So here’s what I did:
A few days ago, I put in a call to the major branch library. I told them I had a blind adult reader who wanted books that were easy to read, yet still geared for adults. The director of the library there had a few titles he thought would be perfect, and he was going to dig them up and send them to me.
I would love to share this news with Colin Kelly. But naturally, I’m reluctant. My advice about Audiobooks was not received well, to put it mildly. It’s entirely likely he might find this offer equally patronizing. Yet it’s hard to watch a grown man struggling to read a child’s book about elephants. I want to help him.
While I’m internally debating what to do, an elderly woman approaches to the desk, a perplexed look on her face. I’ve seen her here a few times before. I try to recall her name—I’m usually very good with names.
Mrs. Richards. That’s it.
“Hello, Mrs. Richards,” I say.
She beams at me, thrilled I remembered her name. “Oh, you know me!”
I attempt to smile back. “Of course I do.”
“You’re such a sweet girl,” she sighs. “It’s such a shame about…”
She nods at me. I’m sure she’s referring to my face.
“Is there something you need, Mrs. Richards?” I ask.
“Oh, yes.” Now she looks uncertain again. “Do you have any of those movies on circles?”
I suppress a laugh. “Do you mean… DVDs?”
“Yes, that’s it!” She claps her hands together. “My daughter just got me a VD player. So I’d like to get a VD.”
Venereal disease? “A DVD, you mean.”
“Yes.” She waves her hand like this distinction isn’t important. “Can you show me where they are?”
I lead her to the corner where we have a selection of DVDs. She exclaims about how excited she is “to finally have a VD” and how she “might get a VD from her friend” for her birthday. At this point, I don’t know if I can keep from laughing if I stay with her, so I excuse myself.
I realize I’m now only a couple of tables away from Colin. Before I can overthink it, I walk over to where he’s settled down to read. Once again, he’s removed his tinted glasses, and his nice green eyes are lowered like he’s actually reading the dots on the pages. His fingers move very slowly down the line of dots, and I can see a furrow between his brows as he presumably searches his brain to remember what each character stands for. At one point, he scratches at the stubble on his chin with his left hand—he has large, strong fingers.
Somehow he’s even sexier today than I remembered him.
When I get within a few feet of him, he lifts his eyes from the book. Did he hear me? I wear loafers at work that are nearly silent on the carpeting. But he probably notices things like that more than most people.
“Hi,” I say softly.
Colin looks in my general direction, but not entirely at me. His green eyes are unfocused. “Sophie?”
He recognized my voice. He doesn’t sound as angry as he did last week, but he’s not exactly friendly either.
“Yes,” I say. “I… could I join you?”
His brow furrows. “Sure. I guess so.”
I slide into a chair next to him. He looks in my general direction and I wonder again if he has any vision at all or if he’s following the sounds. “First of all, I wanted to say I’m sorry about trying to get you to read Audiobooks last week,” I say. “I can see that it’s important to you to learn braille.”
He grunts in response.
“And,” I add, “I know braille is a really challenging language to learn as an adult.”
“Challenging?” he snorts. “Try damn near impossible.”
“It’s admirable you’re so determined to do it.”
“Yeah, well…” He lifts a shoulder in a shrug. “It’s not exactly my idea.”
“Oh.” I can’t hide my disappointment. He’s just doing this because his mother is pushing him. He’s not really interested in learning to read.
“But I want to do it too,” he quickly adds, after he hears my reaction. “I always loved to read, and don’t want some audiobook producer telling me how I should hear the characters in my head.”
I smile, even though I know he can’t see it. “When I first saw you, you didn’t strike me as an avid reader.”
He lets out a huff. “Why? Because soldiers are all illiterate?”
God, it’s like I can’t say anything right around this guy.
Before I can apologize for yet another gaffe, Colin says, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I sort of deserved it.”
“No.” He shakes his head. “You didn’t. I’m being an asshole. And… I’m sorry.” He runs his hand along the page of his book. “I’m just feeling a little sensitive because I can’t even read a child’s book about elephants.”
