"What are you doing?" a quiet voice whispered in Kara's ear.
She gasped and whirled, slamming her locker shut. She bumped into a warm, hard chest and nearly fell down, but a pair of hands caught her by the waist and set her on her feet. Kara blushed and looked up. A dark-haired boy wearing sunglasses stood there, hands still around her waist.
He grinned, tilting his face down in her general direction. "Sorry. I didn't realize you were that close."
Kara flushed again. "Already forgotten," she said, stepping back.
The boy smiled and stepped back as well. He casually saluted her and walked away, trailing his fingers along the wall. Kara's friend, Miranda shrieked and said in a loud whisper, "I thought he was going to kiss you!"
As Kara watched, the boy's shoulders shook, as if he was laughing. "I don't think so," she answered. "I'm a stranger to him, Randy."
Miranda rolled her eyes. "If you were a little less absorbed with your books, you'd know that everyone is a stranger to him."
Kara opened her locker and finished removing her books. "Is he a new arrival?"
Randy nodded and leaned close. Kara flinched away. "His name is Aidan Winters. He just arrived this morning. He's blind, you know, Kara."
Kara shut her locker again and started off for her next class. "It's none of my business."
Randy paused outside the door to her class. "If you say so," she sang.
Kara shrugged and went to her next class. What she found was a room empty except for Aidan, speaking to the teacher. As she slipped into her seat, her teacher called, "Kara."
Kara slowly looked up. "Come here, Kara."
She went to the desk. "Kara, this is Aidan, Aidan, this is Kara."
She could see that he wanted her to do something. "You called me, sir?"
"Kara, could I see your class schedule?"
She handed the teacher the small laminated card. He compared that card and Aidan's. Satisfied, he handed them back. "You will show Aidan around as long as necessary. Apparently, your schedules are the same."
Aidan carefully blanked his expression. "Thank you, sir." Turning around, he said to Kara, "I need you to lead me to my seat. I just need to rest my hand on your shoulder."
Kara nodded, forgetting that he couldn't see her, and reached for his hand. She placed it on her shoulder and took him to the seat assigned to him. Unfortunately, it was right beside hers in the back row.
Aidan traced his fingers over the chair for a second and then sat down. Kara sat down in hers, watching Aidan. He was tall, slim, with a lithe, graceful appearance. His hair was black as jet and slightly shaggy, as if he had forgotten to have it cut, skin tanned and smooth.
Suddenly, the teacher shot to his feet. "I'll be back in a moment, Kara, Aidan."
As soon as they were alone, Aidan turned and said, "I'm sorry he brought you into this affair. I was supposed to ask for him to print it in Braille for me, but he decided to save some trees."
Kara chuckled. "No problem. Between classes, I'll show you the bathroom, we'll find your locker, and we'll establish the location of the lunchroom. There are fifteen minutes between each class."
Aidan smiled. "I bumped into you this morning."
"Yes," Kara agreed, a blush rising in her cheeks.
"Your friend amused me."
"Randy?" Kara asked, knowing full well who he was referring to.
"Yes, I think that's her name. She was funny. I don't go around kissing every pretty girl I find, contrary to her opinion."
Kara blushed harder. "How do you know if I'm pretty or not?" she asked curiously.
Aidan started to laugh. "You are Kara Venice, known bookworm?"
"You got the name right," she remarked.
"A little bird told me," Aidan chuckled.
Kara frowned, but at that moment, the teacher rushed in, followed by the rest of the students. "We'll talk later," she promised under her breath.
Aidan listened to Kara's light footsteps beside him. "You aren't very tall, are you?"
She stopped dead in her tracks. Aidan stopped as well. "No."
She reached over and grabbed Aidan's hand. "Let's go. We'll be late," she said, changing the subject.
Aidan smiled. "For what?"
She stopped cold. "I beg your pardon? Did you just ask what? The most important event of the day, that's what."
Aidan's eyebrows shot up. "What would that be?"
"Lunch," she informed him disapprovingly.
Aidan grinned. "Lunch then," he agreed.
Aidan scowled. "Mother, I did have a nice day. Really, I am capable of taking care of myself for a few hours every day."
Mrs. Winters stood before Aidan, arms crossed. "Yeah, by smacking into the doorframe at every turn."
Aidan smashed the end of his cane into the floor. "I don't need to be babied!"
"If you would take your cane—"
"Fine. I will take the cane."
"Honey, even with the cane, you'll have trouble fitting in," his mother pleaded.
Aidan jammed his sunglasses on and whistled, long and high, for his dog. Grabbing the harness on the gigantic Doberman, he stormed out, leaving his cane behind. Mrs. Winters watched helplessly as he left and started to run.
As Aidan ran, his muscles began to relax. Suddenly, he heard a voice behind him. "Aidan! Wait up."
He paused. "Hello."
"It's Kara. Do you live near here?"
Aidan nodded. "I just moved here."
Kara smiled and said, "Fantastic. When my mother catches wind of it, she'll probably bake a cake."
