The crash of thunder, louder than Micky's drums, jolted Mike back to reality. He blinked, wiping his eyes and heaving himself out of bed on legs still rubbery from sleep.
The wind was driving the rain from the heavy storm outside right into the upstairs bedroom, and Mike grimaced at the mess it was making on the floor—especially when he stepped into a puddle.
"Man," Mike groused, shaking water droplets from his right foot. "Why didn'tcha shut the window?"
"Cause it was your turn," Micky mumbled from under his pillow.
Mike mouthed the words sarcastically as he moved toward the window, the pelting rain soaking the rest of him in the process. "Well," he quipped, "I won't need a shower in the morning."
"That's your opinion," his roommate shot back.
Mike stuck out his tongue at Micky's buried back. He leaned out the window for a moment—he was already wet anyway—admiring the pyrotechnics in the night sky. He then reached for the jamb.
Lightning struck right outside the Pad, illuminating the room with the power of a million flashbulbs—and Mike took the full force of it. He screamed and staggered backward, flinging one arm across his eyes to shield them—too late.
"Mike!" Micky yelled. He had peeked one eye out from under the pillow so he could watch Mike doing all the work, and he had seen the flash. Instantly he was at Mike's side. "Mike?"
"I'm okay, I'm okay," Mike muttered, more to himself than to Micky, blinking rapidly. He swung his head around, looking for Micky but not quite able to make him out in the darkness, especially with all the bright speckles dancing in front of his eyes, obscuring his vision. "Just... a lot of spots right now." His eyes finally focused on Micky, but he was still blinking rapidly. "A little blurred, but I'll be fine."
"Man, you scared me!" Micky said, shutting the window—at last. "Here, lay down, I'll getcha a wet washcloth."
"I said I'm all right!" Mike protested, but his heart wasn't in it. His eyes felt sore and raw as if they'd been seared by fire. All he wanted to do was close them and keep them closed until they returned to normal.
"Yeah, that's why you're still blinking a mile a minute. Bet your eyes hurt." Mike had to admit they did. "Be right back." Micky patted his shoulder and left the room.
Mike returned to his bed and stretched out again with a sigh, keeping one hand over his eyes as if that would somehow help.
"Everything all right up there?" Davy asked. He and Peter were standing at the bottom of the stairs.
"Yeah, we heard Mike yell," Peter said.
"Didja see the lightning crash?" Micky asked, leaning over the railing.
"See it?" Peter asked incredulously. "Davy just now coaxed me out from under the bed!"
"Yeah," Davy said. "The second it happened, Pete shot under the bed, till we heard Mike."
"Well, Mike was standing right by the window when it happened," Micky said. "He's seeing a lot of spots and his eyes hurt. Pete, would you wet a washcloth, wring it out and bring it up here?"
"Sure." Peter headed for the kitchen, then stopped. "But how can I wring it out when we don't have a washing machine?"
"I'll help," Davy said. "Micky, you get back to Mike."
"Right," Micky said. "Cold water, Pete!"
"Right," Peter called.
Micky nodded and went back into the bedroom. Mike peeked out from between his fingers and he smiled a little at his injured friend, trying to appear reassuring. "How you doing, Mike?"
"Sore. My eyes really hurt."
"How's the vision?"
"Oh, it's fine. Just a little blurry and spotty." He looked at Micky's empty hands.
"Where's the relief?"
"Peter's bringing it."
Micky grinned. "Davy's helping."
Mike chuckled. "Man, to be such a good musician, he's lackin' a little upstairs, isn't he?"
"No, I'm not," Peter said, walking in. "I've got all I need downstairs in the bedroom. Up here is your domain."
Mike shook his head in amusement as he took the offered washcloth and lay it over his eyes, sighing with contentment. "Much better. Thanks."
"No problem," Peter said. "Uhm... mind if I stay up here till the storm blows over?"
There was another terrific thunder crash and Micky said, "Maybe we'd better move downstairs till the storm blows over. Might be safer."
Mike removed the washcloth till they got downstairs, then he lay on the black chaise lounge and replaced the cold square of cloth on his eyes.
There was another terrific crash of thunder, and everything suddenly went black. Mike sat up, panicking as he became convinced his sight had somehow disappeared completely. The washcloth dropped unheeded into his lap as he darted horrified glances around the room, but he could see nothing. He stared into the blackness and cried, "Micky? Davy? Peter?"
"Here, Mike," Davy said.
"Everything's gone black!" Mike exclaimed, fighting to keep the hysteria he felt rising within him out of his voice.
"Relax, you're not blind!" Micky's voice called. "That last lightning strike took out the electricity! We're all seeing nothing but darkness!"
Mike closed his aching eyes with relief as he sank back into the lounge and replaced the washcloth, his heart still racing after that scare.
As candlelight washed over the room, Mike smiled as he heard Peter begin to sing "Riu Chiu."
"Peter, man, it's the middle of July!"
"I know. But with all these candles, it looks like Christmas!" Another loud crash of thunder, and Peter added, "Only Christmas is a little quieter."
The storm finally blew over at two in the morning. Micky and Mike headed back upstairs to bed, and Davy and Peter went to their bedroom. They didn't get much sleep for awhile, though—Davy spent another hour convincing Peter the storm wasn't coming back.
Morning came, and Davy and Peter shot fingers for breakfast. Davy won (thankfully, he said), and began cooking bacon and eggs.
"Don't forget the Texas pancakes!" Peter said as came out of the bedroom tucking in his blue paisley shirt, belt still undone.
"I won't," Davy assured him. "Hey, get them up while I get dressed, okay?"
"Sure," Peter said, tugging the belt till it was closed on his left hip. He headed up the stairs. "Rise and shine!" he sang out, throwing open the door. Then his ready smile faded. "Micky? Mike? What is it?"
Mike was sitting on the bed, eyes wide, his expression frighteningly blank. Micky was sitting in front of him. They both turned to Peter. Mike squinted, but his eyes did not focus.
"Pete," Micky said, "tell Davy to forget about breakfast. You two go get the Monkeemobile warmed up. We've gotta get Mike to the doctor."
"Pete," Mike said gently, not wanting to scare them—or himself. "I can barely make you out. The whole world is one huge blur."
"It was the lightning flash," Micky said. "We think it hurt his retinas."
Peter sagged in relief, smiling again. "Oh, if that's all it was! The way you were talking, I thought something was wrong with his eyes!" He closed the door and they could hear him yell, "Davy, shut that off! We've gotta get Mike to the doctor, but it's nothing serious! It's only his retainers!"
There was a thudding of footsteps, then the door flew open again to reveal Davy. "His what?"
Despite the serious situation, Mike rolled his eyes heavenward and chuckled. "Leave it to Peter. My retinas, Davy. I can't see much but a fuzzy blur."
Davy met Micky's eyes and read the gravity of the situation. "Understood. I'll go call Ericka."
Mike turned to the blur with the big blob of brown on top. "Ericka who?"
"Doctor Peterson," Micky said.
Mike gave him a "you must be joking" look. "Davy's dating our doctor?"
"What can I say, man? He's Davy."
Mike threw up his hands in resignation and agreement.
"Aw, nuts!" Peter exclaimed, slapping the steering wheel as he brought the Monkeemobile to a halt.
"What is it?" Mike asked, trying to make some sense out of the writhing blob he saw in front of the Monkeemobile. It was bad enough that he could barely see—now he was stuck in the back seat while someone else drove. It was enough to drive him crazy!
