Nicole's brow furrowed as she struggled to identify the pattern of dots on the index card with her fingertips. "Is it an H, Miss Long?"
"Yes, Nicole. Very good."
The braille instructor placed another card in front of her. "That's an L," Nicole declared triumphantly. "It's one of the few braille letters that actually resembles a print letter."
"Yes, indeed." Miss Long secured the cards with a rubber band, and handed them to Nicole. "That's enough for today. Next week we'll try some short words."
Nicole sighed. "I'm just beginning to keep the D, F, H, and J straight, and you want me to decipher words?"
"You're doing very well. Continue reviewing your letters, and you'll be ready. Don't you have a mobility lesson tomorrow with Mr. Gates?"
Nicole shuddered. "He wants to start working on crossing intersections! I did that as second nature on foot and bike for years, and driving for eighteen months before the accident, but the thought of depending on ears alone to cross safely terrifies me, to tell ya the truth. And it's not like any of my "friends" have stuck with me, but I may never have another one, never mind a date, using a cane to get around."
Miss Long squeezed Nicole's shoulder. "I was in junior high when I lost my vision, and all but one of the girls I considered friends disappeared like chocolate at a slumber party. The only comfort I can offer is that the friends you make now are much more likely to be true friends."
"Funny you should say that. There's this girl, Dana, who's always been nice to me, but I actually snubbed because she wasn't "cool." She's still being nice to me. In fact, she's picked me up the last few weeks for youth group at her church, and everyone there's been pretty nice, too."
"I'm sure you're tired of hearing it, but it's true that adjusting just takes time."
"That's for sure!"
"See you next week, Nicole." As Miss Long headed for the door, briefcase in one hand and cane in the other, her driver closed the novel she'd been reading and joined her.
Nicole left the cards on the table, gathered the small copper dog who had been sleeping at her feet into her arms, and headed for the backyard. Settling into the hammock, her stiff upper lip dissolved into racking sobs.
"It's not fair Penny! I'm supposed to be in my first semester of college, not learning how to "adjust." I did everything right. I went to the school-sponsored graduation party, not off drinking like some of the kids, was driving carefully home afterwards, and wham! A drunk driver barrels through a red light, broadsides me, and he can still see just fine!"
Penny nuzzled Nicole's chin and licked her tears. "I guess I should have mentioned you as a friend who didn't desert me." She tousled Penny's silky ears.
Sensing the crisis had passed, Penny rose and moved carefully to where the late afternoon sun shone through the branches of the tall oaks onto Nicole's jeans. "You always find the warmest spot, don't you?" Penny's tail tapped contentedly, but Nicole rubbed her bare arms briskly as the breeze picked up, rustling the branches above. When something landed lightly on her stomach, Nicole stiffened. "Penny, is that a leaf? If it was a bug you'd chase it away, right?" Tentatively, she reached toward the unknown item, encountered a slim tendril, and jerked her hand back. "Nicole, you're being ridiculous! If it's a bug, you brush it off just like you would have four months ago." She held her breath and extended her hand again. "Just a leaf," she laughed nervously, examining it intensely. "Ya know, Penny, it's no less a leaf because I didn't see it flutter from the treetop. I feel the stem, the veins, and the finger-like edges."
Penny started as Nicole sat up suddenly. "It's like what Pastor Matt was saying last week at youth group. Ya can't see wind, but there is evidence that it exists. And Jesus told Thomas that those who believe without seeing are blessed."
Securing the stem of the leaf in her ponytail, Nicole scooped Penny into an excited hug. "Tomorrow I just have to focus--focus not on the world I can't see, but on the world I can hear, touch, smell, and taste. Then, Wednesday evening, I can talk to Pastor Matt about focusing my heart on the one no one can see."
Paraphrases are from John 3:8 and 20:29.
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