When Felicia received a call from her roommate’s friend, Warren, asking if she wanted to “go for a ride,” every warning that she had ever been given about men flashed through her mind. Immediately afterwards, though, she realized just how silly that was. Warren was an ex–drag racer, a man who loved the road more than he probably loved his own mother. It was only natural that if he wanted to do anything with Felicia (or anyone else, for that matter), it would be speeding down the road with the top down and no destination in mind. Besides, he was Anna’s best friend. She had no reason not to trust him.
“I’ve never ridden with anyone who goes as fast as you’ve said you go, though,” Felicia said into the phone.
“Trust me, we’ll be totally safe,” Warren said. “I know this road that nobody ever uses at night. We can cruise on that.”
“We’ll be doing it at night?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s not like I won’t be using my lights or anything.” He paused. “Though I guess that won’t matter a whole lot to you, huh?”
“It’d matter to me whether or not you can actually see where you’re going.” Felicia’s voice conveyed a hint of annoyance, and she briefly wished that Warren could see her crossing her free arm over her stomach and slumping back in her chair.
“Right… Well, you up for it?”
If there was one thing that Felicia liked about Warren, it was that he didn’t linger on blunders like that or try to make excuses whenever he said something potentially offensive. Sure, it would have been nice if he never said things like that in the first place, but that was an impossible dream, as Felicia had discovered years ago. Even people who claimed to be completely unbiased towards her blindness still slipped up or tried to modify their speech to avoid offending her, awkwardly cutting out their “I sees” or anything with the word “look” in it. At this point, she had pretty much come to expect it from everyone at one point or another, though she wished that they would just talk normally around her and not worry about it.
Felicia was silent as she thought Warren’s offer over; the only other sound in the room was the loud ticking of her roommate’s wall clock. By now, the possibility of him taking her to some dark alleyway to have his way with her had completely left her mind, but her biggest concern was still the unlawfulness of the situation. Sure, she couldn’t legally be held accountable for Warren’s reckless driving… Her thought process came to a halt. On the one hand, she would be willfully accompanying someone who was planning on doing something illegal and potentially dangerous. On the other hand, though, there was no law that said that a passenger had to monitor the driver’s speed at all times, and even if there was, it wasn’t like Felicia could see the speedometer, anyway. It was a loophole… but was she willing to take it?
“Sorry, but it sounds a bit too risky for me,” Felicia said.
Why had she even been thinking of saying yes? The whole idea was stupid and dangerous, no matter how much Felicia thought about it.
“Oh,” Warren said. “That’s cool. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask, though.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up. Felicia slumped back in her chair with a sigh. That was close—she couldn’t believe that she had almost agreed to do that. She was about to get up and get a snack to calm her nerves when she heard the door being unlocked.
“I’m home!” Anna said in her usual enthusiastic voice as she entered the apartment. She circled around the chairs and saw her roommate just sitting in her recliner with no TV or radio. “Bored?”
Felicia shook her head. “I just got off the phone.”
“Ooh, with who?” Anna jumped into the chair next to Felicia’s and leaned toward her, grinning.
“Warren.” Felicia smiled as pleasantly as she could.
“You were talking with Warren? What for?” Anna’s smile grew even wider.
With a sigh, Felicia stood up and felt her way to the kitchen. “Would you like a snack, Anna?”
“Uh-uh!” Anna leapt up and dashed into the kitchen after Felicia. “You’re not playing that one again! Come on, what were you guys talking about?” Felicia started feeling around the cabinets without answering. Anna blew her bangs out of her hair. “Look, you don’t have to be all stiff and secretive around me. You can tell me anything.”
Felicia rested her hand on an unfamiliar-feeling box full of crunchy packages. “He invited me out for a drive.”
“Oh, my gosh. Super-serious Felicia has a date?” Anna’s voice was light and playful, but it still made Felicia’s face go warm with indignity. She did her best to keep her voice level as she replied:
“It wasn’t going to be a date.”
“And, anyway, I said no.”
There was a pause. Felicia gave up on trying to identify the contents of the mystery box and let her hand fall to her side. “Oh,” Anna said. “How come?”
“It just sounded too dangerous.”
“Nah, you would have been totally safe. Warren’s a fast driver, but he’s careful. Besides, you need to have some fun every once in a while. You’re so super-serious all the time.”
Felicia shrugged. How else was she supposed to be when people were always treating her like she was helpless or some kind of second-class citizen because she was blind? One slip-up would ruin any chances she had of being treated like a normal person. That was why, even though they were complete opposites in some respects, she was grateful to have Anna as a roommate. When Felicia told her she was blind, she just said, “Oh, okay. You like computer games?” She was more than glad to let Felicia do the cooking and the laundry while she took care of cleaning and making sure there wasn’t anything lying on the floor, and more than that, she was one of the few people willing to treat Felicia like any other person.
