As we’re sitting on the couch before dinner, all I can think about is how freaking much I love Robin. What a pretty name, Robin. Not only it sounds great in English, it also kind of matches her sign name. It’s so poetic. Unfortunately, our parents weren’t as creative when ASL-naming us. I might have a girl crush on her—no, I definitely have a crush on her. It’s a strange feeling, considering I’ve never liked any of my brothers’ girlfriends, and I’ll never admit it, but I was a little bitch to them growing up.
But this is the first hearing girl I’ve ever seen any of them date, and better yet—she’s a CODA. I feel a kind of excitement inside of me that I've never felt before. And she’s so pretty. And she talks to Henry. I love her
“Oh, I have a story,” Robin says when we’re in the living room. “ I think I was twelve, mom and dad locked the house while I was playing with the kids in the neighborhood and forgot about me. This was around dinner, so a friend’s mom fed me. It wasn’t until two hours later that they came looking for me.”
Ren suddenly claps and waves to get our attention, sitting on the couch across from us.
“Not this story again.” I beg when I see the look on his face. I know exactly what it’s coming and it’s inevitable. “Oh my God, he just loves it.”
Sometimes it’s like every CODA has lived the same childhood; I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t a locked up outside and unable to reach story. I am no different. There was this time that stands out. I wasn’t twelve like Robin—more like sixteen—I snuck out to a girl’s night at a friend’s place. I don’t know what the fuck I had in mind when we decided that, hey, I can come back before the sun is up, no one will ever notice. You’d think sneaking out of a house full of deaf people is easy, but let me tell you, the walls here have eyes. But I did it. In all honesty, the party sucked and I hated every second of it. To be honest, the only reason I even wanted to go was because mom didn’t let me. So when I came back home, around four a.m., everything was chain-locked (I suspect Ren had something to do with that). So, okay, I’ll just climb the dumpster and then the tree and get to my room, it’s nothing I hadn’t done before. Except the moment I put my weight on top of the dumpster, the lid broke and I fell. Inside it.
“And I stayed there until they rescued me.”
“Around six,” Ren adds with a cheeky grin. “Dirty.”
“Around six,” I relay it back for Henry’s sake, then add. “And it was E-M-P-T-Y!”
“Why didn’t you just… leave the dumpster?” He laughs.
“I was… Trapped. I fell on my butt, kinda kissing my knees.”
“Show him the scar.” Dan rubs his index finger against his arm.
“He can’t see,” there’s an obvious dumbass added to Ren’s signing.
“Feel!” And there again.
“The broken lid also scratched my arm pretty bad,” I lift the sleeve off my shirt and lead his hand to the scar. “I don’t know if you can feel it. But I got stitches.”
“Yeah, I always wondered what that was from.” He gently traces the inside of my upper arm.
“How? It’s not even raised.”
He shrugs, keeping his head semi-bowed. “It feels different, like… Smooth, I guess. Glossy.”
I give him a quick peck. My brothers’ sound of blatant disgust brings a smile to his lips
My mother hasn’t spoken much, though. She goes from the kitchen to the living room and just sits there, staring at my hand the entire time with a thoughtful look and pursed lips.
Robin is a such relief. We’re both interpreting at this point, which makes me think that there’s no way I’d be able to pull this meeting off if she wasn’t here; but as much as we try, I still feel like Henry is unsettled. The only reason he isn’t using a earbud so he can check his phone yet is out of respect for my family, because I know he’s itching to. I know the silence makes Henry uncomfortable, but honestly, my family is far from silent. They’re loud, and the random sounds they make, from raw vowels to carelessly shoving the pan inside the sink, leave his semi-bowed head turning like a crazy radar, trying to make his best out of everything.
“How did he get blind?” Len asks me. “Can he see something?”
“Don’t talk through him, he’s right here.” I sign back, annoyed. “Ask him.”
