Love is Blind

by Nick Brady

Chapter 7

I sat and thought for a minute. "One time I was struggling with something and my mother told me that when we have to make a tough decision, all we can do is to look at what options we have and try to pick the right one. We have to do the next right thing. What's the right thing for you, Ian?"

Ian leaned his head back. "What are my options and what should I do? That's a good question."

I pulled Ian into a hug. "Maybe we should sleep on it."

We enrolled for the fall semester. Now I was a Junior and Ian was a Sophomore, actually a little more than that since he had taken summer classes. At this rate, he would catch up with me before I graduated. He followed through on the idea of changing his major and was now in the school of Business Administration. He didn't lose any hours and was feeling better now that he had made his decision. Stuart assured him that his chances of finding a good job would be better in Marketing.

We kept the apartment but did not sign up for Mrs. Mac's boarding house, intending to save some money by fixing our own meals. We ate breakfast together then parted for the day. I sometimes packed a lunch for each of us and tried to make something decent for our supper. Ian took over the coffee pot duties and was learning to scramble eggs and make toast. I did the serious cooking and he did the serious housekeeping. We were partners in almost everything.

Ian wrote to his mother almost every week although she did not always respond, but sent at least one letter a month with a little money. From her letters, I gathered that things at home had not changed. Ian accepted the situation stoically and said little about it.

My mother and I exchanged letters too, although I was not great about writing. I laughed at something she wrote and Ian asked me what was so funny.

"Oh, nothing Just something my mother wrote," I replied.

"You're close to your mother, aren't you?"

"She's all I've got, and I guess I'm all she's got. We are pretty close."

"You've never said anything about your father," Ian observed.

"I never really knew my father. It's a long story."

"I'm listening."

I leaned back and stretched my legs out. "I guess the short version of the story is that my mother and father were sweethearts in high school and she got pregnant with me when she was 17. They got married but I guess it didn't work out. After high school, they parted company when I was about 3. I don't actually remember him."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

"That's OK. We agreed to be honest with each other. It's not something I talk about because there's not much to tell."

"She was pretty young. Didn't she want to get married again?"

"She dated some. I remember some of the men she dated, but I guess nothing stuck. Maybe not all guys want to take on a little kid. She works as a senior manager in a manufacturing company. I think she's sort of married to her job."

"That means you grew up without a father. Was that hard?"

"It would have been nice to have a dad, but it's not the worst thing in the world. I had friends with nice fathers, and I sort of borrowed theirs. It was OK. Certainly, it was better than your situation."

"Is your mother happy?"

"I think so. At least she never complains. She has a lot of lady friends. I guess she's happy enough."

"She sounds like a nice person."

"She is. You need to meet her sometime."

"I'd like to."

"What about you? Do you think you'll ever be reconciled with your father and brothers?"

Ian sighed. "I've never really fit in. Maybe when I'm older and they can see me as an adult, but to them, I'm still the clumsy little blind kid in a family of jocks."

"But you're in college and doing great. They should be proud of you," I told him. "Why can't your father and brothers see that? At least your mother is proud of you."

"My mother does what my father tells her to. I doubt he knows she's sending me money. If he finds out he'll probably tell her to stop and that will be the end of it."

"Surely he'll let her help while you're in college. Your future depends on your education."

Ian shook his head. "You don't understand, Andrew. My father only made it through high school because he was a good football player and now he's doing menial work. He resents people with an education. He sees them as show-offs. He'd rather see me fail."

"That's crazy."

"Not from his point of view. My brothers are the same way. They take pride in the fact that they're getting by with very little education. They think that educated people are eggheads. They aren't bad people, kind of 'good-old-boys', you know? Like I said, I never fit in."

"I guess the good news is that you don't need them anymore. Maybe you never did."

"Not really. I'll have to make it on my own."

"Nobody makes it on their own, Ian. We all need somebody."

Ian paused. "I like to think I don't need anybody, but that's not true. I need you, Andrew. And not just because I'm blind."

I wasn't sure what to say. "I need you too. I really like that we're together. I hope this lasts."

"What will happen to us when we get out of college? I think about that."

"I do too. If you were a girl I'd ask you to marry me."

Ian laughed. "Guys can't get married."

