Marie Laure’s first week studying Marine Biology was kind of hard. Finding classrooms, remembering people’s voices, carrying her books and her cane.
She could walk alone of course, with some permission of the university, her father made her a model of the campus for her to memorize it, so she can find her way without help. But sometimes she forgets.
Like right now. She has to go to classroom A-23, but now she doesn’t remember which way it was. Left or right? She doesn’t hear anyone, so she isn’t sure who to ask for help.
That until someone trips with her cane.
She hears a masculine voice and then hears the body fall. It didn’t sound too bad, could have hit the floor harder. Also, her cane falls and she almost loses her balance. “I’m so sorry” says Marie-Laure, turning her body to the direction where she heard the person hit the floor.
“No, no, it was my fault. I wasn’t looking where I walked” It’s a boy. His voice is strong, but gentle and he has an accent, she can’t figure out from where. She hears him stand up and put her cane into her hand. Would it be weird to ask him to take her to her classroom?
“Did you get hurt?” she asks. The fall didn’t sound bad, but he could have twisted a bone or something.
“No, my knees hurt a bit, but that’s all” he sounded confident, so she decided that he was telling the truth.
“Okay” she offers him a tiny smile, then breathes “Sorry if this is weird, but I can’t find my classroom. Could you help me?” Marie-Laure asks
“Yes, of course” He says “Where are we going, Madame?” That makes her laugh.
“Oh, Monsieur, Could you please walk me to classroom A-23” she says, making her accent sound old and elegant. He laughs softly.
“It would be my pleasure. May I touch your hand, Madame?” She smiles and raises her left hand, he takes it and leads it to his arm, she holds her cane and they star walking.
The walk wasn’t long, but she learnt the name of the boy, his age and his degree as well, he learnt the same things about her.
“Thank you very much Monsieur Pfennig”
“You are very welcome Madame LeBlanc”
The next Tuesday, Werner founds Marie-Laure again, next to a fountain, a book open in her legs and her mouth muttering the words her fingers read.
“Hello, Madame LeBlanc” he says from the distance, loud enough so she can hear him, she turns her head towards him.
“Hello Monsieur Pfennig”
“What are you reading? “He asks
“Oh, just a boring book for my class. Nothing important honestly” she says “What are you doing here?”
“I was about to get something to eat, have you eaten already?” he asks her
“Not yet, no”
“Would you do me the honour to accept my invitation, so we can both fill our stomachs” Marie-Laure laughs, her laugh is bright and happy and sincere, it reminds him of how he and his sister used to laugh at night, while lying on their back and watching the stars from the window.
“Of course, I couldn’t deny that, Monsieur Pfennig”
They both walk to a little cafe, not far from the campus, a nice little stone that fills Marie-Laure’s nose with a sweet smell and her skin warms once they walk in.
They sit on a table, still laughing from a joke Marie-Laure said.
“Have you guessed where I’m from?” he blurts out; when he first told her his name, he made her try to guess where he was from, even when they said goodbye he didn’t tell her his home country.
“I have two options, but you have to tell me which one is it” she says.
“Alright, let’s hear them” he smiles, even though he knows she doesn’t see him.
“The first one is Germany and the second one is Switzerland”
“The first one is correct. I’m German” he says, Marie-Laure smiles, pleased with herself.
They talk, he tells her about his home, his parents (well, what he remembers of them), Frau Elena and his little sister Jutta.
“Is she coming to school here too?” asks Marie-Laure
“I don’t think so, last time she told me she had been accepted at a University in Berlin” He’s happy that his sister is going to college, but he misses her terribly.
“Oh, well that’s good. I don’t have any siblings, my mom died when I was born and my dad never remarried” she says “It’s only me”
They eat and talk, and laugh. And without them knowing, it becomes a habit. They eat lunch together whenever they can (which is everyday but Wednesday) and they learn about each other.
Marie-Laure learns about Werner’s childhood with Jutta, she learns about how he discovered his passion by fixing a radio and taking an old book from the church, he talks about hearing a Frenchman on the radio, but there many Frenchmen on the radio, so she doesn’t know who he’s talking about. She learns his hair colour is white and his eyes are blue, she listens him talk about mechanics even though she doesn’t really get every formula he mentions.
Werner learns that Marie-Laure wasn’t always blind, learns about her childhood and the models her father made for her, she tells him about the legend of the Sea Of Flames, and her days at the museum, he also learns a bit about marine biology (especially seashells, barnacles and snails).
They quickly become each other’s best friend.
In November, Marie-Laure invites him home.
Turns out her uncle, who is apparently very smart and a bit weird, is coming for visit, and now that Werner is his friend more than any other person ever was, she really wants him to meet her whole family.
“Are you sure they like me? “He asks, nervous.
“You’re not marrying them, Werner. It’s only a dinner” she says
“Well I’m sorry if I want my best friend’s family to like me” She laughs at him, and Werner’s smile automatically appears on his lips. Lately he’s been doing everything to get a laugh from her.
