Petronella Glover is a multi-genre author whose work has been translated into a dozen languages, including the Catalonian Romance language, where she has won two awards for Best Translated Story. A little quirky, very geeky, and unabashedly romantic, she hopes to one day visit the City of Love, find a bustling café where she can sample their hot chocolate and write her first New York Times Bestseller. This is her third appearance in Heart’s Kiss, continuing an exciting new series of stories about astronauts of the near future.
A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
by Petronella Glover
I waited until Elanora finished her bone-crushing hug before telling the Aussie that being a man without the superior Russian Intelligence skills of her boyfriend, Dimitry, I was taking the threat against my life, and the prior threats against her and Babirye’s lives, very seriously. While I watched the later stroll out of an undisclosed NASA building, straight into the arms of her scarred ex-Naval Corpsman, I couldn’t help but be amazed by how much had changed in the last year.
And I’m not talking about the amazing, thrilling, scary, out-of-this-world happenings on the International Space Station, either. That was crazy enough.
What I was talking about was watching two other astronauts from Expedition 63—both of which returned home on the Soyuz with me just a scant 127 days ago—finding some rather impressive protectors in the fallout. Someone, or several someones, wanted us dead because of what we knew, and yet my fellow astronauts had somehow found the time to fall in love with men that would give James Bond a run for his money.
I shook my head, amused, and pulled my car keys out of my back pocket, making my way over to my pride and joy—a ’77 Special Edition Trans Am.
My phone started ringing, but I ignored it, hopping into the car.
Turning it on and shifting the gear into reverse, I waited for Dimitry, who was running up to my vehicle.
“Privet, Raine! I checked for bombs before you come out,” he pointed out, his accent thick and so very Russian.
I frowned, confused.
He gestured towards my vehicle. “You should check every time you drive.”
On any other day I would have scoffed and brushed his comment off with a nervous laugh—I mean, why would anyone bother to kill me?—but after sitting through a very real, very frank two hour briefing where twenty-four hour, seven days a week, security detail had been organized to follow all members of Expedition 63 now earthbound, I was being forced to take my mortality seriously for a change.
My phone rang again, and I hit reject.
I placed the phone in its car stand, pulled up its call history to see who was calling me, but I didn’t recognize the number. Then Facebook Messenger beeped…soon followed by my Twitter Message app.
I put the car in drive and pulled out onto the road, soon merging in with peak hour traffic.
With cars backed up to a crawl, I pulled the phone out of the stand and opened up the first of many text messages I had received while my phone was offline. I cycled through messages from Mum, Dad, Elanora, Mum again, and several news agencies, including a contact request from the same number who had called my phone twice in the previous ten minutes.
Ms. S Lawson, an award-winning reporter from Signals from the Edge, would like to contact you at your earliest convenience regarding the incident that occurred on the ISS.
I snorted, deleting her text. Seeing nothing that demanded an urgent response (I was heading to my parents for dinner so could talk to them there, and Elanora’s concerns had been answered during the briefing), I dismissed the app and quickly looked up to see that traffic conditions were still sluggish at best.
I opened my Facebook Messenger app next to respond to some friends, only to see yet another contact request from Ms. Lawson in my filtered messages. Wow, this lady just won’t give up.
Against my better judgement, I replied, informing her that in no uncertain terms would I be talking to the media—even if NASA didn’t have me sign numerous Non-Disclosure Agreements.
The cars around me started to pick up speed and I looked up to see I’m about to miss my exit.
Swearing, I swerved to get into the far right lane and merged onto a new freeway, my Facebook Messenger beeping again.
I swipe my thumb across the phone to open up the app.
Maybe I can change your mind over a cup of coffee? I’ll buy.
This woman was really starting to get on my nerves. I double tap on the screen to open the keyboard, prepared to type “No means no,” when I look up to see the bright bulbs of a semi heading straight for my car.
