Monday, July 24, 2000

In/Exhale - January 26, 2001 - Part I

*The song Kai interprets is Tracy Chapman's "At This Point In My Life," which you can listen to here.

January 26, 2001 - Part I

Renee stood at Kai’s apartment door, shivering, balancing the stack of board games and other miscellaneous items, trying to contain her excitement. Today was the first day since before Thanksgiving that Renee had the opportunity to spend unsupervised time with Kai, and she felt like she was twelve-years-old all over again, getting her first chance to hang out with a boy she liked. The board games didn’t help that image. She felt silly for bringing them, but at the same time, she wasn’t sure how else they would spend the day. Kai was working on being comfortable with her touching him again--and their weekly sessions with Dr. Miller had helped that--but he definitely wasn’t up to the level they’d been before Thanksgiving. And he’d made it clear that he wasn’t quite ready to go out in public alone.
Even so, the prospect of an entire afternoon with Kai, just the two of them, was like a dream come true. Renee shivered again, nearly had the top stack of boxes slide off, but managed to recover just in time.
The door finally opened, and Renee temporarily lost her breath upon seeing Kai. Standing. The first time she’d seen him upright since their night at the movies two months ago. It never ceased to surprise her how tall he was. Her eyes followed the length of his torso up to his face. His eyes seemed a bit tired and wary, his cheekbones more prominent than they’d been before.
Since November, Kai had lost more than thirty pounds, which he’d struggled to regain. Because he normally hid himself in clothes a size or two too large, it wasn’t as noticeable, but today he was dressed unseasonably in a tight-fitting teal T-shirt that made the blue of his eyes even brighter. The shirt not only highlighted the muscles he still had, but also the outline of his clavicles, his medical alert necklace lying uncharacteristically outside the fabric. The short sleeves exposed his arms, which were still powerful, albeit not quite as muscular as they had been before, and his wrist bones were more prominent, too. Right now, they were highlighted by a half dozen rubber bands on each side. Kai had explained why he wore them during their first supervised reunion with Jon right after the new year, but it pained Renee to see them. Even if Kai wasn’t using them, the fact that he was wearing them was a reminder that he still wasn’t OK.
Kai’s hair was also longer, stopping just short of his shoulders and cascading into his eyes. Renee had never considered long hair sexy, but Kai had such beautiful hair, and the strands perfectly framed his face, highlighting the bright blue of his irises and the rare beauty of a smile she hadn’t seen in months.
Because--though she’d met with Kai several times since the New Year--she hadn’t seen him smile once. Not a single glimpse of the million grins she knew he had in reserve. Until today.
Renee shivered again, and Kai beckoned her in, leaning down to relieve her of her burden before stepping aside to give her space to enter. As she stood in the entrance, slowly stripping off her coat, she realized Kai wasn’t using his crutches, either.
“You’re walking,” she said stupidly. “I mean, without your crutches.” Her cheeks heated. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
He looked at her oddly, clearly not sure why she was apologizing. “I’m practicing. Around the house.” He tucked the stack that Renee had barely managed to carry with two hands under one arm, freeing up his other so he could reach out toward the wall, his fingers just barely touching the surface. Almost as if he were reassuring himself it was there to support him if he needed it. Kai didn’t say anything else for a long while, simply standing there looking uncomfortable. Finally, he bit his lip and looked at her shyly. “Should we make some coffee?”
“Sure,” she said. She wanted so much to reach out for his hand, or stand on tip toes to try to touch his hair, but she forced herself to keep her hands in her pockets. When Kai had invited her over he’d warned her, and it was something she’d learned in their weekly sessions, too: he wasn’t ready for unsolicited contact. It was hard to be so close to him and not touch him, but if it meant she could be with him, she could wait. “After you.”
He nodded and headed the short distance to the kitchen, his fingers gliding along the wall. His walk was slow, calculated. Not nearly as smooth as it had been before Thanksgiving, when he’d used his crutches. Nor as seamless as it had been before he injured his thigh. With each step, his body would lean toward one side, then the next, a kind of rocking movement that Renee found strangely sexy.
