“I screwed up!” Valentina whined as she closed the door behind her back.
Kate, who was sitting at the table studying, flicked her eyes up at Val. “Why?”
“I’m so stupid!” Val poked her forehead with her fingers. “Tom suggested meeting again and all I could say was that we definitely should, because I need help with my projects,” Val said, mimicking a spoiled brat’s high pitch voice.
“Did he mean meeting again, as if for a date?” Kate asked expectantly, as if it was the best gossip in town.
“Not exactly…I don’t know… Maybe? He said something about doing this again, so I figured he meant the tutoring, but when I answered with my stupid comment about the projects, he looked really disappointed,” Valentina said regretfully.
“Oh Val, you’re so clueless sometimes. Of course he wanted to ask you out. Why would he drop everything and come here last minute to help you with your boring homework?”
“Because, he’s a nice person?” Val’s face crinkled, skeptical about her own claim.
Kate shook her head with an expression of disbelief, “Look, the guy’s cute and he seems nice, and he must be smart too, to know all that computer crap. And…he put up with you for a whole night. I would advise you to just call him and ask him out.”
“I don’t want to go out with him!” was the first thing that popped out of Valentina’s mouth.
“Then what’s all the fuss about? If you ask me, you let him down easy. Now he’ll just disappear or settle for friendship. I’m guessing the latter; he really does seem nice.”
“I guess you’re right,” she let out a resigned sigh, “I’m going to bed.” Val slumped her shoulders and walked to her room, feeling like a lousy person.
That was a perfect example of why Valentina would never have a boyfriend; she was oblivious to the art of flirting. She hadn’t had many suitors, so she hadn’t had many opportunities to practice. On those rare occasions when someone was interested in her, she wouldn’t be interested in them, or she would be too shy to do something about it. She was so used to not being on the dating scene, that she automatically dismissed Tom; and she liked Tom, maybe not for a date exactly, but she didn’t want him to “disappear” like Kate said would happen.
Val walked down the hall to professor Allen’s office. He had posted the grades of the students’ first project on his office door. She approached a little nervous thinking that, thanks to Tom’s tutoring, she might have done well on her project, but she still felt a bit uneasy. She meandered among the other students that where trying to see their own grade, and when she finally made it to the door, she searched for her name on the list.
Oh my god. I got an A!
She was ecstatic about doing so great on something she was initially having a lot of trouble with. All thanks to Tom.
Without even thinking, the first thing that she did, was send Tom a text message.
“Hey there! I just wanted to let you know that I aced my project! I wanted to thank you again.”
A few minutes later Tom answered her text.
“That’s awesome. Congratulations! Did they give you another one?”
“Another project?” she asked just to be sure he didn’t mean something else.
“Yeah, this one seems harder. Ugh!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get it done in no time.”
Valentina smiled inwardly reflecting on how Tom was so kind to offer help so casually, which spared her the embarrassment of asking again. Most of all, she was relieved that he didn’t seem to be upset about how things had ended the last time they saw each other.
“Thanks!” texted Val.
“So when do you want to get together?”
“I don’t want to impose. I have a whole week to finish. Whenever you can.”
“It’s okay, we’ll do it on your time. I bet you have a lot on your plate. I remember how hard it was when I first started college.”
It definitely had been hard for Val. She had done really great in high school; she was one of the top students in her class. College was different, with all the hard subjects squeezed in one tiny semester, she spent 90% of her free time studying and it still did not seem enough.
Then her thoughts drifted to Tom. It must have been even harder to adapt having a visual impairment. She recalled his embarrassment when he told her he couldn’t read her notes that night, and how hesitant he had been just walking down the street.
She wondered how it had been for him. What if he couldn’t see the blackboard, or the professors’ presentations? How did he move around? It must have been so hard.
At that moment, she felt a knot forming in her stomach and an overwhelming sensation of sadness. Was she feeling sorry for Tom? As far as she could tell, he didn’t make a big deal out of his sight issues. Besides, Tom was really smart, he literally didn’t have to see the code to understand it, everything was stored in his head. Val came to the conclusion, that he had been doing pretty well in college.
Finally, coming back to the present she replied, “Yeah, it’s hard. Sometimes I think I’m not gonna make it to the end.”
“I’m pretty sure you will. It gets better, you’ll see.”
Their next encounter was three days later, again at Valentina’s dorm. This time, she cleaned and picked up the clutter to make sure Tom had a free path to walk through.
Tom brought his laptop and asked to work with it instead of hers. He explained to her how the adaptive technology in his computer worked and how it helped him be more efficient.
