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Part 1: Staring Into The Dark
The large room, divided into a series of a smaller rooms by curtains, and with a large central desk was not particularly busy. It had the typical smell of powerful disinfectant and the occasional voice could be heard murmuring from one cubicle or another. At the desk, a blond woman sat writing in a medical file. She looked up as the phone on the wall rang and the nurse who answered the call scribbled notes on a pad of paper. As the handset was replaced, the doctor spoke.
"What is it?"
"Building collapsed. But apparently there was only one person inside."
"White male, late thirties, early forties, head injuries. Here in five."
The doctor nodded. "Room two. And page Doctor Austen."
Nodding, the nurse hurried away to prepare the room for its temporary inmate.
Several minutes later the doors opened as the trolley was wheeled in. The unconscious body was carefully swung onto the mattress and the doctor bent over it as the ambulance officer spoke.
"Seems that there must have been some awareness that the building was going to go because all the other occupants were outside but this guy thought he heard voices and went in to check. Just a couple of seconds later the whole thing came crashing down, trapping him inside."
In exasperation, the doctor glared at him over her shoulder as she shone a light into the patient's eyes. "I don't care about what happened - I can watch that on the news tonight. Right now, I'd be glad if you'd tell me about the condition of my patient."
As the officer began his explanation, a second doctor entered, listening to the description of the injured man. When it was complete, she spoke as she approached the bed.
"He's not carrying i.d. but he works with the demolition company. They said his name's Hamilton, Jarod Hamilton."
The ambulance office had just finished when the patient regained consciousness; his eyes slowly opened and moved from left to right.
"Mr Hamilton? Jarod?" The newcomer bent down. "My name's Doctor Austen. Do you remember what happened?"
The man would have shaken his head, but a neck brace held it firmly in place and his expression became confused, a look of panic in his eyes, unable to place either his location or the voice that he could hear.
"It's all right, that's just to make sure you don't injure yourself further." She placed one hand gently on the side of his head, speaking calmly and soothingly. "Stay still."
As she spoke, a pen, resting on the clipboard she held in her other hand and with which she had been making notes, slipped off and would have fallen onto his face, but for the speed with which she snatched it away. The injured man, however, never reacted, and the doctor's response was prompt but gentle as she bent over him again.
"Jarod, can you see me?"
Dr. Austen waved a hand in front of his face, noting the lack of response with a sinking heart, as, unable to shake his head, the man mouthed the word 'no'.
"Can you see anything at all or it is just dark?"
"Dark..." The word was a soft whisper and the doctor nodded decisively.
"Jarod, we need to find out if there's more damage than just to your eyes, so we're going to run a few tests. Before we do, is there anybody we can contact to tell them where you are?"
Unable to force out a stronger response as pain began to surge through him, the man once more softly muttered the word 'no' before closing his useless eyes and clenching his fists and jaw. The doctor pursed her lips in thought and looked up as the machinery was wheeled into the room.
* * *
Nicole Austen flipped through the pages of test results and then looked up at the scans that were clipped to her lit screen. The patient wouldn't require surgery, but unfortunately there was no way of knowing precisely what had caused the injury, nor exactly what it was. It could have a number of causes and, which was worse, she had no idea how long it would be before he regained his sight, if he ever did. The fracture in his left leg, although not particularly serious, wouldn't help either. Her brow furrowed as she looked over the small amount of personal information she had been able to obtain about the man. Finally she got up and went to talk to him.
The man faced directly in front of him, eyes closed, and Nicole smiled slightly as she walked into the room, shutting the door behind her. Looking around, the woman could see a newspaper lying crumpled on the floor, having obviously been thrown there from the bed. A table held a glass that lay on its side, fortunately empty and the bed-clothes were a crumpled mess, in which the patient was almost wrapped, his legs and torso tangled in the white material and his arms folded over his chest. The doctor looked at his face, seeing that he continued to lie motionless, and a small smile curled her lips once more.
