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Seeing New Faces

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Meeting New Faces

The sun felt nice on my face. My head was tilted back, eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of May. I knew I should be studying, but I could spend a few minutes longer out on this bench, listening to the birds.

And to an odd tapping sound. It was coming up the path, towards me and the bench I was on. Opening my eyes, I turned to look down the slight slope.

There was a blonde girl, about my age, walking up the path. She was very pretty, with shiny blonde hair as long as my own, and a small smile on her lips. Like me, she had some textbooks tucked underneath one arm.

She was also blind. The tapping sound I heard was her cane, rapping against the raised stones on either side of the path. She still moved quickly, not seeming all that hesitant.

Until she stopped in front of me, at least. She slowly turned around, her cane bouncing off the bench’s leg. She frowned, her head turning slightly from side to side.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

Her English had just the trace of an accent, but I wasn’t able to place it. More importantly, I had been asked a question.

“Hello,” I replied, pointlessly smiling at her.

“Ah, hello. Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Not at all,” I answered, hastily clearing my junk off the bench and scooting to one side a bit. “There’s plenty of space to my right.”

“Thank you,” she answered, smiling at me and slowly sitting down. She piled her textbooks on top of her lap. I craned my head to look at them, but they were, of course, in Braille.

“I’m Lily Satou,” the girl, Lily said, turning to smile at me again.

“Taylor, Taylor Hebert,” I replied, holding a hand out to shake.

And then wincing. I still wasn’t used to this, and I realized I should have held out my other, real hand. But it was too late now. And a blind girl wouldn’t have realized what I was doing anyway.

Lily reached out and, with only a bit of fumbling, took my hand to shake it. She paused for just a second, and a small frown flashed over her face before she let go. I knew what she had just realized. But she had to decency not to mention it.

“I love coming up here,” Lily said instead, turning to look forward. “It can be so peaceful, listening to the birds and the creek while I study.”

I nodded. I thought the same which was why, ahem, my books were still closed and I had been about ready to fall asleep.

“So what are you studying?” I asked, turning my head to really look at her.

“English, and how to be a teacher,” Lily answered, tapping the top of her books. “And you?”

“My mom was an English teacher,” I said, sighing. “It always seemed like a fun job. And I’m studying communication, how people talk to each other.” And how to get them to understand each other, I didn’t add.

“Really?” Lily asked. “Then I’d be surprised if we don’t end up sharing classes with each other sooner or later.”

“That would be nice,” I said. “It’s always good to meet new people.”

“Oh yes,” Lily said, nodding empathically. “Classes and adjusting to being here have been so hectic, I haven’t had the chance to really get to know anybody. Where are you from, by the way?”

Oh boy, here we go.

“I’m from Earth Bet, actually.” No point in beating around the bush.

Really,” Lily said, her eyes widening in surprise. Her head turned, so she was almost looking me in the eyes. “I’m sorry, but you’re the first person I’ve met from there. Is it alright if I ask you what it was like?”

Well, at least it was a better reaction then some of the ones I had seen. Even if I still felt like I was a monkey in a cage for people to look at. I took a deep breath, and Lily seemed to pick up on my discomfort.

“And if you don’t want to, that’s quite alright,” she added quickly. “If you’d rather talk about what it’s like here at college, that’s fine as well.”

“I’d like that,” I answered, smiling at her. “So what dorm are you staying in?”

“I’m in Jasert, up on the third floor. It’s supposed to have a great view,” Lily said, a small smile on her lips.

“Really? I’m on the second floor. Right above the parking lot.”

As I talked, I shifted around my weight. I automatically lifted my arm to brush over my books. And my heavy, useless prosthetic slammed all of them off my lap and onto the ground.

I didn’t even have the energy to swear. I was just goddamn tired. This was the third time today the hunk of plastic hanging off of my arm had messed me up in front of somebody.

“What just happened?” Lily asked, her brow furrowing.

“Nothing,” I muttered, looking away from her, my face heating in shame. “I just knocked some stuff off by accident.”

I leaned down to pick my books back up, feeling anger replacing the embarrassment. Maybe I would be better off without an arm at all, if this was all I was going to get out of it. Humiliating myself in front of others, and getting funny looks when people grabbed the unmoving plastic fingers in a handshake.

“I see,” Lily said, apparently not making a joke. “Is it anything I can help with?”

“No, no,” I said. “I’ve got the last of it.” I managed to keep my voice civil as I straightened up, putting the last book back on top. “Thank you for the offer, though.”