"Police blockade," Micky said.
"A whole crowd of screaming, cheering girls," Davy said.
"Blocking the whole street in front of Doctor Peterson's," Peter finished.
"Oh, okay," Mike said. "Who's playin' the arena tonight?"
Micky looked up. "Uhm... The Who."
"The who?" Peter asked, confused.
"That's right," Micky said.
Peter opened his mouth to say something, and Mike interrupted firmly, "You guys, we're not startin' that right now." Normally he didn't mind all the bad jokes his room-mates were capable of spouting off, but right now, he was not in the mood for corny jokes and bad puns.
Peter steered the car to a parking spot and shut it off. Getting out, he suddenly grinned and put on an accent eerily close to Mike's. "All right, shotgun, that's as close as it gets. We hoof it from here on."
Mike stared at the front seat, his dark eyes round with disbelief. He turned to the blur he could identify as Micky. "He drove, didn't he?"
"Yeah," Micky said.
"He's imitatin' me. I hate it when he imitates me," he mock-grumbled. To lighten his own mood, Mike pulled off his hat and plunked it down on the blond blur. "If you're gonna play me, you'll need this."
Peter laughed as he took Mike's hand. Mike froze for a second. His first reaction was to jerk his hand away—he had never been comfortable with casual touching even with close family and friends—but then he realized why Peter had done it: to guide him through the crowd.
He sighed, murmuring, "Aw, shoot, I ain't got no choice," and the four plunged into the sea of humanity.
They were jostled about so much that Peter's hand was knocked from Mike's. Startled and disoriented, Mike reached out for him, but the other three were swallowed up by the crowd.
"Peter?" Mike called, squinting as he tried to make them out in the huge blur. "Micky? Davy?" As he tried to worm his way through the teeming mob, Mike turned his head to get a better look—
And a flashbulb went off not one inch from his face.
With a harsh cry of pain, Mike stumbled backwards, clawing at his eyes. He'd thought the lightning had hurt, but it was nothing compared to this agony! He dropped his hands and opened his eyes wide, trying to dispel the spots.
Only to look right into a second miniature sun.
The third bright flash sent Mike tumbling to his knees, reeling from the intense pain. The crowd surged around him. Mike gained his feet and stumbled through the crowd, one hand extended as he searched for some sort of haven. He finally hit a wall, and he leaned against it, sliding down until he knelt on one bent knee in the sidewalk. Mike bit his bottom lip to keep from crying out from the searing pain in his skull, but a stray tear escaped, followed quickly by another before he could reassert his self-control. His eyes felt like they were on fire, burning in their sockets, and he slumped against the wall, too weary and in too much pain to do anything else.
Minutes later, the other three finally got away from the crowd. "Here he is," Micky yelled. "I see him!"
They raced over to Mike. Micky looked closely at Mike and felt cold. Mike's eyes were red-rimmed, and there were obvious tear-stains on his cheeks.
"Mike?" Peter asked, dropping down beside him. "Mike... I lost your hat."
Mike didn't move at all, didn't even turn his eyes to squint at Peter.
"I told you not to worry," Davy chided. "He's got three more just like it at home."
Micky knelt beside Mike. "You've been crying."
Mike nodded but didn't speak or even look at them.
"Still seeing just a blur?"
Mike shook his head.
Micky smiled in relief. "It's getting better, huh?"
Two words. Only two little words. But they hit the three like fists.
Micky stared at Mike, almond eyes widening. Davy shivered and put a hand over his mouth. Peter lay a hand on Mike's shoulder, making Mike start at the unexpected touch. Over Mike's head, Micky and Peter's eyes met. Then they looked at Davy, who shook his head.
"Man, what happened?" Micky asked.
"The crowd... I got lost," Mike said. "I was trying to push through, to find you guys... and three flashbulbs went off right in my face."
"Mike," Peter asked, "can't you even see the sunshine?"
"I see darkness, Peter. Nothin' but darkness. No light, no movement... nothin'."
Peter closed his eyes and put his hands over them, trying to figure out what Mike was talking about. Suddenly his shoulders straightened. He lowered his hands and his eyes were filled with shock and horror. "Aw, Mike..."
Mike straightened his shoulders then and stood up on legs that were still shaky; but he forced himself back from the edge of freaking out. "Don't worry about me, Pete. Tell you what... you guys get me on to Doc Peterson's, okay?"
Mike heard a smile in Peter's voice. "Sure thing, Mike...Uhm... Mike... how do we do that?"
Mike paused a second, then he gave a resigned shrug. He reached out and found Peter's shoulder, curving his fingers around it in a tight grip so he couldn't be separated from Peter again. "You walk, shotgun. Just walk to Doc Peterson's."
Since they were only a few doors down, it was a short easy walk. Mike only tripped twice and Micky and Davy shouted a warning when Peter was about to lead him into a streetlamp.
Doctor Ericka Peterson was waiting for them as they walked into the office. One look at Mike's staring, red-rimmed eyes and she gasped. "Mike! What happened?"
Peter led Mike to a chair and Mike told the story again as Doctor Peterson shone a light into his eyes and studied them. "And now I can't see anything."
She nodded. "What have I been doing the last few minutes?"
"Touchin' my face. Turnin' it from left to right and back again," he replied, frowning a little at the seemingly pointless questions. What did that have to do with his eyes?
"Anything else?" When Mike shook his head, she asked, "You could not see the light I was shining in your eyes?"
Mike shook his head again, his expression mirroring the dismay he felt at the implication of her words. She sighed, straightening up and turning to the other three. "His pupils don't react at all. He really is blind."
"What caused it?" Peter asked.
"Can it be reversed?" Micky added.
"And what do we do in the meantime?" Davy finished.
She sighed. "From what you've told me, I think the lightning damaged his retinas. Then, the flashbulbs made the situation worse. His optical nerve—Peter, that's the nerve that lets you see—is not functioning at all. I'd say it was a case of overload, pure and simple. His eyes just... shut down.
"As for reversing it..." She just shook her head. "That's something that will either happen or it won't. There's nothing surgical we can do. Maybe thirty years down the road, there will be, but for right now... We just have to see what happens.
"As for what you do between now and then? There's a special place we can send Mike, to teach him how to adjust..."
"No," Davy said. "Whatever he needs to learn, we can learn together."
The other two nodded assent. Mike stared blankly at the wall, his face devoid of all expression. 'It'll either happen or it won't' and 'nothing... we can do' were still echoing in his head, filling his ears so that he heard little of the conversation going on around him.
"There's a lot to learn, Mike," she warned. "Navigation, memorization, Braille... Your life will revolve around what you can hear, touch, smell, taste and remember. And there's gonna be a lot of remembering to do." She looked at the others. "And you three have to treat him as normally as possible, while never for a moment forgetting that he can't see. Sometimes I wonder who has the harder job."
"We can do it," Micky said.
"Yeah," Peter put in. "We can do anything long as we stick together."
Doctor Peterson smiled. "I don't doubt you can. Let me give you some books to get from the library. I think these may help you help him." She wrote down a long list of names from a book on her desk and handed the paper to Peter, who stuffed it in his pocket.
Loud growls suddenly erupted from Mike and Peter's stomachs, causing all except Mike to laugh. "And may I suggest you four go grab something to eat?" Doctor Peterson teased.
As they pulled into 1334 Beechwood, Mike asked, "Hey, I forgot to ask— who's driving?"
Micky and Davy smiled at each other. "Why?" Davy asked.