"I'm afraid, Jarod, that that trick doesn't work with me. I've had a large number of patients pretend to be asleep and I'm getting good at knowing when they aren't."
He sighed, turning his head in her direction, as his eyes opened and his features creased into the glare that Nicole suspected had probably been there since he had been brought to the room once the tests were completed. His voice was an impatient growl as he tried to place her exact location in the room, turning his head from side to side.
"Who are you?"
"My name's Dr. Austen. I was called in after the accident. We met down in the emergency room. Do you remember?"
"Vaguely," the patient muttered.
"That's better than not at all." She smiled. "Can I sit down?"
Jarod shrugged, his tones revealing his lack of interest. "If there's a seat..."
She sat in the chair beside the bed, pulling the table over and picking up the glass before putting her things on the table. "You said, when you were brought in, that there wasn't anybody we could contact to tell them about you. Has that changed?"
"No," he snapped, turning away.
The doctor's voice was kind in response. "Was there anything you wanted to ask me?"
"What's wrong with me exactly?"
"Well, apart from the various cuts and scratches that I'm sure you can feel, you have a fracture..."
"Of the tibia. I know that." Jarod kept his face turned away from hers, his eyes traveling frantically from right to left, trying to find something, anything, in the dark. "I meant my eyes."
The doctor opened the folder and glanced at the notes she had made. "The good news is that it's nothing structural. The tests we ran showed no abnormalities..."
"So you don't know what it is." The man's voice was dismissive and Nicole raised an eyebrow.
"We have several possibilities, but, at this stage, we can't be certain about any of them."
"So... what?" he demanded. "What happens now?"
"I'm afraid that all we can do is wait."
Jarod sighed impatiently and attempted to move on the bed, but the heavy cast on his leg, running almost from his knee to his foot, restricted his movements. "For how long?"
"It's not possible to say right now. Sometimes things like this clear up in a few days or weeks..."
"And sometimes they don't clear up at all, right?" he challenged.
"Yes," she admitted quietly. "That's true."
Jarod folded his arms, turning his head away from her, feeling the same anger and frustration rise in him that had caused his earlier unseen display of temper and trying to keep it down. The doctor looked closely at him, suspecting exactly what he was feeling and wondering the best way to deal with this particular patient.
"Jarod," he told her firmly.
"Jarod, I've had other people in the same situation as the one you're in now and most of them find that it helps to talk to someone about it. If you like, I can contact one of the staff in the..."
"I don't need a psychiatrist!" he exclaimed indignantly, half-offended that she suspected he was in need of any such help.
Nicole sat back in her chair and shut the folder. "This may surprise you, and I know it sounds like a cliche, but I do understand what you're going through."
"No, you don't." His voice was soft but dismissive.
"Actually, I do. The reason that I specialized in this field was because I had a period of blindness a number of years ago. So I have a very good idea of what you're feeling right now."
There was a long pause and Nicole, after seeing the emotion working on her patient's face, stood up, gathered her things and went over to the door. Jarod hesitated for a moment, but was unable to prevent himself from asking the question that had come to the forefront his mind as soon as he had first heard her voice in the doorway.
"What do you... look like?"
Nicole turned when she heard the question, pleased at his interest, however slight, in something other than himself, and walked back, replacing the folders and coming over to stand next to him. He felt the mattress bend as she sat down on the bed and then her warm fingers picking up one of his hands, gently placing it on her face.
"I think you'll be able to tell me in a moment."
He ran his hands over her features and she closed her eyelids, his fingertips lightly touching her skin and brushing against her lips.
"What color's your hair?"
"Brown. Dark brown. Like yours," she replied quietly.
"And your eyes?"
"The same." She smiled, looking into the dark brown eyes that stared directly ahead, as if by such determined effort, her patient could bring back his lost vision. "I'm a very boring person."
Nicole watched a smile dance around the edges of Jarod's mouth before it faded back to the thin, sullen line that had been there since she entered.
"And how old...?"
She could hear the hesitancy in his voice and her smile widened. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's impolite to ask a woman her age?"
