It was cold, dark, and raining, and goddamnit, it had not been a good start to the day. She had awoken that morning to her alarm going off; it was a loud bleeping noise that irritated the fuck out of her, but there was no other way to wake her up (unless her dog jumped on her or someone shook her).
After her alarm she felt something land on her, and she blinked before running her hand through the hair of the dog. It was smooth, so she shoved the dog off her body and sat up. 'Down Livy!' she commanded, and she felt the dog jump off the bed. She felt around on her bedside table, and picked up the cane that was resting on the table top. Then she unfolded it, placed the tip of it onto the floor, and swung her legs out from beneath her duvet. She walked over to her cupboard, using the cane to scout the floor. When it hit the cupboard door, she reached forwards and opened the door. She crouched down to the bottom shelf and felt around for her boots. Once she pulled them out, she moved up a shelf to where she kept her t-shirts, and picked one off the top of the pile. Her fingers ran over the material, trying to get an image in her mind of the shirt she had just picked up. She couldn't feel anything on the top, so she put it aside. As she moved up a level, she heard a creak in her floor by the door, and turned her head. 'Mike?' she asked.
'No, it's me,' her dad responded, his heart breaking a little bit at the sight of her. She had just arrived back home the night before after a whole year away at a school for the blind, and he had never truly seen how she coped with it.
Aria turned her head back to the t-shirt she had just placed on the floor, and picked it up again, before twisting, and showing it to her dad. 'What colour is this?' she asked.
He looked at the shirt, and said, 'Light blue, with a white heart in the middle. Long sleeved.'
Aria nodded, and went back to clothes searching. 'I'll be down for breakfast in twenty minutes,' she told her dad - who then turned and left the room. Aria placed her fingers at the bottom of the cupboard, counting the shelves as she went up. 'Shoes, t-shirts, skirts,' she muttered to herself, and placed her hands at the top of the pile of skirts.
At the doorway, Ella cleared her throat. 'Your dad sent me. He thinks you might need help with colour co-ordinating?' Ella said - smiling sympathetically - but the thought that her daughter couldn't see the smile brought a single tear to her eye.
Aria turned her head towards her mother and nodded, 'Yes please.' Ella briskly walked over to where her daughter was kneeling, and crouched down on the balls of her feet.
'Do you want a long or short skirt?' she asked, giving Aria time to contemplate.
'Short. And black,' Aria said, grateful for the support her family were giving her. Ella quickly pulled out a skirt and handed it to Aria, before turning away from her, so as to give her some privacy to change. Aria changed as fast as she could, and turned around to her mother. 'Thank you,' she said, hugging her mum.
Ella frowned. 'Do you want me to do your make up for you?' she questioned, concerned, but Aria shook her head.
'No thanks, I just need to put on some lipstick and foundation. It's not like anyone's going to see my eyes,' Aria said truthfully, and Ella nodded.
'I'll leave you to it, then,' Ella said, and hurried out of the room. She walked across the hallway and into her own bedroom, where Byron was sitting reading a newspaper. Ella sat down on the bed next to her husband and curled up next to him. 'I don't think I can do this,' she confessed.
Byron folded the newspaper, and wrapped an arm around Ella, bringing her closer to where he was sat. 'I know what you mean,' he said, 'However Aria is a strong, capable young woman and she knows what she's doing...'
'That's not what I mean.' Ella interrupted, 'I can't do this. I don't think I'm ever going to get used to Aria being blind.'
'Neither am I, Ella, but we're going to have to be brave, for the family, and for Aria,' Byron attempted to soothe his wife.
They walked downstairs together after they heard the creaking of Livy and Aria walking downstairs.
Once downstairs, Ella put a plate in front of Aria's face. 'It's a chocolate croissant,' Ella told her daughter, who had one hand stroking Livy's fur and the other arm leaning on the table as she fiddled with her hair.
Ella glanced at Aria's hair once she started eating. 'I miss your hair long,' she sighed, and walked around the table to where Aria was sat. She started fiddling with the cropped hair, and Aria lifted a hand, flicking her mother's hands away. 'I'm sorry Mum, it's just, the last time anyone saw me, the bottom half of my hair was practically burnt to a crisp, and I'm not sure what they'll think when they see it.'
'Aria. Your hair is lovely short. It really shows off your facial features,' Byron said as Aria heard his footsteps go from the kitchen towards the office.
'Thanks Dad,' Aria replied as she finished off her croissant and Ella took her plate away.
