Please be aware that I am not an expert on the subject of blindness. Everything written here on the topic is fictional to the best of my knowledge, and anything that happens to be correct is purely by coincidence. I certainly don't mind people telling me when I've made a mistake, but anything that heavily interferes with plot elements won't be corrected.
I would also like readers to know that this story has been hugely edited as of September 7, 2006, to tie up loose ends and correct some plot holes, so you may want to read over everything again. Also, because this story has gained so much popularity, I've added little extras to the ends of several chapters to give further background information on various scenes. Thank you all for your kind reviews!
Frederick High is a huge school. I didn't really know a lot of the faces that I saw every day, let alone the ones that I didn't. So there was a new guy in school--big deal. It's a huge high school--this is Orlando, after all. What's another new guy in school? Nothing, at least not to me. Nothing, at least, until today.
I guess the thing that first caught my eye was that the boy was wearing sunglasses as he entered the building, and once he was standing in the hallway, he didn't take them off. He stood there, looking cool and totally au courant with a black T-shirt and baggy blue jeans, and his long, raven hair pulled behind his head in a silky ponytail. There were students walking all around me on either side, a constant, steady stream of teens. I didn't realize I was leaning this way and that, craning my neck to get a better look at this not-so-ordinary new guy, until my girlfriend, Jennifer, began waving her hand in front of my face.
"Ged?" she asked with annoyance. "I'm right here. Hello! Who were you looking at?" She turned her head in the direction I'd been facing, the tiny silver hoops in her earlobe tinkling.
"No one," I replied quickly, tearing my gaze away from the figure across the hall.
"No one, hm?" she smirked.
She wasn't really mad. I leaned forward to give her a quick kiss. "No one," I said again.
The bell sounded, and the stream of students turned into a raging river as everyone cut conversations short, or finished their homework that they should have done last night, and headed for class.
Jennifer was still gazing up into my eyes, her hands on my shoulders.
"You'd better get to class, missy," I said sternly, giving a few of her short, fine strands of hair a gentle tug. "If you're late..."
"I'm not worried." She sighed, running her hands down my arms as we let go.
She really did need to get to class. Jennifer was still only a sophomore. As a senior, I had a free period first thing in the morning during which I worked in the library. Seniors who have free time can do that, as long as their minimum requirements to graduate are fulfilled. So, during the first fifty minutes of each day, I was the librarian's assistant. I was the only one Mrs. Kim had working for her during first period, and usually there wasn't any work to do. The best part of all was that Mrs. Kim didn't care if I showed up late or not, for that same reason. I usually just sat at a table and read or studied until second period, anyway.
Jennifer finally turned away, after blowing me one last kiss. I wanted to reach out and catch it for real. I couldn't explain it, but I seemed to know even then that we wouldn't be together for much longer. Odd; before that morning, I'd never had any sort of premonition like that--about my future with Jennifer or anything else, for that matter.
Call it destiny; call it fate. When I turned to leave, I rammed right into that new guy--an event that would change my life forever.
"--Sorry!" I yelped, surprised that he dropped everything in his arms. He was standing there with a slight "oh" on his mouth, but made no move to pick his things up.
Oh, tough guy, I thought. Still, I hadn't intended to make him drop his stuff, and it really was my fault for not watching where I was going or who I was running in to, so I knelt down and started gathering his things--a couple books and a folder, which, thankfully, hadn't emptied its contents in the middle of the hallway.
"Thanks a lot," he said, with a silky tone. "Didn't mean to run into you."
I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not, but the next thing my hand grasped made it all too clear: the white cane belonged to a blind boy.
"No!" I said immediately, standing up. "I wasn't looking--er, paying attention--to where I was going." I blushed at my little slip, grateful he couldn't see.
He was genuinely smiling, though, not appearing to be insulted in the least. "My name is Jack Kent," he said pleasantly, reaching out.
He wanted to shake my hand, but I didn't realize it until it was too late and I'd shoved his cane back into his palm like a hot potato. His smile faded a little, then came back, slightly forced.
"Uh, I'm Ged Summers."
He nodded and I held out his books. His smile didn't waver, but he didn't reach for his books, either, of course.
"Um--" I started. I reached down and took his free hand, raising it up to give him his books, but his hand clasped mine.
"Can you help me find my classroom?" he asked, still smiling and holding my hand.
I stared at him. "Uh...sure. Let me tell the librarian real quick."
"Yeah, I work in the library during first period--seniors can do that," I explained. "Just...wait right here, okay? The door is right down the hall." I shook free of his hand, staring at him again for a moment before leaving him there by himself. Weird guy, I thought, but friendly...very friendly.
