This is my Winter Holidays Story Contest 2012 entry.
I collapsed on the sofa after working what felt like the longest shift in history. It wasn't a single work day anymore. Ever since Black Friday, all my days in retail sales had just melted together into one endless work day of frenzied, angry shoppers. Add finals on top of that, and the pressure from my own family to accommodate my brother's crazy holiday schedule, and I'm pretty sure I was tipping the stress scale.
Since when did it become acceptable to move Christmas?
Being married, my older brother had to coordinate his holiday plans with his wife's family, who lived across the country. Apparently, they won the coin toss because Justin was spending the entire week prior to Christmas with them. My folks, all too eager to appease the new wife, moved Christmas up to the 15th.
The problem was, that was finals week for me.
Luckily, my last final was Wednesday, the 12th and I'd managed to get a week off work to travel home for a brief holiday break. But it was purely luck.
I glanced at the clock and very carefully placed my sore feet on the floor. The apartment was quiet and empty. It wasn't at all unusual for my roommate and me to go several days without actually laying eyes on one another. She left small clues that she'd been in the apartment. A dirty coffee mug, a jacket strewn over the arm of the chair because she'd changed her mind on what to wear just before walking out the door, or an empty pair of shoes right where I would trip over them. But, I'd take the minor disarray anytime over having a full-time body there.
It wasn't that I didn't like Shauna. I liked her fine. I wouldn't go as far as committing to a lifelong friendship or anything. I didn't know her well enough for that.
Sometime the previous summer, Shauna had started asking around. She needed a roommate since the one she had was graduating. I heard from a friend of a friend, or maybe even a couple more layers removed, of the vacancy. By the time I contacted Shauna about it, the space was filled, but as luck would have it, the dumb girl backed out so she could go live with her boyfriend. By that time, I was preparing myself, or more accurately, gearing down for residence living on campus. But Shauna saved me and offered me the spot.
Right away I pegged Shauna as the ghost roommate. When she wasn't in class, she was at her boyfriend Roger's place. Roger rented a spacious condo with another guy. Must cost a fortune. More space, quieter, nicer. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. It was no wonder she spent all her time there. And that suited me just fine, because our apartment was hardly big enough for one person to turn around in, much less two. At least it was close to campus and had a private kitchen, bath, and living room, which was more than I could say for the dorms.
My weeklong vacation from work was commencing and the relief gave me a renewed energy that I wasn't expecting. With only one final exam left, and the easiest one at that, I was beginning to finally feel the holiday spirit.
I stood and stretched my arms high overhead in an attempt to shed a layer of my retail stress before heading to the shower to finish the job.
After my long, hot shower, I was a little surprised to hear rustling in the apartment through the closed door. A quick peek through the cracked doorway confirmed that it was Shauna, and that she was alone. With towel firmly wrapped around my torso, I padded to my room to put clothes on before heading to the living area to greet her.
"Hey. How's it going?"
"Okay. Just finished my Molecular Evolution final. It was a bitch. I still have 3 finals left, can you believe that?"
"Yikes! Ouch. My last one is tomorrow afternoon, and then I'm off to the airport."
"You got off work?"
I'd forgotten that in our brief encounters, I'd not fully briefed Shauna on my schedule. "Yeah, until next Wednesday. A whole week at Mom and Dad's with my little sister's High School drama and my older brother's newlywed bliss. I'm pretty sure my parents planned it this way on purpose so that we'd never be in college at the same time."
"Yeah, for them. But it didn't exactly create sibling closeness. Justin and Jaime might as well be aliens to me."
"Oh, that's too much. You all have 'J' names?"
"Yeah, I know. Kinda cheesy. Hang on, I'll be right back."
I headed for my room and removed the towel from my wet hair so I could begin the process of picking through the tangles.
A few moments later, Shauna appeared in my doorway.
"Hey, you want to come with me to Roger's tonight? We're planning to make homemade egg nog. David will be there. It'll be fun."