Kai set the stack of boxes on the counter near the sink and snagged an empty bottle that he proceeded to fill from the tap. He was quiet, and Renee had to remember that Kai tended toward two extremes: either he said almost nothing at all, or he was quite verbose. And his natural state was silence. He’d explained that if she’d spent fourteen years with no voice, and eight learning how to speak without getting teased, she might be quiet, too. Still, she began to wonder if today had been a mistake. Kai seemed nervous, almost as if he didn’t really want her to be there but was afraid to say something. She also noticed his crutches were propped up near the sink, and she wondered, based on the still-drying pots in the rack, if he’d been washing dishes when she arrived. If he really had been using his crutches, but had somehow decided to “show off” for her. Considering how Kai had told her, point-blank, that he “didn’t like an audience,” it made her swell with pride to know that he didn’t mind her seeing him when he was still trying to walk again without them.
“My maw maw sent me a king cake, so I brought it. I thought you might like it.”
“King cake?” Kai asked as he finished filling the bottle.
She plucked the top box off the stack and showed it to him: an oval coffee-cake covered in thick white frosting, then dusted with dyed crystallized sugar in purple, yellow, and green. “It’s a Mardi Gras thing. In New Orleans. There’s supposed to be a baby inside, and whoever gets the baby has to buy the next cake, but the companies got scared about being sued so they don’t put the babies inside anymore.”
Kai turned around slowly, leaning against the counter, the filled bottle in one hand, looking at her quizzically. “OK.”
She laughed. “The point is, they’re really sugary. I can never eat more than a couple pieces before it spoils, anyway, so I thought . . .”
Kai cast his eyes downward, and she saw his breathing shift. Had she said something wrong? Upset him somehow? “I’m not supposed to eat sweets.” He sighed heavily, resignedly, as he slowly crossed to the opposite counter, where the coffee maker was. She noticed that he used the countertop to support himself as he moved, to make it easier and more secure as he walked without his crutches.
“What do you mean?” Renee followed him, watched as he filled the machine with the water from the bottle.
Kai sighed again. “Supposedly, too much white flour and sugar can increase anxiety. So . . .” Kai shrugged. He looked at her, his face pained.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
Kai made a gesture like a shrug and a head shake all rolled into one that she wasn’t sure how to interpret, so she busied herself looking through cabinets for sugar and mugs.
She pulled open one cabinet and was surprised that it was filled with baby food. “Uh, is someone expecting?” she said, trying to joke.
Kai turned once he’d set the coffee to brew to see what she was talking about. He had one hand braced on the counter, and once his other was free, he used that, too, pressing against the surface, shifting his weight. He saw the baby food, and something in his face changed. His eyebrows went up, then back down, and his cheeks reddened. “They’re mine,” he said in a small voice.
Renee pulled out one of the jars, examining it. She was trying to think of what to say when Kai took it from her.
“You know food and I don’t always get along, right?”
Renee nodded.
Kai was silent a long while before he finally continued. “Before and during my time in the hospital, I was having a lot of problems eating and keeping my food down.” Kai was staring at the jar, as if to avoid meeting her eyes. “I know I promised I’d try to be honest with you, but . . . do you really want to know?”
“You don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Kai started picking at the edge of the label with his thumbnail. “I don’t want to tell you. I don’t want to tell anyone anything, ever. That’s my problem.” A shade of a smile graced Kai’s face, but it was gone almost as soon as it formed. “Part of the reason I was in the hospital so long was I got sick. With a GI infection.” Kai rubbed his stomach absently for a moment before returning his hand to the counter. “I’ll spare you the details. But I was on a feeding tube for awhile, so I had to ease back into eating on my own. And I had to adjust to going from being fed slowly over long stretches of time to eating distinct meals. For awhile, my doctor wanted me to eat a little tiny bit every thirty minutes. And baby food is easy to digest and full of nutrients. So it worked perfectly.” Kai put the jar back in the cabinet and shut it. He hesitated a long moment before finally admitting, “Eating is still a struggle for me. So I eat those so I get at least a few calories in me.” Kai dropped his head. No wonder Kai looked like he couldn’t weigh much more than Jon, far more wiry than he’d been before, though he still had some muscle. “I’m so messed up, Re. I can’t even eat like normal people do.”
“Hey,” she said, inching her fingers along the counter until she was nearly touching his.