"No, but think about it. You're blind and I'm sort of your assistant. Nobody has questioned that. We could stay together if we could get our jobs to coincide. Kind of like Hellen Keller and that lady who helped her."

"That's almost too much to hope for."

"It won't happen by accident. We need to plan for it. What do you think?"

"If you could ask me to marry you, I would accept. What do you think?"

I put my arm around Ian and pulled him close. "I think that's a great idea. Let's make that a plan."

I was to run home for Thanksgiving while Ian stayed behind and caught up on some school work. The evening before I left, we made a Thanksgiving dinner of our own. I roasted a small chicken and Ian did the mashed potatoes. He was an ace at mashed potatoes.

When we sat down to eat, I asked him, "What are you thankful for?"

Ian thought for a moment. "I'm thankful to be in college. I was never sure I would get this far. I'm thankful for my mother and her support. Mostly I'm thankful for you. What are you thankful for?"

"My list is the same as yours – college, Mom, you. Especially for you. Our mothers are different though."

"How's that?"

"Both of them love us, but my mother chose to get out of a bad marriage. Your mother doesn't seem to have that choice."

"But they both love us," Ian said. "That's the thing they have in common. That's the important part."

I agreed. We both had some things to be thankful for.

I went home on Thursday morning and came back the next day. While I was home I had a long talk with my mother.

She asked me about Ian. "You've mentioned a few things about your roommate. I know that he's blind and I gather that you two are close, but I've never met him."

"I'd like you to. He's a neat guy. He's smart and funny. I like him a lot."

"Is he more than just a friend?" she asked.

"Yes, to be honest. We're talking about staying together after college."

"In that case, I'd really like to meet him," she smiled. "How would that work?"

"What if he came home with me for the Christmas break?"

"He would be very welcome, but would that be alright with his family?"

"To tell the truth, he isn't close to his family. I think he would like that very much."

"In that case, I'll plan on it. Let me know when you'll be here, and tell me more about Ian."

"Thanks, Mom. You're the best." We had a long talk.

After I got back on Friday, I told Ian, "You're invited home for Christmas."

"Is that alright with your mother? I mean, does she know about us?"

"Mom understands me. She's fine with us. I told you she was a neat lady."

"That sounds wonderful. I can't wait to meet her."

"Um, you will probably have to sleep in the guest room. My room has bunk beds and she might not be quite that open-minded."

"Oh, that's fine. I hate to think what would happen if I tried to bring you home with me."

"You'll be very welcome, Ian. I can promise you that."

That night we shared one of the twin beds. It was plenty big enough for what we wanted to do. We didn't mind at all being close. We showered and slipped into bed just as we came out of the bath. Our time together was becoming more relaxed and loving. We had long passed the point of being friends to one of being committed to making life pleasurable for each other. We shared ourselves as intimately as possible, both giving and receiving. Our lives were not perfect, but we were very happy.

We devoted ourselves to wrapping up the semester during the weeks before the Christmas break. Ian took off work and we spent our time studying and finishing some papers. The prospects of surviving another term looked encouraging. Just before leaving we packed our bags and got ready to go.

"I hope your mother will like me," Ian fretted. "I can be a lot of trouble."

"Don't be silly. She'll love you and you're no trouble at all."

"I'm sorry, but I'm kind of nervous. I've never had a boyfriend before and certainly never met his mother."

"She invited you, Ian. She knows we are more than just roommates and she's fine with it."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her that you were smart and funny and a hell of a good lay."

"You didn't!"

"No, of course not. But I told her that we were thinking of staying together after college. She's not dumb and she knows how I am. It's OK, Ian. Really."

We packed up the car and left for mother's two days before Christmas. Ian was unusually quiet on the drive over. I knew he was stewing about making a good impression. I also knew that he would. We pulled into Mom's driveway at two in the afternoon and I took our bags and bundles out of the trunk and set them down beside the car.

Before I could start for the house, the front door opened and Mom called out, "Hello! I'm so glad you came. Let me help you with those."

Ian stood still with his long white cane in his hand until she approached him.

Ian held out his hand and she took it in both of hers. "You must be Ian. I have heard so many nice things about you. Please call me Catharine."

