“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”
[William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night’s Dream]
Three years earlier
They were on their way back to New York. Alec was sitting in the passenger seat of the BMW his dad, Robert was driving, and his little brother, Max was sitting in the backseat. They had been away on a game of the NBA’s Knicks. They hadn’t missed any game of the season and all of them were very glad that their favorite team was leading the scoreboard. Max was giggling when Alec imitated how the Boston team missed the last shot allowing the Knicks to win.
“The next one is in New York, isn’t it?” Robert asked them. Max giggled in the back, still excited for the game. He was hitting the front passenger seat telling Alec about how the players had dribbled and the points their team had scored.
“Max has the schedule book, gimme!” Alec stretched his hand to the back toward his little brother.
“I’ll look it up,” Max leaned back in his seat, pulling his hands away, so Alec couldn’t reach it.
“Max, give it to me! You just started school, you can’t read!” Alec said and his father started laughing.
“I can read if it’s New York or not,” he protested.
“Maxie, listen to your big brother,” Robert said between laughs but Max didn’t obey his elders. At his young age, he was used to getting away with what he wanted and being in the car with his father and favorite brother didn’t make any difference.
Alec unfastened his seatbelt and kneeled on the seat, bending forward between the seats to get the book from his little brother who protested, pouting and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Finally,” Alec let out as he got the book from Max and sat back in his seat.
“So?” Robert asked, looking at Alec who opened the book and started going through its pages looking for the information they needed.
“Against the Lakers,” Alec said. “In New Yo━”
“Dad, watch out!” Max shouted from behind, Alec lifted his head up immediately, seeing a dog on the road.
“Fuck!” Robert cursed and slipped the steering wheel, maneuvering the car to the other side of the road. The car avoided the dog, but it skidded further.
Alec tried to grab the handle on the door but the next moment he only saw bright headlights, too close to them, before the loud crash and then everything went black as Robert lost control of the car. Alec only felt his body being lifted but he couldn’t feel any pressure. He felt light as if it someone else were carrying him; he felt imponderable, and then he felt pain in his shoulders then he was weightlessness again.
The next moment, he only felt the cold asphalt against his back, warmth around his neck, and pain all over his body. He tried to open his eyes. He could even feel that he was blinking, but his senses probably gave up because he couldn’t see anything. It was all blurry and it hurt. It hurt so Goddamn much. So he gave up on opening his eyes.
“Dad? Max?” He breathed out between coughs just before drifting away.
“What are you doing here, Magnus?” Catarina yelled as she walked to Magnus’ table in his favorite coffee shop. “I thought you had work today,” she dropped herself across the table from Magnus.
Magnus Bane, artist extraordinaire, still hadn’t figured out how to go about life. He knew what he wanted, he wouldn’t have anyone to get him wrong, but his desires kept him away at night creating while life crushed him mercilessly during the day. An orphan, raised by Luke Garroway, a former NYPD detective, he was determined to fulfill his dreams at any cost. He’d worked hard and had managed to finish High School; he´d even been named the valedictorian, which had taken him through university and to his degree in Fine Arts and his masters. It was something that came to him naturally, being around creative people, being able to create himself. He still hadn’t decided what he loved most if working with clay and making sculptures or just being in front of a canvas and getting lost in a world of oil painting and colors.
Now he could only think about entering the Ph.D. program NYU was offering in the next fall. That would happen, of course, if only he could manage to have enough money. His savings were running low and he couldn’t go to Luke about it. His dad, and he only called him that when he was emotional, would always be there for him and he knew it, he just didn’t want to be a burden, much less now, when Luke had been going on and on about retiring. The job wasn’t easy, he’d told Magnus, and he was getting tired of the bureaucracy and the hassle.
Magnus just couldn’t burden him further.
Getting a job had also proven difficult for him. Either he had to work at schools, and he really didn’t have enough patience to do so, or he had to take on any kind of job that came up. Bless Catarina, his best friend, who would always send something his way. This time though, things just didn’t cut it, even if he really needed the job.
“McDonald's’ is not my thing, Cat,” Magnus said without looking at his best friend.
“Don’t tell me that you quit again!” Catarina raised her voice. “Magnus?!”
Magnus sighed deeply and shut his laptop closed. “Have you seen their uniforms?” He said, making a face. “I’m pretty sure I’ll smell like cheeseburger and fries for the rest of my life, that thing can’t come out of you easily,” he proclaimed, lifting his arm to his nose. “I’m not even joking Cat, that foul smell has soaked in under my skin!” He added and the woman started laughing.
“So you have to find a job again,” Catarina said and stood up, taking the seat next to Magnus. She opened his MacBook Air and started scrolling the advertising page Magnus had been reading before, while he just watched the screen as well.
“Babysitter?” Catarina asked, looking at him.
“That would be my dream job. I could study or draw while the kids are sleeping,” Magnus answered without looking at Catarina, eyes still locked on the screen; “but everybody wants a female babysitter,” Magnus pointed at the screen with his index, when Catarina turned back.
“Mannies are the thing now, my friend. You can do that, keep studying and finally get that desired Ph.D. of yours. Why is it that you don’t want to work at the University, again? Please remind me, because I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into you.” Magnus gave her a look that made her go back and look at the screen. “How about this?” She said and continued scrolling, “bike deliverer?”
“Nope,” Magnus said, popping the p at the end, crossing his arms, resting them on the table, leaning his forehead on them. He felt so lost, he really needed to find a job.
“I didn’t get the job at the University because I couldn’t hand in all the paperwork on time. I’d been busy, working at that art gallery with Raph, remember? And I lost track of time and I do own my own apartment and well...too many expenses, too little income and here we are…” he trailed off not wanting to look at her.
“How about this one?” Catarina asked after a while.
“Burger King is not better than McDonald’s, Cat” Magnus groaned without moving. He didn’t want to look at her and face that, perhaps, his life choices were a mistake after another and at his age, he didn’t want an early middle-age crisis.
