The hardest part of moving in with his sister isn't leaving his town, or his parents, or even his friends. The hardest part is getting used to the goddamned furniture arrangement.
"You're about to walk into a table," Josh drawls from somewhere to Caid's right.
Just as he says it, a sharp pain blooms over Caid's shin, making him stumble and yelp. Josh (the bastard) has the nerve to laugh. Caid clenches his fists, fights back a scream that feels suspiciously like the ones he used to make back before he was Ready To Move On With His Life. He swallows it down and says, "Maybe shouting 'table' or something would be more helpful."
"Right-o," Josh says. It's followed by two clomping sounds, which Caid imagines is Josh putting his boots up on the table Caid just walked into. He knows it's something Josh does, because Caid's sister is always complaining about it ("Josh, I don't know why we decided to go with the white table just for you to put your dirty work boots all over it."
"Hon," Josh always says, "I work in a school. My boots are not that dirty.")
"So what are your plans for the day?" Josh says now, in his Chill Future Brother-In-Law voice.
"This," Caid sighs. Since moving here, none of his old friends have called. It's not that he was really expecting them to; it's been strained with everyone since his accident. But still. He wishes he had somewhere to be besides stuck in this house with Josh all day. "Am I near something I can sit in?"
A tug to his wrist and Caid is toppling onto the couch, thigh to thigh with Josh until he scrambles away, curling himself near the arm, breath coming out in frustrated pants. "You can't do that!"
"Thought it would save some time," Josh says. Caid imagines him shrugging, one shoulder up, hands clasped over his enormous belly. (Josh doesn't have an enormous belly, not by a long shot, but Caid likes to imagine him that way when he's annoyed with him. Which is most of the time.)
"Right, but it's rude and kind of terrifying for me. And I have to learn where stuff is, anyway."
"Noted." The couch shifts, air whizzing past Caid's side twice, and a warmth behind his shoulder makes him think Josh has stretched his arm over the back of the couch. "Wanna listen to T.V.?" he asks.
Caid, still shaken and angry, says, "You can say watch. I'm not going to cry about it."
"You want to watch T.V.?" Josh says, easy and unapologetic.
Caid sighs, defeated. "Yeah, okay."
"Can you even cry, anyway? With your eyes and all." Josh asks, fingers tapping a rhythm on the cushion behind Caid's right shoulder.
Caid swats his arm away. Says, "How is someone paying you to teach children? Of course I can fucking cry; it's not my tear ducts that are broken."
"I teach history, not the anatomy of eyeballs, shithead."
"How old are you?" Caid scoffs, feeling frustrated and exposed. He hates talking about his blindness. Hates it almost more than actually being blind. Most people get that, and don't bring it up, but Josh isn't most people. Josh is probably the rudest person Caid has ever met, constantly needling away at everything.
He's always been that way, ever since Caid's sister brought him over for pictures before her junior prom. Caid had thought Josh was funny then, telling Tally her stilettos were stupid since she couldn't walk in them, and then making a face at her when she scowled, so that Tally laughed and Caid had, too. Because Josh could make really funny faces. Caid likes to think it's because the jackass has such a big mouth.
But that was before everything happened, and Caid had only been twelve years old and easily impressed by stupid things.
"Old enough to know I'll never win an argument with you when you're like this."
"Like what?" Caid dares, baring his teeth and angry that he can't be sure if Josh is looking at him or not.
"An emo bastard."
If Caid could see him, he would punch Josh in the face. Instead, draws his knees up to his chest and doesn't rise to the bait (though it's a close thing). For whatever reason, Josh doesn't push it, and they sit stoically through Wheel of Fortune.
When Tally's keys start turning in the lock, Caid hears Josh's feet thunk off the table before the door swings open. "Boys?" Tally says, and it sounds like she's had a long day. Caid knows she's going to be mad at Josh for not cleaning the place, and only grudgingly tolerant of Caid's lack of chore-doing. Instead of waiting for it, he just says, "Tally, I was going to vacuum, but I couldn't find it."
