A/N: Hello MCL girls! I've missed you so much!
I have to apologize straight away for falling so far behind with reading and reviewing all of your hard work...but you understand how real life gets in the way sometimes, right? Don't worry — you'll start seeing my reviews on your older chapters over the next week, and hopefully before too long I'll be all caught up! I can't wait to dive in and see what you've come up with over the past few weeks.
Since it's been so UNGODLY long since my last update, I thought it would help if I have you a quick refresher. You can skip it if you want; it just rehashes the more important events from the last few chapters.
- Johanna is deaf. She can read lips, but relies mostly on observation to "read" people who don't use sign language.
- Nathaniel, Johanna's neighbor, left for college a few weeks ago and has since been keeping in touch with her. They flirted incessantly and made out a few times, but Nathaniel left before things could get too serious. Jo considers him to be her best friend. (Ouch! Friendzoned!)
- And then there's Dajan. Dajan's little sister is deaf, so he knows some sign language — and it's pretty clear he's crushing on Johanna hard. It was Dajan's suggestion that convinced Johanna to enroll at Sweet Amoris High School. He wants to get closer to Johanna, but he's hiding something, and whatever it is can only stay hidden for so long.
- Johanna was supposed to have an ASL interpreter on her first day of school, but for reasons unknown, the interpreter never showed. Dajan's mother stepped in as a replacement — for a class that Johanna and Dajan have together. Just when things couldn't get any more awkward, Armin opened his mouth and said something that made Dajan angry enough to almost punch him in his dumb (albeit smokin' hot) face.
- Johanna and Dajan skipped the rest of the day, opting for a flirty fast food date instead of another three periods of agony at school. Nathaniel, meanwhile, has been waiting for Johanna to sign on to IM because she told him she was going home. Whoopsie.
This next chapter picks up when Johanna wakes up from a nap and realizes she's forgotten all about Nathaniel and her promise to talk to him when she got home.
I hope you enjoy it — but either way, I could really use your feedback. I need you to reel me back in!
Love always, binaryguppy
If You Know What I Mean
What time is it? Eleven? Midnight?
What time did Nathaniel expect me to sign on this afternoon? Two? Three?
It's no use. He would have signed off a long time ago when I didn't show up. I would have texted him, but my phone was at school, still in my backpack — hopefully locked away somewhere where no one could steal it...
I sighed and settled back down on my pillow, trying to convince myself to go back to sleep...but it was no use. I hated waiting around not knowing one way or another how Nathaniel felt.
… I might as well sign on, just to see if he's still there.
I roused my laptop from its sleep and my dark gray room was filled with white light from the monitor. While I waited for the instant messaging program to load, I shimmied out of my restrictive jeans and brought my laptop to my bed, wrapping myself in my warm sheets.
And he was still there. His screen name was signed in.
"I hope you weren't waiting for me," I typed carefully. "I got..." Uh... What was the right word for what happened? "I got distracted," I finally sent.
The icon next to his username indicated that he was typing, and I felt my heart flutter. When I blinked I could see his own brown eyes staring back at me from under a frowning brow.
But he wasn't angry. "I've been in the dorm all day anyway. It's no big deal," read his reply. "I was kind of worried about you, though. I thought maybe Dajan Asad kidnapped you."
Hah! He had no idea just how accurate that was.
I felt my face twist into a coy smile. "Well... Funny you should mention Dajan..." I quickly explained to Nathaniel about Dajan's outburst at Armin, about his mother's haphazard placement as my substitute interpreter, and about our peaceful walk-out in protest of all the day's events.
"You skipped half a school day?" he asked, although the answer was obvious.
"Yeah. I couldn't go back, Nathaniel — not after everything that happened. I just wanted to get away." I didn't expect Mr. Student Body President to understand. He'd probably never missed a day of school in his life. Nathaniel Weiss was so straight-laced and perfect and dependable...
"Me too. I cut all my afternoon pre-law lectures."
… Wait, what? Nathaniel skipped class today, too?
Why would he do that? Because he was waiting for me?
"Most freshmen wait until Thirsty Thursday," he elaborated, "but I guess today is Manic Monday."
"And what, pray tell, is Manic Monday?"
Rather than tell me, Nathaniel opted to show me. When he turned on his webcam, I expected to see him surrounded by darkness, like I was, like he'd been over the summer when we stayed up all those nights together — but his dorm room was far from the empty prison cell it had seemed the first time I saw it. Nathaniel personalized the walls with pennants and a bulletin board. I could see two beds now, one lofted on top of the other to make room for a cheap black futon and a floor lamp that hadn't been there before.