I’ve been reading to Raine for weeks now. At first I told myself it was because I was still fascinated with the ISS incident and the suspicious attacks on the other astronauts who had returned from an expedition now been deemed classified, but the truth is I had already been a volunteer at Houston Methodist St. John Hospital for over two years. I liked to help people find a reason to smile; I enjoyed being able to bring them the books that enabled them to escape the pain and frustrations of a hospital stay—if only in their mind.
If it brought a human interest story to my attention that I could use to my advantage as a reporter, well and good, but that had never been the goal.
But then there was Raine…. He could not read the books himself—not anymore. And there was only one person to blame for that: me and my damned insistence to get the story first.
The jury was still out on whether his blindness was permanent, but it was looking that way. So I offered to read to him daily as a kind of penance, and to help him escape the black world he now lives in through the imagination of others.
I waved to the guard and walked into Raine’s hospital room, wheeling the book cart in front of me, loving the smile that appeared upon his face. He was starting to recognize sounds now, and I had noticed he could greet me before I announced I was in the room.
“Oh, Sunny, my Sunshine, what will you read for me today?” he asked, by way of greeting.
I grinned and pulled out a selections of books, handing them over to him. “It depends. Which feels the most interesting?”
He laughed and compared the books by touch and weight, selecting an old leatherbound edition of Brothers Grimm and raising it to his nose, inhaling the musty scent of aged ink and stale paper. “This one.”
“Good choice,” I told him, loving the old folktales myself.
I dragged the guest chair over to his bedside and sat down in it, putting my feet up onto the side of his bed and crossing them, so it was like reading in a recliner. “How about a romance to start off your day?” I asked him as I flicked through the stories.
“That’s the most scintillating way to wake up, for sure,” he agreed with a grin, and not for the first time I wondered if he was flirting with me.
I settled on Snow-White and Rose-Red, and start telling him the tale of the two sisters who sheltered a bear from the winter storms and before long he had closed his sightless eyes to imagine the words I shaped for his ears.
It wasn’t until I came upon the part where the bear turns into a man, revealing himself to be a Prince, that I realize Raine’s hand was now absentmindedly resting on my ankle, lazy fingers circling the joint as he listened to me.
I tried to concentrate, but his touch was distracting, enticing….
My words faltered.
He opened his eyes, despite not seeing, and asked if I was all right.
I lied—“Sure, I’m just a little tired.”—and his hand left my foot, much to my disappointment.
Turning his large frame over onto its side, he scooted backwards on the raised mattress, patting the open space on his bed with a long tapered hand. “Come on. Hop up and rest for a while. There’s lots of room.”
I hesitated. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I did want to, and I knew he was simply being kind to a volunteer he assumed was run ragged off her feet.
I closed the book and walked up to the bed, sliding onto it in such a way as to not disturb him.
We lay facing each other—one seeing, the other not seeing—and stayed that way for quite some time.
“So the story is about conquering prejudice in a way, to build a friendship, find love,” Raine said eventually, starting our daily post-reading discussion like we weren’t breaking all the rules of propriety.
“Yes,” I replied, in the same conversational tone. “Or rather, it’s about learning to accept our differences, so that they don’t scare us away from discovering a deeper connection.”
“Am I so very different now?” he asked me quietly, somewhat sadly.
My heart leapt into my throat. You did this to him. It is all your fault.
“No,” I replied truthfully. “You just look at the world differently to me now—Oh, shit. I’m sorry. I just meant that, you know….”
Surprisingly, Raine laughed, raising his hand towards me. “May I?” he asked.
My heart thudded faster. “May you what?” I asked, naively.
“Learn how to see you in a different way.”
I gulped, then nodded.
He must have felt my acquiesce, or maybe he took my silence as an affirmative response. I watched as he closed his eyes and tentatively reached his hand towards my face.
At first his touch was featherlight, then it became firmer, more caressing.
I closed my eyes, too, and kept still while his fingers went over my every feature several times, as if trying to memorize them.
“Heart-shape face?” he enquired as he traced my jawline for third time.
I nodded and his fingers moved up to my mouth, caressing it lightly. “Are you biting your lip?” he asked, his voice gruffer.