Ian smiled and said, "It's very nice to meet you. Andrew told me that you were a neat lady and I can tell that you are. Thank you for making me feel welcome."

"Well, you are very welcome. Now let's get these bags in the house and make ourselves comfortable."

My things went into my old bedroom and Ian's went to the guest room. Mother hustled us into the living room. "Now I know you've been in the car for a while. Andrew can show you the bathroom while I get something for us to munch on. Take your time."

When we had relieved ourselves and washed up, Ian took my arm and we sat down together on the sofa. He looked a little uncertain.

"There are some snacks on the coffee table in front of you. I'm sure you can manage just fine. Now tell me about school. Ian, I think you are in Marketing?"

I placed some chips and dip on a plate, laid it on a napkin and handed it to Ian. "Yes, Ma'am," he said. "I was thinking of majoring in English but changed to Marketing in the School of Business Administration this past semester."

"That's a much more practical choice," she said. "Are you enjoying your classes?"

Mom was easy to talk with and I mostly grinned and listened as she made Ian comfortable. Soon he was relaxed and making little jokes. Of course, the story of the horse meat steaks came up and we all laughed like old friends. Good old Mom.

We chatted for a long time before Mom excused herself and went into the kitchen to put some supper together, leaving Ian and me alone to talk.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"Your mother is terrific. She just couldn't be nicer."

"She likes you. I told you she would."

"I need to know where things are. Could we walk around?"

I gave Ian the tour and we located the bedrooms, the front and back doors, then found our way into the kitchen where we sat at the breakfast table and talked to Mom while she rattled the pots and pans. Soon the smell of frying chicken filled the air.

I jumped up and set the kitchen table for us and we enjoyed a nice supper. "I can see where Andrew learned to cook," Ian complimented my mother on her chicken.

"Yes," Mom laughed. "I taught him everything he knows, but not everything I know. Is he feeding you alright?"

"He is, and he's even teaching me how to fix a few things."

"Ian is generally in charge of breakfast. He makes the coffee and scrambles the eggs," I bragged. "He's coming right along."

After some coffee, we all stood at the sink. I washed, Ian dried then handed things to Mom to be put away. It went well.

When it was finally time for bed, Mom left us alone for a few minutes so that I could help Ian get settled. I turned down the bed for him and sat down next to him. "Do you feel welcome?" I asked.

"More than welcome. Your Mom is wonderful."

"I told you she was a nice person. She wants me to be happy, Ian. If you are the one to make me happy, she will love you."

"And I will love her. I guess we should say goodnight."

"Yeah. No snuggling tonight, but we'll find a way," I hugged him and snuck a quick kiss. "Goodnight, Ian."

I went into the living room and sat down with Mum. "He's a nice person. I like him," she said. "Nice looking too."

"I've never met anyone like him, and I'm not talking about him being blind. That's not really a big part of the deal."

"I like the chemistry between you. I approve, not that you need me to."

"That's important, Mom. This could be a long term deal."

"As long as he makes you happy," Mom smiled.

The next day was Christmas Eve. After breakfast Mom announced. "I didn't want to put up a tree until Andrew came home. We need to go to the Christmas tree lot and pick one out. You can help, Ian."

Mom sat in the front seat with me and Ian got in the back. When we got to the tree lot we got out and walked among the possibilities. "Now help me find a fresh one. I don't want pine needles all over the house," she instructed us.

As we walked down the rows of possibilities I would find one that looked nice and Ian would run his hands over the branches. "I think this one is a little dry," he would say and we would check out another. When we came to one that passed his initial inspection he leaned forward to crush the needles and sniff. "Oh, this one smells fresh."

Mom stepped up and declared. "That's a beautiful tree. Thanks, boys. We'll take it." We drove home with it tied to the roof of my Chevy.

Once home, we lugged it into the house and screwed into the tree stand, added a little water and wrapped the old skirt around the bottom. Mom sat back and let us do the work, then hauled a box of Christmas ornaments out of the hall closet. "Help us with the decorations, Ian. I never know where to put things."

First, we threaded a long string of lights around the branches then festooned them with our vintage collection of ornaments. "Remember this one?" she would say as she first handed one to me, then passed it to Ian. "The Hendersons gave us this one. And this one we bought when you were in grade school."