David was Roger's roommate. I'd never met him. The few times I'd accompanied Shauna to Roger's place, David had been out. And every other time I'd seen Roger, either on campus or with Shauna, it seemed that I'd just missed David. I was seriously beginning to wonder if he was real. It was starting to feel like one of those ruses where everyone pretends someone exists for the benefit of playing an inside joke on some poor fool. Which in this case, would be me.
"I don't want to intrude."
Shauna wasn't in the habit of inviting me to their events unless there was some other reason for my attendance. Like, she needed a ride because it was raining too hard. This invitation didn't sound like it had a catch. Yet.
"Oh, c'mon, you're not intruding. We never get to just hang out. And since David will be there, I thought you wouldn't feel like a third wheel so much."
"This isn't a setup, is it?"
"No. Purely impromptu, actually. I figured you were working tonight."
"Then if this guy, David doesn't show up, I'm free to bow out?"
"Yeah. Let me text Roger and ask if he's still planning to hang with us."
Shauna set her thumbs into motion as I turned on the hair dryer. The next time I looked up, my doorway was empty.
With my long brown hair now all dry and fluffy, I joined Shauna in the living room.
"So, what's the verdict?"
"He's going to be there. For sure, now that he knows that his presence is a pre-requisite for your attendance."
"Oh, great. No pressure or anything."
Shauna smiled and shrugged her shoulders. She could be quite charming when she wanted to be. I was quite certain that by the time the semester was over, we would be good friends. At this point, it was actually somewhat flattering that she wanted me around so badly.
"Okay. Yeah, that sounds great, actually. I need to just unwind."
"Great. I'll let the guys know you're coming."
"Well, I was sort of planning to head out in a few minutes. We can walk together, or you can come later if you want."
I thought it through for all of about 10 seconds. "I'll walk with you. I'd only just sit here and study for a final that I already know I'm going to ace."
"I wish I had your confidence."
"Oh, believe me; it didn't extend beyond this one test. Do you think this is a good idea for you since you have 3 finals left?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. My easiest one is tomorrow, and I have plenty of time to study for the others."
We set out for the condo as the sun was setting, increasing our pace to stay warm through the falling temperature. A few steps from the door, Shauna produced a key and reached for the knob as if she'd done it a million times. Duh, she probably has.
My ears were assaulted with Christmas music, along with a chorus of deep bellowing laughter in the background, obviously coming from the kitchen.
Shauna called out, "Hey, guys, we're here."
Roger came bounding into the living room and wrapped his arms around Shauna. It was as if they hadn't seen each other in days, which was absurd because I was absolutely certain they'd spent just the previous night together, along with every other night before that in a long succession of nights.
But it was annoyingly cute, to be perfectly honest. They were genuinely in love, and had been that way since they'd first met 2 years earlier.
Roger was a devoted and caring boyfriend to Shauna. It was hard not to like him, almost to the extent of a mild crush.
My cheeks flushed as Roger's mouth closed on Shauna's. I caught a glimpse of his tongue as it passed between her parted lips and felt as though I'd just witnessed something very intimate, even though they obviously couldn't care less about who saw.
"Get a room, guys."
David's deep voice diverted my attention to the doorway of the kitchen. He was leaning against the jamb, casual in his jeans and button down polo, looking more GQ than any single man had a right to look.
My God, he's gorgeous.
His body was a study in perfect proportions. Broad shoulders and nicely sculpted biceps narrowed to a modest waist, manly hips and thighs, and beautiful feet. Did I just notice his feet? Oh, God. One bare foot was casually perched over the other one.
I lifted my eyes for a second helping of his stunning good looks. Of all his features, his face was probably the most perfect. Blue eyes with deep laugh lines at the corners, a strong nose, a delicious mouth that was smirking at the moment, and a masculine chin and jaw line. I instantly imagined my tongue tracing the bone from ear to chin and back again.
Shauna giggled as Roger released her from their embrace. "David, come here and meet my roommate, Jennifer."
My mouth went dry as David approached, my heart pounding fiercely in my chest. And then I realized something wasn't quite right.
As I kept my gaze on his face, I noticed that he wasn't making eye contact with me. His eyes were fixed just above my head. And I had to move my hand to shake his as he extended it in a handshake.
"We finally get to meet, Jennifer. I'm David."
