“Fuuuuuck!” Val yelled pulling her hair, when her “easy” program got stuck for the hundredth time.
“That’s a dirty mouth you got there woman,” said Kate, with a strong Texan drawl. Kate was Val’s roommate, who was in the kitchen cooking dinner while Val worked on her laptop.
“This damn program is going to make me prematurely old. I don’t get it, I’m smart. Why the heck can’t I get the grasp of this?”
“You can’t know everything Val, sometimes you’ll need help. Why don’t you ask one of your friends from class to help you out?” Kate sounded annoyed, as if she had been hearing the same lament repeatedly.
“I don’t have friends in class. And I don’t like to ask for help,” Val consistently whined.
“Just leave it for a while so you can cool off. Let’s eat dinner,” Kate ordered, as she served the spaghetti she had just made.
Angry with herself, Val groaned and leaped up from her desk to fetch the dishes and cutlery from the kitchen and started setting their small table, continuously snorting, while she tried to figure out in her mind how she was going to get that fucking program done.
Remembering Tom’s offer to help her, she mentioned, “You know? I met a guy at the laundromat that offered to help me with my project.”
“Yeah? Who is he?”
“Just a random guy. He said that he was good at programming,” Val answered, analyzing the possibility of contacting him.
“Then why the hell haven’t you asked him to help you out?” Kate now sounded more annoyed with Valentina’s refusal to seek help.
“I’m so desperate that I’m actually thinking about it.” Val said, resigned. “It’s just hard for me to ask for help. And he’ll make me uncomfortable,” she whined.
“Why? Is he a perv or something?” mock disgust took over Kate’s features.
“No!” Valentina furrowed her eyebrows, shivering. “At least he didn’t seem like a perv. It’s just that…I think he’s blind or visually impaired? I don’t know the PC way to say it. I just know I’ll be uncomfortable.”
“He’s blind? How does he use the computer?”
“I have no idea,” said Valentina shrugging. “But he did say he was pretty good with them.” Valentina smiled remembering Tom’s very decent looks. “Besides, he’s cute. I’m kind of uptight around cute guys.”
Kate rolled her eyes, “Ask him Val. You’d rather pluck out all your hair then ask for this guy’s help? You’re gonna go bald if you keep this up,” Kate now resembled Val’s nagging mom.
“You don’t understand Kate. You’re all eloquent and charming around people. I on the other hand, get really nervous around strangers. With the blindness thing and the hotness, and I’ll be a drooling Neanderthal.”
Kate shook her head, laughing at Val’s ridiculousness. “Well, you talked to him long enough to get him to offer help. Why would it be any different now?”
“I guess you’re right. I’m going to have to swallow my pride to get this stupid program done.” Valentina plopped down on her chair
“There you go. Now call him and ask him to come tonight. Now you’ve piqued my interest. I want to meet this guy. You do have his number, right? If you don’t, then I don’t know why we’re even wasting spit talking about this.”
Val laughed shaking her head. “I have his number.”
Tom was savoring a huge juicy burger, when his phone rang.
He had gone to a burger joint with his roommates Jordan and Erick, who had been Tom’s best friend since their first year in College.
He picked up his napkin and quickly wiped his hands, then grabbed his phone from the table. “Hello?”
“Uh, hi. This is Val. Um, Valentina the girl from the laundromat. Do you remember me?”
Yes! It’s her.
Tom felt his heart skip a beat and his hands getting clammy. “Uh…Hi Valentina. Of course I remember you. Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know, it happens,” she mumbled.
“Well, I assure you that I didn’t forget you.” He paused for a moment waiting for a reply but Valentina said nothing, so he continued, conscious of the reason why Valentina had called him, “So, how’s that program going?”
“Not so good. Actually, I was hoping you could help me a bit. If you have time, that is,” Valentina hesitated.
“Of course! When and where?” Immediately, Tom’s heart started pounding faster.
“I know it’s short notice but my project is due in two days. Do you think you can help me out tonight?”
