Love is Blind

by Nick Brady

Chapter 4

It was dark when we drove back to town and stopped for a pizza. Classes would start the next day and there were a lot of people around. It was the beginning of a new semester and Ian and I were together again. We were making plans for the future.

With the new semester were new classes and a new routine. We were in very different programs of study yet we managed to synchronize two things. We were both enrolled in English Composition, and we both let out for lunch at the same time. The classes were no longer in adjoining buildings. Mine was a bit farther from the boarding house than Ian's so he waited for me to pass by so we could walk together.

While we walked, we talked about anything and everything. Now that a bond had been established between us, Ian was a chatterbox and very good company. After lunch, he set off on his own as my next class was later in the afternoon. I didn't suggest that I walk him to his class both because I didn't want to imply that he was in any way helpless and because he simply wasn't. He managed nicely on his own.

Now I was free for supper before him and waited inside the door of Mrs. McDonald's for him to arrive. If two adjacent chairs were open we sat together. If not we tried to sit near each other. It was not so I could render assistance, but because we were friends. The others in the house knew this and we usually found a pair of chairs that were unoccupied. Ian was no longer considered unusual and his arrival was greeted by the same quiet acceptance as any other of the regulars.

After supper, we usually gravitated to his room. It contained whatever I needed to read and we were comfortable there. Ian came up to my room a few times but there was seldom a need for him to be there. The first time he visited my room he gave it a thorough inspection.

He stood inside the door and sampled the air. "You have a coffee pot," he noticed, "and you make soup in here."

"All I'm allowed is a coffee pot and a popcorn popper," I told him. "It's amazing what you can do with a popcorn popper. It's a good way to heat up canned soup late at night."

"Can you cook?" Ian asked.

"A little. My mother's a good cook and she taught me some basic things. I could get by if I had to."

"They tried to teach us how to cook in school but I wasn't very good at it. If I had to cook for myself I'd starve."

"No, you wouldn't. You'd figure it out if you had to."

"I suppose," Ian shrugged. "I do like to eat."

The semester was going well. My Engineering classes were not a problem and with Ian's help, I was doing better than expected in English. I had decent ideas but had trouble putting them into words. Ian would listen as I read my attempts and would ask questions more than make suggestions. He made me think about what I really wanted to say and my ideas became clearer. I was learning, and my writing improved. My contribution to our collaboration was to retype Ian's papers and both our grades improved over the course of the semester.

It was not infrequent that we found ourselves at the Campus Tavern for a beer or two in the evening or on the weekend. Nor was it unusual for us to discover that Stuart was there with Brutus. There was usually room for the two of us at his booth. We could locate him by the smell of his pipe.

"That smells good," Ian said.

"Thank you," Stuart replied. "It's toasted Cavendish."

"How do you smoke a pipe?"

"I carry a few things in my tote bag. Besides a couple of pipes, I have a pouch of tobacco, a Zippo lighter and a little tool to tamp the embers down as the tobacco is burned."

While he described these things, Stuart laid each item down on the table for Ian to examine with his hands. "How do you put tobacco in the pipe?" Ian asked.

Stuart seemed pleased by Ian's curiosity. "If you don't mind using it after me, we can load up my second pipe so you can try it."'

"Yes, I'd like that. It smells very nice," Ian was animated.

I watched as two pairs of hands carefully tamped the smoking tobacco into Stuart's extra pipe. "Put a pinch in first and press it down with your finger," Stuart instructed. "Don't pack it too tight or it might be hard to draw. Now when you put in more to fill it up, you can press it a little tighter. Can you feel that?"

When Stuart was satisfied, he instructed Ian on how to light it. "Be careful with the lighter. You can feel the edge of the pipe and hold the top of the lighter just above it. Then turn the little wheel quickly to light the flame and start puffing on the pipe. Don't burn your fingers,"

Ian first lit the lighter and passed his hand several inches above the flame to feel the heat. Next, he tried to place it over the bowl with Stuart's hands touching his. A quick flick, the flame touched the top of the tobacco, and he sucked hard on the pipe. A plume of smoke came out of his nose and mouth and he coughed violently.

"Don't suck it into your lungs," Stuart laughed. "Just puff on it and blow it out your mouth and nose. You want to smell it, not breath it in. It's not like a cigarette."

Ian took a deep breath, blew it out and tried again. This time he blew the smoke out through his nose and smiled. "That's nice. I see now." He puffed slowly and a smile spread across his face.

