A/N: Big thank you to TheCookieMonster who is my beta for this story! An extra note will follow at the end of this chapter.
Now See Here!
Chapter 1: Don't Look
Mark Sanders was pretty happy with his life. Sure, one of his neighbors sometimes randomly decided to play death metal at three in the morning, as loud as his system allowed, and the office had recently switched to a coffee brand that tasted like charcoaled shit, but, all in all…
"Hey, cutie pie, time for a break!"
Mark turned from his computer and grimaced.
"Meg, please don't call me that? I'm twenty-three, not three."
"But with your big brown eyes and those blond curls of yours you just are! You remind me of a spaniel I had once. Barkers. Have I ever told you about-"
Mark sighed, smiled, and tuned Meg out. The woman, who was in her mid fifties, meant well. She was the 'office mother', always bringing in homemade cookies and remembered everyone's birthday. If there was an office party being planned, for whatever reason, she was the head of that too. From his first day she had taken him under her wing and there was nothing anyone could do about that. Least of all Mark.
As they began walking down the hallway he almost tripped on something but saved himself from an embarrassing nosedive at the last second.
"Mister Olsen! The corridor should be kept clear, get rid of that bag this instant!" Meg barked.
"Oh, did Mister Magoo stumble?" a snide voice from inside the cubicle next to Mark's asked.
"Fuck you too, Peter," the blond answered amiably and continued on his way.
"I swear that boy does those things on purpose!" the mother hen seethed. Everyone was a 'boy' to her, even the executives, and some of them were, after all, older than she was. "He's just jealous because you got that account he wanted."
"Who's jealous?" a new voice joined in, and the next second an arm had Mark in a firm headlock while his hair was getting rubbed.
"Lance, cut it out!"
"Sorry, Markie, but the secretary was looking at you, and she's mine. Had to make you look like a mess so she won't give you a second glance. Now, who's jealous?"
"Peter the Prick," Mark muttered as he tried to make his hair presentable again, combing through it with his fingers. "He decided the corridor should be an obstacle course again."
"Pffft… his face is an obstacle course…" his friend snorted. "Coffee. Now. I'm crashing like you on roller skates last night."
"You took the boy out roller skating?" Meg exclaimed.
"Lancelot here-" Mark began.
"DON'T USE MY FULL NAME!"
"-as I was saying, Lancelot here has this thing where he insists that I'm not blind," Mark grinned.
"No, I have this thing where I'm not letting you chicken out just because you're blind," Lance snorted. "If it wasn't for me, would you have climbed that cliff in high school?"
"Would I have had that cast on my leg for six weeks?"
"Well, I drew really neat things on it, so…"
"I know. My mom had to cover it up when grandma came by."
"Your grandma was a great lady, but she was too damn sensitive about things…"
"Like lewd porn graffiti?"
"Is there any other kind?" Lance asked innocently.
"Boys…" Meg muttered and, by the way her large earrings jingled, Mark could tell that she was shaking her head as she walked away, opting to have her coffee in a somewhat less raunchy environment.
Mark snickered. Very few people really understood his and Lance's relationship. They had met on the first day of school and, in an almost cliché like manner, become friends at once. Mark's parents had sent him to a school for seeing children, and, with a bit of extra help, mostly consisting of technical aids, he had done very well. Lance, who described himself as 'stunningly handsome', but others portrayed as 'light brown messy hair, blue eyes, nice looking, great smile', had been by his side ever since. They shared a room at university, though they took different classes, and now, not even a year after graduating, they had even ended up at the same ad firm, but that had been a fluke. The company had recently expanded, hiring a lot of people at once and they had both applied without the other one knowing about it. Lance was at the economic department while Mark was in the ad-department, working as a copywriter.
As the firm specialized in other companies' images more than products, Mark seldom felt that his blindness was a disability in his job, quite the opposite; he had been promoted quickly for his unique way of getting the right emotions across without unnecessary embellishment. That meant he, in cooperation with a team, already had several clients of his own, instead of just assisting a senior staff member. Some people, like Peter, didn't like that and suggested that he was mollycoddled because of his handicap. That didn't bother Mark too much, however; he had his work and his client's appreciation as proof after all, and most of them didn't even know that he was blind, as a large amount of business was conducted over the phone or mail.
