The very best thing about the start of the holidays was that Ace’s school broke up three weeks before the boys’ which meant three long weeks of being free to rove the house as he pleased. Three weeks of not hiding in his room. Three weeks of going into the garden and feeling the sun on his face. After that he wasn’t safe anywhere, and it was best to stay put as much as he could. If he didn’t have any contact with his brothers, they couldn’t hurt him.
True, the other school holidays were shorter, but that was no loss to Ace, and it was well worth it to have those three blissful weeks of freedom.
When Nick and Logan left for school on Monday morning – with Logan complaining bitterly about having to go to school when Ace was lazing around all day – Ace was standing at his window, waiting to hear the car pull out of the drive.
Ace loved to stand in the window and feel the sun on his face. In fact, he had two windows, but this one was his favourite. He didn’t quite know why. Maybe this one had a little more sun. Ace loved the sun. He couldn’t spend much time outside in the summer, first because no one would take him or allow him to go alone, and second because he burned ridiculously easily. It didn’t matter how much sunscreen he put on, his damned albino skin just fried at the merest kiss from the sun.
Ace had never really thought about being blind. It was the way he was; the way he always had been. Most of his friends were blind, too, and it really wasn’t an issue for him. The albinism on the other hand… None of his friends thought he was weird, or made a fuss over the way he looked; neither did the teachers, who could see him. However, everyone else had something to say about it. Apparently, he looked like everything from a beautiful fairy to a hideous monster, who scared small children and made older ones laugh and throw stones. It was no fun being different. Maybe it was just as well he was blind – he couldn’t see the stares. He could hear fine, though.
“Ace, are you in there?”
His mother’s voice was accompanied by a quiet tap on the door.
“Where else would I be?”
There was a moment silence when he could almost hear his mother wince. “Are you up?”
“Yes. Do you want to come in?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to come down for breakfast, now it’s just us. You’re always hiding
away up here, and it would be nice to spend some mother–and–son time.”
Ace cringed inwardly. He could think or worse things – but not many. It wasn’t that they didn’t get on – more that they didn’t relate. Conversations were at best awkward, and at worst excruciatingly embarrassing.
“I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“Do you want me to wait?”
“I can manage to walk down the stairs on my own,” Ace snapped, a little more shaply than he’d intended.
“Of course you can,” his mother said in a hurt voice that made him feel like a worm. “I’ll put the kettle on. Do you still like thick porridge with honey?”
“Why wouldn’t I…? Yeah. Thanks, Mother. I still like porridge and honey a lot.”
Ace had already showered, although he hadn’t dressed, just slung on some lounge pants. He hadn’t intended on getting dressed at all, and was hoping his mother would go out so he could wander around the house and re–acquaint himself with everything. Ah well.
Showers were the second best thing about holidays. His shower was heaven after the noise, busy shared showers at school, which never had enough hot water, and where he invariably lost his shampoo and/or body wash on a regular basis. Here, the shower was large and smelled clean, with lots of smooth plastic and chrome under his hands. Everything was marked in braille, and since he’d put a lock on the door all the bottles contained the right things. The cleaner was the only one in the house, apart from his father – and himself of course – who had a key to the attic. This was his world, and his alone. He’d made it heaven.
Choosing what to wear was not easier at home. In fact it was far harder and much more stressful. At school, he wore a formal uniform in the day, and an informal uniform in the night. All were laundered by the matron and put back on hangers and in drawers that were carefully marked. All he had to do was select the next available item of each kind. Here, he had drawers, cupboards, wardrobes and shelves, all of which contained a huge selection of outfits, none of which had been chosen by him. Nothing was colour coded, or arranged in any sensible fashion, and when he’d tried to enlist aid it had all gone horribly wrong.
Now, he had no idea what anything looked like, what went with what, or even which way round things were supposed to be sometimes. He didn’t know what kind of shoes to wear, what exact style he was sporting. By and large, he tried to stick to jeans and t–shirts with canvas shoes. He couldn’t go wrong with those…could he? He envisioned jeans as being pretty much all the same colour, with some variation, that pretty much went with whatever colour or design t–shirt he had. He’d specifically asked for plain t–shirts so it should be all good. Except he was pretty sure it wasn’t.
He strongly suspected Logan and Nick had a hand in buying, or persuading his mother to buy, wildly inappropriate clothes. He’d gauged reactions from his parents and outsiders that suggested his sense of style was unusual to say the least. When he’d tried to get out of them why that was, he was given polite brush–offs. People generally tended to treat him carefully, as if he’d break or turn into a monster if they upset him. If he wanted to have an…er…somewhat — eccentric/ different /whacky / original/ independent/ brave/ odd/ strange/ artistic/ choose descriptor — style, who were they to complain. But he didn’t want any of those things. He wanted to blend in. To be…normal. Not that he ever would, as everyone kept reminding him.
He’d tried talking to his mother a few times, asking her to describe what he was wearing, but it was no good. He could tell from her voice that she disapproved his choices, but she described everything as being ‘nice’ or ‘lovely’. It didn’t help that he couldn’t see what everyone else was wearing. Was it ‘normal’ to wear pink t–shirts with large daisies on the front? He’d heard similar described, but was that only for girls. He’d asked James once, and James had just laughed, making him promise to wear it when he visited.
Ace paused, with his hand on the door handle. He smiled. He was going to visit James – soon.