“Do you want a job or not?” Catarina shook his shoulder, making him lift his head and look at her; “but it’s not at a fast food restaurant, and it actually pays pretty well,” she said, eyes on the screen.
Magnus straightened his body, leaning towards Catarina, looking at the screen as she clicked on the job description.
“It does pay pretty well… Upper East Side?” Magnus started reading.
“Well, according to this, that’s not the exact location, that’s the governor’s location,” Catarina explained.
“Caretaker?” Magnus frowned.
“Yup, taking care of a man with a disability,” Catarina said. “It says here that it’s more like being a companion to him, reading the news for him, taking him for a walk,” she continued, her fingers pressed on the screen.
“What kind of disability? Does it say?” Magnus asked.
“It doesn’t,” she answered truthfully.
“Who is the person?” Magnus kept asking.
“It doesn’t say either,” Catarina said. “Magnus, this is perfect for you. You are the best company in the world! You just have to be you, and they are paying you for it,” Catarina turned her whole body to him with, forcing him to look at her.
“Ya’ think?” Magnus arched a brow and went back to look at the screen, taking note of the phone number. A New York number all right. Upper East Side was a posh burrow in the city and they must be loaded if they were looking for a caretaker.
“Yeah,” she said and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before opening them and starting talking again. “You have to give it a try! You can’t be too picky about this right now and you can find online courses or whatever to learn about being a caretaker. You’re not spending any money on stuff, whatever your biological mother left you, you bought your loft with it and you’ve depleted your savings, I might add, so, take a leap of faith and go for it. If it comes to bite you in the ass, well, you can always quit and you can always try to find work at some junk food restaurant.”
“I guess you’re right,” Magnus said and slid the laptop in front of him to read the job description once again. He moved the cursor on the application button. His finger was hovering over the touchpad for a couple of seconds before hitting it. “They won’t pick me up anyway,” he added and shut his laptop down.
“Here’s to some hope,” Catarina said lifting his mug and drinking from his coffee. He chuckled and took a sip from it too before they both started laughing. “Now, show me what you’ve been working on lately.”
Magnus didn’t expect to get a call from a woman, one whose name he didn’t really remember because he had been on the subway and he’d barely heard what she had told him. He asked her to text him all the information while he apologized because he couldn’t speak.
After he received the message with the details he needed, he realized that it was a serious thing and he was more than happy when he was informed that he had been chosen for an interview for the caretaker job. Magnus almost did a victory dance.
He had to rearrange a few personal things in the very last minute, so he could go to the interview at the next day but he did it anyway. He was excited. It was true that he didn’t have any experience but he was hopeful that it was going to be a good thing for him. He thought for a second that the whole thing was probably very urgent as they wanted to see him soon. That made Magnus quiet anxious as well. He still didn’t know what kind of disability the man had or what kind of requirements the family had.
Now, he was standing in front of a only-God-knew-how-many-floor building, his head looking up as he tried to count them but gave up after passing about 30. Central Park was behind him, and it was as noisy as usual at that time of the day. Every voice and sound was coming at him at once and without disruption. He was brought back to reality by the honks of cars in the middle of the busy traffic on the road.
Magnus took a deep breath and started walking to the entrance. He was startled when the doorman opened the door for him—this wasn’t just a regular family he was dealing with, he was sure—. Magnus only nodded and returned the old man’s smile.
He walked to the reception desk, where two young blonde women were sitting behind the tall, wide counter. They smiled politely when Magnus stood in front of them.
“How can I help you, sir?” One of them asked and tilted her head.
“I am here to see the Lightwoods,” Magnus answered smiling back at her.
“Magnus Bane?” The other woman asked, moving in her seat.
“That’s me,” Magnus nodded and put his hands on the counter, intertwining his own fingers.
“Of course, Mr. Bane, Mrs. Lightwood is waiting for you,” the second woman informed him with a kind smile on her face. “The elevators are that way,” she gestured to the left with her hand and Magnus looked that way automatically.
“Thank you,” he said when he turned back, then started walking to the elevators.
He fished his iPhone out of his pocket as he stood before the elevator, he called for it and checked the text message for the one hundred and seventy-sixth time to make sure he was in the right place. He still couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. He had enough money to survive for a month, perhaps two if he stretched it enough. Now, he only needed to do his best and impress his potential employers.
“Good morning, sir, to which floor?” The bellboy asked.
“Forty-first,” Magnus answered, “thank you,” he added when the man pushed the button and the elevator door closed. Magnus was impressed. The building, the employees, the elevator itself, it all spoke of wealth and privilege. He wondered as they made their way up whether the Lightwoods were one of those rich families of New York who kept the money because of inheritance or if they were the kind of people who work hard and taught their children to work harder.
The elevator binged loud and opened into a big, bright penthouse and woman was already there waiting for him. She was wearing a pink maid uniform, her brunette hair was perfectly braided, and a formal smile appeared on her face.
“Mr. Bane,” she said and gestured with her hand for him to follow her.
Once he took a better look, the penthouse seemed ridiculously rich, snob… every furniture spoke of how the owners were loaded as hell. Whatever he had been thinking before was confirmed and now he was intrigued as to why this kind of family was looking for a caretaker. Magnus didn’t even dare look around, he was afraid he was going to break an expensive vase by only looking at it and he was already feeling his maxed-out credit card melting in his wallet just from thinking he had to pay for the damage. He felt pathetic.
“You may take a seat,” the maid stopped at a wide living room, gesturing with her hands, and then she hooked them in front of her stomach, “Mr. and Mrs. Lightwood will be here soon,” she added.
“Thank you,” Magnus said, nervously looking around to find a place where to seat. He decided to sit on the couch closest to the entrance.
“May I offer you anything to drink? Tea? Coffee? Water?” She asked but Magnus didn’t have time to answer, he heard footsteps and the harmonious clicking of high heels on the granite floor.