An idea began to form in Aidan's mind. "Listen, Kara, my mother isn't entirely convinced that I'm capable of making friends and basically, fitting in."
Kara considered it. "Fitting in is not something I can help you with. I barely do that myself. However, I do consider you a friend."
Aidan smiled in her direction. "You're an angel, Kara. I need you to do me a favor."
Kara watched him carefully. "Like what?"
Aidan stroked his dog's fur. "I need you to meet my mother and persuade her that I am not a complete outcast."
Kara laughed, remembering the envious looks she had received from other girls. "I doubt you ever could be."
Aidan gave a low whistle and then a high one. His dog began to lead him home. "Can you come right now?"
Kara skipped over to him and slipped her small hand into his. "I'll hold onto you so that if I get distracted, I won't wander off. I've been known to do that. Once, I forgot that I had switched classes and when the teacher called me, I stood up and recited several sonnets and was starting into limericks when I realized that I was in math class."
Aidan chuckled and squeezed her hand. "You won't get lost," he promised. "We aren't far from my house."
Sure enough, they turned toward a beautiful brick house in a few moments. Aidan's mother paced the porch. Aidan paused, listening for a second, and said to Mrs. Winters, "Calm down, Mom."
Mrs. Winters pursed her lips. "Who's this?" she asked, inspecting Kara. Her eyes lingered on their linked hands.
Aidan smiled. "Kara Venice. I met her at school."
Mrs. Winters relaxed. "Oh, the neighbor's little girl. I met your mother. Jeanne is a marvelous woman."
Kara smiled, hiding her chagrin a being referred to as a little girl. "I agree, but I'm sure my mother and your son would have the same conversation about you."
Mrs. Winters smiled at her.
"Well, I have to go." Kara glanced at Aidan. "I'm right next door if you need anything," she told him.
Aidan nodded and saluted casually. "Of course. Bye, Kara."
Kara smiled and waved at Mrs. Winters. "Bye."
The moment she was gone, Mrs. Winters turned to Aidan. "I like her. Is she your girlfriend?"
Aidan's jaw dropped. "What? No! Mom! She's just, you know, Kara."
Mrs. Winter's studied him. "Unfortunately, I think I do." She put her arm around his waist. "I wonder sometimes if I should be glad or worried that the hormones haven't kicked in yet."
Aidan smiled. "It might have to do with the fact that I can't see anyone."
Mrs. Winters dipped her head. "True."
They went inside.
Aidan listened quietly to his best friend of four years crying for a moment, and then he went after her. "Kara!"
Kara sobbed softly and stopped. Aidan put his arm around her shoulders and led her into a quiet corner. He sat down and pulled her into his lap. Kara just put her arms around him and wept into his chest. Aidan rubbed her back and cradled her in his arms.
At last, Kara fell asleep, still crying in soft little whimpers. Aidan gathered her up in his arms and went to the school office. He stepped through the open door and called, "Hello."
A woman gasped and said, "Oh! Bring her here."
Aidan tipped his head, trying to place her voice. "I can't see."
The woman touched his arm. "This way."
She led him into a small back room. "Set her here on the bed."
Aidan obeyed. "Her name is Kara Venice. She's eighteen. I have no idea what's wrong with her. She cried until she fell asleep."
The woman sounded like she was smiling. "I know her. She's my daughter."
Aidan shifted, trying to locate the woman by sound. "What's wrong with her?"
"A broken heart," she said calmly.
Aidan tried to control his irritation, as he left, but paused at the door. "Will you have her call me later?"
She agreed, but sounded like she was smiling. "Do you want a ride home?"
Aidan paused. "I can call my mother."
"Of course," Mrs. Venice agreed. "Do you need help dialing?"
Aidan shook his head. "No, thank you."
After he left, Kara woke up and sat up. "Where am I?" she asked drowsily.
Her mother came in and greeted her. "Hello, Kara."
"Who brought me here?"
"Aidan. He was worried. He told me your name, age, and said he had no idea what was wrong with you. He asked that you speak to him later."
Kara flopped back down. "I'm so tired."
"I'm not surprised. You just about cried your eyes out."
Suddenly, Kara remembered precisely in whose lap she did the vast majority of her crying. "I want to go home," she sighed.
Her mother agreeably took her home. Kara promptly washed her face and went to find Aidan. Mrs. Winters told her that he was out on a walk.
Kara went out looking for him. She found him in the park, lying in the grass, his dog beside him. She snuck up on him. Gently, she bent over him, about to say boo, when he quickly put his hand behind her neck and pulled her down to kiss her. She closed her eyes, savoring the pleasant feeling of her best friend's kisses for a moment. At last, she pulled away and said with a forced laugh, "Wrong one, Aidan. It's Kara, not Randy." Randy had been trying to get him to kiss her for weeks.
Red suffused his cheeks. Aidan had been completely aware of who it was that he had kissed. He had been filled with the sudden urge to make her forget the boy who broke her heart. Apparently, he had failed. "Sorry."