“Not at all,” Lily said, giving me a calm smile. “So how are you settling into the college?”

I didn’t have any friends. Dad was spending half his time dealing with refuge paperwork and the other half trying to find a job. Almost every cultural touchstone here was different, and I’d embarrassed myself by naming a singer that nobody had ever heard of. I was trying to learn the names of six new presidents and what they had done. I had to take special care of my arm or it would get infected. I had nightmares almost every night.

“I’m adjusting,” I answered. “How about you?”

“It’s quite the change from Japan,” Lily said with a rueful smile. So that was where her accent was from. “But I’m liking it. Akira, my sister, and I talk a few times a week and I write letters to my friends back home.”

“Friends are important,” I said, faces flashing through my mind.

“And I hope to make some more here,” Lily said, nodding along. “In between studying,” she added with a sigh, “which I should probably start doing.”

“Point taken,” I answered, chuckling. “Want to do it here, or go find a table in the library?”

“Right here is perfect,” Lily said. “And your company would be appreciated as well.”


A month and a half later, it was Lily’s birthday. I was invited to it, and was pretty surprised when I and Lily were the only ones there. I knew she had more friends then that. Now that I was looking out for her, I often saw her in the halls, usually talking to one or more people.

Which was a pretty sharp contrast to me. I had some people I talked with, and not just about college work. But I couldn’t really call them friends, or say that I knew all that much about them.

“Hello, Taylor,” Lily said, opening the door and ushering me in. She looked as understatedly beautiful as ever, wearing a long black skirt and a white blouse. It didn’t exactly show off how well developed she was, but it didn’t try to hide it, either. I wondered how a blind girl had a better dress sense then me.

“Hello, Lily,” I answered, placing my birthday present on the dresser. “Am I in time for the party?”

“Almost. Actually, if you wouldn’t mind,” Lily waved at a pristine laptop that was sitting on her desk. “My sister is trying to set up a, uh, ‘Skype’ call. I’m not very good with technology. Would you mind talking to her and figuring out what to do?” She held out a cell phone.

“Not at all,” I answered. Yeah, I would bet that Lily had some problems with screens. Especially ones where you actually needed to touch them to get anything done. And there were a lot more of them here then back home. On Earth Bet, I meant.

“Hello?” I said, raising the old style flip phone to my ear.

“Hi!” A cheery voice, one that sounded a lot like Lily’s said. “Is this Taylor?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied. “You’re Akira?”

“In the flesh,” the voice chuckled. “So, I got Lily’s computer as ready as I could before I gave it to her. You ever used Skype before?”

“No, but I’m sure you can walk me through it,” I answered, tapping the power button. And oh, would you look at that. It went straight to the desktop. No password at all. Lily.

A few minutes later, I was looking at what had to be Akira. She did look a lot like an older Lily, though with shorter hair, and slightly more Japanese. There were also two other people in the camera, both of them obviously Japanese. One girl, one boy.

“Hey, Lily,” Akira called out. Lily visibly brightened, hearing her sister’s voice. “Happy birthday, kid. And guess who I’ve got here?” She waved her hand at the two kids (kids, meaning they were as old as I was) on either side of her.

“Kon'nichiwa, Lily,” both of them said. The girl had long hair that looked just as good as mine. And was wearing it over half of her face, probably to cover up the burn scars I could see poking out underneath the fringes. The boy looked just like a boy, with the most exciting thing about him being his green sweater vest.

“Hanako! Hiaso!” Lily cried out, smiling as brightly as the sun. She said something in Japanese that I didn’t understand.

The two of them (and Akira) answered, also in Japanese, and a spirited, happy conversation quickly developed. I wasn’t part of it, but I was happy to just sit back and watch. How long had it been since I was with a circle of friends this close, even on the periphery?

I caught my name in the stream of Japanese, and looked up. Lily was waving at where I was, just inside the camera’s view. I smiled, and waved at the computer, and got some waves back.

While Lily and her friends and family talked, I took the chance to look around the room. I had been in Lily’s dorm before, mostly for the quiet tea parties we had every week or so. But it was still nice to take the chance to look around and admire how clean she kept the place.

There were more decorations then I would have thought a blind girl would have had. Then I had taken another look, and saw that they were almost all things you could hold and touch. No pictures, but statuettes, flowers, that kind of thing. It certainly was a lot better looking then my own room. Cleaner, too.

Finally, the call ended, and the laptop screen went blank. Lily turned back to me, smiling like she was on top of the world.

“That was wonderful,” she said happily. “But now I think it’s time for our own party.”