He rolls his eyes with an exaggerated gesture but doesn’t sign anything else, refusing to ask it directly to Henry and preferring to keep our gossiping in private, even though there’s nothing private about a living room, with the subject of the gossip with a hand over my thigh. There’s a difference between asking me to interpret something—which I’ll do, maybe not happily, but will—and using sign language to talk about a hearie right in front of them. It's all a matter of manners.
The staircase lights flicker and when it gets my attention, I see mom waving impatiently from the top. Henry tilts his head to the right, to where the lights were quickly turned on and off.
“I need your help,” she tells me impatiently.
“The beds won’t put themselves alone!”
I pat Henry’s hand that rests on my thigh and lean in for a quick kiss that doesn’t seem to catch him by surprise, almost as if he’d been waiting for it.
“I’ll help mom with the rooms,” I tell him.
He seems uneasy, but nods.
Thankfully, Robin is there. She nods briefly at me as I get up from the couch, like a CODA sister secret handshake, and quickly picks up on a subject with Henry. I swear, if Len and she ever break up, we’re keeping her in the divorce.
I find mom bending over my bed with fresh sheets, seeming uncharacteristically unpleased.
“Mom,” I wave from the doorway.
She jerks her chin towards the bed, telling me to help her. I do. But I also know this isn’t all. When we’re done, she taps the bed and tells me to sit beside her. Feeling awfully like that girl who snuck out of home at night so she could go to a pajama party and ended up getting a few stitches in her arm, I sit.
For a few moments, we just watch my old room. There used to be a small double bed in my teens, but they replaced it for a king sized one now and this has become a guest room. I don’t know how I should feel about it, considering the boys’ rooms are all still theirs, while she made sure to get rid of mine as soon as I left for college. I’m probably reading too much into it, though---this might as well be a statement of how sure she is that they’ll come back at some point. It’s a fact that she’s always babied them more.
“What is this, Barbara?” She finally asks me, serious, quiet. “Are you… rebelling?”
I look inside her eyes, then slowly shake my head no. It’s true, I don’t have the best record when it comes to being unruly, and ten years ago this might have been exactly that. But I’m a big girl now, though. I tie my shoes and everything.
“It’s what it feels like,” she tells me. “Hearing? Okay. But blind? Are you trying to leave us out of your life? Again?”
I shake my head again, feeling my chest heavy. I take a deep breath in.
“I swear I’m not”, I take off my shoes, crossing my legs indian style. “I understand why it might feel like I am-”
“But it just happened,” I let my hands fall on my lap, trying to find the right words. ASL can be quite literal sometimes. “He just happened in my life. I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t choosing.”
Mom takes my hand, staring at the engagement ring.
When Henry asked me to marry him, there’d been no ring. We were lying quietly in bed and he just asked. Suggested. I agreed. We kissed. The next morning we went to his mother’s jewelry shop and he told me I could pick anything I wanted. I ended up choosing a small, delicate ring that I very much loved. Just a single diamond between two smaller sapphires. His mother had been baffled, outraged by the size of the diamond I’d picked, claiming it was too oversimplistic, but I was too happy with my choice to care. So she gave me earrings and a tasteful necklace in addition, claiming I would have no say in the wedding ring. I could deal with that.
Mom squeezed my hand.
“It’s very pretty,” she tells me. “Suits you.”
I smile at my own hand. It takes a while before she signs again.
“Are you ready to take care of him?”
I’m startled by the question. “Why?”
“He’s…” She hesitates. “...blind. Too much.”
“He lives alone, mom. His apartment is so neat.” I tell her, annoyed by her assumption but not too surprised. She’s Deaf, and Deafness isn’t a disability in her dictionary. “He’s a lawyer too and he cooks better than me”
I too was kind of baffled when I found out he did, so I give her a break. “He knows where everything is in his kitchen, so he just works with it. By smell, feel… He’s great.”
She seems a little skeptical, but seems to accept it. I add: “If anything, he takes care of me.”