A woman in her mid-forties and a man appeared in the living room, stopping next to the maid. She was wearing a beige costume with a white blouse under it, her dark brunette hair was up in a ponytail. The gray-haired man was wearing a simple suit, with a light blue shirt and a dark tie.
Magnus stood up from the couch immediately to greet them.
“Mr. Bane, welcome. I’m happy you could make it,” the woman said and started walking toward Magnus. She was already trailing her gaze on Magnus from head to toe, which really didn’t make Magnus uncomfortable. He was already used to having people always checking him because of his extreme outfit. He was proud of his style because it belonged to him, to his personality. This was Magnus Bane and if somebody wanted to accept him then he or she would have to accept him along with his jewelry, hairstyle, tight pants and unbuttoned shirt. Well, this time he only undid three buttons, so he was quite low-key with his outfit today. Even his hair was slightly tamed, he had just half spiked it and had avoided going for his beloved mohawk.
“I’m Maryse Lightwood,” she held her hand out and Magnus accepted it. Her handshake was firm for a woman, he noticed. “This is my husband, Robert,” she stepped aside and the man was already in front of Magnus.
Robert just nodded and went to sit in one of the armchairs after their introductions. Magnus thought the man was too snob to even say hello to him but he didn’t want to judge, hence, he nodded and gave him a small smile. Rich people could have their own problems, like in which pocket they should put their money for all he cared and right now, he didn’t want to care.
Magnus kicked himself mentally, he shouldn’t be like this. He was never like this. He was never jealous or petty because some people had money. They had probably actually earned it with decent work, like owning a fast food restaurant chain.
“Mr. Bane, a cup of tea? Coffee?” Maryse asked when she noticed the maid hadn’t brought him anything yet—not that she knew he hadn’t had a chance to tell the maid what he’d have—and took a seat on the other armchair next to her husband, taking folders from the coffee table, placing them on her lap.
“Water would be great, thank you,” Magnus answered, glancing at the maid, who only nodded and turned on her heels, leaving the place.
Maryse gestured to the couch so Magnus sat back, his gaze was pacing back and forth between the Lightwoods while he was wringing his hands. She opened the top folder on her lap and sighed.
“Mr. Bane,” Maryse started talking. “I’ve checked your CV, I didn’t see any mention of experience taking care of someone,” she said without looking at Magnus. “In your opinion, what makes you the right person for this job?” she asked.
Magnus cleared his throat, “Well, it is true that I haven’t done anything like this before, but I’m sure I can handle it,” Magnus explained, and Maryse’s eyes were on him immediately without lifting her head. “I mean, I’ve done so many things since I was a teenager and all I’ve ever achieved was because of my hard work, and I can assure that I’m going to do my best to take care of your relative,” Magnus stopped, waiting for an answer from the people who were sitting in front of him. “People say that I’m a good person and that I can be a great companion. I think I have a wide range of knowledge of many topics, from books to movies, to politics, to celebrities... I think of myself as an intellectual. I love talking to people. My friends would say that I’m mostly chatty but it’s because I could talk about pretty much everything,” Magnus stopped when he realized that he had already said too much.
“Hum…” Maryse looked back down on the folder when the maid was back with their drinks. She put the tray on the coffee table and placed two cups of coffee in front of the Lightwoods, a crystal glass and a bottle of Evian in front of Magnus.
“Shall I?” She addressed Magnus and asked pointing at the bottle.
“Yes, please,” he answered so the maid opened the bottle of water and filled the glass. Magnus was thankful for the offer and had simply accepted. He didn’t want to be the one person who got an expensive rug soaked wet with equally expensive water.
Magnus took a sip while the woman picked up the tray and left the place in careful silence. He wondered if the reason why Mrs. Lightwood hadn’t said anything was because he was expected to be silent at all times, saying just what was needed and nodding and obeying whenever the bosses were around.
“So Mr. Bane, you think you can entertain a man with a disability on a daily basis,” Maryse asked him, her voice was serious and Magnus kept his smile on his face.
“Sure I can, Mrs. Lightwood,” Magnus said in a serious tone, “but, if I may, what kind of disability are we talking about?”
“Well, I think this is the moment for us to talk about our son,” Maryse said, looking at her husband who only nodded. Magnus could tell she was sad, and it was a deep feeling weighing on her. He noticed the change in demeanor in Mr. Lightwood as well and the curiosity just grew.
“Your son?” Magnus asked. He could tell his voice reflected his surprise.
“Yes, do you have a problem with that?” Robert asked, that was the first time Magnus heard his voice and he could tell the man was being defensive. Magnus moved in his chair still looking at the man and nodded, trying to process all the information they were throwing at him not only with their words but with their behavior. While Maryse was curious about how good he could be taking care of their son, and for all he knew the son could be five, Robert was in protective mode and he wondered why. He guessed he’d found out once he got the job.
“No, I’m sorry, I just thought I’ll have to take care of one of your parents… I’m sorry, I don’t know why I thought that, my apologies.” Magnus said.
“It’s okay, Mr. Bane,” Maryse waved him away. “So, hum… Alec, our son. He is twenty-eight years old, and suffered a significant flexion compression injury of the cervical spine which led to cortical blindness three years ago.” Maryse said seriously. Magnus must have given her quizzical look because she went on explaining; “Alec is blind, Mr. Bane, which is why we need a person to help look after him.”
“I am so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Lightwood,” Magnus said honestly. He couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like to lose your eyesight and as an artist, to think of the impact and the hurt the man could’ve gone through was unfathomable.
“Well, it could’ve been worse…” Maryse took a deep sigh. “He had a car accident, he flew through the windshield and landed more than a hundred feet away from my husband’s car,” Maryse said and reached her hand out to her husband who took and squeezed it. “He hit his cervical spine and the pressure stopped his blood from flowing through his occipital lobe rendering cortically blind. His visual cortex suffered the most and he lost his eyesight.”