“Sure thing,” I replied. “What can I do to help?”

“Well,” Lily answered, tapping her lip in thought. “Akira sent some packages a few days ago. If you could get them out from the closet and set them on the bed, I’ll get the cake and the tea ready.”

I did so, adding my own present to the small pile of gifts. One of which was obviously a bottle. Of wine, probably, since Akira should know her sister’s tastes. And boy, did Lily like a glass of wine. Even when we were just going out for dinner (almost always on her dime, because that girl was loaded) Lily would order a glass or two. And now that we were seriously celebrating? It was probably a good thing that we were in her room.

“So did you have enough time to talk to your sister and your other friends?” I asked, neatly arranging the pile.

“Not really,” Lily said, smiling a bit sadly as she cut the small cake into four equal sections. “But we’ll be talking tomorrow, since it will be the weekend for them. But tonight, it’s just going to be the two of us.”

I nodded, sitting down on the floor opposite her. It wouldn’t be my own birthday for a long time yet, but I supposed that when it was, Lily and Dad would probably be the only people there. I wasn’t making new friends very quickly. I was from Earth Bet, so some people acted like I was a bomb waiting to go off. And others couldn’t stop gaping at the useless, obvious prosthetic that hung off of me.

I pushed those thoughts aside. Now wasn’t the time for a pity party about how bad my life was. I was here to help Lily celebrate her birthday.

“So do you have any plans for tomorrow?” I asked, taking the slice of cake Lily offered me.

“I will be talking to Akira and the others tomorrow, obviously,” Lily said, pouring the tea. “Over the phone, though, so I won’t need to ask you to set up the computer. And then, working on my essay. And you?”

“Pretty much the same, actually,” I said, taking the cup she was now offering. “I’ll talk to Dad, then go hammer away at my own homework.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, nibbling away at the cake and sipping the tea. It was, by now, a comfortable, familiar routine. Well, maybe not the cake, but drinking tea with Lily and talking about our lives. I always found it astonishingly relaxing.

“That was wonderful,” Lily said, putting her plate to one side. “Now, shall we open the gifts?”

“Sure thing,” I said, reaching over and pushing one towards her hand.

I had noticed that all of the gifts that were already here had Braille stickers attached to them, and felt kind of guilty over not doing the same for mine. Oh well, I could always just tell Lily when she got to it.

Lily picked up the first present and ran her fingers over it. It was always interesting to see her examining something new, how her brow furrowed a bit as she carefully felt out each and every inch of it. I wondered what it was like inside her head, how she ‘pictured’ stuff.

“Ah, a present from Mother and Father,” Lily said at last, starting to tug at the folds of wrapping paper.

Glancing at the flapping sheet of paper that the Braille stamp was on, I then looked at the rest of the small pile of presents. I could see those dots repeated on a few others. Then I looked back, as Lily got the first present unwrapped.

I joined her in appreciating the bottle of perfume, and put it up on the dresser at her request. Sure, the perfume smelled good, but not good enough for either of us to want it to get stepped in and rubbed into the carpet (along with a bunch of blood and glass).

Lily unwrapped more and more of the presents. And sure enough, the bottle from Akira was a bottle of wine. It had a very fancy label, which was all I could tell about how good it was. Wine was Lily’s thing, not mine.

But I still couldn’t refuse when Lily insisted on opening it up. I privately wondered why Lily already had a pair of wine glasses in her room, but it didn’t seem like appropriate to bring it up. I also wondered just how much wine Lily planned for the two of us to drink tonight.

“Ah, that’s wonderful,” Lily said, taking a sip from her glass. She smiled and turned her head towards me. “And how about you, Taylor?”

“It’s good,” I ventured, taking a much smaller sip from my own glass. Alcohol wasn’t something I cared much for, along with anything else that could alter how I felt. I didn’t even like the sleeping pills I had been prescribed for my nightmares. Still, I could handle half a glass or so. Even with a lot less body for the alcohol to go through then I had once had.

Lily smiled and took another sip, the red liquid sloshing around in her glass. She had a very pretty smile, I had often noticed. And she showed it off quite a bit, as well.

“Now, are there any other presents left?” Lily asked, feeling around with one hand.

“Just mine,” I said, pushing the small, badly wrapped package across to her.

“Ah, thank you, Taylor,” Lily said, picking it up. She had to notice the liberal use of tape and hanging corners, but she didn’t mention it. Not even when she had to rip it apart, as opposed to the more gentle unfolding she had done for most of the others.