There's a swack sound and Josh yelps, "Jesus, what?"
"Why didn't you get the vacuum for him?"
"Am I a mind reader now? He didn't ask me." Josh says, and Caid can hear that he's looking at him and not Tally. He smirks a little and hopes Josh sees it.
"Oh, for—" Tally says, "You two are the biggest idiots I've ever met. What did I do to deserve this?"
"It was probably that time you side-swiped that car and didn't leave your information," Caid says, because he resents being compared to Josh in any way.
"No way," Josh says. "Tally Howard ignored the law? My mind is completely blown."
"Shut up, both of you," Tally says. "And somebody make me dinner."
"Take out it is," Josh says, hopping off the couch. Caid can hear him rustling through the drawer of menus in the kitchen.
Tally sits down beside him with a sigh, closer than Josh had been sitting, and Caid lets her rest her head on his shoulder. She smells like lavender shampoo and sweat, and her hair is still silky-hot from being outside. She must have left her sunroof open on the drive home. "How was your day?" she asks, flipping through channels until she gets to a news station.
Caid shrugs, jostling her head on his shoulder. "Same as yesterday. And the day before that. And the—"
"Right," Tally says, stifling a yawn against his upper arm. "Well whose fault is that?"
"It's not like there's anything to do here. I can't just go wandering around like this," he says, waving his hand in front of his face.
"So have Josh go with you. It's not like he's doing anything productive."
"Hey!" Josh calls from the kitchen. "No, not you, sorry—can I get a #15?"
Caid snorts. "Yeah, like that would be fun."
Tally cuffs him on the back of the head, but gently, and says, "You two used to get along."
"Well we don't anymore," Caid says. He knows it hurts Tally, especially since Josh is going to officially be part of the family in a year's time, but Josh just rubs him the wrong way. He has ever since Caid came out a few Christmases ago and Josh just laughed himself sick and said, "I'm not the only one who could've guessed, right?" Tally told him later that Josh had felt bad about it; that it was his clumsy way of being supportive, but Caid never figured out how to let go of the hot sting he felt while Josh laughed away as Caid was trembling and so, so afraid everything was about to go to shit.
"Food'll be here in thirty minutes," Josh says, and Caid hears the couch squeak as he sits down on the far end of the couch, feels cool air rush over his side as Tally leans away from him and into Josh.
"Hey, babe," she says softly, and Caid hears the quick smack of their lips meeting and parting.
It's times like these he feels like moving here was the biggest mistake he's ever made. Times when regardless of his sightlessness, he feels like a voyeur into Josh's and Tally's perfect life. He excuses himself and manages not to trip over anything on the way back to his room.
"Atta boy!" Josh hollers, and Caid wants to throw something at him. Slams his door instead.
The next morning, Josh has to lead tryouts for the girls' summer softball league at the high school where he works, and Tally has three-thousand and five things to do at the University, as usual. So that leaves Caid cooped up and bored, without even Josh's company to drive him nuts. (Being driven nuts, he's finding, is a preferable situation to sitting on the couch in absolute silence because he can't feel for where Josh has left the remote, and he refuses to get on his hands and knees and run his hands over every surface until he bumps into it.)
If he was still in Evanston, he'd go down to the record store on the corner and shut himself in the listening room for the whole afternoon. He could've managed that with the stupid eye stick.
But he's not there. He's here in bumfuck Illinois with no friends and no life and not even school to keep him distracted.
He ends up sitting by the open window for most of the day, listening to the sounds of the manmade lake in the middle of the community of condos. The most exciting part of the afternoon comes when he hears his downstairs neighbor giving away her tomatoes to a couple from across the way. Apparently, heirlooms are doing very well this year.
When the doorbell rings, and he's so excited for a moment before he realizes it's just the goddamned doorbell that's got him so thrilled and then he's depressed.
Either way, he hurries down the stairs and throws open the door. But he's not quite sure where to go from here. "Er," he says, "Hello?"
