Heart in Darkness


Author’s Notes:

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and locations are fictional or fictionalized and any that are similar to real persons, living or dead, places or circumstances are purely coincidental.

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“Danny, is there something on your mind?” Miss Riley’s voice interrupted the almost silence of the classroom.

My eyes darted to her, then down to the book I should have been reading, then where they had started — on Raven on the other side of the classroom.

“No,” I lied.

That’s what a third grader does with their teachers when confronted about basically anything.

“Wouldn’t it be a really great idea to have science on your mind instead of nothing?”

I shrugged, then pretended to read my science textbook, but looked at Raven out of the corner of my eye.

My eyes wouldn’t even focus that close, but Raven’s nose almost touched the page of the book as she read. My sister’s entire head moved back and forth across the page instead of just her eyes.


I almost didn’t see her before she disappeared around the corner of the school building.

The basketball coach wanted to talk to me about why I hadn’t come to the try-outs the previous day, and made me late getting outside to meet Raven.

I couldn’t tell if my sister struggled because the other girl led her by the hand too fast, or because Raven didn’t want to be following her.

“Stop it!” Raven’s voice reached me as I rounded the corner where I had last seen her.

I didn’t see anyone, so I sprinted toward the outbuilding where they stored the groundskeeping equipment for the football field, nestled against the back of the football bleachers.

I probably imagined the swish of Raven’s cane as she swung it in front of her, but the grunt the older boy made as he jumped away from Raven and my shoulder met his rib cage was real.

The hands that dragged me off the ninth grader under me were also real, so were the feet that kicked my ribs and the fists that followed up with punches to my face.

“Fucking seventh graders, they never know their place. This is a reminder, Boy Wonder.”

I recognized the voice. It belonged to the ninth grader that had warned me of the consequences if I went to the basketball tryouts.

I assumed the other two boys I had seen before tackling that one were also basketball players.

I didn’t know the girl, the one who had led Raven there, but assumed she too was a ninth grader.

I probably moaned in pain. My ribs, all of them, were throbbing, I felt one eye swelling closed and I tasted blood in my mouth.

“Stop touching me!” Raven demanded. The swish of her cane in the air definitely was not a figment of my imagination this time.

“Rae…” I moaned.

“Leave me alone!” she growled and I heard her cane cut through the air above me again.

“They’re gone,” I coughed through my swollen lips.


I felt the gentle nudge of her cane on my hip, then the tentative touch of her hand on my calf.

“Get up, Danny. We’re gonna miss the bus.”

I rolled to my back and tried to sit up, but the sharp pain in my sides forced me to stop.

“What just happened, Rae?”

“It sounded like somebody got beat up.”

I opened the eye that would, and looked at her. She was squatting next to me, staring under the football bleachers. Her fingertips barely rested on my shin.

My sides hurt even though I held my breath and clenched my muscles, but I managed to stand without much more fuss.

Raven turned her face toward mine as she straightened up to stand next to me. She looked scared.

“Are you okay, Danny?”

“I’m fine. Come on,” I instructed her, then put her hand on my arm as I started back to the front of the school and the bus I hoped was waiting for us.

“If you’re fine, why are you talking funny?”



Raven sounded annoyed, and had stopped her fingers in the middle of the page she was reading.

Even in the flickering light from the muted basketball game I was allegedly watching on the television, I knew her tone was a ploy to goad me just a little.

“What what?” I asked her.

“I can hear you looking at me.”

I had to laugh. She chose hear this time, but it was just as likely she might have chosen taste, or smell. She never said see. Everybody knew that wasn’t true, and she almost never chose feel because that was the obvious choice.

My favorite, no matter what, is smell. “I can smell you looking at me” is so much funnier than hear. Taste would be pretty funny, too.

Honestly though, she probably could hear me looking at her. Boston’s tail thumped lightly on the carpet next to her chair, just like it did whenever he was off work and thought he might possibly get my attention and a scratch behind his ear or a pat on the gerçek resimli gaziantep escort head.

“You know I hate people staring at me. They’re trying to figure out what it’s like to be the poor blind girl, but you already know what that’s like, so I’m asking again — what?”