“Yeah, sure. Where are you?” Tom kept his voice calm trying not to reveal how excited he was.
“I’m at my dorm room. But if it’s too much trouble, I can go to where you are.”
“No, that’s not necessary. Just tell me the address and I’ll come by.”
“Okay. Thank you Tom.”
She gave him her address and Tom promised to be there shortly. She thanked him again twice as if he was handing her the moon. The truth was, that she was the one doing the favor. Ever since that day at the laundromat, Tom had not been able to get Valentina out of his head. He was hoping that she would call him, even if it only was to ask for his help with her program. At least that would give him an opportunity to see her again.
Valentina seemed shy, she wasn’t much of a talker, but when she did speak, she had that natural wit that Tom rarely came across in a girl. He found that kind of humor very appealing. He couldn’t quite be certain that she was good looking, but he liked the little that he saw. She was tallish, slim but not skinny and he could definitely make out her nice plump curvy posterior when she was standing in front of that washing machine.
He put his phone down on the table and took another bite of his burger. “Sorry guys. Gotta go. Duty calls. A beautiful lady is in need of my superpowers. I need to go to the rescue,” Tom told his friends, still chewing his food.
“Was it that girl you told me about, the one from the laundromat?” asked Erick.
“Yeah, she finally called to ask for help with a project she has for school,” Tom retorted with a goofy grin. “I gotta go.” He stood up and placed a couple of bills on the table.
“Aren’t you going to finish your burger? Let’s finish and I’ll drive you,” said Erick, trying to be helpful, as usual.
“I told her I’d be right there. I’ll just get an Uber.”
Erick knew that Tom couldn’t see at night so he usually offered to drive him if he had the time. He also knew when to back off. “Okay. Good luck with your lady damsel in distress!”
Tom’s Uber parked in front of Valentina’s building. He asked the driver to point him in the direction of the door and to tell him the approximate distance to it. Not asking would only make him arrive later; and he had already taken too long getting there, he wanted to make a good impression.
He walked to the entrance wondering how he was going to work with Valentina tonight. His MacBook included accessible technology for the visually impaired, which, among other things, allowed him to magnify everything on his computer screen or read aloud what was displayed on the screen. If Valentina did not have this type of technology on her computer, they would need to be more creative for them to comprehend each other better. He had been so excited about her call, that he impulsively had told her he would meet her at her place right away, when the most rational thing to do, would have been to meet at his place or at least bring his laptop. Well, too late for that, he was already in front of her door.
“Hi.” Valentina greeted when she opened the door.
“Hi.” Tom smiled trying to look confident and not overly excited.
“Come in.” She opened the door the whole way and stepped asides I make room for him to walk in.
Deciding it would best to keep his cane extended and close to his body, without swiping it from side to side to prevent smacking Valentina’s furniture, Tom entered the unfamiliar room. That did not work out as he had hoped. To his utter embarrassment, the first thing he did was collide into a small table that was placed beside the entrance, which sent some books that were lying on it, scattering to the floor.
He kneeled down and started to pick them up nervously apologizing.
Valentina kneeled down as well to help him pick up the books. “Sorry, this place is a mess. These books shouldn’t be her. We are so disorganized.”
They stood up and Valentina grabbed his wrist to pull him further into the apartment. He noticed that her hand was sweaty and trembling. She was nervous. Oh well, screw up number one did the job.
He could tell she was only trying to help him navigate, but her touch felt special anyway. There was something about this girl that had him infatuated.
Val gave Tom a quick tour of the small dorm room. “The kitchen is over there,” she pointed towards the small kitchen. “This is where we eat,” placing her free hand on the dining table. Finally, they moved to a desk that had a chair and a laptop on it, “And this is where I work on my wonderful and inspiring programming projects.”
“Well, hi there,” said Kate, who came out of her room at that moment.
Tom and Val turned their heads in her direction.
“Hi,” said Tom smiling widely.
“Tom, this is my roommate Kate,” Valentina gestured towards Kate.