“I don’t blame you.”
He makes a face. “I guess I have to start somewhere though, right?”
“So here’s the thing.” I lean toward him, which is something I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Usually I keep my distance from people when we’re talking and they do the same for me. But Colin doesn’t back off when I lean forward. “I called the main branch library a few days ago, and they’ve got some books that are easy reads, but are meant for adults. I asked them to send them over.”
I can see him processing this information. “You called… for me?”
“But…” He’s frowning, a cute little furrow between his eyebrows. “Okay, well… thank you. Thanks a lot, Sophie. That was really nice of you.”
“Well, it’s my job.”
“Is it?” he says skeptically. And he’s right—it’s beyond the scope of my job. He didn’t ask me to make the call. But calling was the right thing to do. I would have done it even if he wasn’t—let’s face it—incredibly hot.
“It was no trouble.”
“Well, thank you.” He flashes me a full smile this time. He has nice teeth—white but not artificially so, with a just barely crooked lateral incisor on the left. “When will the books get here?”
“I’d say in a few days. But I’ll put them aside for you, and you can pick them up any time.”
“What day are you here?”
I swallow hard, trying not to let on how flattered I am by his question. “Why don’t you come on Monday?”
“Okay.” He grins wider. “And in the meantime, I’ll learn about elephants.”
“Yes, I’ll expect a full report.”
He actually looks happy for the first time since he set foot in the library last week. And the expression on his face is something I’ve never quite experienced before when a man has been looking at me. Is he… interested in me? Maybe he is. After all, he doesn’t have a clue what I look like. And I think we’ll keep it that way.
“So,” I say, “you love to read, do you?”
Colin brushes his hand against the book in front of him. “Well, used to.”
“What’s your favorite book?”
He laughs. He has a great laugh—the kind of laugh that makes you want to go out and share a pint with him. He must have so many friends. “I can’t decide on a favorite book. There are too many choices. What are the criteria? Are we talking about books I couldn’t stop reading even though they were dumb, books that make me nostalgic for when I was a kid, books that are hard to get through but really made me think…”
“Okay, how about this?” I say. “If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could have one book with you for the next ten years, what would it be?”
He leans back in his chair, clearly taking the question seriously. “Well, it’s gotta be something from John Irving. Because his books are so damn long.”
I laugh. “Fair enough.”
“Probably The World According to Garp,” he says thoughtfully. “Because I’ve never met a book character I’ve liked as much as T.S. Garp. If I had to be stuck on a desert with someone, I’d want it to be him, even in book form.”
I like that answer. Especially since A Prayer For Owen Meany or Cider House Rules seems to be every other person’s favorite Irving book, but The World According to Garp is my favorite too.
“Also,” he adds, “if it were written in braille, it would literally take me ten years to read.”
I laugh again. “Now. In a few months, I bet you’d be able to breeze through it in five years flat.”
I love Colin’s smile. I could look at it all day. “How about you, Sophie?” he asks. “What book would you like to be on a desert island with for ten years?”
I hesitate, completely unprepared to answer the question I just asked him. But luckily, I’m saved by Jean calling out my name. A line has started forming at the desk while I’ve been chatting with Colin.
“Listen,” I say. “I have to go. There’s a line at the desk.”
“Oh, sorry.” His cheeks color. “I didn’t realize.”
“It’s okay.” I nearly put my hand on his, but pull back at the last second. “I need to think about it anyway. I’ll give you my answer next time.”
“Great.” The smile returns to his lips. “I can’t wait to hear.”
The hopeful expression on his face tugs at me. I wonder if he’d be talking to me this way if he could see what I look like.
No, I don’t wonder. He wouldn’t.
“Excellent,” I say. “I’ll have a good answer for you by then.”
He smiles again. “Bye, Sophie.”
I’m going out tonight.
Natalie invited me out for dinner tonight. We usually make time for dinner at least once a week since she moved out of our shared apartment in Quincy to live with her boyfriend Chris. Tonight is not a Natalie/Sophie dinner though. Tonight I’m going out with Natalie and Company.