"There you go. You might make a pipe smoker after all."

Ian sat back and puffed, blowing the fragrant smoke first out of his mouth, then out of his nose. He appeared to be very pleased with himself. We continued our conversation until the pipe went out. "Is that all?" Ian asked.

"That's what the pipe nail is for," Stuart placed the tool in his hand. "The head is flat. You press down on the tobacco very gently to firm it up again and relight it. The other end is like a little spoon and you can use that to clean out the ashes when you're all finished."

Ian carefully followed the instructions and was rewarded by a new cloud of smoke. "I think I've got it."

I watched all this with a smile. Ian had discovered the joys of pipe smoking. He puffed slowly until his pipe contained only a residue of ash. At last, he was instructed in the proper way to dump the burnt tobacco into the ashtray and clean out the bowl with the end of the little tool.

"I'm a little dizzy," Ian said. "Is that normal?"

"You'll get used to that," Stuart laughed. "I have several other pipes at home. I could bring one for you to practice on."

"I think I'd like that," Ian smiled.

We finished our beer and left Stuart to his booth. "Are you going to get the habit?" I asked Ian.

"It was nice once I figured out how to do it. It's not like cigarettes. You don't pull the smoke into your lungs. You just puff on it and it smells good. It's very relaxing."

I chuckled to myself as we walked to our street. When we came to where our houses were located we paused.

"We have to go to our separate rooms. I wish we could live together," Ian said.

"I do too. Maybe there's a way. Let me think about it and we'll talk later."

I did think about Ian's remark. I checked on a couple of things and started working out a plan.

After supper a few days later we sat in Ian's room and I brought up the subject. "The semester ends in about 3 weeks. What are your plans for the summer?"

Ian sighed. "I've been thinking about that. I don't want to go home. My scholarship will pay for summer classes so I guess I'll stay in school. It doesn't matter. You'll be working for your carpenter so I won't see you anyway."

"Maybe not. I talked to one of my engineering professors about summer jobs. I might be able to work here this summer."

"Really?" Ian brightened up. "What would you do?"

"There's a little electronics company here that makes circuit boards and is hiring students for the summer. I went out and talked to them and they were interested in me. It might even pay a little more than the carpenter job. But I'd have to live here over the summer," I pretended to sound sad.

"That's wonderful. Are you going to take the job?"

"Wait, I'm not finished. I also checked on some apartments. There is a little one-bedroom apartment just across the street from the Campus Tavern that's cheap. I even looked at it."

"What's it like?" Ian was starting to get excited.

"It's not bad, There are four apartments upstairs over a dance studio. It's small but in decent shape."

"How much does it cost?" now Ian looked a little worried.

"I know how much I pay for my room. If your room costs about the same, the apartment is only a little more than we're paying separately. Does your scholarship care where you live?"

"I don't think so. They pay me a set amount and I'm under that now."

"Would you like a roommate?" I grinned.

"I don't know. Do you snore?" Ian laughed. "That would be fantastic!"

"I'm glad you think so because I accepted the job and made a deposit on the apartment."

Ian jumped to his feet, clapped his hands then pounced on me for a hug. "Yes yes. I would love that!"

"Great. It'll save us a little money too because there's a little kitchen and we can cook some meals for ourselves instead of eating out on the weekends."

"You worked this all out didn't you?"

"That's what engineers do." I shrugged. "We can move in the first of June."

Ian made himself comfortable on my lap and kissed me on the side of the neck. "I can't believe you did that. I thought you might be ready to get rid of me for the summer."

I turned his face to mine and kissed him gently on the lips. "You know better than that. You're beginning to grow on me."

Ian nestled his face in my neck and sighed. "Just think of all the gas we'll save. We won't have to drive out to the lake anymore."

We decided to celebrate with a beer at our favorite establishment where we found Stuart and Brutus camped out in his booth.

"Hello," Stuart greeted us. "What's new with you two?"

"Let me tell you," Ian said, and we laid out our plan.

Stuart listened attentively and voiced his approval. After our plans were discussed, he pulled out a little package and place it in Ian's hand. "I have something for you. It's sort of a kit."

Ian opened it up and found a drawstring bag with a pipe, a pouch of tobacco, a lighter and pipe nail inside. "Oh! Is this for me?"

"If I'm going to lead you astray I thought you needed the proper equipment. I hope you don't mind that it's one of my used pipes, but I cleaned it thoroughly and it's a nice briar."