"Well, it can't be Peter—we haven't hit anything!"
Peter, who was indeed driving, grinned. "You always say, Mike, practice makes perfect. I've driven both times today." He shut off the car. "And I didn't kill you yet."
They went in the front door—fewer steps to remember. Just when they got inside, though, there was a sharp knock. "Now what?" Micky groaned.
He opened the door and Babbitt strode in. "All right," he growled, "today's the tenth! You said you'd pay me on the tenth! Where are my seventy-six dollars for the rent?"
Micky went to the mad money jar, and Davy pulled out his wallet. They counted the money quickly and gave Babbitt fifty-six dollars.
"You're twenty short," he groused.
"I got it," Mike said. He slid out his wallet, then slid out a bill. "Pete, is this a twenty?"
"No, a ten." Peter took it. "But I think I've got ten in my shoe." He pulled off his shoe. "Yep, I do." He handed the two bills to Babbitt. "There y'go."
Babbitt nodded. "Fine. See you next month." He took a step toward the door and paused. "What's the matter, Nesmith? Can't read numbers anymore?"
Mike shot him a quelling glare. "Can't read much of anything anymore."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Peter stepped between Babbitt and Mike. "Leave him alone, Mister B."
"Peter!" Micky hissed.
"I don't care!" Peter cried. "I'm not gonna let him hassle Mike while he's still adjusting!"
"Adjusting?" Babbitt snarled. "To what?"
"To bein' blind," Mike retorted sharply. "I had an accident last night and lost my sight."
Instantly Babbitt's voice softened. "I... I had no idea...Do you need anything?"
"Yeah," Mike said, standing up. "I need you to get out of here and leave me alone."
Babbitt retreated, taking the rent money. When Peter said, "He's gone," Mike's hands clenched into fists and he sank back into the chair, a dark glower settling on his face.
"That's the last thing I need," he growled a warning at the rest of them. "Pity. I don't need it and I don't want it! Pete, thanks for tryin' to protect me."
Peter crouched in front of Mike. "You don't have our pity, Mike. You have our support."
"Pete's right," Micky said. "Anything you need, just tell us."
Mike nodded solemnly. "I need to go for a walk on the beach. Alone." By their silence, he could tell they thought it was a bad idea, and a fresh wave of impatience washed over him. "There's nothin' out there that can hurt me," he exclaimed testily. "There's just a bunch of sand. If I hit water, I'll know I've gone too far," he added sarcastically.
"Mind if I sit on the stairs and make sure?" Davy asked. "I promise I won't interfere unless you're in danger."
"Fine," Mike said, willing to agree to anything if it would get him a few moments alone. "Mick, why don't you get lunch started? I got a cravin' for some Texas pancakes."
"You got it, Mike," Micky said.
"And Peter..." Mike began.
"I have something to do in town," Peter said suddenly. "I'll be back later."
"Okay, shotgun." Mike cracked a tiny smile at that. "Just don't wreck, all right?"
Peter laughed as he grabbed his jacket and walked out. Peter started the Monkeemobile and backed out of the driveway. He paused the car at the edge of the drive and looked toward the beach. He saw Mike walk onto the beach, taking slow and hesitant steps.
Peter frowned, feeling his big heart break. It was so hard to see the leader of the group this hurt and confused. Peter roared out of the driveway and headed toward Malibu Beach. I have to do something, he thought. I need to help him. But how? He shifted position, and heard something crunch in his pocket. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of crumpled paper. Pulling over to the side of the road, he smoothed it out. It was the list Dr. Peterson had given them—25 books. And Peter's warm smile returned to his lips.
This is it, he thought. This is how I can help Mike!
Minutes later, Peter pulled up outside the Malibu Beach Library. He walked up the familiar steps and through the doors. The redhead behind the desk smiled at him. "Hi, Peter!"
"Hi, Kathy," he said, leaning over the desk. "I need some help."
"Sure," she said. "What can I do for you today?"
He slid the list to her. "I need these."
Her eyes widened as she scanned the list. "Unusual reading, Peter. May I ask why these particular ones?"
"I just... need to learn, Kathy. It's important."
Kathy helped him round up 12 of the 25. Peter scanned the text in one book while he waited for her to double check and make sure no more were there. One section caught his eye, and he read it twice.
Kathy walked back up to him. "Nope, that's all we have. Anything else, Peter?"
"Do you have Goodnight Moon?"
She smiled. "You've checked that one out three times, Peter. You know we do."
"Yeah, but do you have it in Braille?"
Kathy's smile wavered as she stared at Peter with a mixture of surprise, shock and curiosity.
Minutes later, Peter very carefully carried twenty books to the Monkeemobile: his 12, four books with simple words, and the same books in Braille.
He emptied his aching arms and smiled. "I'm gonna do this," he told himself aloud. "I'm gonna learn this stuff, and I'm gonna be a good teacher to Mike. I can do this!" He frowned just a bit. "I hope."
As Mike walked along the beach, feeling the sand shift beneath his bare feet, squishing between his toes, he let his mind wander, and he remembered...
He lost himself in the memories of how he came to California, of how he met the guys—literally running into Micky while Peter looked on and applauded their inadvertent slapstick act—of how much they meant to him, and he almost forgot the suffocating darkness that made up his vision.
Mike remembered when he first saw the beach house, how despite its run-down appearance, he'd gotten a feeling deep in his gut that they would live and be happy there together. He remembered how the others had told him the same thing, like it was almost fated they should be together.
He smiled, remembering it was Peter who said they even looked like they fit together—short and tall, dark and light, like the four of them somehow completed each other.
And Mike's smile faded as his heart twisted in his chest at the reminder of how much he'd lost. He might not ever actually see his friends again. He realized that his blindness just might be permanent.
Mike carefully lowered himself onto the sand and stretched out toward the sound of the ocean. He shivered as the frigid waves swirled over his legs, but the shock of it was good for him, making him face this unpleasant reality. He tried to calm his whirling thoughts, but all that kept coming up was the one terrible thought: You're gonna be this way the rest of your life. You ain't never gonna see again.
Never to see again—never again to watch the sun flaming on the ocean horizon as the sky overhead turned midnight blue, never again to watch the crowd's reaction as they poured their hearts into a performance. Never see Peter's dimpled smile, never see any of Micky's crazy faces, never see Davy's eyes light up when he "fell in love"—although that did get kind of old after a while, he thought with a bemused snort. Never to see Isabel gaze up at him with love shining in her eyes...
It was all too much suddenly, and he doubled over as if hit by a physical pain, the tears he'd been holding back finally overflowing of their own volition. He gave up fighting, gave in to the sobs that wracked his body as he grieved for all he had lost.
He was distantly aware of Davy's scream, then he heard footsteps thundering toward him. SSHHUUSSHH! Something slid in the sand beside him, then he felt arms around his shoulders and Davy's gentle accented voice in his ear. "It's all right, man, it's gonna be all right."
"How can y-you say that?" Mike stammered through his tears. Now that someone was nearby, he gulped hard, trying to swallow them again, but once the dam had burst, it didn't want to be rebuilt. "You heard the doctor, man—she said there's nothing anyone can do."
Davy didn't say anything.
From behind him, he heard Micky say, "Mike, Doc Peterson also said this could only be temporary."
"Could, Micky!" he snapped, scrubbing at the wetness on his cheeks furiously. "That's the operative word here! Could! It could also be permanent!"
"All right," an unmistakable baritone bellowed behind Micky. "You two, out!"
