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Authors: Marci Lyn Curtis

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BOOK: The One Thing
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“Actually, I’ve become what you might call indoorsy.”

Hilda grunted. “Outside.”

This woman could ruin a morning like Hitler could ruin a mustache.

With a loud sigh, I lumbered to my room and got dressed. Several minutes later I collapsed on the couch, shoes in hand, and said, “Um. What are we going to do outside?”

“Learn to navigate sidewalks.”

I winced. “So we’re going to wander up and down the sidewalk so people can get a good look at me before they run me over?”

She grunted. “We could walk to a friend’s house, no? If you have a friend nearby?”

A friend.

The words left a bitter taste in my mouth. My “friends,” most of whom had been on my soccer team, and most of whom had treated me like a charity case when I’d lost my sight,
were a part of my past, not my present. Even my two closest friends, Sophie and Lauren, had drifted away from me, remaining somewhere out of reach, off in the background, as though waiting for some
huge miracle to occur.

But it hadn’t.

And in the meantime, I’d had to relearn how to be a person: how to get dressed, eat, take a shower, identify objects. I’d had to figure out how to take those first steps into unknown
emptiness. And honestly? My first successes had been too embarrassing to share with Sophie and Lauren: “Hey guys, learned how to use a fork today without shish-kebabing my face.” So
instead, I’d shared my achievements with Hilda, but only because she had been the one forcing me to discover them in the first place.

“Ready?” Hilda grunted.

“Not exactly.”

“You cannot hide in your house for the rest of your life.”

“Actually, I kind of can.”

I could hear her pacing in front of me, something she did when I was annoying her. Finally she blurted, “Tell me, where do you see yourself in ten years?”

A little voice in my head—the same voice that encouraged me to say mildly inappropriate yet potentially amusing things—was cheering me on to ask whether this was a trick question.
But I decided against it. While I couldn’t prove it scientifically, I was pretty sure that Hilda was the most uptight person on the planet.

Mistaking my pause for confusion, she said, “Your life. How do you envision your life?”

I scraped a toe across the carpet. I didn’t want to think about my future until sometime in the future. Or perhaps sometime after my death. Stalling, I said, “You mean, like, family
and career and whatever?”

She shot a heavy gust of nasty breath in my face. “Yes. Family. Career. Whatever. Your
future
.”

I waved a palm at her, making light of the topic. “I don’t have to worry about that for a long time.”

She cleared her throat vigorously enough to cause bleeding. “Oof. You must begin planning now.” And then she went on and on about Missouri State University, and how it was voted the
best college for the blind, and how I could grow up to have a career and a husband and children, and how I could use public transportation to get to work and to do my errands, and so on and so on
and so on, and then I realized that I couldn’t even hear her anymore because all I could think was
There’s no way in hell I can live like that
.

I
’d left my phone in my room while I was out tripping over rogue fire hydrants, and when I scooped it off my bed I found that I had ten
missed calls and two voice mails, all from the same number. Phone in hand, I walked straight down the hall and out the sliding glass door. Settling on the wooden steps of our deck, I retrieved my
messages.

The first one: “Thera. It’s Ben.”

Ben.

My hand started shaking so badly, I could hardly hold the phone as Ben went on to say, “You know, Ben Milton? Your boyfriend? The charming, good-looking one? Anyway, one word for you:
Doritos.” He paused, all dramatically, and then went on. “The thing is, Thera? I just had one of those aha moments. The ones Oprah is always talking about? I just realized that the
Dorito is the perfect chip.” There was this crunching sound on Ben’s end of the line, like he was killing a bag of Doritos in my ear. “Just the right amount of salt,” he
said. “Intense flavor. They go perfectly with water, milk, juice, or soda. And, if I don’t brush my teeth after I eat them, I can taste them for approximately ten hours. What’s
better than a chip in your mouth for ten hours? Nothing. That’s right: nothing. That’s frigging perfection. I believe that the masterpiece known as the mighty Dorito may just be your
Thing. You must eat a bag of them immediately. Actually? No. Don’t just eat the chips—eat them while honoring their excellence. Please call me back at your earliest convenience.
Good-bye.”

