Pete got his first pair of glasses when he was 14. Even then it was difficult for him to manage without them, but he'd fought it for years. Finally his teacher had phoned his mother and said that she couldn't move him any closer to the front or he'd be sitting on her shoulders. So reluctantly he would put them on to read the board and then immediately whisk them off again. Really, for the amount of time he kept them on he could have used a telescope. There never was such a self-conscious, reluctant glasses wearer.
Once he'd graduated he only ever wore them when absolutely necessary, such as driving, and even then there had been days when there'd been girls, and.........hence a few dents in his Dad's car. He doggedly went through his days refusing to be seen in glasses, in complete denial. There comes a point of course when "absolutely necessary" starts to be "to avoid walking into things" and by the time he was 23 he needed them to navigate the world on foot. But at every possible opportunity he would take them off. Like when he was just hanging out with friends for example. And so it was that when he met Beth he wasn't wearing them. Even though she only came into sharp focus when he kissed her, when he did so, and saw how beautiful she was, he decided to avoid any risk of losing her, that he would hide his glasses from her. That's where his problems began, right there.
Through the summer he wore prescription sunglasses as if he were a rock star, and congratulated himself that she never knew that he wore them to see her arriving, or so he could wave at her non-chalantly. She never seemed to mind that he sometimes left them on in a store or a diner, in fact, he told himself, that she appreciated being with Mr Cool. He completed the look with a natty line in very loud shirts and surfer beads. Of course nobody wears sunglasses in a movie theater so he paid to go to a lot of movies he didn't actually see. It was always the same, walk into the theater lobby, buy tickets, buy popcorn, head for the theater, take shades off...BLUR. He always gentlemanly let Beth choose the seats, and of course, it was always the back row. He held her hand tight when she headed up the stairs, so as not to lose her, and he held onto incredible quantities of liquid to avoid having to go out during the movie. He learned to laugh when everyone else did. And he kissed Beth a lot. It passed the time. Other than the kisses, he hated movies.
But summer doesn't last forever and the grey skies left him as the last man standing still in sunglasses, so he put them away from the season and resigned himself to.....BLUR.
There was only one thing for it. Although he knew it meant agony, he'd have to wear contact lenses. For some reason, no matter which ones he tried, the result was always the same. Horrible soreness, his eyes felt like they were on fire. No amount of blinking seemed to help. There were no drops that alleviated his suffering. But a man in love will do anything and many times he survived an afternoon with Beth by wearing his contacts to drive her somewhere and then immediately removing them on their arrival, as discreetly as possible, for example by turning his back, pulling an enormous old-fashined handkerchief from his pocket, affecting a lengthy build-up to a sneeze, and taking out both lenses during the "mop-up". He got really good at these tricks. Again he was so proud of himself for pulling it off. If all else failed he'd go to the bathroom, but only after ensuring he knew his way back. He'd had a few hairy moments there. Once Beth had been called away by a friend and Pete was left sitting waiting for her, pretending to doze off. In situations where he was forced to leave his lenses in for protracted periods, Beth had actually commented that his eyes looked red, which he always excused as a sudden allergic reaction or sleep-deprivation.
Pete also took to wearing a baseball cap on a regular basis. Unlike wearing sunglasses indoors or in winter, these days it seemed to be quite normal for guys to be glued to their hats. He would pull the peak down low over his eyes, giving a double benefit. One, nobody would see him squinting, and two, if he failed to see something altogether, he would just blame his hat. Eventually it snowed, the days were as bright as summer and he retrieved his trusty sunglasses. The sheer relief of being able to see when he wore them caused him to become an ardent outdoorsman that winter, it was just as well Beth enjoyed romantic walks in the snow.
Obviously he had to wear his glasses at work, there was no way round it. Fortunately it was right on the other side of the city to where Beth worked, and a totally different circle of people. Just to be on the safe side he always switched to his sunglasses for the drive to and from home.
The problem was of course, that the longer this went on, the harder it was to tell her. He'd been seeing her (or often not) for almost 6 months now and it was getting quite serious. He felt that she probably felt strongly enough about him now that she'd be accepting to him wearing glasses, she was a nice girl, not the shallow type. But he was scared. He was too scared even to take her home to meet his folks for fear they'd say anything. Mutual friends had either been silenced with pathetic pleading or bribes. But it couldn't go on like this forever.
The crunch came one Saturday when he hadn't arranged to see her, but had gone shopping with a buddy instead. It was Beth's birthday and he was searching for the perfect gift, aided and abetted by a friendly neighbor, Tom, who, being a married man, knew EVERYTHING about gift-shopping for women. So far Pete had secured a necklace and a teddy bear, but he hadn't found a card he liked. They were just passing through the center of the mall when Pete cursed and dived behind a pillar.
"What's up with you man?" asked Tom.
"It's Beth! She's here! In the mall!"
"She can't see me in my glasses."
"Are you insane?"
"No, really, I know it sounds dumb, but she doesn't know I wear glasses."
Tom laughed loudly at his young friend's vanity, but partially understood.
"So take them off!"
"No, if I do that, I won't see her at all, and then if she sees me, I'm screwed. She'll think I'm ignoring her!"
"Yeah, that would be a problem. Point her out to me."
Very carefully Pete peeped round the pillar and pointed to the slim dark-haired girl with big brown eyes.
"Lucky guy!" said Tom "OK, give me your glasses, they'll be safe in my pocket, when she looks this way I'll tell you."
Pete did so, emerged from behind his pillar, walked out into his familiar blur, and promptly tripped over a bench.