He stared at their hands before smiling faintly and laying his on top of hers.
She smiled back. Kai was so casually handsome it never ceased to take her breath away. Especially now, his shoulders tense as he supported his weight with his arms, his hair cascading over his eyes, the faintest hint of golden stubble on his cheeks. “Thank you for telling me.”
Kai blushed, his skin from his exposed neck to his cheekbones reddening. “You’re staring at me. It’s the shirt. It’s my scar,” he said, obviously flustered, reaching up to cover it. “I look sick.” Kai’s blush deepened. It struck her how upset he seemed to be.
Renee shook her head. “It’s the shirt. It’s a miracle I’ve been able to string two words together.”
Kai’s eyes shyly rose to meet hers. “Really?”
She nodded. “I could get used to seeing you like this, instead of in those baggy sweats that hide your body.”
“I’m too thin,” Kai said in such a low voice she could have imagined it.
“You look great,” she said. The truth was, he could use a little more meat on his bones, but it didn’t mean he was any less attractive, and he was obviously self-conscious about it. Did the way he looked now remind him of after his transplant, or something?
Kai’s blush deepened. “I wore this shirt for you.”
“Well, I approve,” Renee said with a grin, squeezing Kai’s fingers. “Want to know a secret?”
Kai’s breath was coming more quickly, but his blush had faded. “What?”
“I changed my outfit at least six times, and I was almost out the door when I decided to change my sweater again. I remember you liked this one. The way it dips off my shoulder.”
Kai’s nervousness seemed to melt away. He nodded. Hesitated a moment before guiding his fingers along her exposed skin. “Re?”
“There’s something . . .” Kai cleared his throat. Tried again. “I never got to give you a Christmas present. And I’d like to . . .” She saw a shiver shake Kai’s body before he took a deep breath and stood up straighter. “I’d like to give it to you now. Before I lose my nerve.”
Renee’s smile broadened. “OK.”
Kai nudged his head toward the dining area. “I need a few minutes to set up. If you want to make some coffee and bring it over.”


A few minutes later, Kai sat in one chair near the dining table while Renee sat in another, facing him. A small boombox rested on the table beside him. She could see he was hesitant, nervous, but committed to doing this. Was he going to sing for her?
Kai pushed his fingers through his hair, a habit she’d noticed his brother did quite often when he was nervous or uncomfortable. “Uh, so, I was . . .” Kai’s cheeks pinked. “I didn’t really have the chance to buy you anything, and you deserve, like, a lot, because you put up with me and all my weirdness and . . . everything, but. . . .” He took in a deep breath. “Anyway, I know this can’t compare to a new bathroom, but . . . I thought . . . Anyway.” Kai’s blush deepened, and he breathed for a minute before he pressed play on the player.
Immediately, a female voice began to sing acapella. “I’ve done so many things wrong, I don’t know if I can do right.”
Instead of singing, Kai lifted his hands and began to sign. Not like he normally would, his movements graceful, fitting the rhythm of the music. And he didn’t interpret it literally. Instead, he brought the song to life in visual form in front of her, his face showing his pain and uncertainty. He signed “WRONG, WRONG, WRONG,” against his chin with alternating hands, as if to emphasize how often and how much he’d done wrong over time.
Then there was a brief musical interlude after the first refrain repeated, in which Kai signed what he’d been trying to say before in English, but which he’d stumbled through. He didn’t fumble the signing. “I know I’m difficult to live with. I know I have secrets. I know a song isn’t a new bathroom. But this song felt true to me. So I wanted to interpret it for you.
A moment later, the woman continued singing, and the line, “Put your trust in me. And I won’t let you down. If you give me a chance, I’ll try” resonated, especially watching the way Kai signed, his eyes so expressive. Like he knew how hard Renee making the decision to try to make things work between them when he couldn’t let her touch him freely was, and he was immensely grateful.
“It’s been a hard road, this road I’m traveling on. I’ve lived a hard life. If I take your hand, I might lead you down the path of ruin. I’m just saying so you understand. That right now, right now. I’m doing the best I can.”
Kai painted a picture for her with his hands, showing, metaphorically, how he’d struggled in his life, and how if she walked with him down this treacherous path she might fail--using a sign that showed a person literally falling down. When he signed the last part, about doing his best, his eyes were almost pleading, like he knew his best might not be good enough, but it was the only thing he could give her right now. Just like this gift.