“Nice to meet you,” Tom extended his hand to shake Kate’s.
“You too,” Kate replied, walking closer to him and shaking his hand.
Kate eyed the handsome man from head to toe, noticing the white cane he was squeezing so hard that his knuckles were white. “Sooo,” she elongated the o, “You’re blind?”
“Kate,” said Valentina in a muffled tone, visibly ashamed of her friend’s bluntness.
Tom chuckled, “Yeah.”
“What happened to you?” was Kate’s subtle next question.
“Kaaate!” now Valentina almost yelled, her eyes about to leave their sockets.
“Just making some conversation here, jeez,” said Kate, exasperated.
Tom was still chuckling, “I don’t mind. The short version? I’ve got fucked up eyes ever since I can remember.”
“See. He doesn’t mind,” she retorted shrugging. Then she said in a lower voice, leaning toward Tom, “We’ll talk about this another time.” Walking to the kitchen, she added, “I’ll make some coffee. You guys get to work.”
“Yes mom,” retorted Valentina, shaking her head in amusement for the millionth time since she met Kate, which happened when they started sharing the dorm room, when they both began college a couple of months ago.
Kate was not only a sweet and kind girl; she was also hilarious and outgoing and had made many friends already. Valentina, on the other hand, had only Kate. She was very shy and, in spite of her brightness and not so shabby looks, she was a bit insecure. She didn’t know why; she had a loving family, never lacked financial stability, no traumatic experiences in her past. Basically, her life had been a smooth ride.
Even though Kate did not filter anything that came out of her mouth, which could be very embarrassing (Exhibit A: impertinent questions about Tom’s blindness), Val was glad that Kate was her roommate and actually wanted to hang out with her.
Val asked Tom to sit on the chair that was already under the desk and grabbed one for herself from the table they had on the so-called dining room. Tom folded his cane and placed it on the desk as Valentina started her laptop.
Valentina was nervous, she did not know how to treat Tom or what to say not to sound ignorant or condescending. She looked at him with wary eyes, not entirely sure how to start. “So, how do we do this?” she finally asked.
“Show me what your project’s about and we’ll see from there.”
Valentina took a notebook from the desk, opened it and searched through the pages until she found the one she was looking for. She started explaining the problem she needed to solve but, almost immediately; she noticed a frown on Tom’s face. She stopped speaking and looked at him with anticipation.
“I can’t see your notes very well,” Tom chuckled even though his embarrassment was evident.
“Oh! Then how do I…” she trailed off, not knowing exactly how to phrase the question.
“Do you have a black marker? That, and a bigger print, I can manage.”
Val nodded and went into her bedroom to find the marker. She came back with three markers of different colors and a few blank sheets of paper. “Will this work?”
“I think so,” Tom nodded. “I’m sorry Valentina, instead of helping you I’m giving you more trouble,” he looked even more embarrassed now.
Val waved her hand dismissively, “Of course not! This is nothing compared to what you’ll endure when I show you the crazy stuff I’ve been doing.”
She began to write down the problem with big bold letters and numbers on the white sheet, glancing at him intermittently to make sure he was following. He appeared to be grasping everything perfectly fine. When it came time to show him what she had done on her laptop, he asked her to zoom in as much as possible and to read the code aloud. She did most of the typing while he would analyze the errors, explain what she was doing wrong and suggest workarounds. At first, it took some adjustments to find the right way to work with Tom; however, by the end of their meeting, they were completely coordinated.
It took them a little more than two hours to finish the program. Valentina was amazed at how quickly they had been able to work it out. “I can’t believe we’ve finished already! You sure know this stuff.”
Tom stretched out his arms above his head. “This was pretty easy,” he said in fake arrogance.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest and said in a mock angry tone, “Is that your way of telling me I’m dumb?”
“Um, yeah!” he laughed.
After a short pause, he added with no trace of mockery in his tone, “Actually, from what I could gather so far, I think you’re pretty smart.”