Ian's eyes dance from side to side and he smiled from ear to ear. "Thank you, Stuart. You're very kind."

"Oh, that's alright. I have too many pipes and I'm glad to find a good home for one. Now that you have an apartment you won't have to worry about your landlady objecting to smoking in your room. I hope you enjoy it."

After Ian was present with his pipe kit, we seldom walked anywhere that he did not leave behind a trail of pipe smoke.

On Saturday we walked around the corner to check out the new apartment. It was a two-story yellow brick building with glass windows across the front and a sign above the windows that read 'Margaret's School of the Dance'. Off to one side was a single door that led up the stairs to two apartments on the second floor. Just to the left was our apartment. It ran down the southeast corner with windows that looked out over a sporting goods store to the east and through some trees to a row of backyards to the south. I described everything to Ian.

"It's completely furnished with sofa and chair in the living room and a pair of twin beds in the bedroom in the back and a bathroom off of that. In between is a little kitchen with everything we need. There's a long counter with sink, with a stove and refrigerator. There is a table and pair of chairs on the other side. It's old stuff but decent enough. All we'll need are some cooking utensils, towels, and sheets. I can scrounge most of that from home. Mom has a ton of stuff in the garage."

Ian walked around with hands outstretched, familiarizing himself with the placement of everything. He sat on the sofa and the easy chair, turned on the taps in the kitchen and bathroom sinks and sat on one of the beds to bounce up and down. "It's perfect," he exclaimed. "I can't believe you found this."

"It's small, but a lot roomier than the front seat of my Chevy."

Ian sat on the bed and grinned. "This might be nice. When can we move in?"

"The first of June, but we're here now. Maybe we should check things out."

The twin beds provided the appearance of decorum, but we discovered that either was sufficient for two if utilized properly. It would do.

When classes let out at the end of the semester, we both went home for a week. I announced that I would be moving to an apartment and was presented with several boxes of household items from the garage. Nothing fancy, but quite serviceable. My mother was generally supportive of the idea when I told her that I would be sharing expenses with Ian. I had told Mom about my blind friend while I was home over Christmas and she approved of our friendship. She thought it was nice that I could be helpful to him and assumed that we might be more than just friends. We didn't go into details, but my mother understood me. I was good to go.

Ian called me on the phone the day before he was to return with a request that I pick him up at the bus station at three o'clock. I was surprised but he sounded a bit emotional so I didn't ask questions. I was waiting when the bus drove up a few minutes late and waited until he exited with his cane in front of him. The driver gave him a hand and he turned to wait while his bags were unloaded. I stepped to his side.

"Hey, Ian. Nice to have you back."

"Oh, Andrew. I'm glad you're here. Did you have to wait long?"

"No. You're fine. Let me help you with your bags. How many are there?"

"Just the two. They are green canvas. Do you see them?"

I didn't have to look, as the driver set them in front of me. "Nice to have you with us," he said to Ian. "Have a good summer."

"Thank you. You've been very helpful."

"No problem," the driver said and hustled off to help others find their bags and parcels.

"How was your trip?" I asked.

"It was fine. Can we get these to the apartment?" Ian wanted to get away from the bus station.

I loaded him up and we drove off. He didn't say anything but reached over for my hand. I helped him to the door then grabbed his bags and started off after him as we climbed the stairs. I sat his things inside the door and pulled him into a hug.

"How are you? I take it things didn't go well at home."

"I need a drink of water. Then let's sit down and talk."

"How about a cold beer," I suggested. "I brought my stuff up already and put a few things in the 'fridge."

Ian plopped down on the sofa and leaned back until I put a beer in his hand. "So what's the story?"

Ian took a long pull from the bottle, belched and said, "Excuse me. Thanks." He took a deep breath and said, "I came out to my family."

"Whoa. That's heavy. How did it go?"

"I didn't intend for this to happen, but it did. I told my mother that I was going to share an apartment with you and she told my father. Then at supper they all wanted to know about it and who you were and like that. I tried to explain that you have been helping me get around and we were just friends, but my brothers kept making smart remarks. Finally, I lost my temper and told them it was none of their business."

He tipped up his bottle of beer and took another long pull. "John made some crack about always knowing I was a fag, and I told him to go to hell."

"How'd that work out?"

Ian sighed. "Not well. Then Phillip made a vulgar remark and things went from bad to worse. I didn't admit to being gay but I didn't deny it either. I'm nineteen, almost twenty, for Pete's sake. I'm going to school on a scholarship. I don't need them, Andrew. I don't have to care what they think."

