face is badly deformed,” the woman’s voice tells me. Before I can react to this, she continues, “Her skin is very badly scarred. She is missing most of both her ears and… she doesn’t really have a nose either, exactly. Or lips, really. There’s just a hole where her mouth is.”
Is this woman really saying she’s…?
That’s when it hits me. The deformed girl Dan was talking about at Dunkin Donuts—was that Sophie?
“Her appearance is quite frightening,” Carrie says. “We recently had to move her out of the Children’s Floor because she was scaring the children and giving some of them nightmares.”
My head is spinning. “I… I had no idea,” I manage.
“I realize that,” she says. “And honestly, it upset me you didn’t know. I thought you deserved better than that. Everyone was making fun of the fact that you were dating her without having any idea about her appearance. She took advantage of your disability.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. I wish this obnoxious woman would stop talking.
“It would be one thing if she were simply plain or even homely,” Carrie goes on. “But trust me, these are quite severe deformities.”
Please stop talking. I feel like I can’t breathe. I don’t want to think Sophie lied to me, but the more I hear, the more I know it must be true. That’s why my parents didn’t want me to come here tonight. They knew. And they never told me—probably because they were so damn relieved I wasn’t depressed anymore.
“Mr. Kelly,” Carrie says, “if there’s anything I can—”
She doesn’t manage to finish her sentence, because she’s interrupted by an anguished cry. That familiar smell of flowers fills my nostrils.
“What did you tell him?” Sophie screams at Carrie.
“The truth, Sophie. He deserved to know.”
I look up and see the shadowy blur of the woman I’d planned to spend tonight with. I try to squint and make out any features, but of course, I can’t. I can’t make out anything.
“Colin…” Sophie’s voice is strangled.
I stare at the dark, fuzzy outline of her head. “Is it true?”
In response to my question, she lets out a sob. And then I hear footsteps and she’s gone.
To keep reading, buy Love is Blind on Amazon!