Shoving him on his arm, she replied playfully, “No, you’re the smart one,” and before she could shut her mouth, she blurted out something she thought would be funny but ended up sounding a tiny bit suggestive, “Maybe we should make smart babies together.” She instantly felt heat rush to her face.
His eyes widened in surprise and then a mischievous smile slowly spread on his mouth. “I’m too young to have babies yet Valentina, but we can practice until we’re ready, and eventually, Bam! Beautiful genius babies, what do you think?” Now he was wiggling his eyebrows in a suggestive way, trying to stifle a laugh.
Valentina laughed nervously but continued in the same playful tone, “I think you would have the short end of the stick on that bargain. You’d be putting all the good genes. I’m so smart that I couldn’t finish on my own the easiest program in the whole world.”
“I’m the one with the bad genes, remember?” he pointed to his eyes to explain his point. His expression then changed to a serious one, “There are thing we just don’t like and don’t get, it happens to everybody,” he shrugged.
“I don’t think I hate it as much anymore, you kind of made it easy to understand. Thanks Tom.” Val said with a grateful smile. “Now let me buy you a good coffee. Not that nasty thing Kate made,” she said whispering to prevent Kate, who had left to her room, from hearing her ungrateful remark. “There’s a coffee shop down the street. It’s not the greatest in the world but trust me, it’s better than Kate’s, or my own for that matter.”
Tom wasn’t usually too shy around unknown places, but lately his sight was giving him a lot of grief and was now starting to think twice before going to new places without someone he trusted, not to mention it was past ten in the night and his sight was at its worst when it was dark.
When Tom was a toddler, he would constantly trip or bump into things whenever it was dark. Worried that something was wrong with their son’s vision, Tom’s parents took him to the ophthalmologist. Many doctor visits and numerous testing later, he was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which affects primarily peripheral and night vision. Tom had a rare case where symptoms showed early and vision loss progressed faster than the norm. At twenty-three, Tom’s night vision was almost nonexistent, and his day vision wasn’t great either; he had tunnel vision, and what he could see, was blurry. He could make out shapes and most colors but he could only see some detail when objects were very close to his eyes. Depth perception was also a struggle, increasing his difficulty to navigate safely.
Although he was hesitant to accept Valentina’s invitation to walk to the coffee shop in a dark and unknown place, he wasn’t about to waste a perfect opportunity to spend more time with her. Besides, he had made a resolution a long time ago not to let his vision problems hold him back from new experiences. So far, he had been able to maintain it, despite the fact that it was getting harder as his vision worsened.
Meeting new people was usually initially awkward, which he rarely was bothered by. He had enough charm to make people get over it fairly quickly. Valentina had been no exception; that awkwardness was still floating around them. The difference was that, in spite of his charm, when he liked a girl as much as he liked Valentina, he couldn’t help feeling self-conscious.
Tom and Valentina were walking together down the sidewalk. At least that was Tom’s intention. In order to keep up with her pace, he would listen to her voice, but if she did not speak, which was most of the time, he would focus on her footsteps. All this, while entrusting his cane to aid in keeping him walking over the sidewalk by carefully trailing the edge with its tip. If she would stop walking, which she was doing too often for his liking, then he would stop. He even bumped into her at one time when he didn’t stop on time. Perhaps she was checking on him, wondering why he walked so slow, he was pretty sure her normal stride was much faster, everyone’s was.
He didn’t want to seem like a bumbling fool; and although he wasn’t against being led by a close friend in situations like this to make thing easier for everyone, he was reluctant to ask her to guide him. Mainly because he didn’t know if she minded the physical contact, and because he didn’t want to seem dependent or clingy to a girl he was trying to impress. Therefore, it looked like there was no way to salvage the situation; they would have to keep this slow hesitant pace the whole way to the coffee shop.
The coffee shop had a wide glass door that allowed him to see inside the well-lit room. He scurried to the door to open it for her, not without embarrassing himself again as he missed the handle, having to swipe his hand over the door again to find it.
