Friday Night and All That

by Shirley Vernick

The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air. I’d decided to start my weekend with a quick stop at The Milky Way, a bar more the size of a dwarf planet than a galaxy, conveniently situated along my walk home from work. Sitting alone at a table overlooking the street traffic, feigning fascination with the ice formations in my Sea Breeze, I felt content. I wasn’t looking to go home with someone, after all. I just wanted to decompress at the end of a long week. A drink, some canned music, the flattery of a few passing eyes, that was plenty, or at least good enough.

The guy in the Mr. Rogers cardigan didn’t know this, though. Suddenly he was standing across the table from me, gushing, “Hi! Okay if I sit?”

I nodded and moved my cocktail napkin, even though this guy wasn’t my type. Not that I had a type, but I usually went for guys who were a little less chirpy, a little less clean-shaven. His name turned out to be J.D., and we talked the usual ho-hum fare. Where was I from? What did I do for work? Then all at once he slapped down his beer mug and said, “I want to introduce you to my friend Kole. I think you’ll really like him.”

I raised my wickedest eyebrow.

“He’s up at the bar right now. In the black bomber jacket.”

I turned to see the back of the man in said jacket. “Jesus, you’re the wingman?”

“Please don’t be mad,” he entreated. “Look, I’m only in town for a few days, and I want to help him meet someone, someone special. He’s been alone too long.”

“Did he send you over here? Christ, that’s so middle school.”

“No, he didn’t, I swear.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Think of it as a blind date,” he ventured. “Someone who likes you both wants you to meet each other.”

I’d never been on a blind date, and I told him so.

“One drink, that’s all I ask.” He was practically begging now, and I had to wonder what was wrong with this Kole that he couldn’t get his own dates, that he’d been alone so long. “Just in case,” J.D. went on. “Just in case this is, y’know, It.”

Overhead, a song they played at my senior prom came on. Night is calling, and I am falling, Orleans crooned. Pick the beat up, and kick your feet up. I took another peek at the bomber jacket. Dance with me. And then I got my what-the-hell on. “Come on. Let’s go meet Kole.”

“Hey, Kole,” J.D. said from behind. “I want you to meet my new friend.”

Kole turned around and shone an irrepressible smile at me. “Hi,” he said, his voice a fleecy sheet around my shoulders.

He had a couple of day’s growth on his face, and dark locks just past his chin. He was wearing black Ray-Bans with violet lenses. I know—sunglasses in a bar, how cliché. But on him it looked right. On him, it went with the bomber jacket and leather wrist band and the Harley I was certain was parked out back.

J.D. excused himself, and suddenly Kole and I were soul-deep in conversation. An hour later, we still don’t know where each other was from or what we did for a living, but he knew about the bet I lost that forced me to get a certain piercing, and I knew why his only tattoo was a fig. Pretty soon, I found myself pondering how many babies we should have together, wondering if they’d have his smile, guessing what color his eyes were behind those shades.

And then something strange happened: the lights went on. We’d closed the bar, which in this city meant five a.m. To my delight, Kole kept right on talking. We’d spent the whole night together, but he wasn’t ready to end it any more than I was.

Kole reached his hand to my face and leaned in, his lips parted for a kiss.

“Wait,” I said. “Would you take your sunglasses off first?”

He smiled that intoxicating smile.

His eyes are probably brown, I figured. But no, I was wrong. They weren’t brown or any shade of dark. They were white. Kole was blind.

I heard myself let out a small gasp, and I hated myself for it. He sighed, a soft murmur of understanding, of regret, of acceptance. A surrender to the verdict I didn’t know I’d already reached.

“Kole, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to make you do this.”

“It’s all right.” He replaced his Ray-Bans. “You needed to know.”

He was right. I did need to know. But now that I did, I wished I could unknow it. I wished I’d never met this vibrant soul, this man I knew I could fall in love with—that’s how afraid I was. Afraid of how hard that life might be. Afraid I’d fail him and me both. Afraid his blindness would be a third person in our relationship, or worse, that I’d conflate the man and the condition into a single, unwelcome thing. A problem. A burden.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. This time I wasn’t apologizing about the sunglasses. This time it was for a much worse offense: choosing to go home with my fears instead of with him.

Now J.D. was back. He could tell by our faces, our posture, that this was not the fairy tale ending he’d hoped to create for his friend. He mumbled something about parking meters, and together we walked into the daylight, J.D. guiding Kole with a hand on the shoulder. Above, the birds were chittering, oblivious to the tragedy unspooling below.

“Do you need a ride?” Kole asked me. When I said no, he added, “Just to be clear, it’s J.D. driving.” He was deadpan at first, then he flashed that smile.

There it was. The blindness, intruding on the simplest of interactions, clouding even the funny bits with its blackness. No Harley out back, not even a bicycle.

We suffered through the niceties of great to meet you and thanks for the drink. Kole and J.D. headed south down the street, and even though that was the way I needed to go too, I walked in the other direction, away from my apartment, away from Kole, away from what might have been It, just me and my fear and a hard rock of remorse.

As I walked, I knew with absolute clarity that for the rest of my life, I’d wonder what would have happened if I’d gone with Kole. Whether I could have worked past my anxiety. Whether he could have put up with me during my growth. Most of all, I’d wonder how Kole would remember me in light of my desertion—if he remembered me at all, that is. Then, picking up my pace, not sure where I was going, I made a wish for Kole. I wished that he would find a better person than me one day. A person who could see.

About the Author: Shirley Vernick’s work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Her novels are The Blood Lie, winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Book Award; Remember Dippy, a Library Guild Selection; and The Black Butterfly, winner of the Dolly Gray Book Award.