"So what are you doing after work?" his friend asked.
"I'm going down to the gym for an hour," Mark answered, with enthusiasm in his voice. He liked the company gym. It wasn't big but well organized and very few people actually used it, so it was rarely crowded; other than right after New Years. "Do you want to come?"
"No way. Why don't you come running with me in Central Park tomorrow instead?"
"Because when I do, you end up looking at boobs and I end up running into lamp posts."
"That happened once!"
"Okay, twice, but maaan… if you ever get the chance to see one more thing; pick boobs."
"I'll remember that when I meet a genie…" Mark chuckled. "Besides, I remember what boobs look like. I might have been five, but I remember."
"Lumpy bits under shirts, right?"
"You blasphemous little…" his friend growled.
"I've felt some too, you know," Mark smirked.
"Hugs don't count!"
"Well, there was Annie, in high school, and…"
"That was a pity-date."
"On your part, of course! She had this weird hair…"
"Yeah, because I would care about that…"
"So why only one date then?"
Mark shrugged. He'd gone on a few dates in his life. Women seemed to find him cute, and not all were scared away by the blindness-thing, but, well… it just hadn't worked out. Being an awkward virgin got even more awkward when you couldn't see what you were doing or read people's body language. Someone had to actually say 'I'm into you' instead of doing things like playing with their hair and giving you smoldering looks… that's what women did according to Lance, anyway… Mark had become very adept at reading emotions behind voices and even interpreting other random sounds, like footsteps or someone tapping their fingers, but that wasn't always enough.
"Well, cheer up. I'll hook you up. As soon as I see a hot girl that I don't want," his friend promised.
"Might take a while, yes."
Mark chuckled and shook his head. He touched his wrist watch, lifting the glass cover to check the time. It was a very nice analogue watch with Braille markings and sturdy hands, built to be read by touch. It also had more functions, like a voice telling him the time aloud if he pressed one of the buttons on the side, the date if he pushed another, and then there was a timer for him to set alarms. He only used the voice options when he was wearing gloves, though, not liking to draw attention to himself.
"Time to get back to work, buddy," he told his friend.
"Pft, you're blind, why can't you lose track of time once in a while?" his friend complained.
"Because the company needs you desperately to crunch some numbers for them, and I couldn't live with myself if I let you slack off?" Mark smirked.
"Oh shut up and go call some clients. We need more of those numbers!"
"Yes, Sir!" Mark saluted with a grin.
It had been a good day, Mark decided as he pushed the button for the floor the gym was on. He knew approximately where the button was now, but the braille writing on it confirmed it was the right one.
His thoughts strayed back to work on the way down. One of his biggest clients right now was a company that had suffered a huge scandal and was trying to remake themselves in the public's eye, and that was always tricky. Granted, companies with well known trademarks who suddenly wanted to throw away all they had built up in the lake because they had gotten a new CEO and he was bored, was slightly worse. Mark tended to want to scream at those people.
He stepped out of the elevator and, more or less unconsciously by now, counted the steps until he reached the right door. He only used his cane outside and in environments he didn't know, but he knew this place like his own apartment. When he entered the locker room he listened, but as far as he could tell it was empty. He reached out for the power-switch and yes, it was off. He flicked it on, not because he needed to, of course, but because he had freaked people out quite a few times in the past. Walking into a dark room and flicking the switch only to see a man already standing there had caused a few screams and spilled coffees. Mark had learned and now always turned on the lights in these kinds of places.
He changed and headed out to the gym. He was just going to do one thing today, his favorite machine; the treadmill. He hooked himself up to the security off-switch by a little clamp on a string. If he fell, the string would pull the magnetic security key out of its socket and stop the engine. He had had one nasty fall once and therefore always made sure the safety feature was there and working.