Even Mike was stunned into silence. None of them had ever heard that note of command in Peter's voice before. Davy and Micky turned to look at him. He stood on the hillside, wind turning his blond hair almost into a halo. "We've gotta talk, Mike and me. Alone."
"Peter," Davy said, "that's not a good..."
"I don't care," Peter interrupted. "It's something that's gotta be done. Speaking of which, what is burning on the stove?"
Micky cried, "Oh, man!" and raced back to the house.
Mike heard Micky's footsteps as he pelted across the sand, heard Davy say, "Peter, come on. He's really hurting."
"I know that. That's why I want you to get back to the house and let me talk to him."
"Do as he says, Dave," Mike said finally. Curiosity won out over his need for privacy; he wanted to know what Peter could possibly have to say.
Davy gave Mike's shoulder a squeeze, and he walked away. Peter knelt beside Mike. "So tell me about it."
"About what?" he replied curtly.
The slight smile showed in the voice. "Come on, man. I come home and find you're out here bawling. You're not the type to cry unless something's got you really upset. Tell me about it."
Mike turned toward Peter, his face and voice revealing his frustration. "Can't you tell what the matter is?"
For answer, Peter shifted position. Mike felt arms go around his shoulders and Peter pulled him in for a hug. Mike stiffened, unsure how to respond to such casual familiarity, but something inside his soul broke, and for once he was left with no defenses. He needed someone; he needed to be held, and Peter was there for him. He allowed himself to rest his head on Peter's shoulder, and then as hard as he fought to maintain control, the tears came again.
Peter just sat there, holding Mike and letting him cry till he could cry no more. It was more difficult than it sounded, because he was kneeling and toward the end he got a bad cramp in his leg, but he bit his lip and just held on.
Finally, Mike pulled away and wiped his reddened eyes, his usual distant nature reasserting itself, compounded by the fact that he felt like a weak fool. First thing Peter did was straighten out his legs. Then he saw the embarrassment on Mike's face. "Don't be embarrassed, man. We all need to cry sometimes. And with what you're going through, I'm surprised you held on this long."
"How do you know what I'm going through?" Mike retorted, unable to suppress the sarcasm.
"Because I'm seeing you go through it."
The deep answer from innocent Peter threw Mike for a second, and he silently considered the implications: Was there more to Peter than he had realized?
"I went back into town and checked out those books Doc Peterson recommended."
"What for? They can't help me see again."
Peter took a deep breath. "No, they can't. But they can teach me how to help you till you can. I'm going to read every one of those, and I'm gonna learn. Then I'm gonna help you."
Mike turned toward Peter's voice, his dark eyebrows arched in surprise. "You're serious?"
"Dead serious. I know I don't know very much, but I'm not stupid. I can learn if I put my mind to it. And I am bound and determined to do this, Mike."
"Hey," Davy called. "Look at this."
Micky turned off the stove and joined Davy at the verandah. They looked out to see Mike walking just inside the lapping water. Peter was walking beside him, close enough to touch him, but not touching him. They appeared to be having an animated conversation. Suddenly Mike stopped walking. He got a "you must be joking" look on his face. Peter repeated himself, and they both laughed.
Peter took a few running steps forward, bent down and picked something up, then went back to Mike. He placed the large shell in Mike's hands, and Mike traced it with his fingertips, smiling. Peter jerked his head toward the house, saying something to Mike, who nodded. Peter lay a hand on Mike's shoulder, awkwardly turning him around and pointing him in the right direction, then he dropped his hand and they began walking back.
"I don't believe it," Micky said. "Peter did it."
"He snapped him out of it." Davy shook his head in wonder. "Maybe we've sold him short all this time."
Later that night, Micky and Davy walked into the living room from the beach. Mike was seated on the bandstand, absently strumming his guitar. It felt good to engage in such a familiar activity; with his guitar in his hand, he could almost feel normal again—almost.
Then the two saw something they rarely saw, something that produced two double-takes and made them look at each other.
Peter was sitting on the window seat, completely oblivious to everything around him. He was deeply engrossed in a book.
"It's eight o'clock," Micky said. "Think we can practice a little?"
"You up to it, Mike?" Davy asked.
"Sure," Mike said, shrugging negligently. He wasn't sure, but he had no desire to admit that to the others. In truth, his stomach was taut with nerves, and he was afraid the trembling in his fingers was noticeable.
"Come on, Pete." No answer. "Peter?" Still no answer. "Peter!"
"Hm?" Peter looked up. "Oh, practice time? Be right there, I wanna finish this chapter first."
"What is so interesting?" Micky asked.
"Probably a bound comic book," Davy teased.
Peter's lips moved as he finished the last words in the chapter. Then he closed the book and moved to sit beside Mike.
Micky walked over to the windowseat and picked up the book Peter had been reading: Living with Blindness: A Guide for Families. He opened it and scanned the print, then shot Peter a look of surprised admiration.
To his relief, Mike performed well enough, as long as they were doing a song he had played enough that he could put his fingers on auto-pilot.
But tonight, they were trying to learn a new song.
As always, they went over the vocals first. This was something new for them anyhow: a duet between Micky and Mike. Once they had that nailed, they went on to the instrumentation. And that was when the trouble hit.
Peter played the lead guitar part a few times, then passed the 12-string to Mike, who was seated beside him on the bandstand. Mike found the opening chords easily enough; but for some reason, his brain locked up, and he couldn't remember that it was straight-octave chords up and down, then a slightly different beat for the bridge, then more straight-eights in a different key.
After a few frustrating tries, Mike slammed the pick down on the strings, producing a musical sound of anger and frustration equal to that which burst from between his clenched teeth. "I need the music," he barked. "I can't do it from just listening!"
"We can't give you the music, Mike," Micky reminded softly.
Mike closed his eyes and breathed deep, trying to rein in the flare of temper he felt rising up. "I know—I know. It's just real frustrating. That's all."
"Take my part, Mike," Peter said. "Play the bass part on your guitar." He played the simple part several times. The last two times, Mike played it too. It sounded a little strange, one octave up. Then Peter stopped and Mike played it solo. Peter then asked him to do it again and he did, while Peter played the lead part on his bass. The flip-flopped music sounded oddly ... right.
Davy and Micky stepped in and played their parts the next time, and the music jelled. Mike nodded, pleased with the results. "That sounds good," he said. "Let's try the vocals with it."
But when they added the vocals, chaos reigned again, and Mike grew more and more irritated at himself and his new limitations. He kept stepping on Micky's part, either singing Micky's words or coming in too early or too late. Finally his frustration reached a level where he did something he had not done since he joined the band.
Mike stuttered in the middle of a song.
Mike slammed the pick against the strings again, dropping his head as he leaned over the guitar. Peter lay a hand on his shoulder and he slapped it away. "Don't touch me," he snarled.
A world of pity was in that touch—or so it seemed to Mike—and that was the last thing he wanted. His self-control was stretched to its limits after that disastrous rehearsal, and he knew from bitter experience that it wouldn't take much to make him snap, even if it meant he exploded in the face of one of his best friends.
"Mike?" Davy asked hesitantly.
"Just leave me alone." He turned his back on the rest of the group and covered his sightless eyes with one hand, fighting to keep from losing it completely. If he couldn't read music—if he couldn't learn new songs—how were they ever going to succeed? He'd be the one responsible for ending their music careers before they even got started...
