Derek sat quietly in the front seat of the truck. Michelle Forrest, squeezed in between the boy and her husband, chatted with him about the ranch, the family, anything she could think of. Will added a bit to the conversation, but most of his attention was on the road, which was still slick from the previous night’s snowstorm.
“You remember Ed, Peter, Aileen, and Aaron, don’t you, Derek?”
Stony silence greeted her. She looked with despair at her husband. He mouthed to her, “Give him time.”
“We’re all very glad to have you in the family.”
Derek folded his arms and stared straight ahead of him. Finding out his mom was dead had been devastating. But when he first opened his eyes in broad daylight and realized he could no longer see, he had been absolutely terrified. Now he was just angry and resentful at the turn of events.
He scoffed inwardly. They’re glad to have me? Yeah, right. They’re just doing it ‘cause they’re sorry for me. I hate pity. It’s pathetic!
“Here we are!” Will said cheerfully as they pulled into the farmyard.
Derek stepped out of the truck, gingerly waving his white cane in front of him. Then he stopped. His nose wrinkled. “What is that smell?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Mrs. Forrest laughed. “Just normal ranch smell, Derek.”
“Wait, you moved to a ranch?” Derek paled. “We’re not in the city?”
“No, of course not, dear. That’s what I’ve been telling you the whole ride here,” the kindly woman patted him on the shoulder.
Derek groaned. Great, he thought. Not only do I lose my mom and my sight, I have to change my whole lifestyle and live with - with country bumpkins! I hope Aunt Sarah replies soon and gets me out of this mess.
Suddenly, he felt a cold hand on his arm and heard a voice greeting him.
“Hi Derek. I’m Aileen.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Aileen had been shocked when her father told her that Derek was blind as a result of the accident. In that instant, all her negative feelings for Derek were chased away by a burning desire to help him.
But even though she knew his entire world had been turned upside down, she was in no way prepared for the sullen boy she met that afternoon.
He acknowledged her greeting with the smallest of nods. After that, Aileen stepped back while her brothers all shook hands with the newcomer.
She noticed the slump of the boy’s shoulders, and the overall discouraged way he carried himself. There was a scar on his cheek, probably from the accident, she decided.
But it was his eyes that scared her the most. From a far-off distance, Derek looked like a completely normal person. Up close, she could see a cold darkness that seemed to swirl with resentment. His eyes were like hard, black stones that occasionally sparked with anger.
Mr. Forrest removed Derek’s bags from the truck. “Let’s go inside,” he suggested.
Michelle took Derek’s arm and led him to the house. His back stiffened as pride overcame him.
As the rest of the family walked through the doorway, Aileen hung back. She stood in the middle of the farmyard and looked up into the clear blue sky.
“What is going to happen, Lord?”
There was no answer.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Two weeks had passed since Derek moved in with the Forrest family, but he still had that sullen, discouraged attitude about him. He refused to do anything except eat and sleep. For the most part, he stayed in his room, mulling over his situation.
Aileen could sense tension and anxiety building up between herself, her family, and Derek. She didn’t know how much longer she could bear all the stress. It’s like the quiet before the storm, she thought.
Then one day, the storm came.
For pretty much all her life, Aileen had known her family to have dinner together. There was rarely ever a day when they all didn’t gather for the evening meal. Derek, even if he stayed in his room the rest of the day, was compelled to be there as well. It had been one point that Will Forrest had been firm on.
On this particular day, there was no exception.
She had just put a piece of chicken into her mouth when Jack, who had been racking his brain for a way to help Derek feel more at home, suddenly turned and asked, “Do you want to go out tomorrow and see some of the horses, Derek?”
Aileen nearly choked. She shook her head frantically at Jack, but the damage had already been done.
Derek sat there, silent as a statue. His face turned white, then red as his anger flared. “What do you think?”
Jack stammered, “Well - uh - when I helped you unpack, I noticed you had a lot of pictures of these horses and their riders, and I thought maybe you liked them and- ”
“No! I hate horses!” Derek turned his face towards the direction of Jack’s voice. “I hate them! I hate them!” His voice raised in fury. He pushed back his chair. “And how did you think I could see them? I’m blind!” he spat out. The boy stood up and stumbled back to his room, his white cane tapping angrily on the wooden floor. His bedroom door slammed shut.
For a time, there was only awkward silence. Jack had tears in his eyes.
“I didn’t - didn’t mean to hurt Derek,” his lower lip trembled.
Michelle went over and gave her youngest son a hug. “I know, darling. You were only trying to help Derek. But we have to be considerate of his blindness. He’s still very sensitive about it.”
“I’ll go apologize,” Jack rubbed the tears from his eyes. He was about to get up when his father stopped him.
“Let Derek cool down first,” Mr. Forest advised. “Why don’t you finish your dinner, Jack?”
“Yes, sir,” Jack obediently picked up his fork.
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence.
Later that evening, Aileen heard Jack knocking softly on Derek’s door.
“I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings, Derek,” the eight year old said shyly. “I didn’t mean it, honest!”
“Yeah right!” Derek’s voice was still filled with anger. “Isn’t that what you pesky little boys love to do? Hurt people? Well, it worked! You satisfied?”
“But, Derek- ” Jack started.
“Just leave me alone!” Derek shouted.
Aileen tiptoed down the hall and laid a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Jack,” she whispered.
He turned to her slowly.
“Hey, don’t cry,” Aileen knelt down next to him and gently wiped the tears rolling down his face. She hugged him. “Why don’t you go find Ed? He might need help bringing the horses in from the field.”
Jack nodded and fled from the hallway.
Aileen pressed her lips together hard and sent up a quick prayer. Then she pushed the door open.
She looked into the dark room.Derek’s silhouette was vaguely made visible by a lamp in the hall.Flipping the light-switch, Aileen entered and closed the door behind her.
Derek stared stonily at the wall. “Leave me alone, Jack,” he said in a low, cold voice.
“I’m not Jack,” Aileen said quietly. Before he could say anything, she continued, “I sent Jack to the barn. You hurt his feelings.”
“I hurt him?” Derek laughed shortly. “Ha! What about him hurting me?”
How immature, Aileen bit back a retort at the slight whine she detected in the boy’s voice. Drawing in a deep breath, she said, “Look Derek. Jack’s only eight and he forgot, okay? He wasn’t purposely out there to hurt you. He really was only trying to help.”
“Seriously, an eight year old wanted to help me?” Derek mocked.
“We all want to help you, Derek.”
“Let’s get something clear then. I am not a baby. And I don’t need anyone’s help!”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t act like a baby, we wouldn’t need to treat you like one!” The words rushed out of Aileen’s mouth before she could think. “You gotta cowboy up, Derek. Because you really are acting like a spoiled little kid!”
She rushed out of the room.
Derek sat there, stunned at the sudden outburst. Self-pity overwhelmed him and a tear slipped down his cheek. Next moment, he realized the truth in her words.
“She’s right,” he groaned. “I am acting like a baby.” He buried his face in the pillows.