He began with a brisk walk but soon set the pace higher. The buttons were thankfully actual buttons, not touch screen, and learning which button was which was a no-brainer. Well, Lance had showed him the first time, but Mark had an exceptionally good memory for these kinds of things. He had to, to be able to function the way he wanted, and he had trained himself to remember since he was a child. Unfortunately he was useless when it came to things like dates and bus schedules…
He began running. This. This is why he loved the treadmill. He could run, and at a high speed too, without being afraid of crashing into anything or anyone, or stumble on uneven ground. It gave him a sense of freedom. Sure, there was no wind resistance, no variation in smells or sounds, and the actual sound from the engine was kind of dreary, but Mark let his imagination add those things around him. Someone had suggested that he'd do what so many others did at the gym and listen to some music or maybe a book while running, but… no. That would deprive him of most of his sense of hearing, and that thought made him panic. He hated headphones of any kind. He used an earpiece at work, to be able to use his computer without disturbing everyone around him. It had a text-to-speech function as well as using sound to help him navigate in the special programs he used. He only ever used one earpiece, though, never two. His hearing was his way of seeing, in a way. Mark didn't know if his other senses were actually stronger than in sighted people, he had just learned to use them differently, often in ways he couldn't really explain. Still, his hearing, touch and even sense of smell made him more aware of his surroundings than many thought.
He had been running for only a few minutes when he heard the door to the gym open.
"Hi, Mark," a voice said.
"Jones," he grinned in the general direction of the sound. "You, working out? Really?"
"It's not just for you youngsters anymore," the man chuckled. Robert 'Bob' Jones was Lance's closest boss, and Mark had gotten to know him as they often shared an elevator. Also, the man was very friendly, not at all as stuck up as people in charge could become in companies like this. "Besides, I'm trying to look good for the boss-man, I don't know if you met Jake Barlow here yet? He's the chief financial officer."
"We haven't met, no," a new voice said and didn't show much interest in doing so, either.
"No, hi," Mark nodded in its direction. The man didn't sound particularly friendly, so why should he? Still, his voice was now added to the biological voice recognition system that was Mark's brain, whether he wanted it to or not. Some people only needed to see a person once to remember his or her face; Mark only needed to hear them speak. Flu season was hell, though, everyone croaking like toads, sounding nothing like themselves...
He lost himself in the running again, which was quite easy as the other two occupants in the gym didn't speak much. He was stretching when he heard Bob give a grunt.
"I'm heading to the showers, Jake… this old body has had enough for today."
"I'm just going to stretch and I'll be there too," the other man said.
Mark was soon stretching as well, although the executive finished up before him.
That was fast. He couldn't have stretched properly, he'll be sore tomorrow, Mark thought to himself, somewhat gleefully. He shook his head when he realized that he wouldn't mind meeting him the next day and hearing him grunt in pain. What had gotten into him? He usually at least tried not to judge people, and sure, the guy had sounded like a bit of a jerk, and his experiences with the upper layer in this company weren't the best, but hey… maybe he'd just had a bad day? Maybe he was already in pain or feeling ill? Maybe his dog had died?
Mark chuckled to himself as he headed to the changing room. He knew where his locker was, of course, but unfortunately the one next to it had been picked and the occupant was standing in front of it. Mark's shoulder bumped into the man's arm and, before he was able to apologize, a voice snarled.
Yup. It was the Barlow guy. Wonderful. Mark looked up at him, having trained himself to raise his eyes a bit from where the sound came from, that way he was almost always able to at least seem to meet the other person's gaze. Unfortunately, as the man had turned around as he spoke and Mark had been a bit jostled from the collision, it was hard for him to pinpoint his target this time. He also didn't know how tall the man was, and it proved that he was about a head taller than Mark guessed, meaning his gaze was way off.
"Yeah, are you gonna stare or are you gonna say something?" the man spat.
"W-what? I'm s-"
"I saw the look, now do you have the balls to say something or are you going to keep your mouth shut?"
Mark was in shock. What was this guy's problem? Was no one allowed to look at him? He had realized his mistake and raised his eyes, but that didn't seem to help, and he could hear by the man's breathing that he was truly pissed, maybe even dangerous.
"Sorry I bumped into you," Mark muttered, grabbed his bag from the locker and fled. No way was he going to stay and take a shower with that lunatic! He didn't even sound like an executive, he sounded like a thug!