The CD case was soon revealed, and Lily ran her fingers over it in the familiar routine. Then she stopped, tracing a finger along the Braille code I had glued to the front of it.

Les Miserables,” she said, looking at me.

“The tenth anniversary edition,” I added. “The musical, I mean. I loved the one we had back home, on Earth Bet, and this one is just as good.”

“I see,” Lily said, opening the case and gently touching the CDs inside. “I’ve read the book, but I’ve never listened to the musical before. Thank you, Taylor,” she said, giving me a brilliant smile that made me flush a bit. “I’m sure I’m going to enjoy listening to this.”

“Not at all,” I said, taking another sip from my glass of wine. I had barely touched my glass, while Lily’s was already half empty. “Maybe we can listen to it together some time.”

“I’d like that,” Lily answered, closing the case and putting it on top of the Braille book the girl, Hanako, had gotten her. “I’ll probably listen to it tomorrow.”

Lily took another drink from her glass, leaving it noticeably emptier. She swirled the glass around, making the wine in it rise up before settling back down. She looked at me, as close to on target as she could get.

“Thank you for this, Taylor. In the past, I’ve always had at least Akira around to celebrate my birthday with. It would have been awful to not have anyone around this year.”

“Not at all,” I said, looking away and blushing. “You’re my friend, Lily. Of course I want to spend time with you, especially on such a big day."

Lily smiled again, softly this time as she leaned back against her bed. One of her hands had started to play with the collar of her blouse, twiddling the white cloth between her fingers. She closed her blue eyes.

“And I’m glad to think of you as a friend as well, Taylor.” She hesitated for a moment. “Although there is something I have been wondering.”

“Yes?” I asked, putting my still mostly full glass down. “What’s on your mind?”

“I’ve been wondering how you look. It’s been a month and a half, and I really don’t have any idea about what you look like. Would you mind if I touched your face?”

I hesitated for a second. That was kind of weird a request. Well, a weird request from someone who wasn’t blind. From Lily, it made perfect sense. I nodded, the back of my mind still thinking that was a useful gesture around Lily.

“Of course, Lily,” I said, scooting closer to her. “Should I take my glasses off, or leave them on?”

“See?” Lily said, laughing. “I didn’t even know you wore glasses. And please, take them off. I wouldn’t want to get them dirty.”

I removed them, blinking as Lily suddenly got a bit blurry. I could see her hands in crystal clear detail as she slowly raised them, though. Then I couldn’t see anything as I closed my eyes, letting Lily touch my face.

I was astonished at how good it felt. I realized with a sudden shock that this was the first time I had been seriously touched in years. Not by my dad (not that he ever pawed at my face or anything) or doctors, but a friend touching me. It, it was really sad when you thought about it.

Lily’s hands slowly, carefully worked their way along my face, going from my chin all the way up to my forehead. Her touches were soft but firm, as she glided all over my face. I wondered what kind of picture of me she was assembling in her head.

Finally, after toying with a few stray strands of hair for a few seconds, Lily withdrew her hands. I slipped my glasses back on as she smiled at me.

“Well, Taylor, I think that you’re a very pretty girl.”

Hah. And if she could actually see, there was no way she would think that. I knew it was kind of selfish, making friends with someone who couldn’t see just how unattractive I really was. But there was no way I could possibly bring myself to give up on being Lily’s friend.

“Thank you for saying so,” I replied, scooting back. I took another sip from my glass, as Lily finished hers. And then she poured herself another glass. I shook my head. At least it would be easy enough to get her into bed if she got herself wasted.

I looked off to the side, at the small pile of unwrapped presents. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of long, blonde hair. I turned back, smiling.

“Lisa-“ I stopped. No. It was Lily. Of course it was Lily. It wasn’t Lisa. It would never be Lisa, ever again.

The thought hit me hard, like a punch to the chest. I felt my stomach turn over on itself, suddenly wanting to see my old friends more than anything else in the world. I took a shaky breath, trying to calm myself down.

Obviously I was drunker then I thought. I clung to that thought, trying to force my sorrow back into its box. I shouldn’t be acting like this, not now. I should be happy for Lily.

“Taylor?” Lily asked, a note of concern in her voice. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah,” I said, shaking my head and wiping my hand across my eyes. “Everything’s fine. Just, just let me get some of this stuff out of the way.”

I moved the now empty cake platter up off of the floor, trying to pull myself together. I tried to remember what I had learned in therapy, about how to actually process my emotions instead of shoving them off into the swarm. God, I wished I still could do that, even if it was supposed to be unhealthy. It would be so much better then trying to deal with all of this.