“By the way,” Anna said, breaking Felicia out of her thoughts, “that was a box of ramen you had your hand on.”
Now who was the one trying to change the subject? “Why did you buy ramen?” Felicia asked.
“No offense, I love your cooking, but sometimes a girl just wants something she can pop into the microwave instead of something that takes hours to cook.”
“Fair enough.” Felicia thought of going back into the living room to find a book or something, but she stopped herself. “How do you make it?”
Anna crossed the kitchen and got a package of the dried noodles from the box. “Here, grab a bowl. It’s easy.”
On Saturday, Felicia’s screen reader stopped working on the school’s websites. She tried checking her email, accessing her online textbooks, taking a quiz for Monday’s class… Nothing worked.
“Anna?” she called. “Is something wrong with the school’s website?”
Anna set her book down on her desk and walked up behind her. “Whoa, that’s new,” she said.
“It looks like they updated. Big time.”
“Well, my screen reader’s not working on it now.”
“Ooh. Yeah, that’s bad. Did you try updating it?”
Felicia let the screen reader read its own menu out loud while Anna watched over her shoulder. It didn’t have any update options.
“Well… huh,” Anna said. “I guess we can email the tech department and see if they can do anything.”
Anna helped Felicia navigate the new e-mail system so that Felicia could type out her email. She kept it as cordial as she could, requesting that they fix the issue as soon as possible so Felicia could continue to enjoy their services, even though her heart was beating faster than usual and her fingers were stiff as she typed. Why was this even an issue in the first place? Didn’t they test to make sure screen readers would work on their updated websites?
Computer Services never responded to emails over the weekend, so Anna read the questions and answers for Felicia’s online quiz out loud. Anna was a lot more enthusiastic in her reading than the screen reader was, which made Felicia smile even when she couldn’t remember the answers to a couple of the questions. Still, she apologized for inconveniencing Anna.
“Hey, don’t be sorry,” Anna said. “It’s not your fault the school screwed up. Besides, that was kinda fun. Maybe I should get a job as a screen reader.” Felicia couldn’t help but chuckle alongside her.
Warren came back with Felicia and Anna after their classes on Monday to study with Anna. Anna helped Felicia check her email and saw that they had a response from Computer Services:
We apologize for the inconvenience our website has caused. However, due to software issues, we are unable to fulfill your request. We recommend that you visit the Disability Services office to pursue other options.
“What’s going on?” Warren asked from behind the computer chair.
“The tech department’s being lazy, that’s what’s going on,” Anna said. The keyboard keys starting clacking as Anna typed. “Software issues, my ass. I’m gonna give those guys a piece of my mind.”
“Anna, wait.” Felicia reached down towards the keyboard and brushed her hand against Anna’s wrist before she managed to get a grip on it. “Calm down. I’ll go to Disability Services tomorrow and talk to them.” Even as she said that, though, she had to stop her hand from shaking in frustration.
Anna sighed and pushed the chair back from the computer. “All right. It’s probably better if they get a piece of your mind, anyway.”
“So, what exactly is going on?” Warren asked.
They went back into Anna’s room while Anna explained Felicia’s screen reader problem. Felicia listened to Warren talk about how if it had been him, he would have marched to Computer Services and not left until they fixed it. She smiled and shook her head. He would pick the reckless option.
Felicia didn’t exactly give them a piece of her mind the next day when she went to the small Disability Services office in an obscure corner of the administration building, but she did explain her problems with her screen reader and told the woman at the desk exactly what the email had said.
“Well, it sounds like they’re having problems with their software,” the woman said. Felicia didn’t recognize her voice, which had the perky tone of someone who wanted to sound like she knew what she was talking about. She must have been new.
“Yes, I understand that,” Felicia said slowly, trying to mask her annoyance, “but I need to access my textbook.”
“Do you not have a physical copy?”
“No. It wasn’t available in braille.”
“Well, the best I can do is tell you to try Computer Services again. Sorry.”
She sounded sincere, but Felicia still closed her fist over her cane. This was ridiculous. Wasn’t the point of Disability Services to make sure disabled students like Felicia were properly accommodated? Felicia wanted to yell at this woman to tell her to do her job properly, but she stopped herself. What was she going to do, magically fix the website? There wasn’t any point in making a scene over something this woman couldn’t fix. Felicia placed her other hand on top of her fist and bowed with a stiff upper back. “Thank you,” she said before she turned and left the office.