Natalie and Company usually includes her boyfriend and whoever her other friends of the moment are. Natalie’s fairly outgoing and makes friends easily—if she weren’t that sort of person, I don’t know if she and I would be as friendly as we are. That aside, tonight our dinner group will include Natalie, Chris, and a guy named Gabe.
Gabe is single.
Gabe works with Chris. When he first started joining us for dinner, he had a girlfriend named Rachel who used to tag along. But about two months ago, Gabe and Rachel broke up. Yet Gabe still comes out to the Natalie and Company dinners. When Natalie points that out to me, she nudges me and winks.
Usually, I roll my eyes.
Gabe is great. He’s a nice guy and he’s fairly attractive in a dorky way. I like talking to him. And like I said, he’s single. Five or six years ago, I would have been tingling with excitement about the possibility of something happening between me and Gabe. These days, I hardly give him a second thought.
I wouldn’t call myself jaded exactly, but I’m realistic. Maddeningly realistic, as Natalie would say. When I’ve allowed myself to get even a tiny bit excited in similar situations in the past, I’ve always ended up disappointed. I finally got sick of having my emotions jerked around, so I decided to face the reality: the probability of any nice, normal guy wanting to go out with me is essentially zero.
Does that sound bitter? I’m not—I swear. I’m happy with most parts of my life. In so many ways, I’m lucky. Thanks to Natalie, I have a decent social life. I have a job I love (even though I have a coworker I hate), which is something many people can’t say. I have loving parents. I have a great apartment, surrounded by lots of shops in a nice neighborhood. I have so much.
Do I wish I could have a boyfriend? Well, yes. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not something I want. If Gabe showed up tonight, grabbed me, and kissed me on the mouth, I wouldn’t push him away. But I’ve made the decision to be happy with the good things I have, and not obsess over my lack of a love life.
If Gabe wants me, great. If not, I’m not going to cry myself to sleep over him. Over a man? Never.
I put on a cute black dress that isn’t too sexy, but accentuates my figure. I stare at myself in the full-length mirror, keeping my eyes below the neck level. My legs look good—they’re slim but shapely. I’ve got C-cup boobs that benefit from my new bra. It’s a nice dress, but the biggest problem with it is it’s too low cut. I tug at the neckline, wondering if I’ll ruin it by putting on a white blouse underneath. Why did I buy a dress like this? It’s not flattering.
I set the dress issue aside and go to the bathroom to fix my hair. Before I deal with my hair though, I reach for the moisturizing cream I use on my skin three times a day. I have to perform meticulous skin care, considering I’ve undergone multiple skin grafts on every part of my face.
You’re probably wondering at this point what happened to me. Why I look the way I do. The answer is simple:
When I was two years old, my face was burned off.
I wish there were some heroic story behind it. Maybe our house was on fire and I rushed back inside to save my beloved dog or baby sister. But it wasn’t anything like that. It was just a story of stupidity. I pulled a pot of boiling water from the stove over my head.
Yes, I did this awful thing to myself. But it wasn’t like it was a well-thought out plan. I was two.
My parents were investigated by Child Protective Services as I was fighting for my life on the burn unit, but it wasn’t their fault. Not entirely, anyway. Yes, my mother left a pot of boiling water unattended on the stove. But they had a baby gate installed at the entrance to the kitchen. Unbeknownst to my mother, I had cleverly figured out how to open the baby gate. While my mother was on the toilet, I toddled into the kitchen. She came back into the kitchen just in time to see me tip the water over myself.
I had fourth-degree burns over my entire face, neck, and chest. I also suffered third degree burns on my scalp. All of the skin on my face and chest had to be debrided. Much of my lips and nose were removed. The cartilage from my ears was destroyed.
The only fortunate thing is my eyesight was not damaged. This is a miracle in itself. In the vast majority of severe facial burns, vision is affected as well, but mine wasn’t. My eyes are fine—the only part of my face that is.