I looked back at the game, our college alma mater against their archrival, and listened. Boston’s tail was silent now.

Three years ago I played in that game. I came off the bench to score twenty-three points and we won by ten. This game didn’t look like it would be such an easy win, if we won at all.

“Now you can’t even look at me?” Raven accused me, but I could hear the implication of a giggle in her voice.

I looked back at my sister, and Boston raised his head and started with his tail again.

“I’m just trying to decide when I should tell you something that will change your mind.”

“I’m dying to find out what you think is going to change my mind. Now is probably as good a time as any.”

“You know it’s time, Rae. He’s old…”

“Don’t say it, Danny,” she whimpered.

Raven called me Danny when we were kids, but when we got to be teenagers she started using Dan almost exclusively. We never talked about it, but I learned that “Danny” was her safe word, only used now when she was terrified.

I didn’t blame her for being scared. Boston was her first service animal, but he just turned eleven and a retriever’s expected life span was only twelve years. His age showed, not just in his appearance, but there were times he struggled a little getting around.

“They have a home for him…”

“Danny, just shut up!”

Raven stood up and dropped her book in the chair. Boston groaned, but stood up beside her and looked up at her face.

No one would notice if they didn’t already know it was happening, but Boston guided her with his side against her leg toward the stairway. He never stopped working, even after Raven had taken his harness and vest off.

“Raven, please, can we talk about it?”

“Not tonight, Danny,” she told me softly without stopping.

She did stop though, on the second step.


I was glad that Raven couldn’t see her dog, stopped before he took the first step up, looking back at me with sad eyes. He was asking me to come and carry him up. He didn’t ask every night, or even most nights, but the frequency had picked up the last few months.

The seventy-five pound dog was almost nothing in my arms, but nobody in their right mind would have expected my sister could ever carry him herself. She barely weighed more than he did.

Raven paused for me to catch up at the top of the stairs, and Boston licked the tears off her face when she took my arm and hugged it.

I put Boston down on the floor at her doorway while she waited. When I stood back up, she wouldn’t raise her face.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow, Dan. I promise, but that wasn’t what you were going to say to change my mind because it’s the other thing you want to change my mind about. Isn’t it?”

I heard the pain in her voice, and hoped it wasn’t because of the other thing she knew I wanted us to talk about.

“Yes, it’s the other thing.”

I leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

“We can talk about that again tomorrow, too,” she whispered.

“Good night, Raven. I love you.”

“I love you more, little brother.”

I heard her giggle as the door closed, and had to chuckle, too. I was happy that she could make a joke in spite of her having to make the decision tomorrow to give up her best friend.

Nothing about her wasn’t little, and nothing about me was. My pretty, black-haired, fair-skinned sister was almost two whole minutes older, but she stood five foot nothing and tipped the scales at under a hundred pounds. Her “little” brother was six-six, two hundred twenty pounds, and just three years past a full basketball scholarship to a Division One powerhouse that almost won the national championship his senior year.

Our parents insisted she was born first because I refused to leave her in our mother’s womb alone. To them, that also explained why I followed her into the world so quickly.


I sighed when Boston whined and licked my hand. I probably should have understood how he always knew when I was sad. His disability was that he’s a dog, and mine was that I couldn’t see.

He licked my face when I knelt and tried to hug him. He usually loved hugs, when he was off duty, but he must think if he licks away my tears, he’s licking away the reason for them too.

“It’s okay, Boston. You’ll make somebody — probably some old dude who smells like cottage cheese and tapioca pudding — really happy the last few years of their life, and yours.”

I was probably being selfish imagining he wouldn’t be happy. I hoped I was wrong.

I tried to be angry to hide my sadness. Dan and I had argued earlier, but just briefly. gerçek resimli gaziantep escort bayan I tried to convince him Boston could retire and stay with us.

I knew he couldn’t.

Boston could never retire around me. He couldn’t even take an hour off. He hovered, and reacted to any move I made, even when his halter and vest were off. He couldn’t just be my pet; I would always be his responsibility.

The people who gave him to me, the same ones with my new dog, wouldn’t allow it either. Most likely their reasons were the same.