I nodded again, realizing the gesture belied my inability to remain impartial to his touch, and he groaned, darting his head forward to capture my lips within his.
At first I froze, I was so shocked by his brashness, but then my hands moved of their own accord to clutch at his shirt as he deepened the kiss.
Pulling away soon after, I opened my eyes to see him smiling.
“This is what it feels like to be doing your first E.V.A,” he told me as his hand moved in to explore the long curve of my neck.
My breathing hitched. “Like you wanted to piss your pants and reach for the heavens at the same time?” I replied, dryly.
He laughed. “Yes. When you’ve got the gumption to reach for the stars, to be one of the first to experience that incredible feeling of being off-world—and then suffer a near death experience—you don’t tend to be a wallflower when it comes to declaring your interest in a girl.”
“I’m interested in, ah, more earthly pursuits,” I teased. While I couldn’t help but be curious about whether he was referencing a deathly experience up on the ISS, or the one that led to his blindness, I stayed true to my decision to no longer pursue the story by redirecting the conversation back to us.
He’d suffered enough because of my hunger for the truth.
He slid his hand around the nape of my neck into the back of my hair and kissed me again; gently at first, and then more soundly. “I like how you think, my Sunny girl,” he said, when we came up for air.
There was a sweet vulnerability to him, as I watched him explore me without sight, and yet there was a sexy strength, too, in the sureness of his hands and mouth.
He nipped my bottom lip and I gasped, allowing his tongue to surge into my mouth to tangle with mine. One of my hands unclenched, so I could move it down and wrap it around his waist and we were soon lost in each other.
Only the distinctive “Ahem” coming from the guard in the doorway was enough to break us apart with a laugh.
“We need to stop,” I told him, not wanting to at all.
He kissed my neck, then nibbled on my ear playfully, and I couldn’t help but feel joy.
“I’ll read to you again if you behave,” I told him, knowing I was blushing from head to toe.
I swallowed the last of her words with yet another kiss, my hand sliding back up to her face to touch lips now swollen from our kisses. They were parted, her breathing coming quickly as I traced their cupid bow shape with fingers hungry to explore her. I felt her body wriggle against me on the narrow bed and I smiled, moving my hand to caress her cheek, pleased to feel it flushed with heat—with passion. Sliding my fingers up further, I felt her long lashes brush against my fingertips as she sighed.
“Blue,” she said, in a voice half-dazed.
“What?” I asked, too focused on my actions to follow her train of thought.
My fingers kept moving up to discover a high forehead, her hair cut to cover it with bangs.
“Auburn…mostly,” she offered up. “It’s a little sunkissed on the top layers.”
“How appropriate,” I murmured, given her name.
I moved my hand into her hair, pulling my fingers through the long locks until my hand was down at her waist, resting possessively on her hip.
“This is you stopping?” she asked, chuckling, as she struggled to calm her breathing.
“Wellllll, the hospital did say I needed to learn how to recognize my world through the medium of touch,” I told her, truthfully.
“So I am your test subject?” She shook her head in amused disbelief and we were so close I could feel it. It gave me a certain thrill to know that I was already able to recognize certain mannerisms without the ability of sight.
“Yes, you owe it to me to help me navigate this hurdle in life,” I told her with mock piety, trying to imagine how sexy she would look in a vintage candy striper outfit.
Sunny froze, her body becoming rigid, more distant somehow, even though she still lay pressed up against me.
“Did I say something wrong?” I ask her, confused. “I might have been teasing, but that is your job, isn’t it? At the hospital, I mean.”
There was a frustrating pause where I could glean nothing from her. No reaction whatsoever. Then: “I need to come clean about something.”
She couldn’t have picked more suspicious words if she had tried.
She pulled back from me, sliding off the bed. I heard her pacing, back and forth, back and forth, before she returned to grip the lowered side rail on my bed.
“It was me,” she said simply.
“What was you?” I asked, now thoroughly confused. I was still aroused, and I still wanted to reach out to her, but at the same time there was a sense of unease growing steadily inside of me—growing between us.
“I’m the reason you can’t see.”