Sometimes people will ask me if I’ve considered plastic surgery. I find that hilarious, because to date, I’ve had thirty-eight surgeries. Obviously, I had skin grafts on my face to replace the skin that was removed. This had to be done multiple times due to infection. Unfortunately, skin grafts on the face tend to shrink under the best circumstances, but it’s even worse with a growing girl. The grafts had to be repaired as I got older, but they never really looked anything like normal skin.
Let’s see, what else? My nose was reconstructed. Multiple times. It doesn’t look as much like a nose as it does a blob with two holes in it so I can breathe, but it’s functional and that’s what matters. I had multiple surgeries on my lips, since they kept fusing together so I could barely fit a utensil inside. I can open my mouth a passable amount now, but my lips don’t form a smile in any normal way and there’s no surface for me to put lipstick on. It’s all just scarred tissue.
I had several surgeries to fix my chin having fused to my neck. I can now lift my head to look upward and look side to side. This is something I could not do when I was a child.
There were other surgeries I might have had, but around the time I turned eight years old, I started having panic attacks about my surgeries. I’d had dozens of surgeries at that point, and even the thought of another surgery sent me into a tailspin of terror. So my parents limited my surgeries to only the ones that were absolutely necessary.
My face hasn’t changed much in the last decade. I’ve done therapy to help loosen the skin on my face so that I could have more expression on my face, and I still do the exercises every day, but it’s helped only minimally. I did have one more surgery to help me open my mouth more, but that’s it. My nose may not be perfect, but it works. I cover my ears with my hair best I can, although my hair isn’t as thick as it would be because it grows only sparsely from the injured top of my head.
Most days, when I look in the mirror, I just look like me. I am Sophie. I may have a scarred face, but it’s mine. I wouldn’t want to trade to be another person. This is who I am.
But at the same time, I can’t say I don’t wish the person I am were more attractive to men.
I tug at the neckline of my cute black dress. It’s too low—I don’t want the scarring on my upper chest to be visible. But with a silk scarf, I can make it work.
“You’re coming out tonight.”
My buddy Dan’s voice pipes out of my iPhone. His voice sounds tinny. He must be on speaker phone like I am.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yah huh, you are.”
I put down the elephant book I’ve been slowly working my way through since I picked it up at the library yesterday. I’ve made it through ten more pages over the course of the day. I’m making slow but steady progress. It’s frustrating, but at least I’m doing something. Better than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
“I don’t feel like going out,” I say to Dan.
“Too damn bad. I’m on my way over.”
“I’m not dressed,” I say, even though I’m actually dressed.
“So put on some clothes, you loser. What are you doing in your underwear at eight o’clock at night anyway?”
I sigh. Of all my friends from before, Dan is the only one who’s stuck around. Everyone came to visit me when I first got home, but it was always awkward. And the truth is, I wasn’t exactly nice. So people stopped visiting. But I’ve known Dan since we were seven years old, and he refuses to give up on me, no matter how many times I blow him off.
“There’s a great new sports bar on Dot Ave,” he says. “Best grinders in town. You gotta go with me.”
I hear the word “new” and my stomach churns. New places scare the shit out of me. If I don’t have a mental map of a place in my head, I don’t want to consider going there. “I’ll pass.”
“Nope, you’ve used up all your passes. Tonight you’re coming.”
I groan. “Why don’t you just come over and we can have a beer or something?”
“No. Sports bar. I’ll be there in eight minutes. Get your sorry ass downstairs.”
“Dan—” I start to say, but he’s already hung up.
Fine. I guess I’ll go out if he’s going to force the issue. I’m sick of my mother’s cooking anyway—she’s only got about five meals in her repertoire. And of all the things we could do, sitting at a bar won’t be so bad. Sitting and talking are two things I can still do without much difficulty.
I put away my books on the second shelf of my bookcase where I’ll be able to find them later. I find a sweatshirt in my top drawer and pull it over my head, then decide it’s too hot and pull it off. By the time I’m ready, I can hear Dan has already arrived. He and my mother are talking to each other in hushed tones, but I can still just barely make it out.