“At this point in my life, though I’ve mostly walked in the shadows, I’m still searching for the light.”
Kai painted a picture of darkness looming over him, then signed “LIGHT,” flicking his middle finger against his chin, followed by “WHERE?,” his index finger wagging, then “SEARCH” in a circular motion, his hand in a “C” shape as his eyes scanned around as if looking for that light. Then clarified he was talking about emotions by signing what she took to mean “depression,” his middle fingers on his torso, slid down from his shoulders, then sliding them back up again with a hopeful expression on his face.
“See, I’ve been climbing stairs, but mostly stumbling down. I’ve been reaching high, but always losing ground. You see, I’ve conquered hills, but I still have mountains to climb. But right now, right now. I’m doing the best I can.”
Kai gestured someone walking up stairs, then falling, turning that into the sign for “FAIL” like he’d used before. Then he signed “HOPE” and “DREAM” and fingerspelled “L-O-V-E” above his head and gestured like he was reaching out for them with his hands. He’d close his fist around something, and, with an excited and hopeful expression on his face, bring it close, only to open his hand and find nothing but air, the look of crushing disappointment so powerful it made Renee’s heart ache. Then he signed the road from before, showing him traveling, then reaching a hill that he climbed with some effort, his face showing his accomplishment and pride. But then, using his fingers to show his gaze shifting, he signed that he saw a huge mountain beside him, his head tilting back and mouth dropping open at how impossible it seemed, signing “HOPE” and “DREAM” and fingerspelling “L-O-V-E” above his head, as if they were at the top of this mountain, the dismay and sorrow prominent in his facial expression, carrying over into the way he signed he was doing his best, as if he knew, now more than ever, that his best would never be good enough.
“Before we take a step. Before we walk down that path. Before I make any promises. Before you have regrets. Before we talk commitment. Let me tell you of my past. What I’ve seen, and what I’ve done. The things I’d like to forget.”
Here, Kai’s passion really showed, and his signing became more intense as he again showed the treacherous path, though this part was more signing and less gesturing. When he signed the last sentence, he swept his hand from his heart past the side of his head, backwards as he fingerspelled “A-L-L” to signify how he wanted to forget everything about his past, every wound in his heart. And Kai’s face when he signed that was so full of raw pain that it almost physically hurt Renee to see it. This was Kai with his heart more open than perhaps she’d ever seen him before.
“At this point in my life, I’d like to live as if only love matters. As if redemption was in sight. As if the search to live honestly is all that anyone needs. No matter if you find it.”
Kai again signed his road, showing redemption was far, far, far away with his facial expression, but that he could still see it out there, using his fingers in a “V” shape to show this, his face changing to relief. He returned to his road, signing “LIVE” and “TRUE” and pointing that it was also down the road, maybe. And how he was searching for it as he traveled, as if the search were the only thing that was important. But that if he couldn’t find it, that was OK.
“When I’ve touched the sky, Earth’s gravity pulled me down. But now I’ve reconciled that birds and angels have wings to fly. If you’ll believe in this heart of mine. Then if you’ll give it a try. I’ll reach inside and find and give you all the sweetness that I have.”
Kai gestured the sky, signing his hopes, dreams, and love that were up there, reaching for them and being pushed down. Then he signed, “But now I understand only birds and angels can fly. Not me.” He used his hands to “push” the previously gestured ideas down toward his heart, pointing at Renee and signing, “If you believe in me,” then outlining a heart on his chest with his middle finger and using the sign for “FIND” to pluck out something, moving to his chin for “SWEET” and signing “A-L-L” from his chin to his heart before “giving” it to her. His face showed exactly what the signs were saying: he was giving her his heart and trusting her with it. It was difficult for him to do, but he wanted her to have it.
At that point, Renee was crying, and the rest of his signing was a bit blurred, but the song was basically over. She heard the click of Kai shutting off the music, then a snap of a rubber band.
She wiped her eyes and saw he was sitting there, looking ill, like he felt he’d just made a fool of himself. So she forced herself to sniffle and speak. “Kai, that was . . . that was the best gift anyone could have ever given me.”