“Oh my God,” Magnus said under his nose and he was hundred percent sure that his face showed his pure shock, looking at Robert. “Were you dri━” Magnus couldn’t finish his sentence, he felt a lump in his throat, which didn’t let him speak but the older man understood Magnus’ unspoken question and nodded.
Magnus was speechless. He was there to show how good he was with words but hearing about something terrible like that... But who could have words to comment that kind of awful story? He felt the urge to stand up and walk to them and hug these parents. He couldn’t even imagine how terrible they could have felt when the accident happened. What the whole family must’ve gotten through.
Maryse cleared his throat, fidgeting in the armchair and Magnus realized that he was staring out of his head, a burning hole into the mahogany in front of him with his eyes.
“Alec is quite capable of taking care of himself. His house has been equipped in a way that he can do pretty much everything on his own. What we want is a person that can keep him busy and entertained, as in talking about things, keeping interested in life, if you know what I mean,” Maryse continued and Magnus wondered whether this son of hers had lost all will to live and was on a suicidal mode. That might be a reason for them to be looking for someone.
“Is he under medication?” He asked. “I mean, apart from his blindness, is there anything I’d need to know?”
“No, Mr. Bane. Thank God our son is not so deep in a depression. We’ve tried for the past three years to get him to go on in the best way he can, but he’s lost so much, that it’s like he is eternally sad and incredibly bitter.”
“I see,” Magnus lowered his head and took the glass of water to drink from it.
“Mr. Bane, if I may...I know this isn’t politically correct and I’d never dream of asking you this under other circumstances, but what is your sexual preference?” Magnus choked on his water as Maryse Lightwood finished her question and he coughed. That wasn’t the type of question one found in a job interview.
“Excuse me?” He said and he noticed the look between husband and wife.
“Your sexual orientation? Are you straight? Gay?” She repeated and Magnus could almost feel how uncomfortable that topic was for her, who didn’t have a strand of hair out of place.
“You can say I’m a freewheeling bisexual man, ma’am,” he answered honestly and he saw them nod at each other and the faint smile on Maryse Lightwood’s face. Why he wondered. And why for Heaven’s sake was his sexuality important? Why would they be wondering about his sexuality? Was it his choice of clothes? Or the streaks of color in his hair? He wanted to derail the conversation into something more to the job and stop thinking about how homophobic these people could potentially be.
“May I ask you something?” he told her and Maryse nodded; “Why is my sexual orientation important for the job?”
“It’s not a determinant and I really am sorry for asking, but it’s important for us that you are not homophobic,” the woman answered and Magnus nodded. “Besides, we’ve already had our share of anti LGTBI+ speech here and we’d rather not hear it again if possible.”
“Well, you certainly won’t. At least not from me,” brownie points to the Lightwoods, he thought. However now, he was even more intrigued. He noticed they didn’t want to go on with the topic and so, he went for something else.
“One more thing, Mrs. Lightwood, what did your son used to do before...you know...the accident? Did he have a favorite sport? Music? Anything that I can use at some point?”
“Basketball...he loved basketball,” Robert answered and Magnus saw him stand up and walk to the big windows behind him.
“Alec used to be an architect, Mr. Bane, he loved creating things, art in general. He’s very knowledgeable and loved a variety of things,” Maryse continued and Magnus nodded. “I think you’re a good candidate for the job in spite of your lack of experience and I’ve liked our conversation. However, I’d like you to meet Alec before signing a contract,” she took a folder from underneath the one she was reading his CV from and handed it to him. “Here’s a draft of the contract with everything we can provide, money, social security, medical and dental plans, and of course, what we expect you to do. Feel free to read it and ask anything. Would tomorrow be a good day for you to meet my son?”
Magnus nodded and picked the documents. He made sure it was what she said but didn’t read it then.
“Sure, I can come back tomorrow,” he answered as he closed the folder and looked at her.
“He doesn’t live here,” she began, “my assistant has your number but I’ll text you directly from mine. Anything Alec might need if you decide to take the job, I want you to handle it with me.”
The woman stood up and Magnus noticed that the man, Robert, didn’t move from where he was, his eyes locked somewhere outside over Central Park. He stood up right away too and shook Maryse’s hand.
“A pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Lightwood.”
“Then you can call me Magnus,” he smiled and said their goodbyes.
He hated mornings...afternoons...nights, it really didn’t matter. There was no difference for him. Only a few selected people still visited and there was no one outside his family who did. He’d already spent enough time in front of the TV and when the NBA games were announced he simply turned the TV off and stayed on the couch for the longest time.
It was interesting how time didn’t exist when you were blind, he thought. Alec sighed and moved his head to the sides out of habit. He couldn’t see anything, not anymore. The damage to his spine had been critical enough that although he had been lucky and hadn’t lost any movement, he had actually lost his eyesight. He really knew he was lucky. He just hated it.
Alec stood up and sighed. He turned to his left and took the necessary steps—thirty-two, he’d counted— to go towards the kitchen and fix himself a cup of coffee. Maryse had made sure he had everything he needed to make his life as easy and as comfortable as possible and he’d managed so far. He’d faced some bumps—literal and figurative—but he’d managed. He should feel accomplished.
It’d been three years since the accident. He knew because his family had gathered to commemorate the date. Not that there was anything good about it that they needed to remember but they met to honor their own. They would never stop mourning and it was something that was within him, as a part of him already. He just wished everyone else moved forward even if he really couldn’t.
The coffee maker beeped loudly and he touched it grabbing the handle of the mug. He’d already learned the correct height to do it without getting his fingers burned. That had already hurt a lot when he was learning. He liked his coffee black lately and he winced at the bitterness when he took the first sip. He positioned himself toward the entrance although he couldn’t see anything. After a life of color, it was all black now.
