Chapter 1: The Invitation
Dedication: For Apollo, who is Hayden. Thanks for teaching me how to find hope through the darkness and kicking me in the ass when I really needed it.
Chapter 1 - The Invitation
"Hey, watch it!" Tina giggles as she reaches down to help me wipe away the ice cream she dripped onto my shoulder. "I knew we should've waited 'til you were done before leaving. You're messy."
"But it was crowded in there," she complains before turning her attention back to her ice cream cone. "If we'd stayed we'd have just gotten bumped around."
"Yeah, I suppose having a little ice cream dripped on my shoulder is better than having a whole cone dropped on my head again," I agree reluctantly. Tina snickers quietly at the memory and I hastily stick the last bit of my ice cream cone into my mouth to free up my hands. "Okay, I can push myself now. You keep off to the side until you're done. I don't want another ice cream shower."
Tina rolls her eyes but doesn't answer, licking vanilla off her top lip. Damn it's distracting when she does that. I face forward again, focusing on heading home while Tina walks next to me, humming as she eats her ice cream.
It's the third week of summer vacation and, as per Mr. Schue's instructions, Tina and I are enjoying our downtime. Now that we've satisfied our random ice cream craving, we're retreating back to the air conditioning of my house until the temperature drops enough that being outdoors doesn't feel horrible. Tina, being an incredibly fast eater of everything except sweets, barely finishes her ice cream by the time we reach my driveway.
"Slow poke," I tease as I go up the ramp and push open the front door. She laughs but a second later she whacks the back of my head.
"Just because I don't inhale my food like you do," she says and I can almost hear her rolling her eyes again.
"Artie, Tina, is that you?" Mom calls from down the hall. Before I even have time to suck in the breath required to answer, she sticks her head out into the hall. "You two sure took forever in getting that ice cream."
I flush at the suspicious look she's giving us. "It's the middle of the day, the place was packed," I point out. "And Tina's a slow eater. There were no detours, honest."
She still doesn't look convinced but she just smiles. "Alright then. Oh, the mail came while you were gone and I think the invitation's here. I put it in on your bed."
"Thanks Mom," I say and she ducks back into the kitchen. Tina steps up behind my chair and follows me down the hall toward my room.
"Invitation?" she asks curiously as she closes the bedroom door behind us. "I thought people stopped sending birthday invitations after the fourth grade."
I smirk at her weak attempt at a joke as I heave myself up onto my bed. "Wedding invitation," I correct and she looks up from unlacing her boots interestedly. I reach over and grab the two envelopes off my pillow, and I snort in disgust at the top one. "Junk mail," I grumble, tossing it to the side.
Tina picks it up curiously. "Advertisements for electric wheelchairs," she observes and then shakes her head. "You know, I always kinda wondered why you don't have one of these. Wouldn't it be nice to give your arms a break every once in a while?"
"So long as I've still got two working limbs, I'm going to use them," I say pointedly. Then I smile and add, "Besides, if I used one of those I wouldn't have these sexy biceps."
"Good point," she concedes and I grin as one of her hands slips around my arm. Hell yeah. Taking the envelope back from her, I toss it in the direction of the trash, ignoring Tina's snort when it pinwheels straight over the top and into the side of my desk.
My curiosity takes over and I snatch up the second, smaller envelope I had dropped into my lap. Sure enough the return address reads Hayden West and when I flip it over the envelope is sealed with a sticker dictating two intertwined golden rings. Tina is leaning her head on my shoulder, watching as I pry it open and pull out the contents. I set aside the glossy card for a moment and instead pick up the folded letter.
"Artie, is that Braille?" Tina asks in awe. I nod distractedly, my eyes already panning over the typed letters running beneath the raised bumps. "Wait, you can read Braille?"
I laugh and shake my head. "Not anymore, really. I used to but it's not exactly a skill I use a lot so I'm not very good at it. That's why he prints it normally underneath now." I glance sideways and Tina is staring at me with a strange expression. "What?"
"You are seriously the most bizarre person I know," she says, shaking her head. "What non-blind person learns to read Braille?"
"If I remember right, the last time you stole my glasses and put them on you called me blind," I say with a laugh as I set aside the letter and pick up the glossy invitation. The wedding announcement is printed in a curly script in the middle of a collage of pictures of a smiling couple.
"So, who are Hayden and Emma?" Tina asks curiously.
I double-take. "I never told you about Hayden?" I ask in surprise. She shakes her head. "Oh, wow, that's weird." I bite my lip, because in reality it's not actually all that unbelievable that I've avoided mentioning the other boy. After all, we were friends for over a year before I told her about my accident. Clearing my throat, I say, "Hayden is the one who taught me to play guitar."
"I always thought you taught yourself," she says.
I laugh, shaking my head. "C'mon Tee, I'm good but not that good. I never really had any interest in music before I met him, actually."
Tina stares down at the invitation for a moment, and when she looks up at me again I recognize the same hurt look in her face that she had when she confronted me about my dream of being a dancer. I know what's coming before she says it. "Why haven't you told me about him before?"
I take a deep breath and look down at the invitation in my hand again. The girl is a pretty brunette with a sweet, compassionate smile. In every picture she has her arms around the tall blonde man. I don't fail to notice that all of the pictures are taken from his left side, hiding the scars on the right side of his face and neck. They are honestly hardly visible, but he's always been self-conscious about them.
"Artie?" Tina prompts gently.
"I don't really talk about him because I met him in the rehab center after the accident," I admit.
Tina's eyes widen and she picks up the discarded letter, and I see the truth click. "So the Braille… is he –?"
"Blind. Yeah," I finish.
"You had a blind guitar teacher?" she asks with the faintest curl of a smile.
"Well, he's more than just my guitar teacher. He's sort of like a brother to me. He was my best friend for a long time when I didn't have any other friends." I catch the look on her face and add, "This was way before you moved here." She nods, looking reassured. "I was in a pretty bad way after the accident. Hayden is kinda the guy who helped me get back on my feet. Metaphorically, of course."
Tina nods and then looks up at me with a familiar light in her eyes. "Tell me," she says. When I simply stare at her, she rolls her eyes and laughs. "C'mon Artie, tell me the story. You know you want to. You love telling stories."
I sigh but can't deny she's right. Of course normally the stories I tell are grossly embellished if not entirely fictional. For this, she'll want the truth. I guess I owe her that much anyway, since we swore there wouldn't be any more secrets between us. "It's kinda a long story," I say.
"And we've got like three more hours before it cools down enough outside to even consider doing anything," she points out. She pushes her lower lip out as if I haven't already given in. "Please, Artie?"
"Alright, fine," I say, holding my hands up in surrender. Tina beams excitedly, instantly snatching up my pillow and making herself comfortable. Shaking my head in amusement, I prop myself up against the headboard as she settles down beside me. I glance down at Tina, curled cat-like around a pillow with her head resting on my calf, before beginning. "Well it all started in November of 2001, when I was finally released from the hospital and moved into the Northern Ohio Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy Center…"