"Hey, c'mon, man," Peter said softly. "You can do it. You just gotta calm down and think, and you'll get it! All you gotta do is listen—"
"Listen to what, Peter?" Mike replied wearily, still not facing any of them. "To me hittin' wrong note after wrong note? To my own stutterin'? Who wants to hear that?"
Peter's first impulse was to reach out and lay a hand on Mike's shoulder, but the hand clenched into a fist halfway and he brought it back to his side. "Look, man," he said, "you're tired. We're all tired."
"Yeah," Micky chimed in. "It's been a heck of a day, that's for sure."
"All I'm saying," Peter went on, "is that you just need to pay more attention when I play your part! You can memorize it if you'll only put your mind to it and concentrate!"
"Concentrate!" Mike whirled around, and Peter could see the burning anger in the depths of his friend's eyes. "Oh, so that's all it takes—well, silly me. And here I thought it was gonna be hard to learn to play music completely by ear! Oh, no, all I gotta do is concentrate, and I can figure out where everything is without trippin' over it, I can play and sing just like I used to—I can do anything if I just concentrate!" He spat the word out like a curse.
Peter nodded quickly, smiling—Mike gets it! went through his mind— but then the sarcasm hit him and the smile faded. Peter shrugged out of his bass and set it down beside him, turning to see Mike better.
Sadness came into his face for a split second, then Davy and Micky were treated to a rare sight. Peter's jaw set and his golden eyebrows drew together. Anger began to smolder in his tawny eyes.
"Mike," he said slowly, trying to hold onto a temper that was rapidly rising, "the only thing that I see holding you back is your feeling sorry for yourself."
"Oh, yeah? Well, let me tell you somethin', Peter—" Mike slung his own guitar over his shoulder and felt for the nearest speaker to prop it against. His searching fingers met the edge of the speaker, and he carefully leaned his instrument against it—but not carefully enough. With an electronic squeal of pain, the guitar slipped and clattered to the floor, and Mike dropped to his knees, panic suffusing his taut features as he groped for his fallen treasure.
When he found it, he ran his hands over the length and width of it, leaning close as he lightly tested the strings. At last, satisfied it had sustained no real damage, he lay it down, then stood, facing what he thought was the right direction to address Peter.
"So I'm feelin' sorry for myself, huh?" he demanded. "One freak accident, and I got everything I ever cared about taken away just like that! All I've ever wanted to do was play music—I got the love for it inside me just like you do—and now I can't—I can't—" he broke off, feeling himself perilously close to tears, something he couldn't bear even in front of three of the four people he trusted most in the world.
Peter had drawn himself up to his full height. He stood ramrod straight, hands clenched into fists. His eyes matched Mike's blaze for blaze.
"You can't, Mike?" he said, fury tightening his voice. "Or you won't?"
"I can't!" Mike roared, all trace of tears gone in the rush of pure fury that overtook him. "Don't you get it? It is over for me, Peter! I can't see!"
If he could have seen Peter, he would have grabbed his shirt and shaken him until some sense started rattling around in that thick skull of his, but he didn't want to look foolish grabbing at thin air. He clenched his fists by his sides, barely able to refrain from striking out at anything he could reach, including Peter.
"I can't see, I can't play—not now—not ever!"
"And I can't believe you're giving up," Peter said in a clipped, barely controlled voice. His eyes had narrowed to brown slits and his fists were clenched so tight the knuckles were white.
Micky was on his feet now. "Hey, Peter... man, back off. He's really hurting."
"I know that," Peter said. "We all are. But right now, Mike's being such a self-centered coward that he's willing to throw the band away!"
That statement, especially coming from Peter, shocked the others into silence for a second.
For that instant, Mike stood frozen as Peter's harsh words sank in—and then white static buzzed in his head, filled his ears until he was aware of nothing but the driving force of the rage that gripped him.
With a fierce snarl unlike anything the others had heard from him before, Mike lunged forward, his fist poised to strike—
Reality slammed into his gut—hard—as Micky and Davy's horrified cries penetrated his mental haze, and he pulled himself up short, aghast at what he had almost done. He had no way of knowing how close he had come to hitting Peter, but the thought that he had actually tried was terrible enough.
He heard the rush of footsteps as Micky and Davy hurried to Peter's side, and he stood quietly by, his head slightly lowered in remorse. No physical damage had been done, but...
"You all right?" Davy asked.
"Man, if you hadn't sidestepped—" Micky blurted.
"I'm all right," Peter said curtly. The harsh note in his voice, even after that, made Davy and Micky blink. They looked at him, and their mouths unhinged slightly. The tawny eyes were flashing so noticeably that they seemed almost to glow. Peter was madder than either of them had ever seen before.
"I'm all right," Peter repeated, "but I think we'd better call it a night before I take a swing at him! Michael, think about this—I've been reading those books I told you I would be. And I am learning from them. One thing I've learned is this—every blind person can't see. Not every blind person quits living. What you do now is gonna impact the band. Are you going to give up and quit living? Or are you going to use that Nesmith stubbornness to live and learn? It's up to you now, Michael. Think about it."
With that, Peter walked off the bandstand, snagging his book from the window seat. He stalked over to the bedroom he shared with Davy and slammed the door behind him so hard the others would later swear the entire Pad shook.
Mike winced, feeling like the door was slamming in his face rather than across the room. The anger that had erupted in him had dissipated somewhat, and now he was starting to feel a cold, clammy residue of guilt. Peter—sweet, spacey Peter—was the only one among them who was taking the time to study and learn about blindness. He was willing to take on a new, unexpected role—that of teacher—all in the name of friendship and for the good of the group.
That kind of loyalty was foreign to Mike; he'd always been more comfortable on his own, not giving his trust or his friendship easily. It had been nothing short of remarkable that he'd bonded so quickly with these three young men. As much as he had yearned for that kind of companionship, he'd always kept people at arms' length, ensuring that he would never have it—until now.
And now it seemed he had Kipling's thousandth man at his side, the one who would stick by his side as a brother through anything, even this...
Micky and Davy hadn't moved, hadn't uttered a sound, but somehow Mike could feel their gazes boring into him. He pulled himself up straight, his dark brows snapping together as he glared—hopefully at them.
"What're you two lookin' at?" he said with more bravado than he actually felt, his accent thickening as it always did when his emotions ran strong. "You're actin' like you ain't never seen a fool before."
Peter sank onto his bed and opened the book. He tried to focus on the words, but his whirling emotions made it nearly impossible.
After a minute, he let out a cry of frustration and flung the book across the room. It hit the opposite wall with a Thud! and slid onto Davy's bed.
Peter leaned forward and put his head in his hands. Why had he spoken to Mike like that? Why was he so angry with Mike for reacting like the books had said was perfectly normal?
Because he hated quitters, that's why. Deep inside, he knew Mike was no quitter; no coward. Mike was, however, scared out of his mind, and Peter could sense that fear. "Blast it, I'm not helping him," Peter chided himself. "I'm making it worse..." Before he could talk himself out of it, Peter crossed the room and opened the bedroom door.
" Michael," he called. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Instinctively, Mike turned his head in the direction of Peter's voice, his expression closed, almost forbidding. Despite the fact that deep down, he knew Peter was right—he was acting like a coward—it still rankled, and his mood hadn't improved in the least.
"What, Peter?" he demanded curtly.
"Look, man," Peter began. He ran a hand through his blond hair and studied the knots in the hardwood floor, trying to figure out a way to make this easier on them both. "I'm... I'm sorry I called you a coward. Poor choice of words. I just... lost my temper."
"Boy, did you ever," Micky said under his breath.