Valentina was amazed at the ease and confidence with which it he worked on his computer, working in a different way but efficient nonetheless.
This time her program was a bit more complicated. They had spent more than three hours working on it, and they hadn’t finished yet. Tired and overwhelmed, Valentina suggested taking break. They moved to the dining table and Valentina grabbed a pair of cokes from the fridge, then gave one to Tom and opened her own.
They were still sitting on the table brainstorming ways to finish the project, when Kate came bursting into the room dancing and singing a Rihanna’s song.
“Hello darlings!” she said, still singing the song’s tune. Without waiting for a reply she added, “Great thing you’re here, there’s a party tonight and you two are coming,” she declared, pointing at each of them with her index finger.
“I don’t know Kate, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Valentina trying to find a justification to decline her friend’s invitation.
“It seemed to me when I entered the room, that you were just chilling here sitting on the table, with your cokes and your laughter,” said Kate playfully.
“We were just on a break.”
“C’mon Val, all you do is study all day,” Kate said dramatically, “Must I remind you that you are in college. It’s supposed to be fun!”
“I thought I came to college to obtain a degree. Silly me!” Val deadpanned.
Tom sniggered beside her, not having made a sound until that moment. “We can finish tomorrow. Or is it that you don’t wish to go to the party?”
Valentina glowered at him, annoyed with his malicious intention to make her seem like the boring one. Then she turned to look at Kate and asked, “Whose party is it anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Kate shrugged, “You know how these things work, you get in, as long as you pay admission. Now let’s move it. I’m hungry. We can grab a bite and go from there.”
“Don’t we need to change?” said a resigned Val, looking down at her plain outfit.
“Nah! Just put on some perfume, you kinda smell.” Kate waved her hand in front of her wrinkling nose. “Don’t worry it’s casual. You both look divine,” she added, blowing kisses to both of them.
As they walked out the door she told Valentina in a hushed voice, “Seriously dude, I have some perfume in my bag. I’ll let you use it. And my lipstick too, by the way, cause you look like a zombie.”
Val laughed and shoved Kate on her arm.
“Just kidding. This one,” Kate pointed at Valentina with her thumb, “Is pure natural beauty. Don’t you think Tom?”
“I agree,” replied Tom, with a twinkle in his eyes.
The three of them first went to eat pizza and, just as planned, they left to the party from there. The house where the party was being held was big, but it was no ballroom, it was packed. There were many people just hanging out at the front; Tom did not want to imagine how it would be inside.
Even though Tom was friendly, parties were not his cup of tea, at least not this kind. He liked parties with a lot less people, and where most of these people were his friends. He could tell that he didn’t know anybody here besides Valentina and Kate, and that made him feel a bit uneasy.
They were merely stepping inside, when Kate asked Valentina to take a detour to the bathroom. And just like that, they left Tom to fend for himself.
He didn’t say anything but he still felt a slight sweat of fear and his heart started pounding faster. As it was usual in these parties, the place was dark, noisy and crowded, the perfect combination to render Tom disoriented.
Why did I think it would be a great idea to come to this party? Oh yeah, Valentina. Shit we do to impress a girl.
He managed to find a free spot to his left to get out of the way of the people passing through the entrance. He waited there, hoping that the girls would come looking for him at the same spot they had left him.
Time passed and no sign of them. Tom was getting bored and concerned that they would not come get him. Truth be told, any other guy would have been mingling around or at the bar buying a beer. That’s where he would’ve been if he hadn’t been standing in one place, hoping that the girls would come get him, worried of getting lost or bumping into people, or smacking them with his cane. Believe it or not, some people could get pretty nasty when this happened, especially if they’ve had a few drinks.
He weighed his options. If his phone hadn’t been dead he could have called Valentina; going to a party was not on his plan for the night, so he’d thought he would charge his phone when he got back home. Walking around looking for them was not a very viable option either, since he couldn’t see much. He could have asked where the bathroom was and wait there, but that would be bordering on stalky.
I might as well go get that beer.
Aiming at the bar, Tom walked to what seemed the right way. Yes, he bumped into people and smacked them with his cane, yet no one seemed bothered by it. He did not get lost either, because he eventually asked a random girl where the bar was, and like many people seemed to think was proper to do, she took the liberty to grab his arm and drag him there. But it got the job done, he was now standing at the bar, relaxing with a bottle of beer in his hand.
Out of nowhere, Tom felt someone smack him on his arm.
“What’s up Tommy?” It was David, one of his good friends from school.
“Hey man! How’s it going?” Tom answered. They shook hands and started chatting, almost shouting because of all the noise.
“How come you’re here, you don’t come to these parties often,” David asked.