I sat there for the longest time after the message ended, trying to keep myself from getting overly hopeful. But Ben’s personality had practically crawled out of the phone and shaken me by
both shoulders.

He was real.

But that doesn’t mean I saw him.

I chewed on my thumbnail as I listened to the second voice mail: “Thera. You should probably get some sort of privacy block for your phone number because any jackwad can just look it up
online. Not that I’m a jackwad. I am probably the least jackwaddish person I know.” He paused as though he was waiting for me to chime in and defend his honor. “Anyways, I was
wondering whether you knew when guys start growing armpit hair? I think I have an armpit disease, because I don’t have any hair. Not. A. Single. One. And by the way, FOR A GIRLFRIEND, YOU
TOTALLY SUCK AT RETURNING PHONE CALLS. That is all.”

Calm down,
I warned myself as I saved his number in my phone.
This doesn’t mean anything. Not yet.

I called him back. He picked up after only one ring. “Thera, my love!” he basically screamed.

“Ben!” I hollered back, smiling like a lunatic.

“Did you try some Doritos?” he asked.

“Haven’t had the chance,” I said. I felt oddly as though I’d just found another fraction of myself, a piece that had been torn up and discarded months ago.

He sighed into the phone. “Thera. This is serious. You don’t have a Thing. You can’t be walking around without a Thing. It’s unnatural. You’ll develop a limp or a
cough or something.” When I cracked up, Ben hollered over me, “I’m not kidding, Thera. This is big. People are supposed to have Things. Heck, even Mason has a Thing.”

Mason.
Well. That shut me up.

I jerked to my feet and paced across the deck, my flip-flops making a joyful little
clap clap clap
rhythm that was completely at odds with the sudden twist in my gut. If Ben was real,
then Mason was—

“Anyway,” Ben went on, crunching on Doritos again, “I was thinking to myself this morning, ‘Self, Thera would love to see your swim meet today.’”

“I would?” Of course I would. Truth was, I’d curated a couple dozen ulcers since I’d said good-bye to Ben, believing that yesterday had been some sort of elaborate
fantasy—something I’d wished for and wished for until my brain finally broke down and believed it. I needed to sort out what was going on. I needed to discover whether there was a
chance that maybe, just maybe, my sight was returning. I needed answers.

“Yup. You would,” Ben said. “It’s at two o’clock, at North Bay Aquatic Club. See you there.” And he hung up.

I was somewhat familiar with North Bay Aquatic Club. I’d taken a handful of swim lessons there when I was fourteen, back when my mother was convinced that I needed to vary my cardio
workout to prepare for soccer season. My instructor was a middle-aged guy who was huge and lumpy, built like a trash bag full of walnuts, and he had a sour yet surprised expression permanently
etched into his features—like he’d just taken a sip of what he’d presumed was Sprite, but to his shock discovered that it was instead grapefruit juice.

On the first day of lessons, he made the mistake of teaching me how to float on my back. From that point on, I was completely done. Why flail around, gasping for breath, struggling to improve my
already stellar soccer skills, when I could lie on my back and float peacefully? So float I did, through that first swim lesson and every swim lesson that followed. It was a fantastic waste of my
mother’s two hundred dollars.

Now, as Gramps pulled his truck to a stop in front of North Bay Aquatic Club, I tried to keep my eyes from sweeping the area for a little dot of eyesight, but failed entirely. I didn’t see
anything, though, and as Gramps got out of his truck and guided me inside the building to the pool, I grew more and more tense.

I was psycho.

They were going to chuck me into a nondescript white-on-white building with all the other whackjobs, and I’d end up rocking back and forth in some activity room while drinking Capri Suns
and mindlessly crocheting doilies and—

“You want me to walk you to the bleachers?” Gramps asked.

