One step after another, Sara strutted down the stone street, red dress accentuating the curves that secured the modeling position she had held for the past six years. At twenty-five years old, the desire for more than monetary success and fame was beginning to stir inside her. She was on four different billboards across the greater metropolitan area. Her face had graced the cover of three major magazines, twice each. Sara had it all to anyone looking from the outside. From the inside, however, the situation looked much different.
Her days were consumed with constant focus on what she ate, what she did, what she wore, all for the sake of career advancement. If she were to gain five pounds or lose the silky smooth complexion of her skin, she was at risk of being replaced by another young woman who had a winning ticket in the genetic lottery. In the name of job security, Sara sacrificed her own feelings of personal security and identity. It was beginning to weigh on her in a way that had nothing to do with pounds read on a scale. She desperately ached for a connection with another human being in a meaningful and non-superficial way.
At the conclusion of this premiere fashion show situated on the shores of Miami Beach, she had two weeks of undisturbed vacation time to do as she pleased. Consumed with the focus on her aspiring career, Sara’s plan for the ensuing fortnight remained latent. The possibilities were unlimited but unexplored. She lacked the energy to plan the rejuvenation and reflection she needed so desperately in her life. Driving north towards her home in Fort Lauderdale, Sara decided to let chance decide the location for her personal holiday. Passing a billboard on the interstate, an image of her eyes stared back at her. She remembered that photo shoot, designed to advertise the city marathon being conducted the following month. “Marathon,” she thought aloud. As if through some subliminal connection, Sara decided in that moment to spend her two weeks in the Florida Keys. Marathon, located in the middle keys, was midway between the hustle and bustle of Miami and Key West, a perfect location for both physical and mental repose.
Cruising over the span of highway that connected the mainland and Key Largo, this was Sara’s first expedition to Monroe County. Forget about entering a new county, she felt as though she was entering a new country, a different universe. The turquoise waters on either side of the narrow road caressed her disheartened spirit. She could certainly buy into the adage that it was more about the journey than the destination. Sara could just keep driving all day, each mile melting away the anxiety and tension that had recently taken control of her life.
The ninety minute drive passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. As she rolled into the gravel parking lot, the cardboard sign hanging in the office window was short and sweet, “Be back in ten minutes.” Everything seemed to move slower in the Keys, or so she had heard. The soothing breeze and the hammock draped between two palm trees on the adjacent beach transformed that ten minute wait into a half hour respite as she closed her eyes and listened to the gentle lapping of water along the shoreline.
After a cordial exchange with the manager of the hotel, Sara checked into her kitschy room that was characteristic of the Florida Keys. The lavender exterior, tile floors, teal paint on the interior walls, and bedspreads adorned with large depictions of Florida native birds was overshadowed by the stunning view out Sara’s sliding door. With palm fronds dipping just into her view off the back awning, they framed a scenic panorama of the Atlantic Ocean that left her breathless.
Sara traveled light. After the hordes of outfits and accessories that accompanied her on various professional engagements, it was refreshing to have a single suitcase, the most recent mystery novel published by her favorite author, and her laptop. Relying upon the intermittent Wi-Fi signal provided by the hotel, Sara searched for dinner options. As if the signal had some control over the search results, the most highly recommended location was less than fifty paces away. Viewed as a small dive from the front of the establishment, the magnificent over-water deck view from the back was only surpassed by a promise for the most succulent conch fritters in the Keys. Easy decision, thought Sara. She was slipping right into the flavorful ambiance of this simpler life.
Requesting a table near the edge of the deck, the hostess happily obliged. Peering over the edge, Sara could see the fish swimming about, eagerly awaiting the scraps that were sure to fall into the water over these dinner hours. Even though she fancied a hankering for the proverbial cheeseburger in paradise, she opted instead for the grouper sandwich, and the conch fritters of course.
As Sara waited for her meal to arrive, she sipped at her iced tea and watched as the dusk sky transformed before her eyes, different hues of blue, violet, and orange painted across the horizon. The guitarist in the corner was playing a live rendition of Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes. The relatively minor change in latitude was not commensurate with this unexpected change in attitude. Everything was just, well, right and in tune at this very moment. The flames flickering atop the tiki torches danced in beat with the syncopated strums on the guitar while Sara tumbled farther into a state of complete relaxation and tranquility.
It was only the repeated voice, each request becoming louder than the last that brought Sara out of her pleasant daze. “Excuse me, miss?” She finally looked away from the horizon and towards the two men towering over her at the moment. Both of them wore sunglasses, which seemed unnecessary given the location of the setting sun just beginning to dip below the horizon. One gentleman, the one speaking, was much bulkier than the other, dressed in the formal wear reminiscent of a bodyguard. The other man, dressed much more casually in a pair of jeans and a white button down shirt smiled. He could smell the pleasant aroma of the perfume emanating from Sara’s pores.
The larger gentleman, once he realized that Sara had finally acknowledged their presence, spoke up, “Would you mind terribly if my client shares this table with you?” Looking around, Sara realized two things. First, she must have been away for quite some time because the entire deck was now filled with patrons. Second, those conch fritters must be the best in the Keys. Initially, Sara was hesitant. Was this some agent looking to exploit her talents? Was she recognized despite this relatively secluded destination, from a modeling perspective at least? But, looking at the younger man, the less formally dressed one, she sensed something different. Even though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could read his body language. There was nothing about his appearance that suggested manipulation. “Sure,” she said, “have a seat.” Whether it was the sweet and sultry tone of her voice or simply the invitation to join her, the young man’s smile widened.