“I’ve been wondering the same thing. Got dragged here by a friend and she left me stranded.” Tom was still a little uncomfortable.
“Not a good friend if she left you by yourself.”
Tom figured that what David meant with that comment was, “What kind of bitch leaves the blind guy by himself?”
“Actually, she’s very nice,” Tom said, to let David know that Valentina was a great girl; he didn’t want people getting a bad impression of her. At that moment, Tom realized that he was getting defensive of Valentina. Calm down buddy, she’s not interested.
“You need help or something?” asked David.
Tom and David had known each other for years, and even though Tom had mentioned to his close friends that he dreaded when people offered help in situations that really didn’t warrant it, David was one of those that still did it.
Tom was about to bark an answer, when he remembered that few minutes ago, he was about to lose it for a moment when he was left alone. “No man, I’m okay. Thanks.”
“Let’s go then. The guys are over there,” David said, as he stepped to Tom’s side and nudged him on his hand so he could hold onto his arm and walk through the crowd.
The guys were Monica, Nick and Joel, also friends from School. Monica was one of the few girls that majored in Computer Science. As they approached their friends, Nick and Joel yelled in unison, “Tom!”
He greeted them fake offended, “Hey guys! Y’all came to this party and didn’t bother inviting a me?”
“We used to invite you but you never come!” Monica said, slapping his arm playfully.
“I know, I’m just messing with you.” Tom waved his hand in dismissal.
“So what did make you come?” continued Monica.
“A girl,” answered David, before Tom could reply.
“We should have known that only a woman would make your boring ass come to a party.” This time it was Nick who made the mock disapproving comment.
Tom chuckled and said nothing; they were right after all.
“So, why the hell are you here with us, where is she?” continued Nick.
“She’s with her friend. I don’t know where they are. She’s not my date or anything, in case you’re assuming.”
“Well, you can stay with us until this mysterious girl appears,” David said, patting Tom’s shoulder.
He would have preferred to be with Valentina, but since she was MIA, he stayed with his friends and had fun like he used to when he was a freshman in college, when his sight was better and he actually liked coming to these parties.
Thirty minutes and three beers later, Tom was still hanging out with his friends. He was not a heavy drinker by any means and those beers had done a good job at causing him to feel tipsy and relaxed.
“Tom!” he heard Valentina yell. “I’ve been looking for you like, forever,” she said, when Kate and her approached the group of friends. Her tone was content but suggested that deep down she had been worried.
“I just went to the bar to grab a beer, and Dave here found me there,” he said, smacking David on the shoulder. “These are my friends, Joel, Monica, Nick and, of course, David. Guys, this are Kate and the mysterious girl, Valentina.”
“Mysterious girl?” asked Valentina, amused by Tom’s new nickname for her.
“We just thought that Tom was making you up. But you look pretty real to me,” said Joel checking Valentina out.
Tom knew by now that Valentina was very attractive; and curiously, she didn’t seem aware of it. His friend had just confirmed that. Tom just hoped that Joel wouldn’t go into full pursuing mode. He was very flirty and girls seemed to like him, a lot.
Valentina and Kate stayed with Tom and his friends, dancing, drinking and joking around. Thankfully, Valentina stayed glued to Tom the whole night and did not even seem to notice Joel and all his flirtatious attempts. Tom felt some sort of pride in that.
When they finally left, Tom probably had drank too many beers. He wasn’t an annoying drunk by any means, however, he was more relaxed than usual, thus finding the courage to wrap his arm around Valentina’s waist in an attempt to steady himself, avoid tripping or bumping into people, but mainly, because he really felt like giving her a hug. If it made Valentina uncomfortable, she didn’t say so, letting him walk stuck to her like a tick, all the way to Kate’s car.
The following day, which was Saturday, Valentina slept in late. She usually woke up very early; in her book, sleeping was a waste of time, she would rather spend her time doing something more productive like studying. Needless to say, to wake up at 10 am was a deadly sin.
The truth was that she was exhausted, she had stayed up late the night before, and she hadn’t really dared to sleep late since starting college. That’s why she told herself she really needed it and that it was okay to do it once in a blue moon.
While she had coffee and toast for breakfast, her mind wandered to the night before, specifically that moment when Tom held on to her. She wasn’t used to, nor wasn’t she really keen on physical contact that came from other people that weren’t her loved ones. And even though she felt herself stiffen and her cheeks burning, she did sort of liked Tom’s embrace. He wasn’t trying to cop a feel, nor was he pulling or pushing her like drunks tend to do, instead, it was gentle and caring. Moreover, that scent of alcohol and male perfume mixed together emanating from him had her flustered, which was unusual, she had never felt drawn to a man’s scent before.