Alec finished his coffee in quick gulps and then rinsed the mug. He touched the surface by the sink and counted the three lines in relief to make sure he was leaving it in a place where it couldn’t fall off. It wasn’t even about that mug getting broken, he’d destroyed his fair share of mugs, but they never managed to pick up every bit of it and he’d ended up with pieces of them stuck in their feet. He smirked. He’d endured worse, hadn’t he?
His iPhone vibrated aloud before Siri started speaking <Mom> it said and repeated it until Alec spoke, “answer the phone.”
“Alec, so good to hear you.”
Alec smiled. His relationship with his mom had always been good and he had to admit that although he’d grown apart from her over the years, she’d been a constant he didn’t want to miss. Yes, his relationships with his siblings were even stronger and they hadn’t given up on him during his toughest times but his mom, she’d been the one who never stopped coming to him and looking for him even when he’d tried to push her away. His siblings have been respectful and had given him space when he’d asked for it, but not Maryse. She had been there pushing and forcing him to not let himself drown in sorrow. He wasn’t sure he’d been there if it hadn’t been for her.
“Hey, ma, how are ya?”
“Good. What are you up to?”
“Same old, same old. Looking out the window and watching the sunset, wait? Is it sunset already? You know I can’t tell anymore.”
“Alec…” he heard the admonishment in her voice and sighed.
“Sorry, mom… you know how I get cranky sometimes.”
Boy did he now, he thought. However, his mom, even in the middle of what she was going through herself because of the accident and her own personal loss and all these years of his crankiness had never treated differently. If anything, Maryse had forced him to get back on his feet and resume his life like a regular person. She’d been the one pushing him to learn how to be independent and take care of himself. He knew it wasn’t because she wouldn’t look after him, but rather because he wouldn’t let her.
“Alec, one of these days I’m going to put you on my lap and will spank you as if you were five years old and had just broken grandma’s vase in the living room.”
“You didn’t do that when it happened.”
“I’m still your mother and I can still do it, so stop it,” Alec heard her chuckling on the other side of the line, “and it’s night already.”
“I figured. I’ve been up and bored for a while already.”
“About that... I think I’ve found the right person to be your companion so that you don’t go around complaining about getting bored.”
Alec heard the hesitation in her voice but stopped himself from commenting. That was another thing about Maryse and not giving up. She was determined to find someone who could put up with him without him getting mad. They’ve tried many already. From the old lady with her stale smell of mothballs to the crazy guy who hated people like him—gay, not blind.
“Mum...I already had a psycho in my house. You know he would’ve murdered me in my sleep if he had spent enough time here.”
“I’ve been more careful this time and this guy is a freewheeling bisexual,” Alec heard some sort of excitement in her voice, “his words, so, no hate.”
Alec walked toward the stairs and started climbing them to his room. He needed to have that conversation in the comfort of his bed.
“Ma...that doesn’t mean we’ll click, plus, you know I don’t need anyone.”
“It’d make me happy to know you’re not bored to death, pretty please?”
Alec hated when she started fixing him up with anything. They’d been through this so many times that he rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Mom, no. I don’t wanna meet anyone. I don’t wanna get to know anyone much less this freewheeling bisexual guy who’s managed to charm you.”
“Mom, I love you but no.”
“I don’t get why you get worked up like this, Alec… I’m just...”
He sighed as he ended the call.
“Voice over on”
<Voice over on>
He moved his fingers over the screen of his iPhone and the system clicked as he touched every app and he found his music. The sound system started blasting around him and he commanded it to lower the volume. Alec went to the bathroom and washed himself up, brushed his teeth and came back. It was easy to do stuff. He used to be organized before but the accident and its consequences had forced him to become even more organized, sometimes even bordering in OCD but he needed it. Everything was always in the same place, the furniture couldn’t be moved an inch or else the number of steps wouldn’t be correct and he could hurt himself. His clothes were comfortable although he didn’t know whether they were neon bright or plain black. He knew Izzy had told him but he hadn’t cared then and still didn’t care.
He opened the drawers in his dresser and got his PJs out. Pants to the left, shirts to the right. His room was the one place in the house that had a full rug thanks to his mother’s insistence. In the beginning, she’d come to his place looking for him and had found him sleeping on the floor many times. In the beginning, everything had bothered him, from that house which he’d loved at first years ago, to the sound of his own breathing. He’d missed so many things. His job, his family, his friends, what he could do, and which he had taken for granted but that was gone now. The people in his life who had left. He’d felt so empty back then. He was fine now. He could go out if he wanted to. People in the neighborhood knew him and tried to help whenever they could, but he was used to keeping to himself, and no one interfered.
That was what he liked the most. People just left him alone.
He got ready and under the covers. He picked one of the books on his nightstand and moved his hands over the small dots in Braille. He knew this book by heart. It was Max’s favorite. He sighed deeply and lowered his head.
“Lights off,” he said and heard a click. It didn’t make a difference to him. Lights or not, he still saw black. It was all black.
“Llama llama red pajama reads a story with his momma. Momma kisses baby’s hair. Momma Llama goes downstairs…” he began to say aloud even though his fingers weren’t touching the pages anymore. He knew this story by heart. He used to read it for his baby brother at night.
He laid down in bed, allowing sleep to take him away for the night. Perhaps in the morning, things would be better.
Sometimes he just wondered why he had survived the accident at all.
It was a beautiful day at the beginning of summer. Magnus’ eyes were everywhere as he was walking at a quick pace to the address he’d gotten before. It was the nice part of Brooklyn, not that far from his own apartment, not too much traffic, trees made shadows on the sidewalks, making it easier for everyone to handle the warm breeze.