Upon entering the coffee shop, he felt relieved that the walk was over, the lighting inside was good and he could just sit down and enjoy the coffee and Valentina’s company without worrying too much that he was putting on a spectacle.
As their turn came to order, the girl behind the counter, looking exclusively at Valentina, asked with the typical perky tone clerks use when addressing customers, “Good evening, what will you like to order?”
“I’ll have a small latte please,” said Valentina.
“Okay.” She typed Valentina’s order on the register. “And for him?” the girl asked Valentina without even glancing at Tom.
“I’ll have the same,” replied Tom in a confident tone, before Valentina could say anything. The girl flicked her widening eyes at him, as if surprised that he could even talk, then smiled and started punching the keys on the register.
He pulled his wallet from his back pocket as Valentina reached for the bills in her own pocket.
“Hey, my treat! Remember?” Valentina exclaimed, noticing he had retrieved his wallet.
“Oh no, I can’t let you pay.”
“Please Tom, what century are you from? It’s the least I can do after all you’ve helped me.”
Tom had placed the grip of his cane under his arm to free his right hand and look for his credit card in his wallet, when Valentina said pointing to something behind his back, “Look at that!”
He quickly turned to see what she was pointing at, which was useless because he couldn’t see shit.
When he turned back, she was handing the bills to the girl. She had made him fall for the oldest trick in the book!
“I can’t believe I fell for that,” Tom complained, shaking his head disappointed in how gullible he had been.
Valentina let out a sweet laugh, “C’mon let’s sit down.”
She paced around the coffee shop looking for a free table. He followed her like a puppy trying not to collide with anything.
Once sitting down, Tom felt more relaxed and turned into his usual chatty self. The rest of the evening was filled with casual conversation of new found friendship. Valentina seemed to be getting more comfortable around him, telling him about herself without the need for him to ask. She seemed to be having fun; laughing at everything that Tom said and teasing him like the first time they met.
Walking back to her building, he even felt comfortable enough to ask her to guide him. “What do I do?” she questioned, notably unsure of how to proceed.
“Just walk normally and I’ll grab your arm, if you don’t mind.”
She stood still beside him. He moved to her right side and, without folding his cane, he wrapped his free hand right above her elbow. She stiffened for a moment when he touched her, but as they kept walking she loosened up, and just as when they were studying, they eventually reached the perfect rhythm.
“You should have asked me to guide you before,” Valentina said when they were arriving at her building.
“Was it that bad?” he asked rhetorically with a chuckle. “I usually don’t ask people to guide me as long as I can pull it off by myself. But I figured I’d spare you the slow walk back,” Tom smiled nervously, too embarrassed to turn to meet her gaze.
“I get it. I don’t like to ask for help either, that’s why it took me so long to call you.”
“I’m glad you did. It was fun.”
“You’re quite a nerd, you know? That mess of a program was a lot of fun to sort out,” she huffed.
Before he could tell her that he meant that her company had been fun, Tom’s Uber arrived.
“I think your ride’s here,” Valentina gestured towards the car that had just parked beside them.
“Okay. Guess I’m out of here. Bye Valentina, thanks for the coffee.”
“It’s the least I could do after that thing Kate made us drink. And, thanks for the tutoring. It means a lot that you took the time to come help me out,” a warm smile was now gracing her face.
“No problem,” he smiled sheepishly at her and turned around to walk towards the car.
Man up and just ask her, dude!
He halted and turned back around to look at her with crimson cheeks. “Valentina?…uh…we should do this again, you know?” he offered, trying to sound casual.
“Oh yeah, of course! I think I’ll have plenty of those little projects coming my way. If you let me, I’ll squeeze your brain dry,” she made a squeezing gesture with her hands, nodding devilishly.
Tom was unable to hide his disappointment. He had built up the courage to slip in a possible date, and she shot him down. Damn!
He offered a shy smile, “Yeah… Uh… call me whenever you need help with that. Bye.” He turned around again and walked to the car as fast as his legs allowed him to.