Suddenly she realized that her thoughts had wandered to Tom’s scent, when she had much more important things to worry about. For example, the unfinished project she and Tom had been working on the day before. She decided to work on the dreaded program by herself and not to bother Tom, he was probably as exhausted as her.
By noon she was stuck. It bothered her to no end that she could not be able to solve this by herself even after Tom’s tutoring. She really didn’t want to bother him, but the obsessive-compulsive little rat that controlled her brain, wanted to get this over with ASAP.
“Hi. I was wondering if we’re still on for tutoring.”
She sent him a text message, then realized that she had been inconsiderate, since he was probably still sleeping. Why would someone still be sleeping at noon, was lost on her, but the living proof was her dear friend Kate who was still snoring in the next room.
“If you were still sleeping and I woke you up, sorry. Don’t worry about me.” Now she had sent him a second message in an attempt to mend her previous mistake, without considering that if the first one didn’t wake him up, this one would. You idiot!
It didn’t take long for Tom to answer, “Don’t worry, I’m the one that’s sorry, I overslept. Of course we’re still on for studying! I’ll come over, just give me some time to get my bearings.”
She wondered what he had meant by that. He was probably hungover, considering how he looked when they left the party.
“If you’re not feeling well we can postpone. No worries.”
“I just have a mild headache. I’ll just take a painkiller, and by the time I get there, I’ll be okay.”
“Please Tom, just stay and relax. I’m not gonna be the ass that makes you work when you’re not feeling well.”
“I’m okay. Really. Besides, I promised I would help you today, I have to keep my word.”
Tom’s concern for her caused Valentina to feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
He seemed to be resolved to keep his word, and it was getting tiring to keep arguing with him. If he was going to work sick just for her sake, the least she should do would be for her to go to his place, and not the other way around. That way he would be able to rest and get better by the time she arrived.
“Okay, but on one condition. I’ll go to your place. That way you can rest while your painkiller kicks in. I’m the one who has a car anyway.”
“You’ve had a car all this time a you made me go to your place how many times?”
Val felt a pang of guilt. That had been so inconsiderate of her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it.”
“Hahaha, I’m kidding Valentina! I love going to your place, Kate makes the best coffee!”
“Ha-ha. Seriously, send me your address. The car thing settled it. I’m coming over.”
Val figured it would be best to take her time to allow Tom to recover and get ready. She went to the bakery and bought a couple of muffins, then she stopped at Starbucks and bought two lattes, recalling that Tom had asked for the same as her when they went to that coffee shop together a few days ago.
She knocked on Tom’s door juggling with the food and drinks she had just bought. A very pale and groggy Tom opened the door. It was clear to her that he was forcing a smile.
“Oh my god Tom, you look like…” She trailed off not wanting to say exactly what she was thinking.
Besides his pale skin, his hair was even more tousled than usual, he had dark circles under his eyes and she could tell he was keeping his left eye closed on purpose, it probably hurt.
“Believe me, I feel like it.” He still managed to chuckle. “Is that coffee?” he said slightly excited, then closing his eyes and wincing for a split second.
“Yeah, I stopped at Starbucks and at a nice little bakery close to my place, they make the best muffins,” she said, while handing one of the cups of latte to him.
Val walked in, not really knowing what to do, Tom looked very sick and it wasn’t natural for her to be caring. “Are you okay? You look like you really need to rest. Didn’t the pill work?”
Tom took a big gulp of coffee seeming to feel better just by the taste of it. “Not really, I think it’s a migraine. I tend to get them. I shouldn’t drink.”
“Is it bad, do you need anything? I can run to the pharmacy if you need any medication,” she asked, seeking for an excuse to get out of there.
“No, that’s fine. I have something here but I don’t like to take it. It makes me groggy.”
“If it’s going to make you feel better, you should take it. I can leave you to rest,” she insisted.
“I’ll take the medication but please stay, you made it all the way here. You can work here,” Tom said gesturing to the table in his dining room. “I can rest on the couch and if you need my help I can take a look.”
Val couldn’t find any other excuse to leave and she didn’t want to argue with him anymore, so she agreed to stay.
She took out her laptop and notebook from her backpack setting them on the table, while Tom left to fetch his medication in his bedroom.
When he came back, she made sure he took the pill and forced him to lie down on the couch. She scurried to his bedroom to find some pillows so he could be more comfortable. There was nothing fancy in his bedroom, however, she was surprised at how organized it was. Heck, the whole apartment was immaculate. She wouldn’t have guessed it, judging by his messy appearance.