"No, you don't Ian. You're your own person. It's a shame that they have to be such jerks, but you're independent now."

"I've never been part of the family anyway. This had to happen someday."

I pulled him over and hugged him close. "I guess this makes us official."

Ian sniffled a little and held my hand. "It was awful but I'm glad to get it over with. Mother wanted to bring me back to school but my father didn't wouldn't let her. She made a lame excuse that she was having car trouble and said I should take the bus."

"I'm sorry. What can I do?"

"You're doing it. Just hold me."

We sat there for what seemed like a long time. I could tell that Ian was crying softly into my shoulder. I just hugged him. "They'll come around, Ian. They're your family. It'll work out."

"I doubt that. I don't ever plan to go back home again."

"Do you think they'll make trouble for you?"

"What can they do now that I'm in college?"

"Well, can they claim we're living together in sin?"

"We're not living in sin," Ian protested. "We're just roommates. Everybody in college has a roommate unless they're married or living alone."

"They won't make a fuss about me leading you astray?"

Ian clenched his fists. "No! What can they say? Will they object to my sharing an apartment with a guy who everybody sees as my official helper? I didn't confess to anything, I just didn't deny it. My reaction was that it wasn't any of their business and I'm sticking to that story."

"OK. I just don't want them making any trouble for you, or for me either."

Ian gave a short laugh. "Actually, they're liable to feel like it's good riddance. If so, the feeling would be mutual. They've never cared what happened to me. Why would they start now? They don't hate me, they just don't care."

After a while, he sat up. "Is there anything to eat? I haven't eaten anything today."

"Sure. I have some eggs. Would you like breakfast for supper?"

"That sounds great. Do you have kitchen things?"

"I raided the garage. We're all set. Want another beer?" I got up and started being domestic. "I'll have something for us to eat in a minute."

Ian made his way to the bathroom and refreshed himself then felt his way to one of the chairs at the little table and waited for me to cook some eggs and make toast. "How do you like your eggs?" I yelled at him.

"Scrambled is easier."

"Coming up. You want another beer?"

"Two beers on an empty stomach is my limit. You got any milk?"

I set plates of eggs and toast and glasses of milk in front of us and sat down at the table. "Hey. This is the first meal in our new place."

"It is. The first of many, I hope." He managed a weak smile.

"You know I love you," I told him.

"Thanks. That helps a lot." He devoted himself to a very late breakfast. When he finished, he pushed back his plate and straightened up. "I love you too, Andrew. I don't know what I'd without you."

I cleared the table and put the dishes in the sink. "I don't know, Ian. If it weren't for me you wouldn't be in a mess with your family."

"It had to happen. I've been wanting to be set free for a long time. Going back into that toxic environment was never something I looked forward to. You helped me understand who I am. I'm grateful to you in a lot of ways."

"This is a two-way street, you know. If it weren't for you I'd be back in that rooming house. There's no one else I'd want to live with. I don't see this as a short term deal."

Ian rolled his head up in the general direction of the ceiling and squinted his eyes shut tight, blinking out some tears that rolled down his cheeks. "It's not an equal partnership. You do so much. What can I do?"

I stood at the sink with my arms folded across my chest. "Well, can you wash dishes?"

Ian gave a short laugh. "I can do that."

"Dish soap is on the left, towels and a washcloth are on the right. The sink awaits you." I went into the living area and sat down on the sofa. Ian sat for a moment, walked over to the sink and started running the water. He did fine.

After a few minutes, he asked, "Where do I put them?"

"Anywhere you want. The cabinets are over the sink. Put the dishes where you can find them. You sort stuff out and then I'll know where they are. The silver drawer is on the left of the sink."

I could hear things rattle as he put them away. After a bit, he found me on the sofa and sat down next to me. "Is this going to work out?" he asked.

"So far, so good." I put my arm around him. "We'll work it out. Some things I can do. Some things you can do. We'll figure it out as we go along."

Ian leaned over and put his head in my lap as I rubbed his shoulders. When he ran his fingers over my fly, I stopped him. "I bet you're tired. Would you like to be held?"

"I think that sounds nice."

"Why don't we move to the bedroom and get a little more comfortable?"

Ian pulled up the front of my shirt and kissed me on the belly. "That sounds like a great idea." He stood and unbuttoned his shirt as he walked toward the bedroom. I followed. It was a good idea.

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