"Looks like you've made yourself right at home," I typed. I watched my own face smile tiredly back at me from a little box underneath Nathaniel's when I turned on my webcam, and I was suddenly abashed at my messy pillow-tousled hair. I hoped it looked nonchalant when I smoothed the stray golden-orange strands down with my hands and tossed it over my shoulder.
Nathaniel craned his neck to look over his shoulder at what I was referring to. "Most of this stuff was Haresh's idea."
He nodded. "I'd introduce you, but he's getting acquainted with the girl from 314, if you know what I mean."
My face erupted into a watermelon smile. "Oh, I know what you mean! I hope I'm not keeping you from 'getting acquainted' with anyone..."
Hrm. I hadn't realized Nathaniel's dorm was co-ed...
His laugh filled his cheeks with a familiar pink glow. "I think Haresh is trying to set me up with her roommate, but she's a business major, if you know what I mean."
Was I supposed to know what that meant? "I have no clue what you're talking about," I said with a fluttery roll of my eyes.
"Business majors are mentally unstable," he informed me.
"As mentally unstable as pre-law majors?" I teased him — and he smiled brighter still.
It was an immense relief to see him smile...but even so, there was something different about the way his brown eyes followed the words on the screen as he read - and about the way he rocked back in forth in his desk chair as he typed.
I soon found out why. Nathaniel brought a red Solo cup to his lips and tipped its contents into his mouth, gulping it thirstily and blinking heavily at what was undoubtedly the burn of alcohol.
A co-ed dorm...with alcohol. This was a recipe for disaster.
I kept my face in a mild smile, hoping my eyes wouldn't betray just how taken aback I was. I knew I shouldn't, but I had to ask. "What are you drinking?"
"It's Bacardi, Patrón, FourLoco, Mountain Dew, and Monster." He tipped the cup so that I could see the noxious sewer-sludge green color at the bottom. "They call it Jungle Juice."
I exaggerated retching, gagging motion, rolling my eyes back. "How can you stand to drink that stuff?"
"It's actually not bad," he countered matter-of-factly. "It goes down easier after a few drinks, if you know what I mean."
I did know what he meant, actually. And that was why I was so worried. "You don't think it's a little dangerous to be drinking all that hard liquor with Monster and FourLoco? Don't those have a bunch of caffeine and stuff in them?"
"That's the nice thing about Jungle Juice. It's supposed to give you a buzz without putting you to sleep."
Nathaniel wasn't making any sense. This wasn't the sweet boy I'd met on my roof that summer morning. This was someone completely different.
I didn't like where he was going. I'd been there. I'd spent the past year of my life trying to rebuild what I'd lost from venturing down that path. I didn't want to see the same thing happen to Nathaniel.
How could I tell him that without sounding like a nagging, overprotective girlfriend?
I twiddled my long hair between my fingers, thinking carefully before typing. "Nathaniel, I didn't want to say anything before, but you look really tired. Are you sure you should be drinking that stuff?"
He blinked as he read. For a split second, the words seemed to have a sobering effect on him. "You're right, I have been tired lately..." As soon as it appeared, the lucidity in his eyes vanished and was replaced by the glazed-over look of semi-drunkenness. "But Haresh hooked me up with something I can take to help me focus. You don't have to worry about me nodding off in the middle of lectures."
I tilted my head and frowned, no longer able to hide my apprehensiveness. "You mean you're going back to class tomorrow after drinking all that?"
"Yeah! Skipping was just a one-time thing. Everyone does it at the start of football season. They're all nuts about college football up here."
His explanations were meant to assure me, but they read more like...excuses.
"As long as it's safe, then do what you need to do," I finally said, reaffirming that I trusted him. And why shouldn't I trust him? Nathaniel was a smart boy - maybe the smartest boy I knew. If anyone could handle himself at college, it was my Nathaniel. My best friend. "I know this has been hard for you," I told him, letting some of my worry spill out of my fingertips.
He swallowed, blinking more often at the strain of reading the words on the computer screen with his heavy eyes. "It's college. It's supposed to be hard. … You know something, though?" His brow screwed up in concentration, and he dove into a befuddled rant. "I knew it would be hard, but not like this. This is supposed to be one of the best law schools in the country, but coming here has been more of a test of my patience and my sanity, not my intellect."