Magnus couldn’t stop thinking about Alec. He had tried to paint the previous night but he wasn’t that productive because his mind was everywhere and nowhere but mostly his imagination carried him away. He ended up staring the almost blank canvas, only holding the brush against it. He let the paint dry and sat on his balcony, a drink in his hand. He felt sorry for the Lightwood guy. He tried to imagine what it would be like not to be able to paint anymore. What had just happened was something silly, he chose not to paint. Alec Lightwood, an architect, someone who could see a space and create something wonderful out of it had lost the ability to do it. His mother had said the man was fully functional and didn’t need much help, that he could manage himself, but still. Architects needed all their senses, they usually even worked for hand in hand with interior designers to make their designs come to life for others. What he must feel was a complete mystery to him and he decided then to not pity him.
What would Alec look like? Did he have any scars? Would he keep his eyes closed? Opened? He thought he perhaps needed to look up about how to behave with a blind person on the internet. He ended up telling himself to trust in himself, to follow his guts. That was the least he could do as he hadn’t even met him yet and he was the best at it.
Truth be told, Magnus was nervous. However, this time, he was very nervous as he waited for Maryse Lightwood in front of a four-story Brownstone house and he still couldn’t push away the strange feeling in his stomach. At first, he’d thought it was because of the rush because he was in hurry to not be late to his meeting with Alec before his official first day of work. He’d read the contract and had found it quite generous and he’d love to know why but it wasn’t either the time or the place to question anything. He wanted to get to know the guy first, see if they hit it off or if he just needed to put up with him long enough to save money and pay for his studies. He really needed to do the latter regardless of how he and Alec got along.
He just hoped he could.
It looked like Maryse Lightwood had all the time of the world, though. She was already ten minutes late. Magnus thought for a moment that maybe she was already in the house but he clearly remembered that the woman had asked him to wait for her in front of it.
Magnus was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, rubbing his hands together, playing with the rings on his fingers. He’d kept his style and had gone full on it. This time he spiked his hair as high as it reached, put on some comfy, yet classy clothes and was wearing enough necklaces to make him think he could put away one or two. He’d brought a backpack with his sketchbook and his Mac just in case.
A black car, of the very expensive kind, pulled down near the sidewalk a little later. Magnus was watching as the driver got off and opened the back door. Magnus sighed and rolled his eyes. Of course, they had a driver. If they were able to pay him what they had offered, what else was he expecting?
Maryse was glued to her phone as she got out of the car accepting the driver’s hand, Magnus had to admit that she did it so elegantly, that he was sure she’d been born to be this type of woman. Her movements were just graceful. She was wearing a turquoise A-line dress, her hair was up in a ponytail. She was oozing that she was rich but not over-the-top, obnoxious kind, Magnus could tell that much after their first meeting.
Maryse thanked the driver for his help as soon as she hung up the call and Magnus could hear that she instructed him to wait in the car. The driver nodded and went around and back on it.
Magnus put a kind smile on his face as he watched the woman getting closer to him, returning the smile but he could see some she was nervous. Her demeanor, the way she was pushing her hair behind her ear gave it away. Well, it didn’t make the situation any better that the man’s own mother was worried.
“Magnus, hi! I’m sorry I’m late, I’ve been held up by my daughter,” Maryse said and placed her hand on Magnus’ upper arm. Magnus swallowed dry from the unexpected gesture. He was used to being comfortable around people but Maryse Lightwood was still his employer. He just gave her a smile and a nod.
The woman seemed different than the day before, she seemed more at ease even though he knew she was actually worried.
“Well, I was a little late too,” Magnus answered, seeing the woman’s eyes widened. “Only by two minutes,” he corrected.
“Great. Well,” she took a deep breathe, “shall we?” She asked, gesturing toward the house.
“Sure,” Magnus mirrored her movement, moving to the side to let the woman lead the way. They went up the stairs to the front door and Maryse fished a key out of her bag, unlocking the door. She stepped into the house, holding the door wide open for Magnus.
Magnus looked around immediately as he stepped in. He noticed the white walls everywhere, the whole place seemed very bright, contrasting to the brown wooden floor. He heard a beeping voice behind him, turning to the way where the sound came from. Maryse was typing some code on a device on the wall by the front door.
“We’re gonna give you your own code,” she said when she noticed Magnus was staring at her. Magnus only nodded, standing nervously in the same spot.
Maryse dropped her bag on the table, gesturing to the room on the left. Magnus turned on his heels and started to walk slowly, not knowing if he would find somebody in the next room.
Everything seemed pretty well arranged in the house. It was pristinely clean, minimalistic, and cozy in its own way. There were a dark navy blue couch and two beige armchairs in the middle of the open room. There also was a fireplace between two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the opposite wall from where he walked. He didn’t see anybody in the room, so he automatically looked at the other side of the room, which led to the kitchen.
“Alec!” Maryse called her son, interrupting Magnus as he discovered the place. Maryse turned to him, gesturing toward one of the armchairs with her hand. Magnus went and sat down, crossing his legs. He left his backpack on the floor by the chair and occupied himself with the bracelets around his wrist while he waited.
“Alec!” He heard the woman cried out, a little louder this time and could hear footsteps getting closer.
“Mom, maybe I can’t see, but I still have no problem with my hearing,” Magnus heard a man’s voice and then he appeared in the room.
He was tall, Magnus could tell, but he couldn’t see his face because he was already heading to the kitchen. He was wearing grey sweatpants and a darker grey t-shirt, which seemed wet in the middle of his back. The man went to the fridge, and Magnus could see his profile for a second then the fridge’s door blocked his view.
Magnus’ heart started racing. He felt his hands sweating and shaking.
“I’m sorry, Alec. I didn’t know you heard me the first time,” Maryse turned to her son but remained at the same spot where she was before. She seemed used to his outbursts and to not move around much, perhaps to help him guide himself around the house, he wasn’t sure.
Alec was heading back to the room where Magnus and Maryse were. He was holding a bottle of water in his hand and was unscrewing its cap. This time, Magnus could see his face clearly as he got closer.
Now that he could take a better look at him, he noticed that Alec was ridiculously tall, his hair was messy and slightly wet and his face… His face was beautiful, he had nice features, Magnus could tell, even though his beard covered almost half of his face and he had a scar on his left eyebrow.