I frowned, confused. “How is that possible? We met when I arrived here”—I did the math—“three weeks ago, after the accident, when I was first transferred into this ward.”
“No, that is not quite true….”
“We’ve met before?” I asked. Why did she not tell me immediately? What game was she playing at?
“Not quite—it’s complicated.”
“How complicated can it be?”
She was quiet for a long while. “I was the one you were messaging when you had that crash.”
It took me a moment. “You’re the persistent reporter?”
“Yes.” Her reply sounded so definite, defensive even, yet so vulnerable, too.
I didn’t care.
“So you are here now for the ‘scoop’—for what happened on the International Space Station?” I asked, incredulous.
“I was…originally,” she replied, and I heard an audible shake to her voice. “But then this—we—evolved. I got to know—”
I cut her off, the bile churning in my stomach. “There is no we. You were just using me.”
“No!” she countered. “That is not what happened.”
I felt her hand fall on my one of my clenched fists and I shook it off angrily.
“You caused this. My blindness is your fault.”
“Yes,” said simply. “I take full responsibility for that. But I wasn’t here for the story…I was here as a kind of penance.”
“Oh, that’s rich.” I laughed, but it was a bitter sound. “So you kissed me as a kind of penance then, I suppose?”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Well, you are damn well going to hear it.”
Stunned silent, I listened to her footfalls as she stormed around the room. “I was already a volunteer in this hospital when you arrived. The only difference is when I found out what happened—that you stopped messaging because you had been hit, because I had been messaging you—well, I—”
“Became an opportunist,” I interrupted.
She made a sound of frustration and stalked to the bed. “No! I just wanted to help, somehow.”
“Is screwing patients one of your duties then? Or something you were just going to do with me to soften me up so I would tell you what happened?”
I didn’t have to feel the slap stinging across my face to know I had gone too far.
I heard her sobs, and despite it all, I cared. Hell, if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have reacted this strongly to her deception; I wouldn’t have been so angry.
“Sunny,” I started, but she didn’t answer. At least, not at first.
The military guard assigned to the door must have peeked his head inside the room—no doubt attracted by her audible sobbing—because I suddenly heard him ask if she needed assistance. I noted that he did not ask if I, his charge, needed any help. That told me volumes of how much of an asshole I had been.
I heard Sunny decline politely, then quietly, to me, she added: “Whenever you brought up the International Space Station, I was the first to change the subject, or to remind you of your oath.”
That pulled me up short. I thought about our exchanges. It had been subtle, but she was right. Not once had I brought up my job without her changing the subject.
“So why did you stay,” I asked, quietly, “if not to score the story of a lifetime?” I needed to know it wasn’t just because she wanted to atone for what had happened. I needed to know—
What exactly? A little voice in the back of my mind taunted me: Who would want to be saddled with a blind man? A burden.
“At first I felt I owed it to you to help you recover what sight you could,” Sunny answered, her voice barely a whisper. “I had wanted to tell you of my involvement, but I was getting so swept up in my emotions—by you.” She paused, as if hesitating, then took the plunge. “I realized I was falling for you, and I didn’t want to lose you…. I know we didn’t have the most auspicious start, but can you possibly believe me?”
I didn’t trust myself not to say the wrong thing again. I simply reached out my hand and she walked up to me, taking it within hers, holding onto it as if it were a lifeline.
We stood that way for a long while, as I repeated her words around in my head: “I realized I was falling for you…”
My heart swelled. I wanted to tell her some of how I felt, and began to, but then someone walked into the room.
“Could you please come back in ten minutes?” I heard Sunny ask, politely. “We’re in the middle of something very important here.”
The woman, presumably a nurse, apologized, informing us that unfortunately there was nothing that could dissuade her from her task.
Something about her voice was off-putting. Cold.
Sunny asked her again to respect our privacy—pointing out it wasn’t even the usual time for my shot—but she wouldn’t be convinced.
I wished I could see her. Something about the way she said things were stilted (since when was I considered a “task”?) and it appeared Sunny felt the same way.