He smiled again, faintly, and she gently removed his hand, standing up, straightening the sheets with a firm, practiced hand until he was properly covered.
"I have to go, I'm afraid. I have several other people that I need to see, but if you want to talk, any of the nurses have my number."
"Thank you, Dr. Austen."
There was more life in his voice than there had been when she entered the room and Nicole gave a nod of satisfaction before turning away from the bed. At the doorway, she stopped to look back over her shoulder at the man.
"Should I leave the door open?"
He nodded. "If you don't mind."
"Not at all. See you soon, Jarod."
* * *
Nicole carried her tray over to the table and put it down carefully in front of her, her mind still on the interview from that morning.
"Did you have any luck?"
She jumped and looked down to find her blond colleague from the emergency room opposite her, sitting down with a grin. "In surviving the fright you just gave me?"
Ann Stevens laughed. "That, too. No, I was asking about our mystery man."
Nicole raised an eyebrow, looking around at the other staff members seated nearby, enjoying the banter. "Should Roger be worried right now? I could call him and drop a few hints..."
Ann laughed. "Well, you have to admit that he was cute."
"Mmm, with all of his cuts and bruises," Nicole agreed, laughing. "Regular stud muffin."
"Come on, I was only being concerned."
"With ulterior motives," Nicole grinned. "He's probably got a wife or a girlfriend somewhere and he doesn't want her to see him like that. It wouldn't be the first time I've seen it."
"You've seen everything."
"So have you." Nicole laughed again as she took a mouthful of salad. Then she made a face as she reached for her drink to get rid of the taste.
* * *
Jarod shifted uncomfortably on the hard mattress and turned his head in the direction from which he could feel that the sun was coming, his unseeing eyes still moving constantly in an attempt to make out something, but the Pretender was slowly realizing he wasn't going to be able to change what had happened this time. His untouched lunch tray sat on the table at his right hand and the fingers of his left hand drummed impatiently on the railing of the bed as he tried to find some way to relieve the boredom.
"Not hungry, Jarod?"
He turned automatically at the sound of the voice in the doorway, glad to have something to take his mind off his difficulties, shrugging slightly in answer to the question. "Not really."
"I can understand." Nicole smiled. "It didn't taste that good. I had the same thing in the cafeteria."
The man raised an eyebrow. "I thought the medicos usually ate better than the patients."
"Not here." She recovered the dish and moved it aside so she had room for her folder, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Actually, I think there's a plan to get rid of us. They believe that by starving us to death they'll sort out the weak from the strong."
Jarod's mouth twisted into a smile that lasted for a couple of seconds before it slowly faded. She leaned forward and looked up into his face, knowing he couldn't see her close examination of his features. Her voice was soft but determined.
"Do you know Braille, Jarod?"
"No." He turned his head away, instantly resisting the idea that his lack of vision could last for any substantial length of time. "I don't want..."
"You'd rather die of boredom up here instead?"
As he hesitated, she reached up and covered his hand with hers. "I know I sound like I'm not giving you any hope and that's the one thing I'm not supposed to do, but I've got some of my own Braille books here, as well as the chart I learnt it from. I thought you might find it easier if you had something practical to do while we wait and see what happens."
Jarod turned his face back to hers, his expression one of astonishment. "So you really were what you said?"
Nicole immediately picked up on his refusal to utter that hard word - blind. She understood it. She had had the same problem.
"I really was. It took a year before my vision began to come back. Then a couple of months more before I was able to do things like read again."
"Is that why you wear glasses?"
"I wasn't wearing them earlier. How did you know?
"I could feel the ridges on your temples and nose."
She looked at him in surprise. "I'm impressed. Most people wouldn't pick up on a thing like that."
"I was... trained to notice," he muttered somewhat awkwardly.
Nicole raised an eyebrow. "In demolitions?"
The doctor saw the heightened color on his face as she asked the question and, out of sympathy, pulled the tray over the bed, placing the Braille chart in his unresisting hand.