It wasn’t long before Tom was asleep, during which, Val tried to work on her project in silence with no positive progress.
She wanted to leave but it seemed that Tom wanted her there, she couldn’t just leave like that. They had known each other for practically nothing and she already had a soft spot for him. Why wouldn’t she? He was always willing to help her with those stupid projects, he was nice, fun and, why not admit it, really handsome.
She looked at him sleeping on the couch. Yeah, he’s cute and he smells nice… What’s with you and the way he smells? Did I become a bloodhound all of a sudden? Focus Valentina!
She tried to focus on her work, but her program had been stuck at her dorm, and that hadn’t changed since she got there, considering that Tom hadn’t been of much help.
Looking at her watch and judging by the rumbling symphony coming from her belly, Val figured it would be a good idea to find something to eat. She decided to go for a walk and not order in; she was bored and a walk seemed like a nice way to clear her mind from all the pointless studying.
Grabbing Tom’s apartment keys from the kitchen counter, she left to search for a place nearby that had soup, the universal food for comforting the sick.
She walked around for a while until she found a small restaurant where they actually had chicken noodle soup. She ordered two to go and returned directly back to Tom’s apartment.
When she opened the door, Tom was still lying down on the couch with his arm draped over his eyes. As he heard her come in, he lifted his arm and raised to a sitting position, still looking groggy.
“How are you feeling?” she asked in concern.
“Better.” He looked up at her, attempting a smile, with both eyes squinting. “I thought you’d left. I’m sorry Valentina I should’ve been helping you…”
“Zip it,” she interrupted. Tom chuckled. “Let’s not worry about that, okay? I come bearing gifts.” She said with a cheerful tone as she placed the two soup containers on the table. “Where are your spoons? You must be hungry. I sure am.”
Tom rose from the couch. For a moment it looked like he was going to fall but he steadied himself placing a hand against the wall. “Yeah, I’m hungry too.”
Val watched him stumble from the couch to the table, not knowing if she should help him. She decided against it. “So, the spoons?” She asked again.
She took two spoons from the drawer he had told her, and placed one at the side of each soup. “Now sit down sir, and enjoy. It took me hours to make this amazing chicken noodle soup.”
“Thank you. Nothing would make me feel better than a chicken noodle soup right now. Especially one made by you.” He gave her the sweetest crooked smile she had ever seen.
During the meal he only spoke to compliment the food but didn’t say much more.
Tired of the silence, Val made a comment on Tom’s apartment. “This is a nice place. Do you live here by yourself?”
He rolled his eyes. “I wish! I have two roommates. But they’re usually out until late in the night.” He replied rubbing his eyes and falling silent again.
Val realized at that moment, that usually Tom did most of the talking and now she was struggling to find something to talk about.
They talked about his roommates a little more but most of the meal was eaten in silence. She decided to not seek for more conversation topics; if Tom wanted to talk, he would have talked her ear off by now.
The silence was finally broken by Tom’s comment after finishing his soup, “Eating actually made me feel better. Thanks Valentina!” he rubbed his belly exaggeratedly.
“That’s great. Now, go lie down again, you should keep resting.”
“Nah, we can start working on your project.” Tom said shaking his head in disagreement.
“Tom!” She glowered at him like he was going to give him a long scolding. “I’m putting my foot down. You need to rest. I’ll make sure you do. Now move to the couch!” Val ordered in a fake nagging tone.
“Yes ma’am!” Tom put his hand on his temple as it saluting a general.
He walked to the couch, now looking a lot more stable. It did seem that the soup worked its magic. Val felt pleased with herself and relieved that he seemed better.
She followed him and sat on an armchair right beside the couch.
“Do you want to watch TV?” asked Tom. “We have Netflix and and some DVDs. Most are anime series and superhero movies. I’m not the only geek in this apartment.”
“Sure, just put on whatever you like,” she answered, not really caring about the programming. She wasn’t big on watching TV. That was obviously a waste of time, when she always had something better to do, like studying.
He chose the last superman movie, which she had not seen before, and found herself enjoying it very much in spite of her previous indifference.
Tom, on the other hand, wasn’t as caught up by the movie as her. He was dozing off every now and then, clearly still affected by the migraine.
When the movie was over, it was getting dark outside so Val decided it was time to go home.
As they walked to the door, Tom apologized profusely for not being able to work on her project. “I’m sorry you spent your Saturday in company of a zombie. Thank you for sticking around.” He laughed softly looking embarrassed.
“No, I’m sorry I bothered you with my project when you felt so bad.” Then she gave him a soft hug and said, “I hope you feel better soon. If there’s anything you need, call me.”