Sitting down, he looked across at her from behind his shades and introduced himself, “How are you doing? My name is Jack. Thanks for allowing me to join you. I appreciate it.”
“No problem, what brings you to these parts?” replied Sara.
“Just a little R&R, you know, reading and riting,” he joked.
“Heh, I’m here for the more traditional definition of R&R. Where are you from?” asked Sara.
“Upstate New York. I’m an author. Well, I’m working on becoming an author. I haven’t really published anything yet, but I’m fervently working on it.”
“Ah, now that whole reading and riting reference makes a bit more sense,” replied Sara. “What do you write?”
Jack was used to this question. It seemed to be one of two replies that came after the admission that he was a writer. Half of the time it was what do you write? The other half of the time it was, Oh, I’m sorry in a rather sarcastic tone. Jack was happy to hear the less sarcastic response on this particular occasion.
“I’ve always been fascinated with Doyle’s work, specifically Sherlock Holmes. He’s been one of my biggest inspirations. So, I’m trying to break into the mystery genre.”
“Funny,” smirked Sara. “That happens to be my genre of choice too. Well, mystery/thriller, I guess. I haven’t read a lot of the classic stuff, but I really enjoy the contemporary writers like Patterson, Connelly, Deaver, and Koontz.”
For the next thirty minutes, in between bites of food and sips from her drink, Jack and Sara exchanged book reviews, favorite characters, and what each perceived as the most interesting plot ideas without realizing how quickly time had passed. For the first time in as long as she could remember, her stressful and high profile life in South Florida was the last thing on her mind.
Despite the wonderful time that she was enjoying with this complete stranger, there was something that kept popping into Sara’s consciousness, poking her in the side as if to say hey, something’s not quite right. She kept shoving it away, this nagging thought, not wanting to disturb the delight of the moment. Then she realized what it was, his glasses. Why was he still wearing them when it was clearly unnecessary? Hers were on the table in front of them. Maybe he was just one of those insecure individuals who preferred to hide behind a mask. Sara could certainly relate. Curiosity, however, got the better of her.
The inquisitive and distracted look on her face was communicated through the inflection and intonation in her words. Jack immediately picked up on it. He was an astute individual when it came to recognizing these subtleties. He beat her to the chase, “So, you’re wondering why I’m still wearing my glasses, huh?”
“Um, yeah, how did you know that? Are you a mind reader too,” joked Sara, easing up a bit once he admitted the oddity of the situation himself.
“No, but I do get that question a lot. I guess I’m just used to it. I wear these glasses, pretty much 24/7 because I’m blind,” replied Jack.
The silence that filled the gap between them might as well have been a chasm. It wasn’t that she was put off by his comment, just surprised. The thoughts racing through her mind were escaping faster than she could process them. She didn’t want to apologize for his blindness. That was too pitying and something that Jack had probably heard way too often. A blind writer, how does that work? She felt embarrassed at such shallow thoughts. Without thinking, Sara let similar words slip out of her mouth to fill the void, “That must make being a writer pretty challenging.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, Sara felt the awkwardness that they created, if not for Jack, at least for her. Jack seemed to take it in stride, used to fielding this common question among his new acquaintances. “It used to be,” said Jack, “but I came across a quote from Helen Keller shortly after my eyesight failed me. The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to write. But, I never had the courage to take a leap into the unknown. I was blinded by what society said I should have done instead of what my heart was telling me. I was the epitome of that quote. I had my sight without any vision of what could or should be.”
Sara was left with a smile on her face that Jack could sense even though he couldn’t see it. Sara had always had a strong penchant for inspirational and motivational quotes. She had a notebook full of them in her apartment. She recalled one of them that seemed to fit perfectly well into this exact situation. “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see – Mark Twain,” Sara replied with the smile still impressed upon her face.
It started as an awkward gaffe concerning blind writers, and morphed into an engaging heart-to-heart exchange of beloved quotes by these two strangers sitting across from each other at the table. Like a dueling piano bar, the words were tossed back and forth, each one feeding off the last.
Jack: “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. – William Arthur Ward”
Sara: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – Dr. Seuss”
Jack: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper; so cry away. – Charles Dickens”
Sara: “The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray. – Oscar Wilde”
Jack: “The process of going from confusion to understanding is a precious, even emotional, experience that can be the foundation of self-confidence. – Brian Greene”
Jack was victorious, for with that last offering, Sara was left speechless. A quote from a theoretical physicist, someone completely outside her domain, shook something inside her loose and she began to feel a tear forming in the corner of her eye. It was not a tear of sadness, nor a tear of happiness. It was a tear of revelation. The chaos of her life situation awash with confusion suddenly became one of understanding.
Sara had craved a relationship with another human being. In that moment, however, she realized that what she really needed; at first at least, was a connection to her true self, without the distractions of what she was supposed to be. All the stress she felt prior to this temporary escape from her life back home came flooding back through the tears she shed. As quickly as they arrived, however, they disappeared, carrying all the superficial expectations with them, forever.
Sensing a change of venue might serve both of them well, Jack inquired, “How about a stroll along the water?”
“That sounds like a great idea,” sobbed Sara as she wiped the tears away.
As the unlikely couple stepped on to the beach, a natural affinity brought one hand into the other. And if as by some intangible connection, both had the same quote streaming through their consciousness.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu
Sara felt blessed. She had finally found the courage to love herself. She was no longer blinded. The sun may have been setting over the horizon, but it was just beginning to rise on the possibilities for her future.