Half an hour later the family of four sat in the black Audi in the school parking lot. Ella, who was sitting in the front passengers seat of the car, turned around to face her two teenage children. 'Are you sure you want to do this Aria?' she asked concerned.
Aria, putting on a sense of false confidence, nodded. 'Yes. I'm ready,' she said, and reached into the boot where Livy was sitting. 'I'll see you later Livy,' Aria said, scratching behind her ears. She felt around on the door for the handle and opened the door. All of a sudden she heard a bustle of noise, a sound that she had missed, and she unfolded her cane. When she put her cane out in front of her, Mike was there to help her out of the car.
Suddenly, Aria heard a shout from a voice that she recognised all too well. 'Mike!' The voice shouted, and Aria heard the click of heels approaching. As she stood up, her sunglasses in place on her head, the heels stopped clicking. 'Oh. Hi,' the girl said awkwardly.
'Hello Riley,' Aria responded, before turning her head to face Mike. 'It's okay Mike. You can go. You don't have to chaperone me.' Before walking away, she closed the door of the car, using the stick to feel her way. As she walked, she noticed the playground fall silent, and she felt people's stares burn away at her skin. She gulped, wondering if she was ready for this, but kept going. As she reached the steps of the school, she felt someone link arms with her (a someone she guessed was a girl, judging by the arm's shape).
'Hello Aria. It's Shana,' Shana said, and then hesitated. 'Are you okay?' she asked, concerned.
'I've adjusted,' Aria said, bluntly.
'Look, Aria, I'm so sorry about what happened. I followed you in, but I was too late. I wanted to thank you for saving Jenna, but you left the following day. By the way, do you want me to take you to Principal Tamborelli's office?' Shana asked.
Aria's cane hit the bottom step and she picked up her foot, trailing it along the height of the step and putting her foot down when she felt the step stop. She did this again for each one, and moved her cane forward again, searching for another step, but there were none. 'Yes please.'
Shana, who was still holding Aria's arm, pushed open the door to the hallway, and guided her towards the Principal's office.
Alison, Riley, Naomi, and Maya all leaned against their lockers, observing the goings-on of the hallway.
Alison had her locker door open and was looking in the mirror, fixing her blonde hair, while Riley, Naomi, and Maya were standing beside her discussing their summer holidays.
'So I was standing on the side of the pool in Barbados, when my idiot brother Julian and his friends he met there came barrelling past, and I fell in, fully-clothed. Thankfully the lifeguard saw, and he saved me,' Naomi swooned, and Riley giggled.
Maya twisted on her toe, and leaned against her locker, but she immediately pushed herself back off it. 'Oh my god,' she said.
Alison slammed her locker door shut after one last clip in her hair, and saw what Maya had commented on. 'Stay here,' she told her friends, and walked to where Aria and Shana were making their way through the hallway. 'Excuse me, Aria? It's Alison.'
'Hello Alison,' Aria said to her former best friend, and tilted her head.
'Could you excuse us a second please, Shana?' Alison asked politely, pointedly glaring at the girl, knowing that Aria couldn't see what was going on.
Shana hesitated, but Aria let go of Shana's arm. 'It's okay, Shana,' she said, and Shana quickly left the two girls.
Alison faced Aria fully, and started talking: 'Look, Aria, I'm really really sorry about what happened. The girls and I all feel absolutely awful.'
Aria shifted, and smiled ruefully. 'So, then, why was Shana the only person who actually rushed after me, and stayed after the accident to see if Jenna and I were okay? The four of you just rushed off, and you didn't even justify what happened.'
Alison cringed. 'I came by the next day to apologise and tell you I didn't think anyone was in there, but your brother told me you'd been taken away to a blind school in Philly... He broke up with me that day.'
Aria was blunt, 'Oh I know. He also told me you didn't know I'd been blinded, but I don't believe what you told him. I mean it's kind of obvious that you knew,' she snapped and took her sunglasses off. Her irises were a pale blue colour, but Alison would have described her eyes as unfocused and glazed over. Around them were thin, silvery scars as well as blotchy red patches; it was unsettling, and she sighed with relief when Aria replaced her glasses.
They stood there awkwardly, but Aria stepped away from Alison after a minute. 'Were you going to say something else, or can I go, your Highness?' she asked, and Alison walked back to her friends. Shana rushed back to Aria's side, continuing to guide her towards the Headteacher's office.
'Well that was unnerving,' Alison said to her friends, and shivered.