“Can I please see your I.D.?” she asked the nurse, politely.
“That will not be necessary,” she responded in clipped tones.
There was a pause, then I felt Sunny’s hand tighten around mine, tugging it hard. “Move, Raine! She’s not a nurse!”
I don’t know what prompted that warning, but I didn’t hesitate; I sprung into action. I leaped out of the bed and slammed into—someone. Who?
From the sound of the oomph! it sounded like Sunny. Shit.
“Needle…has blood in it…danger…” Sunny ground out through clenched teeth, clearly winded.
I could hear the guard run into the room, but an arm grabbed me from behind, and I knew I only had seconds before the attacker would inject me with whatever poisonous cocktail they had brought into the room with them.
I deliberately fell, flailing around like a fish, wanting to grab something, anything, that could help me fight her off.
The guard yelled a warning just as I grabbed something metallic from the floor, slamming it into the imposter. We rolled in a tangle of arms and legs into Sunny and over her, as I kept hitting the would-be-killer wherever and whenever I could—hoping I was hitting the right person.
In hindsight, I could see how my flailing didn’t help the guard at all—he had no way of getting a lock on the fake nurse to take her out—but I was reacting in a pure fight-flight response.
Then there was a horrific sound (and, as I was told later, a bright light) stunning all of us in the room. All movement ceased, and as my ears screamed their protest I thought I heard the succinct but dulled sound of gunshots.
The killer’s hand fell from my arm.
I could feel someone moving on the ground, near me, but due to the effects of the flash-bang I still could not see; I could barely hear, but for the constant ringing in my ears.
I lay there dazed, my eyes closing of their own accord. I was conscious of an intense throb above my left temple, of the fact that someone was trying to attract attention. They were calling out…at least, I think that was what they were doing. Through the long tunnel of high-pitched sound I thought I could hear their voice. They were repeating the same thing over and over again….
I tried to move, tried to answer, but my body would not respond.
Their tone seemed anxious at first, and then distressed. Then the owner of the voice was moving closer and closer, and then shaking me, the pitch of their words now reflecting anger.
I fought to open my eyes, but couldn’t. I could not understand why this person was so pissed.
Correction: why he was so pissed.
“Damn it, Sunny, wake up!”
I felt Raine pull me into his lap, but I still had no energy to respond. Now that I knew he was alive, safe, I just wanted to sleep.
One of his hands reached for my face, tracing it with anxious fingers, as if wanting to assure himself I was whole. He swore when his fingers touched blood, then lifted his hand to hover it above my mouth to check I was still breathing.
He called my name again—quieter this time, his tone more heartfelt—and I felt my body start to react imperceptivity to his words, to his touch. His hands were so gentle, as he ran them over my body, checking me for further injury, that I moaned—only partly because of pain.
The next indeterminate amount of time was filled with a blur of nurses and needles, and the befuddled memory of the doctor promising an endless series of law enforcement officials I would be able to give a statement to the police when I was cleared for visitors.
Throughout it all I could hear Raine’s comforting tones, telling me he would give me a wonderful story to report on—if only I would just wake up.
I was in and out of it for hours—days?—until the constant ringing dulled to a persistent whine, and I started dreaming. I was on the International Space Station, Raine floating in a bright golden light, coaxing me towards him with such love in his eyes my breath stilled…only for the image to be replaced with one of aliens hovering over my bed in face masks and surgical caps, menacingly lowering a drill to my skull.
I came to full alertness with a panicked gasp, confused at my surroundings, but anchored to the here and now by the warm hand that engulfed mine and the kind voice that told me everything would be all right.
I looked around to see that this time it was me in the hospital bed, and Raine in the chair beside me, and I squeezed his hand in greeting. His face lit up, and even though his eyes could not see, they sparkled in relief. “It’s about time you woke up,” he said gruffly.
“What happened?” I asked, as I reached up to touch the bandage wrapping my head, wincing. I remembered some of it: the struggle with the nurse—killer?—and the sudden disorienting pain; the flash-bang of the grenade the military guard threw into the room to defuse the situation, and the feeling I was losing grip on reality. Oh, and pain, so much pain.