Alec was walking confidently in the house, going around the dining table and then entering the living room. He placed the bottle on the coffee table and sat down on the couch in front of Magnus.
Magnus swallowed dry as his eyes met Alec’s. The silence could be felt in the room. Alec was staring toward his chair and Magnus could’ve sworn to any God that the man in front of him could actually see him.
“Who’s this?” Alec asked, his hazel eyes still locked on Magnus.
“This is Magnus Bane,” Maryse stepped a little closer, “your new caretaker,” she added.
“ The freewheeling bisexual?” He added, his voice sounding mocking and tainted with a bit of bitterness.
“That’s him,” Maryse said embarrassed most likely by Alec’s choice of words. Magnus shook his head and waved his hand at her telling her it was okay. He’d told her that himself and he hadn’t minded. Better to have everything out in the open and that was something on his checklist that he could tick. If it had been such an important question that Maryse had asked him and had actually told her son about it, then he was fine.
“I told you, I don’t need one, neither a man or a woman,” Alec turned his head to Maryse, but this time Magnus noticed that he was looking at her way but without actually knowing her exact position.
Magnus fidgeted in his seat, getting Alec’s attention. The man didn’t turn his head only his eyes to him and Magnus noticed. Magnus swallowed, his heart racing and he had never been so nervous in his life. He was feeling as if he were going to faint at any moment if he didn’t do anything. He stood up quickly, bending down, reaching his hand out to Alec.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Lightwood. Your mother has told me a lot about you,” Magnus said.
“I can guess,” Alec snorted but didn’t shake Magnus’ hand. He suddenly felt stupid. How could he expect to shake hands with someone who had lost his eyesight?
“Alec, Magnus is offering you his hand,” Maryse said matter-of-factly, “you could at least shake it.”
“Ohh,” Alec said, bending forward, his eyes were on Magnus again who was holding his breath back. “I didn’t see it, my bad,” he added with a smirk, winking and stretching out his hand.
“I’m sorry, I should have known bet━” Magnus said just before his hand brushed Alec’s. He saw that Alec’s breath hitched as they shook hands and his other one was on the back of Magnus’ immediately; his eyes locked on their hands. Magnus’ eyes followed suit, watching every gentle movement Alec’s long fingers made.
“Are you wearing rings?” Alec asked softly, mapping Magnus’ hand with his fingers. Magnus’ skin tingled under Alec’s warm touches and he felt shivers.
“I am,” Magnus breathed out just before Alec dropped his hands and his eyes went to Magnus, who sat back down in the armchair.
“I still don’t need a caretaker, I thought we talked this through last night,” Alec said without blinking or looking away.
“We already signed the contract, Alec,” Maryse announced and Magnus knew she was lying. He wasn’t going to say otherwise. He’d left the woman’s office intrigued, wanting to know about this man who most certainly didn’t need any help as far as what he could do but of whom he wanted to know more.
“Duh,” Alec rolled his eyes. “Why?” Alec turned to the way where his mother was. “Why are you investing any more money in me? You know that no one can handle a blind person for more than, I don’t know, two weeks? And you always end up paying them for a whole year because of your stupid contract,” Alec said, gesturing with his hands while he was talking.
“Alec, what your father and I are paying others for is not of your business,” Maryse stated, crossing her arms over her chest. If she was annoyed Magnus couldn’t tell but she was standing her ground and Magnus remembered she’d said the job was about entertaining Alec, keeping him busy. The contract didn’t say anything about looking after any of Alec’s needs. So maybe that’s why the contract was written in that way and why he’d be making quite a good amount of money regardless of him staying or not.
He could see why now.
“And what I do with my life is not of your business either,” Alec retorted. He was annoyed, his body language gave him away.
“You are my son,” Maryse said, her voice was strangely calm. Magnus could guess it wasn’t her first talk which went like this. And perhaps it wasn’t going to be the last one.
Alec threw his head back, letting it rest on the back of the chair, “okay, whatever you want, ma,” he said visibly upset, rubbing his face with his palms.
“Great. Hum… I guess you want to talk and get to know each other,” Maryse said, smiling at Magnus.
“I guess we’ll have time for that,” Alec said immediately. “Not that I want to get to know someone who’s here just for the money and out of pity,” Alec raised his head, his eyes on Magnus’ direction.
“If I may,” Magnus started, and felt encouraged when Maryse turned to him with a smile. She didn’t seem worried any longer. Her posture was showing something else he hadn’t been able to decipher just yet.
“Of cour━” Maryse said.
“No,” Alec cut his mother off. She pressed her lips together, closing her eyes before inhaling sharply through her nose. A shift in the way she was reacting to things. No, she wasn’t worried anymore and perhaps the reason for her worry had been the fact that Magnus was going to meet her son. Now, she seemed just annoyed at Alec’s bluntness and rudeness. It was getting a little under his skin too, he had to admit.
Magnus swallowed and Maryse gesture with her hands so that he continued talking but Magnus only shook his head, showing her the palms of his hands. It was better if he wasn’t confrontational. This is your new boss, he chided himself. Well, not exactly, he knew, but still.
“Well, Magnus is going to be here tomorrow morning, you can check his university schedule so you, Alec, will know when he is will be here and arrange━” Maryse said, still smiling when Alec looked at him.
“Are you still in school?” Alec cut her mother off again, turning to Magnus.
“I am,” Magnus only whispered.
“How old are you? Twenty-two?” Alec asked without taking a breath. “Mom, do I look that miserable?” He turned to his mother. “Or is he here...you know... that ?”
Magnus also turned to Maryse whose eyes widened and he could see clear shook on her face. He really didn’t understand what Alec was talking about, he was confused.
“Alec…” Maryse recoiled.
“I’m thirty, Mr. Lightwood,” Magnus said quickly, trying to loosen the tension.