She noticed he was trembling slightly. He nodded. “I’m glad you liked it,” he said in a quiet voice.
“I loved it. Really. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with me.”
Kai’s trembling grew a little worse. “I . . . I need a few minutes. I’m sorry.” He took in a gasping breath.
Kai had yet to allow himself to have a full panic attack in front of her. The last time he’d come close in her presence was their most recent session with Dr. Miller. Over the past few weeks, with the psychiatrist’s guidance, they’d been practicing getting comfortable with touching each other again, and Renee had to admit it had helped her as much with her own post-Jude issues as it had Kai. But the other day, they’d had a hand on each other’s chest, and their eyes had met, and their breath had caught, and they’d both leaned in just a fraction of an inch. Unconsciously, Kai’s tongue had swiped across his lips as it always did when he was thinking of kissing her.
And it had been too much for Renee. It was just too hard not to be able to lean in and take that kiss. She’d tried not to. She’d told herself over and over in her head, Don’t cry. Don’t cry. But telling yourself not to cry always seemed to make it more likely that you would, and fat tears had rolled down her cheeks.
The hurt she’d seen in Kai’s eyes mingled with guilt, emotions so overwhelming they nearly knocked her back. But what had really wounded her was when he blinked and it was all gone, his face a blank mask. He’d pulled his hand away from her as if he’d been burned, and, dropping his gaze, he’d said in a cold voice, “Get out. Now. I need you out. Now.”
Dr. Miller had encouraged Renee in that soothing, non-judgmental voice of hers that she leave the room, that the session was over, and so Renee had. Even though she’d felt as if a part of her had been torn in half. Only a few hours later, though, Kai had called her to apologize.
“Sometimes, I just need a time out. Meditate, medicate, and explicate,” he’d explained. When he got too overwhelmed, he would take some time to work through his mindfulness exercises, and if that didn’t work, he’d take some medicine. And if that didn’t work, he’d talk it through with Dr. Miller or someone else. In the end, Renee was happy that had happened, because it had prompted him to invite her over today, but it still hurt how he’d shut her out so quickly and so forcefully.
“You need a time out?”
Kai sucked in another effortful breath and nodded. “I’ll be in my room. Ten, fifteen minutes. Help yourself to the food in the kitchen. The fridge is full,” he signed, obviously more confident in his ability to sign rather than speak, though his hands were shaking. Without waiting for her response, he used the table to help push himself to his feet, and, with the wall as his aide, pulled himself into his bedroom, leaving the door cracked.
Renee sighed, hating that Kai didn’t yet trust her to help him deal with his anxiety, but she knew, like the song said, he was doing the best he could. She popped open the cassette slot and removed the tape. On the side, in marker in Kai’s slanting caps, it said, RENEE'S MIX. She wondered if the tape was intended as a gift for her, or, she hoped, if it was a collection of songs he’d put together that made him think of her.
Which meant he had been thinking of her.
And of course he had. Renee was still very much a beginning sign language student, and Kai was really the only person she’d signed with, but that interpretation of the song he’d done wasn’t something that he’d just come up with on the spur of the moment. Especially considering how evidently anxious he’d been through the entire thing. His timing had been perfect, managing to expand on the English when necessary without ever straying too far from the singer, his signing speed ebbing and flowing with the music. He had to have carefully planned and practiced that.
Renee put the cassette back in and hit play. The next song in the mix began. She heard a gentle, melodic opening, and then a man sing, “I set out on the narrow way fifty years ago. Hoping I would find true love upon the broken road. But I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow, kept pushing through. I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you.”
Renee smiled. Kai had sung a different verse to her back in November, but Renee recognized the song anyway. “God Bless the Broken Road.” She left it playing, taking the boombox with her into the kitchen. Renee poured some coffee in the mug she’d taken out and abandoned earlier, then wandered over to grab the milk. Even though Kai had told her the fridge was full, Renee had still expected to see it bare except for the rows of orange caps from Kai’s sports drinks. Instead, the shelves were packed. Yes, there were still plenty of bottles of Gatorade, but there was also fresh produce, including tofu--where did Kai even get tofu around here?--and numerous plastic bins and foil-wrapped items of prepared food.