Each ornament had a history and a story to go with it. Ian examined each, then we collectively found a place for it in the branches. It had been our Christmas tradition ever since I could remember. When finally the box was empty, we sat down on the sofa to admire our work. Ian breathed deeply. "It smells like Christmas."

"It's a beautiful tree. Thank you, guys." Mom excused herself and returned from the kitchen in a few minutes with a tray of cookies and cups of hot chocolate. "Careful now, that cocoa is hot." This too was part of the tradition that my mother had created for our little family of two. Ian seemed to glow.

"I'm going to feed you tonight," she said. "Tomorrow you boys will have to starve so you'll have a good appetite for Christmas dinner. It will just be the three of us so you'll have to eat a lot."

It had been a very nice day. I walked Ian into his bedroom and we sat and talked for several minutes.

"Are you glad you came?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I never dreamed that Christmas could be like this. Ours was never this way."

"What was Christmas like when you were a kid?"

"I guess we had our own sort of tradition. Dad and my brothers would drive out to a state park and saw down a little cedar three and bring it home. We had an old string of lights and made a lot of our ornaments. We didn't have much money. I remember threading popcorn on a string to drape around the tree. Mom would help me while the guys drank beer and watched. It wasn't like your tradition but it was kind of nice."

"Ours has always been the same for as long as I remember,' I said. "I always loved Christmas."

"I don't have much for your mother," Ian said. "I just got her a little present. I didn't know what she'd want."

"That's OK. I got her something and put both our names on it. She'll like it."

Ian hugged me very tightly. "Thank you, Andrew. I'm very glad I came. I can't imagine being alone this Christmas."

"Neither can I. I'm alone when I'm not with you. I love you, Ian."

"I love you too," he sounded kind of weepy. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight. I'll see you in the morning."

We all slept a little late the next morning. Breakfast was coffee, a platter of muffins and some fresh fruit. We were to be hungry for Christmas dinner. After breakfast, I went out to the car and brought in a large plastic bag.

"I think Santa came," My mother announced and we sat on the sofa as she handed us each a wrapped box. "Your names are on these."

We opened our presents. Inside the boxes were matching tan camelhair sweaters. "Try them on," Mom instructed. "Santa left the receipts so we can exchange them if they don't fit." They did fit and looked very nice.

"How did Santa know my size?" Ian asked.

"I told you that Andrew told me all about you, enough so I could make a good guess at what size you wear. I passed that along to Santa," she laughed.

"We have something for you," I reached into my bag and handed a package to her. "Inside was a bright red Christmas sweater with little sparkly things around the neck.

"A sweater. Great minds think alike," she laughed and pulled it over her head then stood to look in the mirror that hung on the wall next to the front door. "Oh, I just love it. Thank you very much – both of you."

Ian sat for a moment then handed a small package to my mother. "I hope you like this."

"Oh, thank you," mom said and tore off the paper. Inside was a red wool scarf.

"We made those in my high school," Ian explained. "I kept one and hope you can use it."

"It's lovely. It goes with the sweater." Mom impulsively gave Ian a quick hug. Thank you very much."

Ian grinned shyly then pulled a small box from his pants pocket. "This is for you," he said and handed it to me.

Inside was a nice wristwatch. I put it on and admired it. "The cover flips up," Ian said. I pressed a small button on the side of the face and the glass cover flipped open to allow access to the hands. It was like the one Ian wore but new and nicer.

"Wow! This a great, Ian. Thanks."

"If I lose mine I can borrow it," he smiled.

"It's beautiful. I really like it." I pushed the lever and tapped the face of the watch with my fingers. It was a very personal gift and I felt my eyes grow damp.

Reaching in my bag I extracted a pair of small boxes. "I have something for you, for both of us, really." In the boxes were a pair of matching silver rings set with small turquoise stones. "they're sort of friendship rings," I explained. We put them on and Ian sat silently, running his finger over the stones. He seemed to be unable to speak.

Finally, he croaked, "Thanks."

My mother smiled and excused herself to start our Christmas dinner. I reached over and took Ian's hand. "I love you," I said quietly.

"I love you too. This is the nicest Christmas I ever had."

"The first of many, Ian. The first of many."

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