"Uh," he hears. "UPS delivery for Josh Maxwell?" It's a smooth tenor voice, higher-pitched than Caid's own, but it sounds like it's coming from someone close to his age.
"Yeah," Caid says, "Do I need to sign for it?"
"Yep," the UPS guy says, "Here."
"Actually, you have to guide it to my hand," Caid says, reaching out.
"Oh, sorry," the voice says, and a soft hand curls Caid's fingers around the stylus, the other presses against the back of Caid's left palm, helping him hold up the scanner. "Got it?"
"Yeah," Caid says, expecting the hands to leave, but they don't. "I got it," he says again. Because, jesus, his hands still work.
"Right," the guy says, yanking his hands away, "sorry."
Caid sighs and signs the scanner, holding it out from his body when he's done. It's fumbled away from him and a package is thrust into his arms. "Thanks," he mutters, reaching behind him to swing the door shut.
"Wait," the guy says, "Sorry, I—this is weird, but you're Caid Howard?"
"Uh," Caid says, "Yeah. Can I not sign for Josh? I live here, too."
"No that's—that's fine," he says. "I just—I think we might've gone to grade school together. I'm Eric Rawlings."
Caid feels himself blushing. "Ah, I'm sorry, I don't—um."
"Oh, no," Eric says, voice happy and relaxed, "It's okay if you don't remember me. I was the grade below you. And it's been awhile."
"Oh," Caid says, waiting for the question. So, how did you go blind? It's easy enough to answer: A car wreck, but he still hates doing it.
Instead, Eric says, "What a coincidence, huh? I mean, I moved here just after sixth grade. Have you lived here long?"
"No," Caid says, "Just over a week, actually."
"Wow," Eric says, "Well if you—I mean if your boyfriend doesn't mind, I could, I mean, never mind, that's stupid. And now I'm babbling. Sorry."
"Wait," Caid says, "I don't—I mean, Josh isn't my boyfriend. He's my sister's boyfriend. She lives here, too." And now he's babbling.
"Oh," Eric says, and Caid can hear his smile. "Well then, if you ever want to, I don't know, grab coffee or something."
"Yeah," Caid says. "You uh, well you know where I live, so. Anytime."
"Okay," Eric says. "I'll see you soon, then."
Caid shuts the door, grinning to himself, and thinks that maybe this town isn't such a shit hole after all.
"Josh," Caid calls from his sprawl on the floor, "You got a huge package today. It's on the table."
He hears the front door close and Josh's heavy steps up the stairs. As soon as he gets to the main floor, Caid can smell the grass and sweat on him. "Gross," he says, "Why do you smell so bad?"
"I do the drills with the girls. Nothing's worse than a lazy coach," Josh says. "Anyway, what were you saying about my huge package?"
Caid groans and covers his face with his hands. "Why do you always have to go there? You're like a 13-year-old."
"And you're like a 19-year-old prude—oh wait."
Caid huffs, and is tempted to say he's not prude, but, well, he sort of is.
With his ear pressed to the carpet, he can track Josh's footfalls over to the dining room table. There's a popping sound and then a drag as Josh cuts through the tape over the box is split, and then, "Oh good, the jerseys came in."
Caid doesn't want to ask—knows it's a bad idea—but can't help himself when he says, "So, do you get a lot of packages? From UPS, I mean?"
"I mean, do you order a lot of things off of the internet? Stuff you'd have to sign for?"
"Are you trying to order a sex toy or something? They make those boxes pretty discreet if that's what you're wondering."
"Oh god. Josh!" Caid says, smashing his face into the floor to hide what he knows is a horrible blush. "I just wanted to know if you'd ever seen the guy that delivers them. Packages in general. Not sex toys." He wants to know if Eric looks like he sounds—slight and pretty, with big blue eyes and hair that flops into them so that he always has to shake it back.
"Oh," Josh says, "Nope." And he walks off down the hall to the bathroom.