Despite how difficult it was for Kai to eat, he apparently was cooking enough to feed a small army. The player changed to the next song, one Renee recognized but didn’t know the words for. Renee was humming idly along to it, still contemplating the contents of the fridge, when she felt a firm tap on her shoulder. She startled, jumping up and turning around, shutting the fridge with her back in her shock. In front of her stood a man she’d never met, but whom she recognized immediately. David, Kai’s Deaf best friend. He was shorter than Kai--definitely not even six foot--but broader and much more muscular, like he lifted weights regularly. Kai had told her about him, and with the shock of short, intensely red hair, there was no way he could be anyone else. Had she really been that distracted a deaf man had snuck up on her? Was the music that loud?
Sorry I scared you,” David signed, his hands moving rapidly, and Renee seemed to get the gist of what he said more than actually seeing the individual signs. He held up a key, as if to explain that was how he’d gotten in. Good to know that Kai and Renee hadn’t been so distracted by each other they’d forgotten to lock it.
Renee blinked and pointed to the boombox, which was still playing. “I didn’t hear you.”
David glanced where Renee had indicated, then signed, “Music?,” as if to confirm. She nodded, and even though she knew David was deaf, it was that moment that cemented it. David put one hand on the speakers, as if he wanted to confirm it was on. He looked at her, signing something, a question, based on his brows, but she had no idea what he said. David apparently read the confusion in her face and shook his hands, palms flat and facing her, then pushed everything away in the air. He pointed to her, then signed, “FORGET,” then pointed to her again. She wasn’t sure if he was telling her to forget about what she hadn’t understood, or if he was making a statement about her forgetting about the music?
She nodded, but David laughed at the apparent scared expression on her face.
He pointed to himself, very slowly and deliberately, then signed “NAME,” then fingerspelled what she presumed was his first and last name, though she didn’t actually see it. Kai had explained that reading fingerspelling could take her years, especially if she didn’t take a class--he knew this from his hearing friend from high school--but it was still frustrating. Kai was easier to understand, largely because he purposely slowed down for her, he mouthed the words, and he had long, elegant fingers that were easy to read. David was clearly used to being around other Deaf people, or at least hearing people who were fluent in ASL, plus his fingers were shorter and chunkier than Kai’s. He also tended to hold his hand at an angle, which made it even harder to read. She knew his first name because Kai had told her, but she didn’t actually see it except for a blur of moving index and pinky fingers.
Renee rubbed her fist on her chest in apology. “Again?
David nodded, smiled to reassure her. He held his hand out a little farther from his body and straightened his wrist so his palm was more perpendicular to the ground. Then, laboriously slowly, he signed his first name so she could make out each letter clearly. “D-A-V-I-D.” Then he signed “LAST NAME,” and fingerspelled it slowly. She saw all the letters, but it didn’t click until she fingerspelled it to herself.
“O’Donnell!” Renee said out loud as it clicked. Thank goodness when Kai had taught her the alphabet, he’d also showed her how the letters could change or move depending on whether they were doubled or not, or which letter preceded or followed it.
David laughed at her. He nodded. Maybe he’d read her lips, or maybe he just put together her reaction and assumed she’d gotten it. Then he signed something else, pointing at himself a couple times, and she caught “Red.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand.
David held up his hand, as if to say he would try something else. Then he pointed to her and signed slower, repeating himself from before. “NAME SIGN.” Then he pointed to her again, made his fingers into an “R” (index and middle crossed) and drew down from the side of his head in a spiral. Then he pointed to the air where he’d done that and signed, “MEANS NAME R-E-N-E-E. YOU. UNDERSTAND?
“Oooh,” Renee said out loud, nodding, finally getting it. “Like, Kai is Kai,” Renee said out loud as she first pointed off toward Kai’s room, then fingerspelled his name, then used the name sign he’d showed her was his standard one that most people knew him as, a K rolled out from the lips, a mockery of the sign for “hearing.”
David smiled and nodded. Then he pointed roughly where Renee had. “Where is Kai?
That was simple enough. Renee pointed. “His room.” Then she clunkily fingerspelled “meditate.”
David nodded his head and his fist in the “Y” shape that meant he understood. He pointed to Kai’s room, then he fingerspelled something as he pulled it into his body that she wasn’t sure what to make of. “Five minutes. Maybe.
