Jen and I slipped into the living room after dinner while our parents were talking. I heard her flop down on the couch. “Your parents are so going to let you go to public school.”
I snorted. “What makes you say that?”
“They’re practically hanging on my parents’ every word,” she pointed out. “They’re not really exchanging notes on raising blind kids. It’s more like they’re asking my parents for advice.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’ll be awesome if they let me go to Thatcher.”
“You have a crush on John, don’t you?” she teased, laughing.
“What makes you say that?” I asked, surprised. Nobody really knows how to read my feelings, not even my parents most of the time.
She giggled. “Hey, I’m a fellow blind person. I can tell what others have on their minds a lot of the time. You’re hoping you’ll get to go to Thatcher to be with John.”
“And…” I prompted.
“And because you want to be normal,” she added, a bit of the levity falling out of her voice. “You know that it won’t really happen, right?”
“I know,” I replied, sighing. “But it’s not just being normal, I also want my parents to just treat me like I’m normal.”
I heard her sigh. “It took my parents a while to do that. They have to learn, just like you have to learn how to respond to change in your own way. Sometimes it’s really hard for them to realize that they can’t hold on to their image of you as a poor blind girl and that they have to let go.” She took a deep breath and let go. “You have to let go of that false identity, too. You can’t let the label ‘blind’ define you your entire life.”
I nodded slowly, then remembered that she couldn’t see me. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Chloe, Jen!” my mom called from the dining room. “Could you girls come in here?”
We walked into the dining room, which my mom had dressed up really nice for our guests. One of her fancy tablecloths had been laid out, along with the nice silverware and real china, well, for everybody except me. My mom didn’t really trust me around breakable things.
“Chloe,” my dad began, “we’ve been talking to Jen’s parents about how you want to go to public school, and they’ve given us lots of helpful tips. They think that you’re probably responsible enough to be able to go to public school, so…” He took a deep breath. “We’ve decided to let you go to public school at Thatcher this year.”
“Really?” I asked, hiding my excitement.
“Yes,” my mom told me. “You know that this will be a really big commitment, right? You’ll have to work very hard on your schoolwork and keep your grades up, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed. I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to public school.
I walked carefully down the high school hallway, my cane tapping gently against the lockers. My first week at Thatcher had been a tough one, but I had mostly figured out how to get around the school. Most of my classes were pretty easy, since, with my mom’s homeschooling, I was a little ahead of the class. My teachers were really nice, too, and super helpful. Most of the kids acted like my cane was poisonous or like I had a disease or something, avoiding me. I didn’t mind that much. I still hadn’t made any friends, but being a loner didn’t bother me.
A locker slammed almost directly in front of me. I went wide around the area where the locker had slammed to avoid running into the person. I felt a foot hit my shin, and I stumbled, slamming into the hard floor. Laughter rang out around me. I could feel my face burning.
“You need to learn how to walk, blind kid,” a taunting voice said to my left. Giggles reached my ears. I felt somebody grab my shoulders and yank me up off the floor. The next thing I knew, I lost my breath as he slammed me into a locker. There was more laughter, and I could feel the anger bubbling up inside of me.
“Leave her alone, Brian,” a slightly familiar-sounding voice called, and I heard footsteps approaching. The guy holding me, Brian, I guess, loosened his grip and stepped back.
“I was just messing around,” he protested.
“Whatever,” the voice snorted. “Are you okay, Chloe?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, John,” I replied.
“How’d you know who it was?” Brian asked, surprised.
John nudged me with his elbow. “She has a built-in voice recognition system, right?”
I laughed. “Yeah.” John led me down the hall towards the front door. “Thanks,” I whispered in his ear.
“No prob,” he told me. “Besides, what are friends for?”