* * *
Nicole shut the front door of her house and dropped a bundle of folders onto the table in the living room before going into the kitchen. Getting a plate out of the fridge, the woman put her dinner into the microwave. Looking through her mail as she waited for it to heat, she finally threw more than half of the envelopes into the bin before rescuing her steaming plate and carrying it through to the table in her living room. For several long moments she stared at the vacant seat opposite before, with a shake of her head, she reached over to turn on the radio before beginning to eat.
* * *
The doctor entered his room the next morning and, with no word of introduction, opened his hand and placed something into it. Jarod immediately turned his head in her direction, a light of interest in his eyes.
"What is it?"
"You tell me."
Nicole watched him run his fingers over it, a smile lighting his face as he tipped the item sideways and ate a piece of the candy that was inside, tilting his head slightly to one side as he crushed the cherry-flavored sugar between his teeth.
"Since when do doctors provide things that aren't healthy?"
"Since this doctor found a PEZ dispenser in tiny bits in your jacket pocket. I collected them myself and happen to have the same one. Since I don't collect them anymore, I'm giving to you."
"Thanks." Jarod smiled again before becoming somber once more.
"How are you this morning?"
He shrugged dismissively as Nicole picked up his folder and eyed the notations. "You haven't had anything for pain?"
"I don't need it."
The man turned his head in her direction, his eyes glittering in angry frustration. "The only thing I need is to get out of here as soon as possible, and to see again!"
Nicole nodded sympathetically. "If you could give us the name of someone we could contact..."
"There isn't anybody!" His denial was almost savage.
"If you would let me finish, Jarod," she rebuked gently and saw color rise in his face. "I was going to say that we could release you into their care, but I can't either ethically or morally let you waltz out of here on your own without knowing you'll be taken care of."
He nodded slowly and she got up.
"I'll investigate some possible options and see what we can do. In the meantime, I'll send one of the physiotherapists up here to get you on your feet again, okay?"
He nodded again and stretched out one hand in the direction from which he could hear her voice coming. Divining his intention, she reached out and took it. Jarod squeezed gently.
"Thanks, Dr. Austen."
She smiled, squeezing in response. "My pleasure."
* * *
Nicole watched silently from the doorway as Jarod pulled himself up onto the bed. When he was safely settled against the pillow, she walked in.
"I very much doubt that the physiotherapist said you could go for a jaunt on your own."
He jumped in shock at the unexpected sound and turned his head in her direction. "I'm getting a little frustrated."
"I think that's probably the understatement of the year. But it won't do you any good to push yourself too fast and end up with a raging fever or more broken bones."
Jarod turned his head away, annoyed at the speed and accuracy with which she had seemingly been able to understand his character. She eyed him closely before glancing at the table, noting that one of the books she had given him had a page marked.
"You've been reading?"
He shrugged. "There's nothing else to do."
She glanced at the radio beside his bed, but decided not to comment on it. "I'm impressed you picked it up that fast." Nicole grabbed his right hand and turned it palm-upwards to see the red fingertips. "How many of my books have you read by now?"
"Most of them," he mumbled, disconcerted.
"So you already knew Braille."
He shrugged for a second time, noncommittally. "I'm a quick study."
"If you keep going at that rate, you'll desensitize your fingers."
With a third, almost angry shrug he pulled his hand out of her grasp and folded it and the other on his chest, abruptly changing the subject. "Did you come up with anything?"
"So impatient to get out of here?" She let a teasing note creep into her voice. "A nice, clean room with staff to look after you..."
"...food that's inedible and getting woken up at six?" Jarod responded in a similar manner. "Yeah, can't wait to leave."
"Well," Nicole smiled, "I'm glad to hear you have a sense of humor anyway."
She put a brochure into his hand, watching as his fingertips skimmed over the raised dots. "That's the only residence that's got any free places. For some reason there seems to be a rush on that sort of accommodation now and most places have a waiting list. It seems quite nice - on the east coast."