That night, Felicia sat in her recliner with one of her braille textbooks while she waited for Anna to come home so Felicia could send Computer Services another email. They hadn’t specified what kinds of software problems prevented Felicia’s screen reader from working, so maybe asking for more details would help her somehow. But why hadn’t they given those details in the first place? Felicia could have fixed her screen reader or found a different one by now if they had. Felicia hadn’t realized just how unprofessional that email had been until now. And the way that new girl in Disability Services had acted… Felicia closed her textbook and leaned back in her chair with a sigh.
Felicia waited for the phone to ring three times before she reached over and picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hey, Felicia.” It was Warren. “You know where Anna is? I’ve been trying to call her.”
“She’s in class right now.”
Felicia heard a slap on the other end. “Right, Tuesday night,” Warren said. “Sorry.”
“It’s all right.” Felicia hesitated for a moment. “Hey, Warren?”
“Is that offer to take me for a drive still open?”
There was a short pause. “Yeah, sure.”
“Do you want to do it this weekend?”
“Sure! Saturday night work for you? Around ten?”
“Sweet! I’ll see you then.”
Once the phone was back on the receiver, Felicia slouched back in her chair. “Dear Lord, what did I just do?” she mumbled. When had having a bad week become an excuse for deciding to do something crazy?
When Felicia first met Warren through Anna a couple of years ago, he mentioned that he was really into rap and heavy metal and loved blasting it while he cruised down the highway. Felicia wasn’t a huge fan of those genres—rap tended to have repetitive instrumentals, and metal was often too overwhelming to her sensitive ears—but she listened for them while she sat out on the front porch, assuming that the music would signal Warren’s arrival. She was surprised, then, when she heard his voice coming from a car that played no music.
“Hey,” he said, startling Felicia. “Caught daydreaming?”
“Y-Yeah, something like that,” Felicia said. She probably should have been paying attention to all of the cars that drove up instead of just listening for music.
A car door opened and shut; Felicia stood up and walked in the direction the sound came from, sliding her cane on the ground in front of her. “Is this the car we’re taking?”
“Yep.” Warren gave the vehicle two pats in quick succession. “The Sapphire Scorpion Mark Two. This baby’ll hit one-eighty… but I doubt we’ll be going that fast.” He opened the passenger-side door. “Hop in.”
“Thank you,” Felicia said as she folded up her cane and ducked inside. Warren closed the door for her, hopefully out of politeness rather than the belief that she couldn’t close it herself.
“It’s a bit of a drive from here,” Warren said from the driver’s seat, “so just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.” He turned the radio to a relaxed hip-hop song and pulled out of the parking lot.
The first few turns were familiar ones that she walked or rode down on a daily basis, but it didn’t take long for them to enter unfamiliar territory. Felicia asked about some of the more technical aspects of car modification for the sake of having something to talk about. She didn’t understand a word of any of it.
“Basically, it goes fast and it runs smooth.” Warren, who had clearly noticed Felicia’s confusion, said. For a few seconds, only the sounds of the car humming down the road and Warren’s music were heard. “Oh, did you get your screen reader fixed?”
Felicia slid her arm up the inside of the door until it rested on the window frame. “No. They said it was a software issue.”
“Yeah, I remember that. What’d Disability Services say?”
“There wasn’t anything they could do but tell me to try Computer Services again.”
“Seriously? I thought they would have stormed the Computer Services office and waved papers in their faces until they did something.” His voice was light, like he was telling a joke, but Felicia didn’t laugh. She shrugged her left shoulder without turning her head from the direction of the windshield. “You’re not seriously gonna just let this go, are you?” Warren asked.
“There isn’t really anything I can do about it.”
Warren sighed as the car slowed to a stop. He shut off the music and turned in his seat to look at Felicia. “Have you tried?”
Felicia turned her head so she was looking in Warren’s general direction. “What? Of course I have. I sent an email to Computer Services and—”
“I meant have you tried something other than asking nicely if they can please fix your problem?”
Felicia’s head flinched back. Warren’s voice was serious, almost deadpan. She’d never heard him like this before. “What else am I supposed to do, Warren?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
“You go in there and start yelling at them until they fix it.” He turned so he was facing forward again with both of his hands on the wheel. “By the way, we’re here.”
Felicia heard the windows rolling down. Outside, the only sounds that could be heard were the cool breeze stirring the air and the occasional cricket. The near-silence was quickly broken, however, with the whirring of the convertible roof retracting back into the trunk. The sound of the car running became more distinct, but it was still eerily quiet on the road. She didn’t say anything. Yelling at them until they fixed it? Felicia didn’t even think she was capable of yelling.