“… I got him out of the house a little more,” I hear Ma say, “but he’s still very depressed.”
“That’s why this is good for him,” Dan is saying. “Maybe he’ll meet a girl. That’ll perk him up.”
A girl? Yeah, because girls are just dying to get with an unemployed blind guy who lives with his parents.
“Just get him home in one piece, Danny.”
“You can trust me, Mrs. Kelly.”
I smile to myself, remembering one night when we were about seventeen years old, and I got so shitfaced that Dan had to drag my ass home at one in the morning and practically carry me from his car to my door. Dan had thought he’d sneak me into the house, but it turned out Ma was waiting up for me, and she read us both the riot act. (Dan that night, and me the next morning, since I was practically unconscious.)
Shit, I miss those days.
And… now I’ve forgotten what stair I’m on. Either nine or ten. Damn it.
Well, if I’m careful, I can feel around with my foot and probably not fall. Probably.
The rest of my concentration and energy is spent on getting down the remaining three (as it turns out) stairs. I make my way to the living room, and grab my shoulder bag from where I left it by the door. The first thing I do is pull out my tinted glasses.
“Colin!” I jolt at the sudden sensation of Dan’s hand clapping me on my shoulder. “You made it. And you even got dressed. Good for you, buddy.”
I slide on my tinted glasses. “Let’s get this shit over with.”
“That’s the spirit.”
I pull my cane out of my bag and unfold it. Even with a sighted guide, I would never contemplate going anywhere without my cane. Ever. Even when I’m holding onto someone for direction, I always keep my cane in my hand when I’m out of the house. It reassures me my feet aren’t going to hit any obstacles. I slide it to the left side before I take a step with my left foot and ditto on the right. It was hard when I first started doing it, but it quickly became second-nature for me.
“Straight ahead,” Dan instructs me when we get out of the house.
I walk with Dan down the driveway of my house, keeping my cane at my side since he’s guiding me, but ready to use it if he lets go. When he stops, I freeze, awaiting further instructions.
“Right here,” he says. The locks on his car click open, and I let him open the passenger’s side door for me before I climb in.
Sitting in Dan’s car reminds me of the old days. Back when I’d be home between my deployments, we’d go out to bars and hit on girls with pretty good success rates. What can I say—girls always were happy to get with me, at least for a night. I would have preferred something better than one-night stands, but it was hard to have more than that when I was usually only back in the states for seven months to a year at a time. When I did have a girlfriend, it only lasted for a few months and would inevitably end when I got deployed again. Sometimes we’d try to make it work, but it always fizzled.
My longest relationship was with a girl named Helena, who I met when I was getting my bachelor’s at BC through their ROTC program. We dated nearly three years. I liked her a lot, and I wanted to marry her. I went looking at rings, feeling her out to see if she might say yes. But she didn’t want a husband in the military. She didn’t like the idea of my being gone for long stretches of time, and she was scared something bad might happen to me.
“I know myself, Colin,” she told me. “I love you, but it’s not something I can deal with.”
I loved Helena and I wanted to marry her, but the funny thing is I never considered quitting the service to be with her. Never even thought about it. I always assumed it was a sign of my dedication to the military, but really, now I think it’s that I didn’t love Helena enough.
It was probably for the best. If she couldn’t deal with my deployments, she never could have handled a blind husband.
My mind wanders to Sophie the Sexy Librarian. I’ve been thinking about her a lot the last few days. Even after I was an asshole to her that first day, she still went out of her way to make a call to another library on my behalf to get me some decent books. And I really liked talking to her. It was a brief conversation, but all I could think afterwards was how I wanted to keep talking to her. It didn’t feel like she was just sitting with me because she felt sorry for me either. For the first time since I’ve been home, there’s something I’m genuinely looking forward to—talking to Sophie again.
“I’m telling you, man,” Dan says, “the girls that come into this place are mad sexy.”
I laugh. “I can’t say I really care.”
And Dan laughs too. And I feel good for a change. Maybe it wasn’t such a shitty idea going out tonight.
To be continued....