He raised his head sharply, at the same time frantically searching with his fingers for anything like an address. "Where?"
At his angry, almost scared, refusal, Nicole raised her eyebrows. "Why on earth not?"
Jarod paused before turning his head towards her. "Personal - dislike of the place."
She removed the brochure from his hand, glancing at it. "Actually, I wouldn't have been too keen to send you there anyway. Most of the reports I've heard about it haven't been that good. But you seemed so eager to leave..."
"There's nothing else?"
Nicole could hear the faint note of desperation in his voice and offered another suggestion. "I was only able to come up with one other option."
His reply was both swift and eager. "And that is?"
"I have a spare room."
She watched as he raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't have thought that patients and staff would..."
"We usually aren't," Nicole laughed. "All I'm offering is accommodation, edible food and no getting woken at six." She paused for a beat. "My alarm goes off at six thirty." As she continued to watch him, Nicole's tones became more serious. "I'm certainly not willing to send you back to the hotel room you were staying in when the accident happened."
"It wasn't an accident."
The words came out before Jarod could stop them and he turned his face away as she looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing," the man muttered, angry with himself for letting slip what he had been determined not to mention.
"Jarod," Nicole began persuasively. "Not long after you were admitted, an investigator came here and wanted to know what you knew about the building. You were having the tests at the time and he couldn't ask you, but he said he wanted to know immediately if you could tell him anything. So what do you remember?"
After several moments of silently struggling with himself, Jarod eventually yielded with a regretful sigh, curling his left leg under his right with consideration for the cast. "I've got reason to suspect that there was a bomb in the building."
"And on what are you basing this suspicion?" she asked quietly.
"Personal... investigation," he admitted grudgingly.
She raised an eyebrow. "So were you the person who got everyone out before it crashed down?"
He slowly nodded.
"According to the news reports, you probably saved about thirty lives."
"And look what I get as a reward," he snapped, waving one hand in front of his unseeing eyes, his other hand slapping the cast with a resounding crack, which sent a flash of pain up his leg.
Jarod's tones were bitter and Nicole rapidly changed the subject. "If there was a bomb inside that building then someone must have planted it. Do you know who it was?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
"And if I contact the investigator will you tell him what you told me?"
Jarod shrugged again. "Perhaps."
She stood up. "I'll go and call him now." She leaned forward and put one hand on his. "Consider my offer, Jarod. I'll come back in a few hours to hear what your response is."
* * *
"Three steps going up."
She went up the first and saw him gingerly feel it with his walking stick before limping up the three stairs behind her. She pulled out her key and unlocked the front door, guiding him into the house.
"It's not that big."
He swept the stick from one side of the narrow hall to the other the way she had taught him at the hospital and Nicole smiled. "No, it's not. It's only a small, two-bedroom half-house. But it's enough for me."
Jarod nodded and she led him through a doorway to the left.
"This is my room."
As they walked in, Nicole could hear him murmuring the paces until he was standing with his legs against her bed and, turning, he used the walking stick to get an idea of size as he had in the hall. After several moments they left the room and went over to the door directly opposite hers.
"This is your room." She opened the door and led him inside, looking at the few items on the bed. "I brought your things here."
Jarod turned his face to hers, curiosity in his eyes. "Where did you...?"
"The police brought the bags to the hospital after they found where you lived. I brought them with me last night after we talked. You can unpack once we finish going over the place."
He nodded and took several cautious steps into the room on his own, shuffling rather than taking proper strides, hindered by both his own wariness and the cast.
"The rug on the floor goes to the walls," Nicole told him. "And the bed doesn't have a long cover that might get tangled around your feet."
She watched him feel his way around the chairs and other furniture that she had pushed against the walls so he wouldn't trip over any of it.
In the living room, she guided him around, giving him time to mentally map where everything was so he wouldn't fall later. Finally she led him around the kitchen.
"If you wanted to cook..."
"Cook!" Jarod's tones dismissed that idea at once. "How can I possibly cook? How on earth can I do anything now?"