Kara rested her palm on his chest. "It's okay." He felt her shift slightly. "About this afternoon…"
Aidan covered her hand with his and sat up. "What was wrong?"
Kara began to play with his fingers. "Nothing."
Kara blushed. Aidan reached up and cupped her cheek in his hand. Kara covered his fingers with her own. "I was upset."
"Upset?" Aidan scoffed. "I know when you're upset and I know when you're hysterical, Kara."
Kara suddenly wrapped her arms around him and hugged tight. Aidan froze, startled, but slowly, he cradled her tiny frame against his chest.
Kara wondered abruptly why she was so comfortable in her best friend's arms, why she longed to have him touch her. She sighed and cuddled closer to Aidan.
Aidan wondered why Kara was torturing him like this. The scent of her hair, the taste of her lips, the very feel of her warm body against his, were tantalizing. Had he ever offended her?
At long last, Kara looked up at him and locked her fingers behind his head, pulling him down and pressing her mouth to his. He was frozen for a few seconds, and Kara reluctantly began to release him. He tightened his hold on her immediately and kissed her back.
Kara drew back slowly. "I'm—I'm—I'm sorry. I had no right."
Aidan held her tightly. "Kara…"
Hope flashed across her face for a second, but then it disappeared in the next instant as he asked, "Will you marry me?"
Kara's heart sank. It was precisely what she had hoped for, but Kara realized that it was a selfish dream. They had both selected the college nearby so that they wouldn't be separated because they worked well together, but her heart broke as she realized that Aidan, kind, unselfish Aidan, deserved a better, more beautiful woman than she would ever be. She trembled like a leaf in an effort to keep from crying.
At last, she jerked away and shouted, "No!"
She whirled and bolted for home. Aidan got up, heart breaking from her rejection and trudged home.
When Kara got home, she went to her bedroom, sank down on the bed, and lost herself to her tears, clasping her pillow to her chest. After a while, Mrs. Venice came in and sat down. "What's wrong, honey?"
Kara's chest heaved. "Aidan," she managed to gasp.
Her mother's eyes filled with understanding. "Uh-oh. He asked you to marry him?" Kara nodded. "And you don't want to?"
"I do," she sobbed.
"Then why don't you?"
Kara cried all the harder. "He's too—good," she whimpered. "I'm not good enough."
Her mother seemed to understand. After a moment, she patted Kara's shoulder and left.
Aidan lay down on his bed. He faced straight up, thinking about Kara. After a while, Mrs. Winters came in. "What's wrong?"
"You're upset," she accused.
"What's upsetting you?"
His mother sighed. "I expected as much. You were closer than most friends. It was inevitable that one of you would fall in love."
"Yes," he agreed.
"Who was it?"
Aidan gritted his teeth. "Me."
He sighed. "I asked her to marry me."
"What did she do?"
"Burst into tears and screamed 'no'. And I don't blame her."
Mrs. Winters asked sharply, "And why not?"
"She's beautiful, and good, and kind. She deserves someone much better than me." He sighed. "Someone who can appreciate her fully would be better."
Mrs. Winters stood up and left.
The telephone rang. Mrs. Venice picked up. "Hello?"
"Jeanne, this Lisa. Aidan came home a while ago, upset because he thinks he isn't good enough for Kara."
"So did Kara."
Together, the two women plotted.
Kara wandered listlessly through the park. Ever tree, every flower, brought memories of Aidan, and it hurt, thinking of the chance she had let go.
At long last, she dared to go to the glade where Aidan had proposed. To her dismay, Aidan was there. She drew in a breath to see him lying there, as handsome as always. Her heart broke again to see him lying there in the grass, dozing.
What could one little look hurt? He'd never know. Kara stepped forward and knelt beside him. She pressed a hand to her heart, and tears dropped down her cheeks. One landed on his hand. He grasped her hand in a second and yanked her down hard. She landed on his chest.
Still, tears poured down her face. With a wild sob, she scrambled to her feet. Aidan stood as well. "Kara?"
Kara started shaking. "Aidan."
He swept her into his arms and murmured, "I've missed you."
Kara buried her face in his chest. "I've missed you too."
He wiped her eyes with a tissue and said softly, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have ruined everything by asking you to marry me."
Kara looked up at him in surprise. "You? No, I ruined it, by not being as good, and precious, and wonderful as you need me to be."
Aidan laughed bitterly. "You would say that. You're the wonderful one. You need a whole man, one who can see your beauty."
Kara clung to him for strength. "But I'm not pretty. I'm a plain girl. I'm not as good as you always are, and I'm not strong in the least."
Aidan tenderly touched her cheek. "I'm not good. And you're right, you aren't pretty or beautiful."
Kara bit back a sob. She had always known it, but to have Aidan confirm it made it hurt all the more.
"You're gorgeous." Kara looked up at him quickly.
"Please, Kara," he begged. "I need you."
Kara finally sank against him. "I need you too," she confessed. "I'll marry you. I love you."