It hit me all at once. He's blind.
I stammered, "Y-you, too."
"If you'll excuse us for a minute. Roger, help me get the glasses."
Roger and David disappeared around the corner and I turned to Shauna, leaning close to her ear.
"You didn't tell me he was blind."
"I didn't? Huh, that's funny. I guess I don't think about it much."
The guys brought in 4 full glasses of egg nog. They were each carrying two. David extended one in my direction and I took it from him. He pointed to the sofa next to him. "Have a seat, Jennifer. Do you go by your full name, or something shorter?"
"Jenny or Jen, if you prefer."
"Which do you prefer?"
"Jen, I guess."
"Okay, Jen it is."
Roger spoke up, lifting his glass in the air. "To another semester down. And only one more to go." Both Roger and Shauna were graduating in the spring.
We all raised our glasses and took our first sip. The alcohol burned my throat as it eased its way down my parched and restricted passageway.
"We may have gotten a little carried away with the bourbon in our first batch," David leaned in my direction to comment.
I nodded, but didn't comment aloud until I remembered that he couldn't see my gesture of agreement. "I think you're right."
Roger guffawed, "Oh, you won't even notice by the time you finish your glass."
David tilted his head to one side and replied back, "That's because she'll be drunk. Would you like for me to mellow it for you? We have some virgin nog."
"No, that's okay. This is fine. I'll just sip it."
David turned his attention to Shauna, "How was the Evolution final?"
Shauna rolled her eyes, "Tough. I'm barely going to pass that class."
"You probably did better than you think."
Roger nodded and added to David's positive reinforcement, "Yeah, baby, you always come out ahead on tests."
I was immediately struck by how supportive they both were of Shauna.
"How're your finals going, Jen?" David had cocked his head to look sideways at me. This time his eyes met mine square-on, causing a rush of molten heat to travel through my insides.
"I'm, uh, almost done. Just one more. I think I did okay. You?"
"I took most of my tests last week. It's one of the benefits to being sight-challenged. They have to prepare them in advance and have staff on hand who can read the questions to you in case the test is messed up."
"Oh, I didn't know."
"Of course not. Why would you?"
Roger kicked David's foot, "Hey, it helped me on my Stratification test, too." Roger looked over at me to explain. "David and I are in the same class so I pretty much knew every question on the test before I took it."
Shauna grinned, "That's so unfair. Do you think you can take some Biology courses next semester, David?"
"Not unless they have a Sociology pre-requisite."
"Damn. I knew I should've looked for a blind roommate. No offense, Jen."
I shook my head slightly as they all chuckled. It was disconcerting the way they openly joked about blindness, and would've been outright unsettling if David showed even the slightest twinge of embarrassment over it. But he was laughing just as loudly as the other two.
Gradually, maybe because of the liquor, or from the friendly atmosphere and casual conversation, I began to relax.
We talked about everything and nothing of importance. We were all facing some manner of family dysfunction as the holidays approached and this topic monopolized most of our conversation, until we were sharing our most hilarious family stories and falling on our sides in fits of laughter.
It was the best time I could remember having in ages. Everyone clicked. There were no uncomfortable silences or awkward moments. Simply put, I didn't want it to end.
After about 3 solid hours of entertaining chatter, and a couple of glasses of egg nog flavored bourbon, I excused myself to use the facilities. When I returned, David was sitting at the foot of their Christmas tree, seemingly gazing into the lights.
I approached tentatively, listening for Shauna and Roger. I assumed they were in the kitchen sneaking another deep kiss.
"Come here and look at all the colorful lights with me."
I was a little startled by his request. I hadn't said a word since I'd walked in the room. On top of that, this blind person was inviting me to sit with him and gaze at Christmas lights. "You're joking, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not. Come here."
I knelt beside him and then settled onto my hip until my arm was touching the outside of his thigh so he'd know I was there.
"If you listen closely enough, you can hear the different colors." David pointed at a bulb, "Blue." And another one, "Red." He continued pointing. "Green. Another red one. Yellow."
"How do you do that?"
David smiled. "Here, lean into this one and listen."
I leaned my ear toward the tiny bulb and waited.