After a few minutes, the intensity of it faded enough to let me trust my voice. I sat back down again, looking at a concerned Lily. I smiled wanly at her, lips twitching upwards.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “For a moment, you just reminded me of someone else. One of my friends, from back on Earth Bet.”

“I see,” Lily said, not showing any signs of irony. “Am I and this, uh, Lisa similar?”

Even with as down as I was feeling, I had to laugh at that. Lily and Lisa? Man, that was night and day.

“No, not really,” I said. “You both have long hair and a nice smile, but beyond that…” I shook my head, trying to fit Lily into the Undersiders. “Man, you two are salt and sugar.”

“Tell me about her,” Lily said, leaning her head back against the bed. “You barely talk at all about what it was like to grow up on another world. I’d love to hear any stories you have to share.”

Yeah, there was a reason I didn’t talk about being on Earth Bet. This Earth barely knew anything about powers or the people who had used them. Scion hadn’t even messed it up too badly. But there was still no way I was going to mention that I had been a villain and a hero and whatever I had ended up being.

“Maybe one day,” I said. “I’m not nearly drunk enough to want to talk about that now.”

Lily smiled at me and reached across. On the second try, she patted me on the knee, her hand bouncing against the denim of my jeans.

“Of course, Taylor. I wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”

No, she certainly wouldn’t. Lily would make a great mother someday, always trying to make the people around her comfortable and happy. Or, once she actually was a mother, her nurturing instincts would go into overdrive, and she would smother the poor kid in love and affection.

Even if that did end up happening, it still felt nice to have someone looking out for me. To have someone who really was on my side, and wasn’t threatening me with a stick, implicit or explicit.

I took a breath, and then caught myself. What was I thinking? Was I that lonely, after all this time? No, better to put it off. I didn’t want to do something stupid that would lose Lily as a friend.

“Lily?” I asked, scooting around the bottle of wine and tea kettle to lean against the bed next to her. “Have you thought about dating while at college?”

No, no, Taylor, what were you doing? This was so blunt there was no way she couldn’t understand what I was saying behind the words. But it was far too late now to shut up. I’d have to keep on going, ride this till the end.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Lily said, frowning slightly and nodding. “But I would have to meet the right person. I’m sure you can tell,” she waved her arm around at the room with only the two of us in it. “I do have standards. And I wouldn’t be interested in dating anyone who couldn’t meet those requirements.”

“So what are those standards?” I asked, glad for a distraction that could lead away from questions about my own question.

“Well, obviously they have to already meet the standards I would expect from my friends, of course,” Lily said, taking another sip from her glass. “And then, in addition.” She put her glass down on her lap, brow furrowed in thought. “Do you know, I’m not really sure. I’ve been asked out before, but I’ve never really felt the right amount of interest in the men and women who asked me out. I always turned them down.”

Men and women? Well, that was promising. Even if it did mean that I had more romantic experience then Lily (and wasn’t that a sad thought?).

“And why are you so interested all of a sudden, Taylor?” Lily asked, a coy, teasing smile playing on her lips.

Ah great. She knew. I wasn’t as subtle, and Lily wasn’t as drunk as I had hoped. Well, I was in this deep. There was no way for me to back out. I’d have to push on through, and accept whatever might come.

“I don’t have a boyfriend either,” I admitted, still kind of hiding the real reason. Both from myself and from Lily. “And since you’re so pretty and fun to be with,” God, was this what drinking alcohol did to me? “I was curious about why you didn’t have someone special.”

“That’s the trick, isn’t it?” Lily said, turning her body so she more fully faced me. From this close, I could smell the scent of the perfume her parents had sent her, that she had applied. “It needs to be someone special.”

I swallowed heavily. That had been about as subtle as a brick to the face. All I would need to do was ask the question that was obviously following it.

“And what do you think of me?” I asked, dropping my gaze down to the wine glass. It was still more than two-thirds full.

Lily paused for a minute, one finger tapping against the stem of her own glass. I could only just see her out of the corner of my eye, feeling a blush on my cheeks and some nervous dread in my stomach.

“I think that you’re a very charming woman,” Lily said at last. “I deeply value your friendship, and I enjoy spending time with you.”

Well, that was that. It was as clear as a signal as I was going to get. All that was left was to actually take the final leap and put myself out there. I took a deep breath, nervousness starting to replace the dread.

“Lily?” I asked, turning to look at the blonde, blind woman. “Would you like to be my girlfriend?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Lily replied.