“I—I hit you,” Raine supplied, having the grace to sound sheepish. Guilty.
“You what?” I exclaimed, blinking in surprise.
“I wasn’t aiming for you,” he supplied, and with his free hand he gestured to his eyes, as if that explained it all.
Which it kinda did.
I laughed and he blinked, taken aback.
“Well, if that isn’t karma biting me in the arse,” I informed him. “You were aiming for the…assassin?”
He nodded, his thumb rubbing the inside of my palm back and forth, resulting in a pleasant buzz unrelated to the pain medications coursing through my system. “I clocked you good—too good. They had to drill a hole in your skull to release the pressure.”
Ah, that explained the nightmare. “Well, aren’t we a pair?”
He cocked his head to the side, a gesture that was still so instinctively ingrained, even if he could no longer follow through on the mannerism by visually studying the person who caused such inquisitiveness. “How so?”
“We have both, now, unintentionally nearly killed each other,”
His eyes widened, as if that symmetry had not occurred to him before this moment. And maybe it had not.
“What did you hit me with?” I asked, curious.
He had the grace to look sheepish. “The bedpan.”
I laughed, again, then winced as pain flared. “Well, I suppose I deserved that. For lying.”
He grinned, and then his expression turned serious. “Did you mean what you said? Before, you know….”
“Yes, I did.”
He stayed silent while a nurse—a real one this time—came in to check my vitals, telling me the surgeon would be delighted to hear I had woken up.
“Is she free to move around again?” Raine asked, quietly.
The nurse nodded, and then realizing he couldn’t see her response, added: “She should technically stay in bed until the resident Doc has officially cleared her, but if she calls us to assist her to the bathroom, and doesn’t leave the ward….”
He thanked her, and she left.
Tugging my hand gently, he pulled my arm towards him. “Come here,” he coerced more than asked.
Heart thudding, I gingerly climbed out of bed and let him pull me into his lap, one long arm wrapping around my waist to hold me to him while his other hand raised to trace the contours of my face in the way that enabled him to “see” me.
“I got the results, while you were recovering,” he told me as his hand stilled, then settled to cup my face. “The damage to my eyes is permanent.”
We were both quiet for a long while; I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry” seemed so damn inadequate.
He would need to find a new career, to learn how to navigate his life in a completely different way. I mean, sure, with the advance of technology there were multiple job options for the visually impaired, but the world was now darker for him than the vastness of Space he had loved so much. How could I help him navigate the new path his life was taking him on? Was I even sure I was capable of joining him on it….
His arm tightened around me, pulling me closer, as if he could sense the panic in my thoughts, feel my instinct to flee.
“I do not blame you for what happened,” he said quietly.
Tears filled my eyes at the generosity of this man’s heart. I twisted in his lap until I faced him, his hand falling from my face to join the other one wrapped about me, both arms locking around me to anchor me in his lap.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reaching my hands up to rest them on his shoulders, then slide them up to trace contours of the man I was falling for; to “see” him in the way he now saw the world.
I felt him freeze as he let me learn his body through touch alone—his breath hitching slightly when my fingers moved up his neck, along his strong jawbone to then trace lips that were pressed closed in a thin line as he tried to hold back his reaction.
I felt his hands tremble slightly against my back as mine slid up further, up along the sweep of his strong cheekbones to feather lightly over his closed eyes. I moved forward until my forehead was touching his, my hands sliding into his hair to fist lightly in the wavy brown mass.
“You are a sight for sore eyes,” I whispered, hoping the ironic statement would tell him how much he had grown to mean to me.
He chuckled quietly, one of his hands moving instinctively back up to my face to wipe away the tears falling down one cheek.
This time it was my breathing that hitched at the gentleness of his touch. “I think I will enjoy ‘getting to know each other’ through the Braille method,” I told him, half playfully.
“We should definitely practice,” Raine murmured against my mouth, then he leaned forward and recaptured my lips with his.
Copyright © 2017 by Petronella Glover.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
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