Just then, Ben blinked into being. Whether the crowd had hidden him or I simply hadn’t been at the right angle to catch sight of him, I didn’t know. All I knew was that suddenly
there he was: walking along the edge of the club’s cobalt-blue pool, concrete under his bare feet and a bushy-haired boy at his side, laughing at an unknown joke.

I sucked in my breath.

“You okay, kid?” Gramps asked.

“I’m fine,” I murmured. Which was true. I was fine. I was perfectly sane.

I could feel my sweaty hand on Gramps’s elbow, and I could hear the steady rhythm of the spectators’ feet stamping in the stands, and I could smell the chlorine and cocoa
butter–scented sunscreen. And I could see Ben. All of these things were occurring at the same time. And I was completely sane.

“Mags,” Gramps said loudly. And from the impatience in his tone I got the feeling this wasn’t the first time he’d called my name. “Want me to walk you to the
bleachers?”

I waved him away and said good-bye, staying right there, wherever
right there
was, as realization swept over me. If I was really seeing Ben—really seeing him—then
who’s to say that I couldn’t see in other circumstances? Hope expanded in my chest like a hot air balloon.

I could reclaim the soccer field.

And my friends.

My school.

My life.

Suddenly, something waist-high that reeked of Elmer’s Glue and Pop-Tarts jabbed me in the thigh and said, “Are you gonna get out of my way sometime this century?” Sounded like
a little girl. A mouthy little girl. By means of answering her, I yanked my cane out of my back pocket and unfolded it with a flick. “Oh. Okay. I get it. So you’re blind,” she
said through a distinctive lisp, stubbornness still lacing her tone.

“That I am.”

“How come you don’t have a guide dog?” she challenged.

“Who says I need one?” I said, one eye on the pool, where Ben was cheering on the current race.


I
do,” she argued. “Blind people have dogs. How come you don’t have one?”

Massaging my forehead with my knuckles, I said, “Because I don’t like dogs.”

“How come you don’t like dogs?”

I was tempted to ignore her. Everything in me itched to get closer to Ben, closer to my eyesight. “Because they’re slobbery and hairy and barky,” I said, trying to catch
Ben’s eye.

She grumbled under her breath. “Where are your dark glasses?”

Evidently common sense wasn’t very common. Couldn’t she see that I had more important things happening here? “Not all visually impaired people wear dark glasses,” I told
her. The truth was, wearing dark glasses is a personal choice. Some of us wear sunglasses because we have discolored or distorted irises, while others are light-sensitive regardless of the visual
impairment. None of which needed to be shared with this kid.

She said, “I thought blind people were supposed to be nice. You aren’t very nice.”

Well. That was the most accurate thing she’d said so far.

Ben looked up and saw me. He beamed at me in a way that looked like it might fracture a smile muscle, and then he headed toward us, my eyesight ghosting behind him like a comet tail until he
swung to a stop in front of me.

And just like that, I felt whole again. I couldn’t stop beaming.

Ben was wearing a pair of slate-blue swim trunks, a toothy grin, and—crammed sideways on his damp sandy hair—a baseball cap that said
THE VOICES IN MY HEAD ARE
TELLING ME THAT YOU

RE AN ALIEN
!

“Thera!” he screamed. The kid looked like a skinny stork in a swimsuit—all knees and elbows and whatnot.

“Ben!” I yelled back, and then I let my gaze drift downward. I found myself looking at the stubborn face of a young girl—probably around six or seven years old, I was
guessing—who had an army of freckles but only one front tooth. She was wearing a scowl, jean shorts that were creased where they met her pelvis, a white T-shirt with hearts stamped all over
it, and a glittery purple tiara. She suspiciously pursed her lips at me for half a tick, and I glanced away, realizing that I was staring at her like a sighted person.

Leaping toward Ben, she hugged him at the waist—crutches and all. “Ben!” she bellowed.

“Hey, Samantha,” he said.

She blinked up at him. “Will you play with me? Pleasepleasepleaseplease? I’m so bored.”

BOOK: The One Thing
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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