I knew, in the next few days, Dan, Boston, and I would get on an airplane to California to give Boston back to the people who had trained him to be my eyes, and pick up a new dog, barely full-grown, to be my new pair of eyes. Boston would be placed with someone that needed less help than I did. They promised.

Dan didn’t need to go; Boston could get me safely through both airports and any situation that came up wherever we went. Even at his age, he was as flawless in his performance as always, and that’s why it was time for him to retire, before his performance deteriorated and risked my safety.

I would miss him, and that’s why I needed Dan with me on the trip.

Mom had gone with me, the spring Dan and I were fifteen, to get Boston nine years ago. We would be there for three weeks. I needed to be trained, they said.

To me, and Dan, it was a last-minute thing. Mom and Dad sat us down and told us after dinner the day before we left. Dan was mad. Angry just doesn’t say it well enough.

As far back as I can remember, Dan was my rock, my protector, my go-to. He never said “Sorry, Raven, I was” anything as an excuse for anything not going right or him not being there. He never needed to apologize for not being there because he always was.

Laying there in my bed that night, scared out of my mind almost, at the thought of having, depending on a dog instead of my brother, I thought Dan was right that he should be the one going. At least half my fear was him not being there with me.

I had never heard my family fight like they did that night. Their angry voices pierced the floor of my bedroom to reach me. I knew Dan, and his temper, especially when it came to something about me. He was already bigger than Dad, and had probably always been bigger than Mom, and I was terrified somebody was going to get hit. He had done it before, to other people.

I crept as silently as a blind girl shaking in fear, without her cane could, down the stairs. When I got to the living room, it was silent.

“Hey Rae,” Dan greeted me, then Mom and Dad each said “Hi” in turn. They knew that would let me know who was where in the room.

I expected them to be standing in a small circle, screaming in each others’ faces, but Dan was in the recliner, and Mom and Dad were sitting on the couch across from him.

“Danny? It’s okay. I’m okay. You need to go to school. Let Mom take me. Please don’t fight.”

I hoped he couldn’t hear the fear in my voice, or that it was a lie when I implied I was fine without him.

“See, Son?” Dad piped up. “Raven’s okay with it. Throw your mom a bone and let her take care of your sister this one time.”

I heard my brother get up and walk toward me. I wanted him to hug me, so I stood still so he wouldn’t knock me down accidentally in the dark.

I always assume it’s dark. I guess my mind has no reason to assume otherwise. Even at fifteen, light was just a vague memory and darkness was always with me.

“Mom, I’m sorry for yelling. Dad, I’m sorry for yelling at you too.”

Sometimes I was still surprised at how far above my head my twin brother’s voice was.

“Danny,” Mom replied. “It came from a good place in your heart. There’s no apology needed.”

My brother’s hand felt like it wrapped around my entire head as he smoothed my hair back then he kissed me on the forehead.

“You’re leaving early in the morning. See you in a few weeks.”

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you more, Raven.”

He went up the stairs without me.

“How early do I need to be ready, Mom?”

Once in bed, my mind continued to churn in my head and drove sleep as far from me as I imagined it could be. I had been on planes before, but my brother had always been there to hold my hand when I needed him to. Of all my fears, not having him there with me wasn’t the least.

Eventually, I gave in, and slipped across the hall to Dan’s bedroom. This wouldn’t be the first, not anywhere near the first, and I didn’t think there was any reason it would be the last time I got in bed with him when I was scared or worried, had a bad dream, or was just lonely. I didn’t remember ever getting in bed with Mom and Dad; I always went to my brother, even when we were small, we shared a room, and I could see.

He felt warm as I eased myself into his bed beside him, and he mumbled something. I felt better already, and quickly fell gerçek resimli gaziantep bayan escort asleep with my forehead barely touching his chest as it rose and fell with his slow breathing.

I slowly drifted out of my sleep. I could feel my brother’s knee across the back of one of my legs, and his warm breath slowly lapped against my cheek. I moved my face a little, and the tip of his nose touched mine.