Mike gazed in the direction of Peter's voice, his face as smooth and blank as a mask as he deliberately hid his reactions to Peter's obvious misery. Part of him wanted to extend his hand and assure Peter that everything was okay.
But the other part of him still smarted from Peter's harsh words, and he could not forget the hurt so quickly.
Instead, he folded his arms across his chest, his dark eyes still smoldering. "You're sorry, huh?" he replied, his voice clipped and distant. "Well, I'm not. At least now I know what my so-called friends really think of me."
Peter took a deep breath, forcing the knot of anger that was rising in his throat down. He bit back the hurtful words that sprang to his lips and instead, said softly, "I deserved that. Michael—you're my best friend. I hate to see you just... just quit everything because this happened to you. You're no coward, but you are afraid. You've every right to be angry, scared—any number of things."
"Yeah, man," Davy said from the couch. "This is probably the worst thing that's ever happened to you."
"We're scared, too, Mike," Micky said from the bandstand, where he sat adjusting his snare. "We've never seen you hurting so much."
"And all we want to do is help," Peter said. "Please... let us. Don't shut us out. Not this time."
With those words, the tight knot of anger in Mike's chest began to loosen, and he lowered his head as if he were staring at the floor. His expression was still carefully neutral, but he was fighting to keep from bawling like a two-year-old at his friends' show of support.
He was scared, and he was hurting, as much as he hated to admit it to himself, much less anyone else. He hadn't allowed himself to rely on anyone in so long he couldn't even remember what it felt like to follow instead of lead. He was always the one in charge, guiding, dispensing advice, offering comfort—always in control.
But that control had been ripped from him, leaving him far more vulnerable than he had ever been in his life. He really had no choice but to turn to them for help; as much as it galled him, this was one problem he couldn't solve by himself.
"You're right, ol' buddy," he said softly. "I need you guys..."
Three pairs of eyes met for a split-second. They had expected the argument to begin again—not this!
"Pete," Micky said suddenly, "you're the one who's been reading since we got back from the doctor's office. At this point—man, it sounds weird even saying this—but I think you may know more than any of us about what to do next."
Peter's shoulders involuntarily straightened, and a large smile of barely contained pride spread across his face. It felt good, being regarded as the smart one for a change! Then the smile faded a bit as the full implications of Micky's words hit him.
In typical roundabout fashion, Micky had just asked Peter to lead. A cold chill gripped Peter. He didn't feel quite up to the task but, like Mike, he had no real choice. Micky was right—he probably did know more about how to help Mike than either Micky or Davy did.
Mike stood nearby, not saying a word; he'd grasped the full implications of Micky's words: As far as they were concerned, Peter was now in charge.
Well, that was certainly a different turn of events! He almost smiled at the thought of Peter donning the leader's mantle; it seemed like such a contradiction in terms. But Peter had done the research. The others hadn't. The role of follower was completely foreign to him, but he forced himself to remain quiet and let Peter sink or swim as he would.
"What to do next..." Peter said softly.
Mike's instincts prompted him to step in, to make a suggestion—and then he realized he didn't have a suggestion to make. He knew no more about where to go from this point than either Micky or Davy. Peter really was the one with all the answers right now!
And that notion did bring a slight smile to his lips.
Peter opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a very loud growl from his stomach.
"I'd say supper was a good idea," he quipped.
In his dream, it was springtime, and he found himself wandering in a meadow full to bursting with flowers in every color imaginable. No matter where he looked, he saw nothing but a sold carpet of blossoms, stretching all the way to the horizon.
He'd never seen anything so bright, so vivid—each petal contained a multitude of hues. A poppy wasn't just red—it was scarlet, vermilion, crimson, each shade blending smoothly into the next—and each blade of grass ranged from lime to deep emerald. He bent to examine bloom after bloom, each one filling him with an almost giddy sense of delight, as if he were seeing the rich gradations of color for the first time.
Why should such colorful opulence surprise him? he wondered. Why should the Technicolor blue sky, the cotton-ball clouds amaze him?
He stared up at the sun, holding up one hand to shade his eyes from the brilliant glare. The warming rays soaked into his skin, and he drank in the heat and the color greedily.
"This is yellow," he thought. "I'd almost forgotten what it looks like..."
An icy grasp clutched his heart at that thought, and he stood perfectly still, searching his memory for a clue as to why he'd thought such a horrible thing.
Forget yellow? How could he possibly do that?
Even as he gazed up at it, the sun shivered in the sky, suddenly appearing to be falling towards him. He threw up his arms in a protective gesture as the world grew brighter and brighter, the vivid colors melting into one another, dissolving into an amorphous grey mass.
"No!" he heard himself scream, hardly aware that he was doing so, but the anguished cry scraped his throat raw. "No, don't take the colors away from me! Please—leave the colors!"
The plea turned into a shrill howl of pain as the world became a burning white light that seared his flesh, his eyes, his very soul.
And then it was gone, leaving only a blackness so dense and cloying that it suffocated him. He felt as if his lungs were collapsing from the effort of drawing breath.
Mike screamed in primal terror as he sat bolt upright in bed, staring into the thick darkness that still lingered. Sweat poured down his face, beaded on his bare chest and back, making him shiver in the pre-dawn chill.
He heard a click and a lot of rustling. He felt the bed sag, then two arms enfolded his shoulders protectively. "It's all right, Mike," Micky said. "You're safe! Wake up!"
Mike gasped, blinking hard, as if that could make the blackness go away. "M-Micky..." he gasped. "Micky... I can't..."
"I know, man. I know." Micky's voice was quiet, filled with compassion. "Wake up, remember yesterday."
Mike straightened and shrugged Micky's hands off impatiently, closing his eyes as despair overwhelmed him again. He remembered, all right. He opened his blinded eyes and sighed. It had been such a beautiful dream...
"What time is it?" Micky didn't answer. Instead there was a flurry of footsteps on the stairs and the door flew open.
"Is he all right?" Peter's voice was thick with concern and sleepiness.
"Yeah," Micky said. "He woke up freakin'. He forgot."
Mike shot a so-sue-me look toward where he hoped Peter was. "What time is it?" he asked again, unable to repress the irritation in his voice.
Once more he was slapped in the face with his own helplessness. He couldn't even find out what time it was unless someone actually listened to him and decided to answer.
"Uhm...." Peter paused for a second, like he was still half-asleep and looking at the clock. "Six-oh-five AM."
"Too bloody early," Davy groaned from somewhere behind Peter.
"Wanna try to go back to sleep?" Micky asked.
"Yeah," Davy said.
"Nope," Mike replied, shaking his head. "There's no sleep left in me. I think I'll get dressed and go on down."
There was no way he would be able to get back to sleep after that dream; adrenaline still pumped through his veins, and he felt as awake as if he'd downed a gallon of coffee.
"Me too," Peter said. "Davy, why don't you take Mike's bed so we won't disturb you too bad?"
In response, Mike heard Micky laugh and call, "Tim-BER!" He felt the bed springs bounce, and he couldn't keep from smiling himself at the image of Davy literally jumping at the chance to go back to bed that formed in his mind.
Mike stood up slowly, then said, "Night, Davy." He took a hesitant step forward, and his feet somehow got tangled up with Micky's legs.
Peter caught him, and Mike clutched at Peter's arms as if he were a drowning man clinging to a life saver. "Easy, man, I've gotcha."
Mike stood up straight, trying to pull the tattered threads of his dignity around him, and released his convulsive death-grip on Peter's forearms. "I'm all right," he said. "You can let go."