"Shut your eyes. It might help."
I shut my eyes and concentrated. A moment later, a tentative touch tickled my lips, and I instinctively lifted my eyelids. It was David's thumb. He paused for a moment and then allowed his thumb to glide across my bottom lip in a gentle caress as he cupped my chin with his forefinger. He held my face still and eased toward me until our lips were touching.
His lips were soft and tender on mine. And so warm, it felt like he might infuse heat straight from them into me.
The kiss ended without intrusion. Too soon, by my estimation.
"I've wanted to do that all night."
His confession shocked me. "You have?"
"Why is that so surprising?"
"I don't know. I guess I wasn't expecting anything like this tonight."
"Me, either. Especially after your reaction when you first realized I was blind."
I blushed furiously. "I didn't know you ... How did ... Oh, God, I'm so embarrassed."
"Jen, don't be. Shauna should've told you. It was unfair to spring it on you like that."
His hand caressed my upper arm in an effort to comfort me. It settled me down, at least to the point of just teetering on the edge of nervousness.
"You actually handled it well."
"After awhile, it's just easy to forget. You seem so, adjusted?" I wasn't sure that was the right word.
"That's as good a way of putting it as any. I've been like this most of my life, so I've had a while to adjust, as you so eloquently put it."
"What happened, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Of course I don't mind. I suffered a retinal detachment when I was very young. I wasn't walking or talking yet, so no one noticed. It wasn't until sometime later that my mother figured out that something was wrong. By then it was too late to do anything."
"That's awful. Your mother must've felt so guilty."
"She did. So did my Dad. But I didn't exhibit even the slightest sign of it happening. It was sort of like I knew it was meant to happen and I accepted it. That's the way I see it, anyway. Pun aside."
"Do you remember anything from, uh, before?"
"No. At least I don't think so. But I have these mental visions of different colors. And the doctor said that must be from when I could see. There is no other explanation. I mean, how do you describe blue? Or, red? You can say that blue is a cooler color and red is warmer, but that still won't tell you what they look like. Colors are a product exclusively of light, and I can't see light. Unless you're talking about black, which is actually the absence of light. That, I'm familiar with."
"How do you manage? To get around campus and everything."
"Someone helped me around the first couple of weeks of school. Okay, well, maybe the first 2 days. They offered their services for much longer, but I'm pretty independent. I don't know, it's hard to explain. At this stage, the way I sense the environment is so different than someone with sight, it's hard for me to even describe it to you. I hear things in a different way. I feel vibrations through objects and detect minute changes in the air around me. And my olfactory sense is heightened. From all of that, I can see a lot of things."
"Like the different colors of Christmas lights, based on their sound?"
"I might have been exaggerating a little about that."
"What do you mean? You got all the colors right."
"Yeah, I know. But that's on this side of the tree."
"What does that mean?"
"Roger told me the colors of the bulbs and I memorized them."
"Just so you could play a trick on someone?"
"It was meant for Shauna. Roger wanted to bet her that I could tell colors from sound. We had this whole trick worked out. I just decided; spur of the moment, to use it for my own benefit."
"How did you benefit from making me believe you could hear color?"
"I got you to sit still long enough for me to kiss you, didn't I?"
I felt the warmth heating up my cheeks again. "Yes, you did."
"I definitely benefitted."
"You could've just asked."
"Think about this before you answer; would you have said yes?"
I thought for a moment. It would've made me feel uncomfortable. "I'm not sure."
"That's a very honest answer."
"It would've just felt awkward, I think."
"You would've talked yourself out of it. It's how you are."
"That's right. How did you know that?"
David shrugged. "It's pretty easy to figure out what people are going to do. It's not so easy figuring out why, though."
I could already hear the arguments in my head. Almost all of them were around my own self-doubts and had very little to do with David. "It would've had nothing to do with you. My reasons for saying no, I mean."
"I know." David's voice had lowered to barely above a whisper. "And if I asked you now, would your answer be different?"
It was uncanny how he just knew that my disposition on kissing him had already changed, even though all the original reasons, the self-doubt, the scars, were still there. I swallowed hard and choked out my answer. "Yes."