“You’re nice and not boring, I’m sure they’ll like you. You got my address, right?” she says, he looks at the paper he just wrote.
“Yes, I have it” he says
“Good. If you knock on the wrong door just ask for the Monsieur LeBlanc and I’m sure they’ll tell you” she says “Be there at 6:30 tomorrow, don’t be late”
She hugs him goodbye and walks away. He walks home too. His hands sweating inside of his pockets.
Marie-Laure drops the bomb on her father and uncle that same day, if she tells them she already invited him, they can’t say no to meeting him.
“You invited who?” asks her father
“Werner, the boy I talked to you about for the last months?” she says “I went out with him once or twice”
“Is he your boyfriend, my dear?” asks her uncle.
“No, uncle, he’s my best friend” she explains, she feels sad saying it, but she doesn’t know why “But I wanted him to meet you, because he’s important to me now”
“Alright, darling, then we’ll meet him tomorrow” says her father and kisses her forehead.
The next day, she’s anxious. She wears a dress that she knows is sea-green, she brushes her hair and her teeth, and wears a necklace with a golden seashell her father gave her on her 18 birthday. Marie-Laure comes down and waits for someone to knock on the door.
Werner dresses formal, and walks to her home. He doesn’t have much money, but he buys her a Lily, because once she said that she liked the smell of it. Thank god, he knocks on the right door and is stunned at how beautiful Marie-Laure looks, the green dress against her skin and her hair backwards makes her face look like it’s shining and the most important thing, she’s smiling.
“I’m still on time right? “He asks.
“You are” she extends a hand, he puts the Lily there, and she smells it closing her eyes and then, turns her head to him “Thank you”
“Everything for you, Madame LeBlanc” he smiles and she pulls him in gently, he is the middle of the room, her father and uncle watching him and Marie-Laure’s hand holding his.
“Papa, Uncle, this is Werner Pfennig, my best friend” the word “best friend” somehow feels weird in her lips.
Her father smiles and raises his hands, Werner, let’s go of Marie-Laure’s hand and shakes her father’s.
“Daniel LeBlanc” he says “Nice to finally meet you, son”
“Nice to meet you too, sir”
“I’m Etienne LeBlanc, Marie’s uncle” Werner suddenly feels dizzy, he’s no longer in Marie-Laure’s home, he’s in the orphanage, with his sister, listening to a man who tells them to open his eyes and see with them before they close forever.
“Werner? “Asks Marie-Laure “Are you okay?” she seems worried, did he just zone out?
“Yes, I-I’m sorry sir” he tells to Monsieur Etienne “It’s just… did you have a radio program?” he asks, unable to stop the words as they leave his mouth.
Etienne smiles “Me and my brother did, when we were younger” he explains “My brother had a lovely voice and we made a program, I played the records after my brother died but never knew if anyone heard them”
This was honestly one of the best days in Werner’s life, the person who had taught him so many things, gave him so much inspiration was standing in front of him.
“We heard them” he says “I mean, my sister and I listened to your brother everyday” he wants to say so many things and ask so many questions, but he calms himself and keeps going “You and you brother are the reason we are who we are today”
Etienne looks touched “I’m glad someone got to hear them” he says “for a time I thought only Marie-Laure would know about them”
Werner turns to her “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How was I supposed to know?” she laughs “You only told me you listened to the Frenchman, you know how many Frenchmen exist?” Werner smiles and looks at his feet.
The dinner goes better than Marie-Laure ever wished for, Werner is charming as ever and her uncle is apparently very fond of him now. He helps her wash the plates from dinner and they talk about the programs, which one was their favourite and which one wasn’t.
The time feels like it’s frozen, but sadly it’s not and Marie-Laure knows he has to leave.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Werner, know you are welcome anytime you want” says Daniel
“Thank you, Monsieur” says Werner
“It was indeed a lovely meeting, please tell my niece your sister’s address, I’ll sent her a letter as soon as I can” says Etienne, Marie-Laure can hear Werner’s smile form on his lips and she wishes she could see it.
They say goodbye in the hallway. “Did you have a good time?” asks Marie-Laure, not wanting him to go.
“I had a great time, my darling” he says, the words slip out of his mouth, he meant to say them but he also didn’t. Marie-Laure smiles and puts her hands of his cheeks. Werner feels like someone is tickling his stomach on the inside and he feels his legs and hands tremble, he has never been this close to Marie-Laure’s face.
“Can you kiss me?” she asks, he leans forward and their lips meet. Her lips are soft and small and he feels like spinning. His lips are soft too, but bigger and Marie-Laure doesn’t know if she’s touching the ground.
When they pull a part, both of them smile, their cheeks are red and Marie-Laure fingers are still on his face. “Does this mean you like me?” he teases.
“Obviously, silly” she kisses him again, and again; and they kiss two more times before he finally leaves.
Marie-Laure is smiling when she comes into her home again, her father doesn’t ask but Uncle Etienne is smiling wide.
Werner walks home almost dancing from excitement, this is definitely the best day of his life.