“Perfect,” Warren said. “Nobody’s lived on this street for years. The only people who ever go through it are people using it as a shortcut… and people like me.” He revved the engine a few times. “You might wanna hold onto your seat, ‘cause this is gonna be one wild ride.” Felicia could almost hear the grin breaking out on his face. “You ready?”
Felicia’s entire body was tingling, but she couldn’t tell if it was from nerves or from excitement. Why would she be excited? This was something that, just a few days ago, she never would have thought of doing. If she wasn’t capable of yelling at someone, what made her think she was capable of doing this?
She took a deep breath of the crisp night air. The top was down. Nobody was around. No rules, no restricting and failing structure, nobody to disapprove of what they were doing or tell them that it was crazy and wrong. For the first time, Felicia thought she understood what Warren felt when he did something like this. She adjusted her sunglasses.
Warren started up a new song that began with just a few simple electric guitar riffs. The moment the drums came in, Warren started driving; Felicia was forced against the back of her seat at the sudden onset of motion. The car rapidly picked up speed as the instruments were joined by a nearly unintelligible singer. Felicia squeezed her eyes shut against the wind that rushed past her and drowned out the music. She felt the parts of her hair not trapped between her head and the seat whipping around behind her. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She had no idea how fast she was going, what was going on around her, or even how long they had been driving.
And she’d never felt freer in her life.
When the car finally began to slow down, Felicia realized that she was laughing. Warren shut off the music as they came to a stop. “Well,” he said when Felicia’s laughter had subsided, “how was that?”
“Liberating,” Felicia whispered. She carelessly groped for Warren’s shoulder and looked in his direction, hoping that she was at least close to locking eyes with him. “I-I can’t remember the last time that I just stopped caring like that! We were speeding down the road faster than I even thought possible, my hair was going everywhere, and I had no idea what was going on around me. It was great!”
Warren chuckled. “Glad you liked it. By the way, your hair is a mess.”
Blushing slightly, Felicia let go of Warren’s shoulder and moved to fix it. She stopped halfway through combing her fingers through her hair. “You know what? I don’t care.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Hold your hand up—let me high five you.”
“Oh, my God. Nobody has ever asked me for a high five before.” Laughing, Felicia did as Warren asked and felt his hand slap hers a second later. It hurt a bit more than she thought it would.
“You wanna go again? I still have to get you home, after all.”
“You bet.” Felicia adjusted herself in her seat and made sure her seatbelt was set properly. Warren turned the car around, put on another heavy metal tune, and started revving the engine again. In seconds, they were flying down the road again, laughing and hollering at the top of their lungs.
On Monday, Felicia walked into the Computer Services suite and asked to speak to whoever was in charge of maintaining the school’s website. She was directed to Mr. Patterson’s office, where she took a seat and explained in a calm, level voice the troubles she had had with her screen reader and the disrespectful, dismissive email she had received about their “software issues.”
“I understand your concern, miss,” Mr. Patterson said, “but I have no control over how our new software works.”
Felicia folded her hands over her cane. Her memory of flying down the road without anything to regulate her flashed through her senses, making her skin tingle. “With all due respect, sir,” she said, keeping her voice level, “your blatant refusal to assist me is impeding my ability to learn and is thus in violation of both state and federal disability laws. I admit that I’m no computer expert, but I know that there is some way to solve my problem that you are refusing to offer. And if you continue to refuse to assist me, I will have no other choice but to arrange a lawsuit. Good day.” She stood up and turned towards the door.
“A… lawsuit?” Mr. Patterson asked. “Miss, surely there’s some other way we can handle this.”
Felicia turned back towards the desk, grateful that her sunglasses didn’t make it obvious that she couldn’t make direct eye contact unless she got lucky. “As I said, I’m not a computer expert, so unless you have something in mind…”
“I’ll contact the software publishers,” Mr. Patterson said. Felicia’s expression didn’t change. “And—And I’ll have the changes to the website reverted until they’re screen reader compatible.”
Felicia smiled and walked to the desk. “Thank you very much, sir.” She extended her hand, which Mr. Patterson shook harder than necessary, and walked back out into the hallway.
The whole thing had been a huge bluff, of course. Felicia couldn’t afford to hire a good lawyer—the only reason she knew that a lawsuit threat would work was because the school had been sued earlier in the semester when the photographer of an image on the website’s front page had filed a copyright infringement suit. She figured that Mr. Patterson hadn’t wanted to deal with more legal issues so soon, and she had been right. Her screen reader worked on the school’s websites again that night.
“You finally got them to fix it?” Anna asked when she saw the change. “Good. Their new website was ugly, anyway. How’d you do it?”
“It just took a little persistence,” Felicia said. She smiled to herself. There wasn’t any need to tell Anna the real reason it had been fixed, was there?