Not If I See You First
I grab my phone. “Gotta go.”
“Wait! Don’t hang—”
I hang up and yank the cord to pull the buds out of my ears, too fast and at a bad angle and it hurts.
Scott Kilpatrick. Biggest asshole on the planet. Absolute top of my shit list. Exclamation points. ALL CAPS.
Quack quack quack—
I switch off the ringer. My throat is closing, aching like I have a cold, and my face is getting hot.
Scott Kilpatrick. Breaker of Rule Number One. Forever subject to Rule Number Infinity.
Bzzz bzzz bzzz …
I bury the phone under my pillow.
Scott Kilpatrick. Parker Enemy Number One.
Rule # 1: Don’t deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.
Rule # 2: Don’t touch me without asking or warning me. I can’t see it coming, I will always be surprised, and I will probably hurt you.
Rule # 3: Don’t touch my cane or any of my stuff. I need everything to be exactly where I left it. Obviously.
Rule # 4: Don’t help me unless I ask. Otherwise you’re just getting in my way or bothering me.
Rule # 5: Don’t talk extra loud to me. I’m not deaf. You’d be surprised how often this happens. If you’re not surprised, you ought to be.
Rule # 6: Don’t talk to people I’m with like they’re my handlers. And yes, this also happens all the time.
Rule # 7: Don’t speak for me, either. Not to anyone, not even your own friends or your kids. Remember, you’re not my handler.
Rule # 8: Don’t treat me like I’m stupid or a child. Blind doesn’t mean brain damaged, so don’t speak slowly or use small words. Do I really have to explain this?
Rule # 9: Don’t enter or leave my area without saying so. Otherwise I won’t even know if you’re there. It’s just common courtesy.
Rule # 10: Don’t make sounds to help or guide me. It’s just silly and rude, and believe me, you’ll be the one who looks stupid and ends up embarrassed, not me.
Rule # 11: Don’t be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I’m just like you only smarter.
Rule # INFINITY: There are NO second chances. Violate my trust and I’ll never trust you again. Betrayal is unforgivable.
espite lying awake for most of the night after Sarah dropped the Scott bomb on me, I jumped out of bed when my alarm buzzed, not sleepy. Now, finally, halfway through my seventeenth sprint, I flop onto the dewy grass of Gunther Field, exhausted. I should cool down with a jog, or at least a brisk walk home, but I can’t force myself up. The knife in my ribs telling me I pushed too hard is nothing compared to the ache ping-ponging between my chest and my stomach, the ache that was there before I started running, the ache I was trying to drive away.
A charley horse stirs in my left calf—clearly my body will not be ignored. I sit up and pull on my toes with one hand and massage the unhappy muscle with the other. Not enough oxygen, not enough water, not enough time, not enough space.
I manage to avoid a major spasm and stand up. I don’t know how far I am from the fence; I don’t normally stop mid-sprint. After a few dozen steps I slow down and hold out a hand until I touch it.
Damn it, I don’t know which side of the gap I’m on. I choose left and walk, dragging my fingers along the chain link, bump bump bump bump bump. After a dozen steps I think I probably went the wrong way. I don’t like this—I don’t usually get disoriented here. I turn and walk back. Fifteen steps later I find the gap. I had just missed it.
I wipe my face with the bottom of my shirt—both are damp but the shirt less so and it helps. The air is cool but I’m burning up. I try deep breaths to calm my heart, my lungs, my stomach. It starts to work. I feel control returning.
He knew who I was but didn’t say anything to me directly. Did he realize I didn’t recognize his voice? Or did he just know I wouldn’t talk to him, smooth as glass?
I should like that, being smooth as glass, shouldn’t I? Unaffected, unconcerned. That’s exactly what I want to be. Why should I suddenly hate it that some people might think that about me? Why should I care what anyone thinks anyway?
I don’t. I was just caught off-guard, that’s all. And only Sarah knows it. Not that I’d care if anyone else did, because I wouldn’t. I don’t.
I sit down in the cafeteria with Molly, who also brings her lunch, and start eating. Thinly sliced turkey, Swiss, light mayo and mustard, like always. Sarah will show up in a few minutes after filing through the hot-lunch line with Rick Gartner, her Sort Of Boyfriend. I told Molly last period she was welcome to join us—I don’t know what she did yesterday since I spent that lunch period working out logistics with audio textbooks at the office. I warned her that a lot of people call us the Table of Misfit Toys but not in the ironic complimentary way. She said she wasn’t worried about labels. I said that was both wise and foolish. She agreed.
“What do you mean, Rick is sort of Sarah’s boyfriend?” Molly asks. “Is he or isn’t he?”
“Do they seem like boyfriend-girlfriend to you?”
“I met them yesterday for all of five minutes.”
“If I hadn’t told you, would you have worked it out?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“There you go. You can call him Sarah’s Maybe Boyfriend. I know they’re sometimes more than friends so I call him her Sort Of Boyfriend.”
“They break up and get back together a lot?”
“Not exactly. So much for not worrying about labels.”
“It’s not the same thing. I’m not worried, just catching up. Here they come.”
“Parker. Molly.” Rick clatters his tray and silverware onto the table. Sarah does the same only quietly.
“Hey, Rick,” I say. “Have a good summer?”
“Not really. Hung out with losers mostly.”
Molly must look bewildered because Sarah says, “We all spent the summer together.”
“Is that all you’re eating?” Rick asks.