Peter did and Mike turned away slightly. "I need some clothes..." He ran a hand along bare arms, trying to distract himself and the others with a joke, half-hearted as it might be. "Half a pair of pajamas is too cold, even in July!"
"Here, Mike, let me..." Micky said, and Mike heard the bed creak as Micky stood up.
"No, I can do it!"
That came out a little harsher than Mike intended, and he grimaced. He'd been lashing more than he intended to at his friends, and he wondered just how long they'd put up with it.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to snap. I'm not helpless, Mick. I can still do some things for myself," he added in a milder tone.
Slowly he pivoted until his back was to the bed, one hand out-stretched to make sure nothing—and no one—was in his way. Mike then turned to his left. He swept one hand at knee level to make sure he missed the nightstand, and reached forward with the other, trying not to look like he was groping too obviously. When his fingers encountered the beaded curtain in front of the closet, he smiled, pleased at his accomplishment, minor as it was. "See?"
He brushed it aside and took another step forward, feeling more confident. "Now... a shirt..." he murmured more to himself than to them. He tried to picture the closet, to remember what order he had hung his shirts in, but the image was vague. He'd never cared what order they were in before, so he'd never paid attention, just hanging them at random. He ran his hands over the hangers, trying to discern one shirt from another by sleeve length and fabric—a daunting task. Finally, he chose one and pulled it out, holding it against his chest and sliding his fingers down it.
"Eight-buttoned one, even." He draped it over an arm and said, "and some pants." He searched for the hangers holding his trousers and played the same guessing game with them as he had with the shirts. He pulled out a pair and turned to where he thought the others were, smiling slightly. "See? I can do it," he informed them with only a touch of defensiveness in his voice.
Micky let out a barely-suppressed giggle.
Peter hissed, "Shh!" then said, "Mike, could you get another pair of pants?"
"Why?" Mike's brows snapped together, his lips thinning into an annoyed line.
"Both of those are brick red."
"Oh." He felt his cheeks burn with a dull heat at his mistake. Yet another obstacle in his path...Would they ever end? "Is there any way I can tell what color things are? I dreamed about colors last night," he added wistfully.
He heard footsteps and Peter's voice got closer. "My book has some suggestions about that. We'll work on it later, Mike. After Davy wakes up. Right now..." Mike felt the pants leave his hand. He heard rummaging, then another hanger was laid in his fingers. "Try those. Red shirt and grey pants."
Mike sighed. How much longer was he going to be forced to let Peter lead him around by the hand—literally? "Thanks." He walked over to the nightstand, feeling his way. He opened the top drawer and removed a clean pair of underwear. "Uhm... Pete... Mind if I bum your shower? The water up here would wake sleeping ugly."
"I heard that," Davy mumbled between snores.
"No, go ahead," Peter said. "I'll bring you down some boots."
"Thanks." Mike reached the door, fumbling a little as he groped for the knob, and walked out. Reaching out again, he took two steps forward—
And barely restrained the curse as his bare toes impacted the metal stair railing. He grabbed the rail, leaning heavily against it for a moment as he nursed his wounded foot, muttering words his mother wouldn't have approved of under his breath. Sliding his hand along the smooth, cool metal, he used it to guide himself safely down the stairs without further injury.
Suddenly, he heard Micky say upstairs, "Man, now I remember why I exiled him to the downstairs bedroom. He's loud!"
Mike snorted derisively as his feet touched bottom and he headed in the direction of the other bedroom. "That's the pot callin' the kettle black," he grumbled. Then he paused, arrested by a sudden thought.
"Hey, hold on," he said softly. "How could I have heard that?" He turned his head in the direction of the upstairs bedroom with a puzzled frown. How had he heard that? Was Micky getting louder?
He heard footsteps on the stairs. "Mike," Peter asked, voice approaching him. "Why are you standing here looking confused? Are you turned around?"
"No," Mike shook his head, still frowning, then pointed behind him. "There's the bedroom."
"Right. So what's up?"
"I heard what Micky just said about Davy—but I'm down here and he's up there, so what's goin' on?"
"Come on in the bedroom, Mike," Peter said, laying a hand on his elbow.
Mike's temper flared at Peter's casual implication that he needed to be lead around like a puppy, and he jerked his arm out of Peter's grasp. "I can do it!" he snapped.
"Okay," Peter said, and Mike heard a door open. "I've got something to read to you."
Mike scowled; he knew Peter didn't mean to hurt him, but the thought of being read to like a very young child bugged him. It was just another aspect of his life that had spun out of control—and Peter was so confident everything was going to be just fine! "Peter..."
"It'll explain what just happened," Peter said.
"Can it wait till I get out of the shower?" He'd been up less than 30 minutes, and he was already depressed enough to stick his head in the oven. He needed a break—needed to be away from Peter's helping hands and Micky and Davy's sympathetic tones. He needed to be alone for a while—unfortunately, he couldn't seem to function by himself anymore...
"If what's going on is what this book says is going on, I think it'll wait."
Mike stared blankly in the direction of Peter's voice, trying to make some sense out of that statement. He finally gave up, chalking it up to Peter just being Peter, and sighed. "Didja bring the boots?"
"Uh-huh. And a belt, which I'll go ahead and thread through the pants. Give me the clothes, I'll lay them on Davy's bed."
"I haven't been in here in awhile, Peter. Which one is Davy's?"
"The one nearest the bathroom."
Mike touched the bed on the way to the bathroom, so he could remember where it was when he came out. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, eyes closed for a second, relishing the moment of privacy.
Peter sat on his bed, listening to the water running. It was an oddly comforting sound, a normal sound. Things weren't exactly normal around here anymore.
That bothered him. If I could somehow make a genie materialize, he thought, I'd wish for Mike to see again. Peter smiled. If only wishes were dreams, he thought. Then he dove for the nightstand and wrote that line down for use in a future song.
Peter scanned the titles of the stack of books by his bed. He pulled out the one he was looking for, and opened it, looking through it. He found what he was looking for and slid a piece of ribbon there, marking it. He was very glad he had saved all the ribbons from the balloons they had had left over after the last party they threw—they made great bookmarks!
Peter heard the water shut off and the curtain sigh open. "Hey, Peter?" Mike called. "Where are the towels?"
Peter smiled, then pulled his brows together in concentration. He had to be as precise as possible, the books had said, to help Mike find it without much groping around. That way dignity could be maintained.
"Directly to your right," Peter called back. "In the cabinet, third shelf down."
"Thanks," Mike called back. Then there was a terrific crash from the bathroom and an even louder curse. Peter raced across the room and threw open the door. He then bit his lip to keep from laughing.
Mike was sprawled on the floor, dripping wet and cradling his elbow. His feet were tangled in the discarded pajama bottoms. Mike heard the giggle and turned a furious glare on Peter.
"Not funny, man," he growled.
"Sorry," Peter said, "but you look like a drowned cat." He got a towel and tossed it over Mike's legs. "What happened?"
Mike wrapped the towel around his waist and stood, holding the pajamas. "I left these things on the floor and slid on 'em. Forgot they were there," he replied curtly, humiliated at being caught in such an undignified position. He wanted nothing more than to pull himself together and try to resume a normal life, but that one little wish kept eluding him. Everything was conspiring to strip him of his pride, his dignity—he wasn't sure how much more he could take.
Mike tested the elbow he had apparently landed on. "No real damage, 'cept maybe to my pride," he admitted. "This is really startin' to bug me, Pete."