I was fifteen, so of course my hormones were haywire. I’d daydreamed about kissing a boy, but no one particular boy. There wasn’t one particular boy, but some I’d like to kiss. I hadn’t kissed any though, but was certain it was high time I found one willing to let me kiss them.

Dan shifted, then sighed, and his breath felt hot against my mouth, so without thinking, my lips moved to his and kissed them.

My sparklers went crazy inside my eyes and I suddenly realized what I was doing, and what he had started doing. He kissed me back as I kissed him.

I hadn’t ever thought about kissing him like that, but this felt good, and, again without thinking, I moaned into my brother’s mouth, then slowly pulled away, reluctantly.

“Wow,” I barely whispered, almost overwhelmed with the lights going off like fireworks in my eyes.

“Rae,” Dan groaned.

I sat up and scooted to the side of the bed, then off.

I needed to go to my own bed before I did something worse, and I wanted to do something worse. I suddenly wanted to do something way worse than just kiss my brother on the mouth, and I wanted it in the worst way.

I wasn’t comfortable, even in my own bed, under my own covers, alone, and lonely. I had a reason now to think that would be the last time I slept in his bed. I couldn’t trust myself, and I definitely couldn’t sleep with my sparklers going off like they were.

I call them sparklers, but the doctors had some term for them that even now I don’t remember. My totally useless retinae were letting off phantom electrical charges, and there was nothing they could do about it. Normally there are only a couple most minutes, whether my eyelids were open or closed, but at that moment, starting when my lips touched Dan’s, they were a constant stream. I hoped for relief soon.

Mom and I were leaving early in the morning. I probably wouldn’t talk to Dan; he had already said goodbye. Maybe by the time he saw me again in three weeks, he’d think it was him, his dream that he had kissed his sister, and me getting up had woken him to cement that dream in his head.

Now he wanted me to move with him a hundred miles away from our parents. That’s the thing he had vowed to change my mind about tomorrow. Boston retiring had nothing to do with it.

He had finished his masters degree in the spring, and spent the summer, like the previous two summers, doing a basketball camp for high schoolers with a former teammate at Ohio State who had gone on to the NBA. When that finished, he prepared for and passed his CPA exam, and now had found a good job in Cincinnati with a national CPA firm.

It had been nine years since I kissed my brother like that, on his mouth, in his bed. We had never talked about it, so apparently my wish came true. He thought it was his dream that he kissed me.

I knew I still couldn’t trust myself with him though, especially if we lived together in our own place, just the two of us and my new dog.

At least I had kissed some boys that weren’t my brother since then, but that just made it harder for me to trust myself with him. He will always be the first boy I ever kissed, and the only boy to bring on a sparkler storm.

Boston’s whine brought me back to reality, in the present. I knew I’d acquiesce about Boston tomorrow, and that was bad enough, but the thing that really scared me was what Dan might say to change my mind about moving to Cincinnati with him.

I didn’t even know if our parents knew he had found a job or wanted me to move with him. They left this morning for a two week vacation to Phoenix. I didn’t know why they chose Phoenix for their first vacation without us since we were born. They just told me yesterday they were going.

I couldn’t fathom my life with Dan two hours away, or what conspiracy was afoot that he had suddenly sprung this on me with our parents gone for two weeks and our imminent trip to California.

I moved Boston’s futon cushion bed out of the corner to beside my bed, let him find his spot, then pulled my pillow and blanket off my own bed and curled up next to him on his. Tonight I needed somebody that loves me to sleep with, and I knew he wouldn’t be able to get up on mine.


Bob and Avaritt Tipton, Dad and Mom to Raven and me, wanted a baby when they were first married at twenty-four and twenty-two years old. They didn’t go into graphic details with us, but said they tried really hard for ten years. They even tried fertility treatments, but nothing worked.

Then, eight years after they quit trying and assumed it was impossible, the news they were expecting an oops baby thrilled them to no end. Dad was even more thrilled when the doctor revealed their oops baby was two. Mom was less thrilled, but they both always loved us.

They left it to me to tell Raven that they weren’t on vacation in Phoenix. In their mid-sixties now, they were on a house hunting trip. After long, successful careers in insurance and nursing, they were ready to retire, and as soon as they found a place, they would be moving there.

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