Oh. Maybe he had said he’d be right back? Renee nodded dumbly and watched him jog off toward Kai’s room.


Kai’s eyes snapped open suddenly, and he let out a very unflattering yelp, his heart immediately going into overdrive. David was sitting on the far edge of Kai’s bed, evidently waiting for Kai to notice him. Kai’s gaze immediately zoned on the door; he was relieved to see it was still cracked--not that it could catch anyway, since David had helped Kai take out the part which fit into the doorframe to make it latch. Honestly, Kai had no idea what the English for that was. All he cared about was his bathroom door was gone--completely, and Jon had agreed to let the “catches” be removed from all but the exterior door--including his own bathroom. So a door could shut, but it could never lock.
It helped, but there was always that moment of anxiety before Kai’s logical brain kicked in and reminded him that.
You just negated ten minutes of meditation, asshole,” Kai signed angrily.
David rolled his eyes. “I knocked. It’s not like I could wait for you to yell, ‘Come in,’ before I did.” He shrugged. Initially, when Kai had first come home from the hospital back in December, David had flickered the lights to announce he was entering a room--the Deafie equivalent of knocking. Of course, Kai had freaked the fuck out, since he was still very much riding the crazy train back then, so they’d agreed David wouldn’t do that anymore.
Kai pinched his nose, wiped his eyes, pushed his hair out of his face. Then he flashed his arms and lifted his shirt to prove he hadn’t hurt himself. David came by daily, usually unannounced, to check in with Kai. Kai still cut regularly, but he’d admitted to Dr. Miller that knowing David would be dropping by sometimes stilled his hand. If not entirely, then at least it kept him in check. Kai wished he could say it was because he didn’t want to see the disappointment in his friend’s face when he saw the scabs, and that was part of it, maybe. But really it was shame. Shame that he still needed to hurt himself to make it through a day.
David smiled faintly in an understanding way. “You’re anxious because of Renee?
Kai shrugged. “Maybe. I was anxious before she got here, but it could have been anticipation anxiety.
You eat today?
I should call you ‘Warden’ now,” Kai said, using the sign they always used for Cathy Evans, the head of County House, a modified version of a cupped hand tapped on the shoulder. The sign meant “owner” or “boss” or really any kind of position of authority.
Call me whatever you want, so long as you’re alive to do it. Did you eat today?” David asked again more insistently.
Kai sighed. Waved his hand from side to side to indicate, “Sort of.” “This morning, I ate some toast, but I just threw it all up.” Kai frowned, moved his clawed hand around his stomach to indicate he was nauseous.
David frowned, but it was sympathetic, not castigatory. “You take medicine?
Kai nodded. “Stomach is still grumbly, but I feel a little better.
I’ll make you some ginger tea with honey,” David said. Kai drank a lot of peppermint or ginger tea nowadays since both calmed angry stomachs, but it didn’t change the fact that since his GI infection, his nausea and vomiting had become chronic, making eating difficult, if not impossible. “But you must eat. Must,” David said, repeating the word more firmly for emphasis. He held up his left hand with three fingers. “PB&J sandwich, prescription drink, baby food,” David signed, indicating each one in turn. “Which?
Kai let out a little moan, turning up his lip. “I don’t want to eat.
Fine. I’ll pick. But you will eat,” David said, his face saying there would be no getting around it.
Kai sighed. “You’ll make a great dad someday. Or drill sergeant.
David grinned evilly. Then he rose. “Hurry up. You have a beautiful girl out there waiting for you.


  1. This chapter hit my heart with violent pumps! At this Point in My Life is one of my favorite songs. The whole cd New Beginning's is good. I can't wait until Kia can touch Renee again.

  2. I'm so glad David is still in your story and that Renee is interacting with Kai.
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. This is great. Wonderful start on new season. Always love to see David

  4. Beautiful chapter as always...thank you for sharing with us!

  5. Aaaah, they've both trying so hard!

    I admit, I thought the song part was going to be cheesy as hell and I wanted to cringe when it started—but you handled it beautifully, of course, and it came across as sweet and earnest and not cheesy at all. I should apologize for not having more faith in you at this point >.<