“Thirty? And you are still in school. Do you have any trouble with learning? What are you studying anyway?” Alec leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “And for God’s sake, stop the Mr-lightwood-ing already, I’m Alec,” Magnus saw him wave his hands in front of him in a dismissive way and blinked a couple of times swallowing down the lump in his throat.
“Right, hum, Alec then, hum… I Fine Arts,” Magnus cleared his throat. “I finished my bachelor degree summa cum laude,” Magnus informed him with bitterness, “and I’m gonna start the senior year of my masters in September. I love painting which I sell by bidding in order to make money. And if everything comes together as I wish, then I’ll start my Ph.D. studies next year,” Magnus said properly and he didn’t try to cover the pride in his voice.
Alec started laughing, dropping his head between his arms, shaking it. Magnus looked at Maryse whose expression reflected Magnus’ confusion.
“It’s funny,” Alec started before lifting his head up, “You make money by painting what you can see …” Alec’s face turned serious.
“You know, you don’t have to have eyesight to be able to see, Alexander.” Magnus raised his voice, standing up, seeing as Alec leaned back a little. He could go into this, he could play this game with this grumpy man in front of him. A man who only heard that Magnus could actually see and paint and draw. He hadn’t heard about how hard he’d worked to make it everything happen in his life.
However, Magnus found himself smarter, gave himself a pat in the back and decided someone had to be the bigger person, so, he bit his tongue and kept inside the words which were about to come out of his mouth. He stared down at Alec who was sitting still, motionless, his eyes still in the same direction.
Maryse cleared her throat after a couple of seconds, blinking a couple of times. “I… I think this went very well, huh? I can tell that you’ll have some topics to talk about,” she said and Magnus looked at her. He hoped that at least she believed the biggest lie of the century because Magnus only could foresee huge disagreements already.
Magnus picked up his bag and walked to Maryse, who smiled at him before going to Alec. The man still didn’t move, not even when his mother bent down and kissed him on the top of his head.
“I love you, honey,” Maryse simply whispered although Magnus could hear her.
Magnus didn’t know why, but his heart was in pain as he was watched Alec. He didn’t blink, there was no emotion on his face, and that made Magnus sad as a grip grew around his chest.
Maryse gestured to the front door when she was next to Magnus again.
“See you tomorrow, Alec,” Magnus said just before turning on his heels and going toward the door. He opened it and didn’t stop until he reached the sidewalk in front of the house. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose, exhaling sharply through his mouth.
He heard Maryse’s high heels clicking against the stairs from behind. “Magnus?” she cried. Magnus turned around and put on a smile for show.
“I totally understand if you don’t want to sign the contract, I know he is a hard case and it’s gonna be so diff━” Maryse gasped out.
“I am gonna sign the contract, ma’am,” Magnus cut her off.
“You are? Why?” Maryse frowned.
“Because I need the money, Maryse. I… I really do,” Magnus almost shouted then closed his eyes and swallowed. “Don’t take it personally, but your son is an ass,” Magnus said and Maryse lowered her head. “I’d rather work with him than try one of those awful McDonald’s outfits which in all honesty, not even I can make look wearable.” Maryse chuckled and turned to look at the house for a second. “If you don’t mind, I just met your son and I’d prefer not to tell you what I think of him right at this moment but I can assure you I’m gonna try to do my best to do what’s expected of me,” Magnus explained.
“You’ve already managed to get more sentences out of him than any of the other candidates, you know? So, I’m hopeful,” she explained. “I understand what you said, and… and thank you,” Maryse said and Magnus could see a tear in the corner of her sad eyes.
“You’ve really been paying people for a whole year if they manage to keep up with him for two weeks?” He asked.
“Well, I haven’t offered as much as I offered you, but you see, I just followed my gut when I read your name and what you did. My son was an artist in his own right, you see? And when you showed up and I saw you I had a feeling. I just hope I am half right as I think I am.”
“So about tomorrow?” Magnus tried to change the topic to a more easier subject and to hide the slight blush creeping up his face. “What else do I need?”
“You already have a spare key, I’m going to text you to the security code and all the important numbers in case you need them.”
Magnus didn’t know why he had brought extra pastries from his favorite coffee shop. He just cared about people in general, he thought. And the macadamia nut-honey pastry was heaven-in-the-mouth so he just figured Alec could try it. He forced everybody to try it anyway, so he just shrugged when he ordered two more to take away.
He was walking on the Brooklyn streets, carrying his bag on one shoulder with his sketchbook and some notes for his studies in it, sipping his coffee, thinking.
He wasn’t expecting too much. He’d dare say that today was going to be one of the worse days of his life but he could try to make the best out of it. Alec Lightwood wasn’t his employer, his mother was. And he kind of liked Maryse. And she was going to pay him well for just putting up with her son. And the longest he managed to do that, the more money he could make. And the bonuses in the contract were damn tempting. She had tried to do everything to please his son and to get him back though Magnus couldn’t even imagine what Alec Lightwood used to be like before the accident. He just knew that right now, he was a jerk.
Magnus lifted his head and looked at the Brownstone house before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. He shook his head slightly and started climbing the stone steps. He fished his spare key out of his bag and unlocked the front door, then he grabbed the knob with shaky hands and turned it, opening the door.
There was silence as he stepped further into the building.
“Hello?! Alec?! It’s Magnus. I’m here,” Magnus raised his voice a little, he didn’t want to shout as Maryse had done the day before if only to avoid any kind of comments about his arrival.
Magnus took his phone out of his pocket and checked the twelve-number code he had to press on to the device on the wall. He was thankful for the beeping sound, maybe Alec was going to hear it and Magnus wouldn’t have to cry his name out again. He really didn’t feel like doing that. Magnus tried to hear anything in the house for a couple of seconds, just to see where Alec could be but there was nothing but dead silence.
He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath, and cried out, “Alec?!”