The halls had emptied out and the tardy bell rang just as I walked through the door.
"You're early!" Mrs. Kim accused.
"Actually, I'm just here to let you know I'm skipping class today," I said smartly, waving and walking back out into the hall.
"Ged!!!" Mrs. Kim screeched teasingly. "While you're at it, report yourself tardy!"
I walked back into the library smiling. The old lady and I always played like this. She'd been my favorite faculty member since the ninth grade.
"Sorry, Mrs. Kim," I grinned. Then I lowered my voice. "There's a new guy here--he's blind and needs help finding his class. Can I...?"
"Oh, of course!" she said, nodding. "That must be Jason...Kent, was it?"
"Jack Kent," I corrected. "You know about him already?"
"The school is making new efforts for blind students," she said thoughtfully. "So far he's the first blind student we've had here at Frederick High. He must be here to test the new programs."
"Don't they have to read Braille and stuff?" I inquired curiously.
"Well, that's part of the program," she said, "The school is ordering extra sets of textbooks this semester, and there are new computer programs. And he can listen to lectures, obviously. He shouldn't have too much trouble, once he knows his way around the building. His classmates will help him, I'm sure. Speaking of which, go ahead and take all the time you need--but I'm reporting you tardy, anyway."
I laughed at her--she was joking of course--and walked back out of the room.
Jack was standing exactly where I'd left him.
"Sorry to take so long," I said. "Can I carry your books?"
"Oh, that's very kind," he smiled, then, to my surprise, he reached out again for my free hand.
I didn't know how to refuse him without being a total jerk, though I didn't want to look...you know...funny. Oh, well, I sighed. Everybody's knows I've got a girlfriend, and once they see that he's blind...
"So...you just moved here?" I asked conversationally after he'd handed me his schedule.
We walked slowly, though he seemed to be doing just fine with his cane, and my hand, to guide him.
"No, I'm from this area," he said. "I just finished going through a special school for the blind--I wasn't always this way, you know."
"Really?" I didn't know what else to say. Shouldn't this be, like, a touchy subject?
He shook his head slowly as we walked. "It was an accident. I used to go to another school near here. But they don't have the programs this school is working on, plus...well, people I knew from before don't treat me the same, I'm afraid. So... I'm the first blind student to start this program, I hear."
"That's what Mrs. Kim told me. Oh, she's the librarian, by the way. She's a really nice lady."
"Hm. I'll keep that in mind."
He didn't seem too interested, really, and I realized with a mental slap that he couldn't read the books in the library anyway.
"It was a year ago," he said dreamily in response to my unspoken question. "After...the accident, I went to the blind institute where I learned how to read Braille and use a cane. It's been a long year, and I'm ready to start meeting new people again, kind of like starting my life over."
"I'll bet!" I agreed sympathetically. "What a huge change..."
"It's not as bad as you think," he said with a smile. "And hopefully it will only be temporary."
"How so?" I asked in surprise.
"The doctors are talking about some new experimental laser surgery."
"On your eyes?" I winced. Sounded painful.
"Yes. If it works...who knows? Maybe I'll get partial sight back--maybe all of it." He couldn't say that without smiling. "I'm trying not to get my hopes up, of course, but... Why did we stop? Oh, are we there already?"
"Yes, this is your classroom," I said.
"Remind me again what this is?"
"Physics," I frowned.
He groaned. "My fave," he muttered. We laughed. "I'm thinking about getting my schedule changed already!" he said.
"Well, good luck!" I said. "I'm sure everything will work out. Have fun!"
I waited at the door until he went inside, and the teacher seemed to have expected him, so I left.
Jennifer and I had lunch together as usual. I told her about Jack but she only seemed mildly interested, no matter how enthusiastic I was about the whole program for the blind. She was more interested in talking about the upcoming prom.
"Tickets are going on sale next week," she gushed. "I can't believe you'll be graduating this year, Ged!"
"Pretty exciting," I agreed half-heartedly.
"I figured we'd both attend the big U," she said, sipping her iced tea. "That's what we've talked about, right?"
"Yeah," I said.
"I've still got two more years, though. But getting back to this prom thing--I'm going dress shopping this evening with Rachel, as I was saying, so we'll have to postpone our date tonight." She batted her eyelashes at me as we stood to dump our trays. "Any preferences?"
"I like green," I said.
She frowned at me. "You're such a weird boy," she said.
We stacked our trays on top of everyone else's and walked out of the school cafeteria holding hands.
"Usually a guy would say, 'something low-cut,' or 'something short.' What made you think I was talking about the color?" She laughed.
I shrugged. "What do I know about dresses?"
"Nothing, I hope!" She wrapped her arms around me.