She allowed a moment of silence to go by before she spoke, leaning against the bench, her arms folded. "Jarod, there are two important things you need to consider. First, I'm not here for some of every day and I'm sure you won't want to go hungry. Secondly, and this is the difficult bit, if it does turn out to be permanent, you'll have to learn to manage on your own."
Nicole watched him turn away and she straightened, putting a hand on his arm. "I know it's hard," she said softly. "I felt the same way. But you have to face reality. We don't know if you'll get your vision back and we have to work on the assumption that you might not."
She picked up one of his hands and put his fingers against small burns on the back of her hand. "That's the evidence of the time it took for me to learn how to cook without seeing. If you learn to cook as fast as you appear to have learnt to read Braille, you should have no problems." Nicole put his hand on the stovetop, letting him feel the raised dots that indicated the dials. "Everything here is still marked out from my period of blindness. That makes it easier now."
He nodded slowly, resisting the idea with which he had been presented and grateful for anything that would take his mind off it. "You lived alone... like that?"
"Yes." She hesitated. "For a while I did have company, but then things changed and I was alone. I had to cope like that for months until my vision came back and then longer again before I could use it effectively."
* * *
Nicole removed her reading glasses and looked up from the article she was perusing as he slowly came into the room.
Jarod nodded silently and made his way over to the sofa, carefully easing himself down on to it. She reached over and picked up a box from the table in front of her, placing it on his knee. "This might be useful."
For several minutes she watched while he worked out the way the box opened and extracted the item inside it. A puzzled expression formed on his face as he felt it, recognizing the object at once, but unable to understand why she had given him something so useless.
"What is it?" Jarod demanded, hoping that his initial impression had been wrong.
Reaching over, she flipped up the cover so that he could feel the raised dots on the watch-face. "I don't think you'll want to have to get up and find my Braille clock whenever you want to know the time."
He nodded again, fastening it firmly onto his wrist before turning to her. "Won't you need it?"
Nicole smiled. "No, I have my own. You're free to use it for as long as you like."
"Thank you. Again," Jarod added, feeling uncomfortable at the size of the debt he seemed to owe her as the favors and opportunities slowly added up.
"It's no problem." She sat back and looked at him. "To be honest, I've been on my own for so long that it's just nice to have somebody else around the place again."
Jarod's lips twisted into a half-smile and she watched silently as he ran both hands over the sofa on which he was sitting and then opened the cover of his watch to feel the time. As she stood up, he raised his head at the sound.
"If you want things to do," she placed one hand on his arm and he instantly rose in response. She let his hand slip around her arm and led him over to a corner of the room where the large shelves almost covered one wall.
"I have a collection of books." She placed his hand on the shelf and Jarod slid his fingers over the spines, each title and author printed in raised dots, facing in the same direction for convenience.
"I also have a fairly large music collection." Nicole moved Jarod's fingers to the right, allowing him to feel the rows of CDs, their names typed out in Braille.
"And I have cards." She gently placed his hand on the two boxes of raised print playing cards that she owned.
"Everything but the kitchen sink," he told her wryly.
She laughed. "I have one of those, too, or did you miss that?"
For the first time since they had met, Jarod smiled widely, dimples appearing in both his cheeks. Releasing his hold on her arm, he cautiously made his way over to the sofa, sitting down on it and turning his face up to hers.
"What did you do all day when you were - blind?"
Nicole noted with satisfaction that he had come far enough to at least be able to say the word and Jarod heard her footsteps crossing the smooth floor as she walked over to sit beside him.
"I read, or listened to music. Sometimes I wrote."
"Wrote?" His expression was one of amazement. "How?"
She reached forward, pulled the Braille frame over the table towards her and put it in his hands.
"With this, and also with my computer. I have a keyboard with raised dots and a program that can speak as I write so I could tell if I made a mistake, but that was fairly frustrating. This is easier."
She showed him the way it worked, her hands making a number of impressions, and then Nicole released the page so that he could read it.