"Yeah, run, you little coward!" he heard as he had almost reached the door.
"What's going on?" he heard Jones, who was coming out of the shower, ask behind him.
"Your friend kept staring at this," the angry man replied, probably gesturing to something.
Mark didn't stay to explain himself, however, and the last thing he heard before the door closed behind him was Bob's voice.
"Jake, he couldn't have, Mark is bl-"
The sound cut off almost completely and as the elevator was on this floor Mark was safely on his way a moment later.
The bus ride home was not fun. He was in gym-clothes, he was sweaty, and he could feel people staring at him, hear mumbles behind his back. In the end he was so distraught that he almost missed his stop, but fortunately the bus driver knew him. He was standing close to the front doors, as usual, when the woman cleared her throat.
"Mr. Sanders? We're at your stop now…?"
"Oh, right… thank you," he said, feeling embarrassed and hurried off. He always took one of two lines, number two or three, from work in Midtown, where his firm −H2O− was located. His stop was close to his apartment in Greenwich Village, which was very convenient. His parents, who were both quite influential in their respective fields, had helped him find it through their contacts, but he paid for it himself of course. He had been raised to try to solve his own problems, but he had accepted this favor as the location was just perfect. The flat itself wasn't bad, layout wise, although Lance kept telling him that the colors in it were awful. Mark didn't see why he should care about wallpaper, though…
He unfolded his white cane and stood still for a moment, collecting his thoughts. He had to focus to-
"Do you need help, my boy? Do you know where you are?"
The voice, an older woman's by the sound of it, startled him, and did nothing for his mood.
"I know perfectly well where I am!" he snapped and then, because he had been raised better than that, took a deep breath. "Sorry. I've had… a bad day. Thank you, but I don't need any help."
"Just thought I should ask…" the woman said, her tone suggesting that she was a little bit offended despite the apology.
"Very kind of you, but… as I said…" Mark nodded and, after getting his bearings, walked off.
When he finally put the key in the door to his apartment he was shaking. He had almost gotten lost today, been too shaken up to keep his head cool out there, and he couldn't do that… being lost was one of his greatest fears. It had happened once at a mall when he was ten. He was just going to get a soda while his mother went to the ATM, he had known exactly where he was… and then he had been pushed. There had been some sort of crazy sale and people had rushed towards that store, more or less dragging him with them in their wake. At first he had tried to find his way back by himself, but he couldn't, so he had asked for help and people had thought he was trying to fool them. He didn't look blind, they had said, and where was his cane? He had left it back at the bench where he was supposed to be waiting. In the end a security guard had helped him and, all in all, he had only been lost for about twenty minutes… but even now he woke up some nights, bathing in sweat, from nightmares about not knowing where he was.
He was still shaking when he sat down in his favorite chair after quickly checking so it was empty and not occupied by his roommate. Said roommate jumped into his lap a moment later, though.
"Hi, Felix," Mark smiled faintly and stroked the black fur of the cat he had adopted from a shelter two years ago. He had sat down on the floor in a viewing room with a few cats that had been chosen for him due to their calm temperament, and Felix had been the first one to come up and say hello. As he was black Mark had had named him 'lucky' in Latin, figuring he could use it. "You hungry? You haven't thrown up anywhere today, I hope? I don't want to step in any surprises..."
He got up and performed what Felix probably considered his human's duties of feeding him and changing his water, but after that Mark still hadn't calmed down very much. He picked up his one of his favorite possession; his smart phone. It was one of his most important tools in so many ways.
"Call Lancelot," he ordered and soon he heard his friend's voice on the other end.
"Hi, are you home already?" Lance asked.
"Yeah… I… Something happened."
"Are you okay?" The other man's voice clearly stated 'I'll drop everything right now, just say the word', which made Mark smile again.
"Yes to both, it's just that I met this rude prick… Jake Barlow, the chief financial officer… have you met him?"
"No, but I have it from a reliable source that he's a rude prick," Lance chuckled. "Wait, you're talking about my boss's boss here, aren't you? Barlow? Tall guy, black h- right, the hair color wouldn't matter… but umm… tall? Rather deep voice?"