"You didn't tell me you were that blind!" laughed Tom, "Stay on my right side, sure you don't want to take my arm?"
"Funny," said Pete, not amused "I'm NOT that blind, that bench was the same color as the floor."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever, well, OK........wait, she's seen you."
Pete realized that he had no clue where Beth was standing. There were a lot of people-shaped things around. Tom nudged him.
"She's looking right at you man.....over there!"
Pete followed Tom's finger and tried so hard to focus, just a bit, but it was no use. There were a lot of people "over there", so he just smiled, called out "Hi!" and then whispered to Tom,
"What's she doing?"
"She's got her hands on her hips, and she's smiling, I think she's waiting for you to go over there."
"Oh FUCK!" said Pete.
"Dont worry," said Tom, still laughing "I'll take you over there."
Feeling very, very stupid Pete walked alongside Tom, affecting a knowing smile, but it wasn't until they were a few feet away from Beth that her outline became familiar. Still, it could have been anyone small and dark, until she stepped forward, greeted him warmly and pretended to be curious about what he'd bought, knowing full well why he was shopping without her. There were introductions all around, and after a little while the friend with Beth said she was running late and made her goodbyes. Hearing this Tom realized just how late it was.
"Hey, Pete, I really should run, but I'll catch you later, OK?"
By the time, a few seconds later, that Pete remembered his glasses were in Tom's pocket it was too late. Tom had disappeared into the crowd of people-shapes. Pete panicked, but there was nothing to be done.
"What's wrong baby, you look worried?"
"Um, nothing. I, er, should have given him this bag to take!" and he winked at her.
"Well go on then, he hasn't gone far."
It was far enough. Turning his back to Beth completely Pete squinted hard into the crowd but had absolutely no idea which people-shape was Tom. He turned back.
"Nah, it's OK, I won't ask him to carry stuff, he's walking back, we came in my.........." and Pete realized in horror that he now faced a drive home with no glasses. Unless.....had he left his sunglasses in the car? He couldn't remember. Not that he was sure he'd be able to find his car to go and check, and that's if he could find a good way of explaining his need to check his car before offering Beth a ride. His head was spinning with the whole mess he'd gotten himself into.
"Are you going down with something Pete? You really don't look well."
"Uh, yeah, I'm not feeling too good. Feeling a bit...dizzy, yeah. Must have been something I ate."
She put her hand on his forehead.
"You're hot. I don't think you should drive. Come on, let's get a cab."
Feigning illness he decided she wouldn't suspect anything if he seemed a bit out of it, and once outside the mall he stood passively while Beth found a Taxi. She helped him lovingly into it and he slumped.
"Please hurry," she urged the driver "He's sick."
Fearing another valet expense for his recently cleaned back seat the driver took them the two blocks to Pete's home at breakneck speed, and once there Beth went to help him inside.
"Ah, no, I'll be fine....you, uh.......it may be catching, best not stay. I'll call you later."
"You better give me your keys, I'll get your car for you."
It was only a short walk to the mall, something he often did, and it was a nice enough day, so he didn't think twice at letting her perform this act of charity for him, as he didn't want to risk her crossing the path of his parents....
Beth enjoyed her stroll, spring was well on its way and a few flowers were showing themselves in window boxes along the street. Arriving at the mall she scanned the parking lot for Pete's red Toyota, and found it easily. Settling into the side that she had never sat in before she realized just how bright the sun was, and reached into her purse for her sunglasses. Damn, she didn't have them. Then, remembering instantly how Pete always wore his sunglasses when he was driving, she looked around and found them tucked in the shelf. Knowing he wouldn't mind, she put them on, but then immediately took them off again.
Her instinctive reaction was to clean them, thinking they must be covered in something pretty icky, but seeing they were spotlessly clean, a realization suddenly hit her, and a thousand odd instances suddenly made sense. First she smiled to herself, and then she laughed out loud.
Understanding fully what was going on now, Beth parked the car outside Pete's house, dropped the keys into the mailbox, and walked back to the mall. She hailed a cab there to take her home and it was the same driver she'd had earlier.
"How's your friend?" he asked her.
"Oh he'll be fine," she smiled.
"Stomach?" asked the driver.
"No," said Beth "Funnily enough, it's all in his head."
Pete had spent the afternoon trying to find a way to confess without losing too much face. He was tired of having to go through this charade, but he just didn't know where to begin. He'd tried out a few lines in his head, and they all sounded pathetic. The phone rang, it was Beth.
"Hey! How you doing?"
"Oh I'm feeling better now, thanks. Oh and thanks for bringing my car back."
"No problem. And I figured out what was wrong with you today?"
"Yeah, I've seen it happen before. It's like sea-sickness really."
He had no idea what she was talking about.
"People think it's the movement of the boat that makes you feel ill, but actually it often goes away if you go up on deck and watch what's happening. The nausea and dizziness is caused by the brain getting mixed messages if the balance center in your ears tell you one thing about the movement, and your eyes tell you another. You probably got disoriented in the mall from not wearing your glasses."
There was a total silence on the other end. But finally.
"Thanks Beth. I'm an idiot."
"Well, I'm not going to argue with you, but........we're still on for tonight, right?"
"Er, yeah, of course! It's your birthday dinner tonight!"
"It is, pick me up around 7, OK?"
When Beth came downstairs to answer the door that evening, she was greeted by a slightly embarrased but very relieved Pete, wearing his glasses. And, as far as she was concerned he'd never looked better.
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