The sunlight reflecting on her dark brown hair was beautiful--Jennifer is beautiful. I told her that, and we kissed. That's usually discouraged at school, but we always seemed to get away with it.
Our kiss ended with the bell beginning fifth period. I had phys ed; she was in choir. "See you tomorrow, then," she waved. "Call me tonight, okay?"
I watched her run off, her pretty hair bouncing to her step. Then I headed for the gym.
After changing for class and heading in, I was surprised to find Jack in the gymnasium, too, talking to our PE teacher, Mr. Lee. The instructor caught me looking and gestured for me to join them.
"Ged, I want you to meet Jack Kent. He's new to the school." He kind of made a squint and pointed to his eyes to tell me that Jack was blind, but I already knew.
I smiled. "Of course. We met this morning. Remember me, Jack? The jerk who rammed into you?"
We laughed, and Mr. Lee looked surprised. "Friends already?" he grinned. "Good! Then it's settled! Get started while I take care of the rest of this riffraff." He walked off, leaving Jack and I alone.
"What's he talking about?" I asked in confusion.
"He said I could have a partner to help me out," Jack explained. "I...hope you don't mind..."
"Not at all!" I said enthusiastically. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"Well, he said that for a couple weeks we're going to be left pretty much to ourselves. You can help me stretch, and then we'll do something easy. I can't run the track or anything, you know, or play basketball, but he said there's a pool...?"
"Oh, like I get to be your personal trainer?" I laughed. "This actually sounds like fun!"
He looked relieved that I thought so.
I made sure it was okay with Mr. Lee first, then led Jack to the indoor pool. "You can swim, right?" I asked.
"Of course," he smiled.
"Okay," I said. "Say when, and I'll get you to the stairs."
"Just a second," he said, stopping to take off his shirt. I stared at his torso with a frown. He had a very strange scar, a white line running from just near his shoulder down his side and disappearing into his gym shorts. He tugged the band from his long dark hair, and it fell halfway down his back like a waterfall cascading. Lastly, he took off his sunglasses.
I was in shock. He looked like a completely different person, even though his eyes were closed. And I couldn't stop staring.
"Okay, I'm ready," he said. "I'll be fine once I get to the steps."
I nodded, then realized he couldn't see, and reached for his hand, clearing my throat. "...This way," I managed, well aware that my face was getting hot for some reason. His hand was warm in mine, clasping my fingers tightly. I squeezed his hand back, and guided him over to the pool. I noticed that he walked much slower without his cane. "You okay?" I asked.
"Okay, we're here. Do you want me to get in first?"
"That would be good," he said.
I left him squatting with one hand holding the railing, then I climbed down the ladder and into the warm, waist-deep water. "Okay," I said. "Come on in!"
He found his hold unsteadily, then started down the ladder. I lifted my arms, ready to catch him if he fell. He was okay, though, and in another moment we were together in the water. He turned around slowly. "Where are you, Ged?"
"Right here," I said, very close to him.
He smiled. "Okay, let's swim!"
"Huh?" I cried. "Just like that, 'let's swim'?!"
"Just watch and make sure I'm not too close to the edge!" he called as he dove under the water.
He swam as gracefully as if he'd been born in the sea. I watched him with surprise for a moment, reminding myself that he hadn't always been this way. Then I followed after him. I had a hard time keeping up, really. After scaling the entire pool just twice, he seemed to have its dimensions memorized, and was able to splash around without worrying about bumping his head or anything.
The period ended far too soon. Before long, Mr. Lee had come into the pool room and told us it was just about time to go.
Toweling off in the locker room, I had to ask, "Were you on the swim team at your old school or something?"
He grinned as he dried his hair. "I was team captain, even though I was just a sophomore at the time."
I let out a low whistle. "Wow," I breathed, very impressed. "Well, you look great."
I almost kicked myself for that one, staring at his body the way I was, but he didn't seem to take offense or anything. He just tied his damp hair back again and slipped his shirt back on, then put his sunglasses over his closed eyes. "Thanks, Ged," he said on our way out. "You've been really nice to me."
"No problem," I said, giving his shoulder a friendly punch as we joined our classmates in exiting the gymnasium. "See you tomorrow!"
"Yeah," he grinned. "Maybe tomorrow we can play Marco Poolo!"
I frowned. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah! Of course, I'll have to be 'it' every time," he laughed.
I laughed with him, watching him head off in the opposite direction, his cane flicking back and forth as he walked to his next class.
I felt more light-hearted than I had in a long time. I'd never had so much fun in gym, or at school, for that matter, and I had just made a new friend.
I thought about Jack a lot that night. It's no wonder I forgot to call Jennifer.