"Yeah, sounds like him… he didn't tell me his hair color when he chewed me out and seemed to be looking for a fight, though… what kind of a maniac is he?"
"I've barely seen him… he's one of the suits… spends his time in his fancy corner office or at meetings… not exactly the kind of guy you'd hang out with around the water cooler…"
"So he doesn't get in fights, then?" Mark smirked. "He sounded like he did."
"A suit? They might wrinkle their ties or mess up their hair! But no, he's fairly new… headhunted from another company when Parks retired a few months ago… and like I said, I've barely even seen him."
"Yeah, well, he's a psycho…"
"I believe you. Just one thing?"
"What the hell did he do?"
After Mark had told the whole story Lance was guffawing on the other end.
"What's so damn funny?" the blond asked.
"Well, you were in a locker room, he had no idea you are blind… some guys just gets freaked out when other men stare, right? He's probably reeeeally tiny."
"I wasn't looking at his crotch, Lance!" Mark snorted. "I don't even know if he was naked! I can't remember if I heard any clothes…"
"… 'if I heard any clothes'… blind kids say the darndest things…" his friend snickered.
"Oh, shut up…"
"Well, why didn't you just tell him? It is okay to tell people, you know, you don't have to be in the blind's equivalent of a closet…"
"I know! I just… I thought he was going to attack me! It was freaky! I had no idea what was going on!"
"Well, don't worry… I'll talk to Jones tomorrow, just to make sure it's all good and he won't ambush you in the corridor or something."
"Thanks," Mark said dryly. "Will you defend me if he does?"
"Are you crazy? He's my boss! I'll hold you down for a raise."
"You're such a good friend."
"You know it. See you tomorrow?"
"Yeah, hear you tomorrow," Mark grinned and hung up. They had exchanged those lines since they were kids and yes, they were bad and stupid, as children's jokes usually are, but it was just their thing. He felt much better now. Besides, he probably would never hear that maniac's voice again.
Damn it all to hell…
"Yes?" Mark said, swiveling in his chair towards the sound of the voice.
"It's Jake Barlow-"
"I recognize your voice, Mr. Barlow. So… what did you want?"
"To apologize for yesterday, of course." The man seemed rather insulted at Mark's indifferent attitude.
"I see. So was there any particular reason that you were a piece of shit?"
"Mr. Sanders, I am the CFO for this company and-"
"Well, you're not my boss, are you? So are you going to explain what the hell happened or are you going to recite your résumé?"
"I… if we could go somewhere more private?" The man sounded a bit more humble now, making Mark have some mercy on him.
"There's a small conference room just down the hall," he said. "It's usually empty. Follow me."
Something made the blond do his best to walk as confidently as he possibly could, not even running his fingers along the wall as he tended to do sometimes. He relied on counting his steps and listening for how the sounds changed when they entered the actual hallway as opposed to the aisles between the cubicles in the open office space.
"Well, it's through here, is it empty?" he asked, not wanting to barge in on a meeting.
"Yes. Let me open the door for y-"
"I can manage!" Mark snapped, and, embarrassingly enough, had to feel for the handle a little bit. At least the man didn't insist that he needed help.
Once inside, with the door closed, Mark shrugged and crossed his arms.
"Well… the reason I got a bit… harsh... with you, is that I thought you were… staring. In my defense it looked like you were staring."
"Are you shy? And it wasn't like I was looking at your groin…" Mark snorted, remembering his conversation with Lance last night.
"No, you were 'looking' right at my necklace. My pendant, to be more exact."
"Oookay…? You have to give me more than that…"
"Do you know how the symbols for male and female look? Circles with arrows for-"
"I know," Mark interrupted the man, just to save time.
"The pendant is two, interlocked, male symbols."
"So? Oh… oh!"
"Yes. I'm gay. It's not something I hide, hence the pendant, but when I catch guys staring at it in the locker room, I get a little… on edge."
"Speechless? What, I don't sound gay?" the man chuckled.
"Um… I don't know how gays sound… well… usually…"
"But it makes you uncomfortable?"