It’s true. If it was up to me, I’d eat frozen, canned food and takeouts every single day, I can’t really feel the difference, but Henry is all about fresh and healthy, delicious food (and everybody knows men in the kitchen are appealing, but Henry in the kitchen is a whole new level of great.). I also didn’t exercise regularly until he pushed me into it, now we run together every morning. He also keeps a water bottle around all the time, which he’s always getting me to drink. He'll always text me throughout the day, ‘Can’t you feel the stones forming in your kidneys? Drink. water’ Henry, as it turns out, is great for my skin too. Honestly, I think the only unhealthy thing about him are his crazy sleeping patterns, which turns out to be the one thing I’m good at.
“Are you happy, Barbara?” She asks me after a long minute.
“Very, very much.” I answer without hesitation.
She hugs me, bringing me closer until she can kiss my forehead. I can’t say she’s glad or jumping with excitement, but she’s accepting, which is more than I hoped for.
“He’s very handsome.” She tells me.
I smile, knowingly. “And you haven’t seen him with his shirt off.”
She smacks my arm but can’t stop herself from snickering.
“Babs?” I hear Henry’s voice coming from the corridor.
I signal there’s someone coming. I walk to the door, and find my future husband holding both our bags with one arm, managing to use his cane with the other, standing in the direction of Dan’s bedroom.
“Hey,” I call him.
His head snaps in my direction as he changes the course, smiling sheepishly.
“I got our bags,” he tells me.
I walk up to him, getting on the tip of my toes to give him a warm, long kiss.
“What was that for?” He asks, beautifully confused, smiling.
“For being great,” I tug at the hand he’s holding his cane, pulling him in the direction of my old room as mom leaves it to work on Vin’s bedroom. “That’s where we’re sleeping.”
I watch as he moves his head, taking advantage of the bright light coming from the window to see the outline of the bigger objects, even if they just look like blurry shadows to him.
“That’s your old room?” He asks, taking his hand from mine and brushing it against the desk next to the door, measuring its length. Before I can warn him, he trips over a misplaced chair in front of it. He’s proficient at catching himself before he falls but he still grimaces as he massages his hip. “Ouch.”
“Yeah, it is,” I touch his shoulder, guiding him inside the closet. “You can put our bags here.”
He places them side by side, then folds his cane, keeping it in the inside pocket of his jacket. He takes my arm so we can leave and stretches the other so he has an idea of the width of the room.
“It smells nice,” he tells me once I’m giving him the tour around it, the back of his hand running through the length of the bed. “Like you.”
I laugh at the cheesiness.
“Aren’t you a good bloodhound?”
“I managed to hunt you, didn’t I?”
I snicker, giving a small bite on his shoulder. I’m guiding him slightly from behind, letting him do most of the work of figuring out my room.
“You’re funny,” I say.
His hand meets the door to the bathroom.
“You had your own bathroom?”
“I was the only girl among four boys,” I shrug. “Before the expansion, Ren and I slept in the same room. And let me tell you, some things between brothers and sisters should remain hidden.”
He chuckles, turning around. He grabs my waist and pins me to the door, then kisses my neck, working on the top buttons of my shirt. He undoes my bun and drinks my perfume.
I smack his shoulder.
“Stop that!” I tell him, kind of wishing he won’t. “You promised me you’d be civilized this weekend.”
He groans against my neck, unwilling to let me go. I finally come to my senses and push him off me, straightening my clothes, pulling my hair up again.
“I mean it, mister,” I walk past him. “No fooling around.”
He groans again. I’m compelled to come back, but manage to shake off those thoughts. We can’t live like rabbits, at least not here.
Later, when we’re downstairs, Ren gives me a funny look. I raise an impatient eyebrow. He laughs. What?! I ask when he won’t let go. He shakes his head and signs discreetly, pointing at his own shirt.
“You missed a button.”
“What did your mother say to you?”