"And," his tones were hesitant but eager, "could I...?"
"Of course." She laughed. "That was why I hunted it out yesterday morning."
Another smile lit his face as an idea struck him. "You mean you were planning this all along?"
"Not exactly. I was going to bring it in for you to use before you left the hospital, but now you can use it here instead."
Jarod eagerly seized the frame that she put into his hands and, after feeling it for a few seconds, slid the page into it. He picked up the blunt stylus, his hand clumsily making several impressions on the thick paper, and Nicole could see his eyes moving from left to right as if trying to read the marks he had made. Jarod felt the result before he lowered the stylus towards the flat surface in front of him, carelessly letting the round tool drop onto the tabletop, where it silently rolled away. Nicole waited a second before speaking quietly.
"Jarod, you've committed the first sin of not being able to see."
"Oh, really?" A bitter tone came back into his voice at her rebuke. "And what's that?"
"You've put something down with no idea where it is."
"Of course I know!" His response was impatient. "It's..."
He reached down to where he had dropped the implement and then hesitated as he found that he was no longer able to feel it.
"Where did it go?"
"If I wasn't here, you'd have to find it for yourself," she told him firmly.
Nicole leaned against the sofa cushions, watching as he slid his hand from one side of the table to the other, finally knocking the thin item onto the floor. He sighed in frustration and she watched him grit his teeth, not wanting to let her see his annoyance. Reaching down, she silently scooped it up in her hand.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked him. "You can't bend down to get it, not with your leg in plaster. Besides, for all you know it could have rolled under the seat."
"No, it couldn't." Jarod's voice was definitive, having felt her movement and guessing that she had picked it up. "Your sofa reaches to the floor."
"That's very impressive." Her voice contained a hint of amusement. "But it won't help you find the stylus."
"So what should I have done?" he demanded.
She put his hand on the frame and let him feel the groove where the item usually sat. "If you put something back where it belongs, and everything here does have a place, you've got a far better chance of finding it again." She turned his hand over and put the device into it, curling his fingers over the smooth object. "And that's the most important thing to remember."
* * *
"Are you ready, Jarod?"
He picked up the leather jacket from the bed and swung it over his shoulders.
"Just." He flipped up the cover of his watch and felt the time. "When do we have to be there?"
"I made the reservation for seven thirty."
The man nodded and walked towards the door, pushing the cupboard shut as he passed. Nicole gently took his free hand and slipped it around her arm, his other hand holding the walking stick. The two people made their way down the stairs and Nicole opened the car door, allowing him to climb in as she had taught him earlier, with one hand clasping the doorframe to prevent his head from banging on the metal. She swung the door until he could grasp the handle and allowed him to close it when he was ready while she got in behind the wheel.
"When did you get your license?" he queried curiously.
"I reapplied for it about two years ago, as soon as I could see well enough to pass the test. They cancelled my old one when they found out I couldn't see any more." She laughed. "I guess they were scared I'd get behind the wheel for old time's sake."
"And did you have to give up work?"
"Yes, but the hospital guaranteed me a job when I was ready to start working again, which was a part of the settlement, and they provided one when I was ready to work again. I went back to the hospital to work about a month before I got my license."
"So what did you do in the meantime?"
"Until I made the effort of sitting down and learning Braille, not much. I spent a lot of mornings just lying in bed, only to get up in the afternoons and wander around trying to kill time." Nicole sighed. "I regret the time I wasted, doing absolutely nothing. But you live and learn."
They parked outside the restaurant and Nicole got out of the car, coming around to find that Jarod had already managed to undo the seatbelt and was nearly out of the car by the time she reached him. He would have managed it alone, had the cast on his leg not hindered him. She reached out an arm just in time to prevent him from falling.
"Slowly. There's no hurry."
She laughed as he regained his balance. "I had noticed that."
He grinned half-heartedly as Nicole locked the car before coming over to him. Slipping his hand around her arm, Jarod walked beside her into the building.