"What? No! No, I'm… not like that… I just didn't expect… And speaking about how you sound, yesterday you spoke like… well…"
"A bit, yes…" Mark scratched the back of his head and grinned a little.
"Rough childhood in a rough neighborhood… it comes to the surface when I'm… upset."
"Your accent was thicker yesterday too… Chicago?"
"That's right! People usually can't hear it… I came to New York after college, though, so I've been here a while."
Mark nodded and made a noncommittal sound. Then things got a bit quiet and awkward.
"So… yeah… I get why you got a bit… on edge, as you put it. It's okay, apology accepted."
"I don't think I actually apologized, but thank you." The man's voice was warmer now, and decisively more pleasant. Mark gave him a smile. "That's spooky," was the reaction it got.
"Excuse me?" the blond frowned.
"No, I didn't mean it that way… I meant it's spooky how you can meet my gaze like that and you're… blind."
"Well, I wasn't always, it happened when I was a kid… and I practice… yesterday I just didn't know how tall you were," Mark shrugged.
"Well, you're doing a good job… there's the squint, but-"
"The WHAT?!" Mark spluttered. "I squint?!"
"You... didn't know?"
"No one has told the blind guy that his eyes point in weird directions before, no…" he muttered bitterly. "What else haven't they told me? Do I have a lewdly shaped mole on my nose or something?"
"Nope. Not your nose, at least. Want me to check the rest of you?"
"Funny. Damn… I can't believe no one has told me…"
"Don't panic, it's really very minute… it just looks cute. People have told you that you are cute, right?"
"I apparently look like a spaniel…" Mark mumbled and blushed. People had told him that he was cute, sure, but they were usually not strangers.
"There's a certain… puppy quality there, yes…" the man chuckled. "About your blindness, though… May I ask… how?"
"It's called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP for short…it's a hereditary degenerative eye disease."
"Wow, that sounded rehearsed," Jake said dryly.
"Well, I have to explain it a lot," Mark shrugged.
"And there's nothing to do about it?"
"Oh, yes, it's easily fixed, I just prefer being blind," the blond replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"That was a stupid question," the man realized.
"It was, yes. Now there are some things you can do to slow it down, though, but that's it, really…"
"Huh… you tend to think that medicine can fix almost anything nowadays…" the other man huffed, like it annoyed him.
"Yes, well… it can't… and it won't do my job for me either, so… better get back…"
"Yes, I have a meeting soon… again, sorry about the misunderstanding… maybe we'll see each oth- oh."
Mark laughed. "Don't sweat it, please! I use those kinds of expressions too… like 'can't wait to see' someone or 'keeping an eye' on something… just as long as you don't throw something at me and expect me to catch it…"
"I'll try to remember that, when I go around throwing random items at people…" Jake snorted. "Well, I might see you in the gym sometimes, then?"
"You might," the blond grinned. "I'm looking forward to it."
When Mark was back in his cubicle he felt… flushed. Almost giddy. He couldn't quite understand why, seeing as it had been a rather awkward meeting and the man had told him that his eyes looked dopey. Well… he hadn't really said that, but Mark remembered cartoons, and all the silly looking people seemed to have lazy eyes… oh, wait, did it point inward or outwards? Jake had said 'squint', didn't that mean inwards? And what eye? Well, there was one person who wouldn't sugarcoat anything, he guessed.
"Hey, Peter?" he called over the cubicle wall, hoping Peter 'the Prick' Olsen was in attendance.
"Yeah?" came the grunted reply.
"Do I squint?"
"You look like a fucking retard, Sanders."
Mark sighed. Great.
To Be Continued…
Author's note: I hoped you liked the first chapter! The story will be updated every Saturday.
Writing this has posed some problems. I'm not blind, I'm not a man, and I'm not gay. Hell, my native language isn't even English and I've never been to the states, much less New York. A lot of research has gone into this, though, especially concerning available aids/technology for visually impaired people. I'd be an idiot to claim that everything is 100 percent correct, of course, but I tried to keep it as realistic as possible…
Comments/reviews are very much appreciated! As I'm completely new to the site I'm sorry if I mess up a bit in the beginning… ;)