His thumbs dig inside my skin, finding the tense muscles I didn’t even know existed. Henry gives the best massage in the world, it’s unholy. It’s also great foreplay, so when he offered to massage me, claiming that driving for as long as I did was bad for my back and I deserved it, I didn’t interpret it as him feeling bad for sleeping the entire trip while I had to be wide awake and alert, but as his attempt of getting his way. He's smooth, but I’m smarter and I know his tricks. In five minutes I’ll be snoring lightly and he’ll give a long sigh of defeat and lay down beside me.
“What?” I ask, playing oblivious.
“C’mon, Babs,” he moves his hands closer to my neck, circling my skin. “I’ve met enough parents to know that you weren’t just helping her with the rooms.”
I might as well tell him the truth.
“She asked me if I was trying to shut them off my life by bringing home another hearing guy. And blind, in addition.”
He laughs a little, but then becomes suddenly quiet, his hands stopping entirely.
I turn my head to look at him. His eyes are almost closed, like they often are when he’s working with his hands, with long, golden eyelashes almost resting against his cheeks, but he opens them when he feels the bed shift, aiming his green irises in my direction. I think it's too dark for him to see me at all, though.
“Do you think I am?” I’m slightly taken aback by his question. “C’mon.”
“Well, she is your mother. She must know you better than me.”
I’m silent for a moment.
“Of course not. I didn’t look at you and thought ‘oh, mother’s gonna be so pissed when I bring home a hearing, blind dude’, if that’s what you’re asking. Maybe I did just that in my teens, but not now. Heck, I didn’t think about the communication issues until a few months ago.”
He chuckles, going back to massaging my shoulders. I turn my head back to the pillow.
“Seriously? You have Deaf parents and a blind boyfriend and it’s never crossed your mind?”
I shrug apologetically. “Well, sometimes I forget that the rest of the world doesn’t know ASL. It’s my first language, y’know.”
“Really?” He asks and I hum a confirmation. “So you think in ASL?”
“Not quite. But ASL comes naturally to me, as opposed to English. It’s like I’m always translating in my head.”
“Is that why you sign when you get angry? Or excited.”
I look up at him again. “How do you know that?”
“Everyone knows that.” I didn’t think anyone noticed it. Sometimes not even I do, but it’s not uncommon. To think that even my blind boyfriend does, that’s wild. He moves his hands to my waist and bends down, burying his nose in my hair. “I think it’s cute.”
“My mom thinks you’re handsome.”
“Of course she does.” We hear something loud knocking against the wall and his head flies instinctively in the direction of the noise. Repeatedly. “What is that?”
I frown before I realize it.
“Oh, no.” I say with a groan, hiding my face in the pillow again.
Henry looks confused for a moment. “What?”
“Indecency, that’s what.”
I can hear Len’s loud moans now and so does Henry. He laughs.
“Growing up… Did you have to deal with that a lot?”
I nod. “Worse. Mom and dad... It’s a trauma. I should probably talk to my shrink about it. Good headphones were a matter of life or death.”
Louder this time. I groan.
“We’re gonna have a rough night, honey.” I say.
But then Henry smiles sideways and shifts, leveling his forearms with my head and climbing on top of me. He then brushes his lips and stubble against my skin, sending shivers down my spine. I suppress a pleased sigh.
“Oh my, you smell so good.”
Truth is, ever since I started dating Henry, I got aware of small things that might please him. I spray perfume in my hair when I leave the shower so that he comments on how much he loves my scent, and I also avoid cutting it short because I love the way his fingers are automatically drawn to it whenever we’re together. And I began to moisturize everyday, so that his hands run through my soft body instead of dry skin from years of boiling hot showers. I want him to never get tired of touching me, smelling me. Honestly, it took me a while to figure out what turned him on—he isn’t the kind of guy you can bat your eyelashes, flash a nice cleavage expose some leg and expect a reaction.
“We could give them a run for their money, huh?” Henry says in a low voice.
I may be smarter, but I'm not immune. Besides, why am I trying to follow the rules when I've always been the first one to break them? I turn around so I'm facing him and wrap a leg around his waist, pulling him down. “I suppose we could.”