Caid listens to him turn on the shower, smells the lingering scent of dirt and sweat, and scours his brain for a memory of a kid named Eric who went to his grade school.
There's nothing. He's never been the most observant guy; usually he just keeps his head down and gets through things. He's made a few friends along the way, but nobody too important. Caid's actually pretty surprised he made enough of an impression on Eric for him to have remembered him all this time.
It's stupid to think about it so much—it makes him feel desperate. There's only a tiny chance Eric will come back anyway. He was probably just being nice.
Josh comes out of the shower, the smell of soap wafting out after him, and pads back into the room. "Have you moved all day?"
Caid scoffs, and has to fight the instinct to just repeat what Josh said, but in a higher voice. Instead he says, "Yes. Like, once or twice."
Josh laughs and flops down beside him. Says thoughtfully, "You know, I could be naked right now and you wouldn't know."
Caid flinches away. "You're disgusting. Oh my god." As he clambers to his feet, Josh is laughing at him, always laughing. And Caid stomps off towards his bedroom.
"You're thinking about it, aren't you?" Josh calls after him. "Me and my huge package."
"I'm telling Tally what a pervert you are," Caid shouts back, smug.
"Oh," Josh says suggestively, "She knows."
And Caid has nothing to say to that, so he just groans in disgust and slams his door shut-which seems to be his M.O. lately.
Tally comes into his room when she gets home and perches on the edge of his bed, where he's flopped out listening to music and pretending Josh doesn't exist.
"How was your day?" She asks.
"It was okay," He says, thinking of Eric. (Who he doesn't even know and only talked to for about four minutes. God, he's pathetic.)
"Wow, that's a ringing endorsement coming from you," she says, ruffling his hair.
He leans into it and sighs, and then he gets the best idea he's ever had in his life. "Tally, do you still have your old grade school yearbooks?"
"Uh," she says, "Yeah, I think, why?"
He does the math in his head, and says, "Can you get the one from your sixth grade year?"
"Okay," she plays along. Leaves the room and comes back a few minutes later and says, "Got it."
"Okay," he says, "Go to the kindergarten class, and look up Eric Rawlings."
"This…is weird," she says, but he hears the pages flipping anyway. Smells the glue that holds the book together. "Alright, yeah, he's here."
"What does he look like?"
"A five-year-old." Okay, so maybe this isn't his best idea ever.
"Does he have the potential to grow up into someone cute? Or at least not a serial killer?" Caid says.
"Are there facial features that make someone a serial killer?"
"Ugh," Caid says, "You know what I mean."
Tally just laughs and says, "I really don't, Caid. What's going on?"
There's a knock on Caid's doorframe and Josh says, "What are we doing in here?"
"Nothing," Caid says, just as Tally says, "Caid wanted me to look up this guy, Eric."
"Oh," Josh says, "A guy." Caid can hear his smirk in his voice, and scowls. Feels Josh's weight hit the mattress before he says, "Wait—whoa, those are babies."
"Shut up," Caid groans, yanking a pillow over his face. "I hate you both."
"Don't be a drama queen," Tally says. "Why are you having me look up this kid, anyway?"
"Um," Caid says. "He's the UPS guy. We sort of…talked?"
Josh immediately bursts into laughter. Says, "Oh!"
"What?" Tally says.
"Well, he recognized me from school, I guess. And he—well, he's going to show me around town sometime, maybe. I don't know. So just wanted to know if he looked like a total creeper or—"
"Oh Caid! You have a date!" Tally says, pulling him into a hug. He makes an "oomph" sound, but can't help smiling.
"Wait," Josh says, "So we're just going to ignore the stalker-factor here?"
"Shut up, Josh," Caid and Tally say at the same time.
"Okay, tell me everything," Tally says.
"This is too weird," Josh says. "I'm out."
"Ignore him," Tally says.
"I usually do."
A/N: the title of this story is from Marshall McLuhan's book Understanding Media. As you can see, the book was way over my head, so I just spent the whole time underlining cool phrases. I did not do very well when tested over the material. Ta.