"We'll get through it," Peter said. He was starting to sound like a broken record, and he knew it. "Toss me those."
Mike flung the pajamas toward Peter's voice, and Peter caught them. "We really need to get this place organized. That way these accidents won't keep happening."
"And I need to start rememberin' what I do with things," Mike said. He was mad at himself for not doing just that, and it showed in his voice. "What did you want to read me?"
"Yeah, I almost forgot."
Peter went back out into the bedroom. Mike followed, hands brushing Davy's bed. He gathered up his clothes and went back into the bathroom, leaving the door cracked so he could hear Peter better. Maybe he could manage to dress himself without a major problem—but if he couldn't, Peter had better not offer to help! he thought grimly.
Peter looked up from his book and laughed. "If I'm right, man, that's unnecessary." He saw Mike turn slightly and cock an eyebrow toward the sound of his voice. Despite his foul mood, Mike was intrigued. Peter had obviously done some deep research, not just skimming the surface stuff, and so far, everything he'd said had proven helpful.
Peter began to read, " 'Sounds will become an integral part of his life, as one of the three pillars of adjustment—touch and memory being the other two—and he may notice a clarity of sound that did not exist before. Popular opinion would state that this is because the sense of sound is strengthening to compensate for the lack of a sense of sight, but this is an err...erroneous assumption. This is merely due to the fact that, lacking the intrusion of sight, sounds are noticed much more.' Mike, did Micky's voice sound soft?"
"With distance, yeah."
Mike was dressed from the waist down now, except for his bare feet. He reached for the belt so he could fasten it, but it wasn't in front where it was supposed to be. He slid his fingers along the leather strip, following it around his waist—and suddenly he realized what the trouble was.
Spacey Peter had threaded it so that the buckle would rest on Mike's left hip. Mike chuckled slightly and very carefully rethreaded the belt, feeling for each loop.
Peter closed the book. "See, way I figure it, you could hear upstairs all the time, but never really noticed it because you never really had to."
Mike shivered suddenly. Odd to think he'd invested so much time into being a musician—making sound such an integral part of his life—only to find he'd just been skirting the edges all along.
"Mike?" Peter asked.
"Just a chill," Mike said. "I almost understood that."
Peter laughed. He watched Mike pull on his shirt and fumble with the four unbuttoned buttons. Mike got two buttoned, then left them alone, fingers sweeping over the chilly, damp porcelain sink.
"What are you looking for?"
"Inside the medicine cabinet. The shelf varies with whichever one of us had it last."
"We keep ours on the sink," Mike said. He reached up till the back of his hand knocked lightly against the medicine cabinet. He slid it open and reached inside.
"Bottom shelf," he reported, pulling it out and closing the cabinet back. "Davy must've used it last." He drug the brush through the black waves for a second, then lowered it with an irritated sigh. "And I can't even tell if my part is straight."
"Let me see." Mike turned toward him, and Peter said, "Looks good to me. Just keep brushing like you are."
"Okay." Mike drug the brush through his hair again, and sighed deeply. "This is frustratin', Pete. I need help for the simplest things—things a kid can do. You never realize just how important your eyes are, how much you use them..."
"Till you can't anymore," Peter finished. "Uhm... the back's starting to fly. I think that's enough."
Mike replaced the brush inside the cabinet—on the second shelf—and lay a hand on the sink. He traced its edge as he moved out of the bathroom. "Did I leave my hat upstairs?"
Peter looked around. "Must have, it's not here." He looked the lank form up and down, and the grin showed in his voice. "You gonna button those top two or are you gonna go through the whole day looking like a too-tall Davy?"
"Huh?" Mike felt around his collar. "I did forget, didn't I? Isabel probably wouldn't mind that," he remarked, a tiny smile curving his lips.
He buttoned the rest and smoothed his collar, then reached for Davy's bed. Sitting down, he pulled on the pair of socks and boots Peter had lay at the foot of the bed. He sat up and spread his hands with an ironic smile.
"Mission accomplished," he announced. All that work to do something he hadn't thought twice about since he was about four years old.
Mike frowned. "What do you mean?"
Peter got up and moved past Mike to the bathroom. "Your fly's open."
Just before he closed the door, Peter's last sight was Mike's rapidly reddening face as he made the necessary adjustment.
When Peter came out of the bathroom, toweling his still-damp blonde hair, Mike was nowhere to be seen.
"Mike?" Peter asked in a normal tone, knowing Mike was now capable of hearing him wherever he was.
"Out here," Mike called.
Peter snagged a pair of grey pants and red eight-button shirt—deliberately matching Mike's outfit—and pulled them on as he walked into the living room. Mike was sitting on the window seat, softly playing Peter's bass. He had opened the patio door slightly, and the wind ruffled his black hair like a pair of gentle lover's hands.
"What are you doing with my guitar?" Peter asked teasingly as he sank down beside Mike.
"First one I found," Mike replied, his tone distant as if he didn't want to answer. And he didn't—it meant admitting another failure.
"You got out here alone just fine," Peter observed.
"Well..." Mike conceded ruefully. "I fell once and I cracked my shins about three times." He paused, his lips thinning into a line of displeasure at the memory. "I needed music, Pete. I couldn't wait till I found my guitar."
"That's all right," Peter said, smiling. "You know you're welcome to mine any time you need it. But I'm curious—why is the window open?"
Mike turned his face toward the beach and the rising sun, feeling the breeze caress his skin, the growing warmth in the air.
"I can hear the gulls...the waves... smell the humidity and salt... It's still chilly outside. A little clammy. A perfect July morning." He lowered his head and sighed. "But I miss the sunrise.... the shadows..."
"Yeah." Mike strummed another chord on the four strings, then asked, "Speaking of which... what did you have in mind?"
"About what? Oh—the colors. Your closet. Well, one of my books said that a small strip of Braille tape on the hangers can help match things up."
Mike shot a bemused smile toward Peter's voice. "Won't help me none—I can't read Braille."
"You can learn."
Mike leaned his head against the wall behind him, closing his blinded eyes. Another obstacle—another hurdle...
"Trust me," Peter said, standing up. "After breakfast, I've got something to do in town, then we'll start!"
The word "breakfast" snapped Mike to attention. "Breakfast?"
"Uh-huh," Peter said, to the kitchen by now. "An old Tork family recipe."
Mike felt the blood drain from his face at the mere thought. "A... Tork... family recipe? I'm almost afraid to ask."
Mike shook his head, confused. "Bacon and eggs?"
"No. Bacon in eggs. Bacon eggs. It's good, trust me."
"I'm afraid to," Mike said to himself as he sat back and found some more chords, retreating to the comforting world of music, playing to dispel the sudden nervousness that came over him.
The breakfast was good, despite the accidental setting off of the smoke alarm which brought Micky and Davy barreling down the stairs.
After breakfast, Peter gathered up a few of the books he'd been reading and headed back to the library. He turned three of them back in, then took the fourth and moved to the Braillewriter at the very back of the library. Opening the book and propping it open, he pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and began to painstakingly copy it into Braille. It took over two hours, and at the end of it his fingers were cramping. But he was very pleased at the result.
He repeated the process in the Monkeemobile with a dull pencil and a roll of masking tape, creating marks he would later push into raised bumps to place on Mike's hangers. This should help Mike, he thought.
Once I teach him how to read Braille, that is.
Peter prayed for patience and emotional strength all the way back to the Pad.
Continue On to Part Two