I tried to think of something to say that would make him feel better somehow, but I had nothing to offer — and I could do nothing but watch as Nathaniel downed the entire cup of Jungle Juice. Once that one was gone, he somehow conjured three more, tipping them back and emptying them faster and faster as midnight rolled into the wee hours of the morning. It was as though that red Solo cup was magical and bottomless.
I could practically see the alcohol dissolving his inhibitions, and I couldn't help but be impressed at his drunk typing skills. He might have just been moderately tipsy before, but he was definitely drunk now — that much was clear when he got up to go use the bathroom and tripped over his own feet, falling out of frame.
"You alright?" I had to ask when he came back.
Oh, Nathaniel. You might be the best friend I have, but you're the world's worst liar.
… I couldn't help myself. Maybe if I vented to Nathaniel when he was in this state, he would give me his full, unbridled opinion of Dajan Asad.
"What were we just talking about?" Nathaniel typed - and I could tell from the way his eyes moved up and down over the monitor that he was trying to scroll back up through our conversation.
"You were giving me the rundown about Sweet Amoris High School," I filled him in.
"Right. Who did you meet on your first day? Anyone I would know?"
I shook my head no. "The only ones I really talked to were the twins, Alexy and Amrin, and they're new. And Dajan. You know him already."
"Dajan doesn't count. He's an asshat."
And there you have it: Nathaniel Weiss' full, unbridled opinion of Dajan Asad.
I held a hand over my mouth to keep my laughter contained within my closed mouth. It wasn't like Nathaniel to be so adorably vulgar. ...Well, it wasn't like sober Nathaniel to be so adorably vulgar. "Dajan's not an asshat, he's just..." Well? How else could I describe him without giving Nathaniel the wrong idea about how I felt about him? "I think he just comes off as an asshat because he's used to speaking his mind. He's honest. He doesn't stop to think about how what he says might hurt other people."
Nathaniel sniffed disgustedly. "Has anything he said ever hurt you?"
"Not on purpose," I conceded, "but when I was over at his house a few weeks ago, he said something that kind of upset me. He kept going on and on about how I should get a Cochlear implant...like my deafness was a problem that needed fixing."
"See? What'd I tell you? He's an asshat."
"Oh, he is not!" I said again. "I don't think he meant it to hurt me. I think he was trying to give me a compliment in his own weird way."
"I've never needed to learn how to talk, but he said it would be a shame if he never heard my voice."
"But you do talk. I've heard it with my own ears."
That must have been the alcohol talking. "Bullshit!" I called him out. "I've never said so much as a word to you — or to anyone else. I don't talk. End of story."
"No, I'm being serious!" he insisted. "The morning I met you, when I was cleaning the gutters outside your window... I'd been done cleaning the gutters for, like, ten minutes, but I stayed because I heard a voice coming from the window."
… Interesting. "Oh, yeah? And what did I say?"
"Jibberish. Everyone speaks jibberish when they talk in their sleep. Even though I didn't know what you were saying, it sounded like you were arguing with someone who was making you upset."
He can't be serious. But...Nathaniel wouldn't lie to me. "I'm deaf, Nathaniel. I don't know how to talk when I'm awake! How would I know how to talk in my sleep?"
"I've read that some blind people can see images in their dreams — even colors."
He's been reading up on blindness - and perhaps on deafness, too? Why?
Curiosity got the best of me. If I was going to ask him, now was the time to do it. "Can I ask you kind of a stupid question, Nathaniel? You're the only one who can answer."
"Anything. Always. You know that."
"What does my voice sound like?" I'd always wanted to know, but of course, I could never know what anything 'sounded' like — at least not through my own ears.
Nathaniel anguished over his answer for several minutes, typing and then backspacing through what he wrote and starting over again. Maybe I shouldn't have asked him such a puzzling question. I mean, how do you describe what something sounds like to someone who's never heard anything before?
Finally, he sent a concise response — and it threw me for a loop. "Your voice sounds the way a strawberry lemon shakeup tastes."
I scrunched my face into a disapproving scowl. "So sour it makes your eyes water a little?"
He shook his head, which made him dizzy; he gripped the edge of the desk to right himself again before he wrote back. "No, too sweet for me to handle. You have the sweetest voice I've ever heard, Johanna. I really miss you."
It all hit me at once. Nathaniel wasn't drinking because it was Manic Monday. He cared nothing for football and even less for pre-law lectures. But he cared for me. And so he drank — for the sake of feeling something, for the sake of filling the void.
Meanwhile, I was back in his hometown, going to his old school and flirting up a storm with the first jock that caught my eye.
I guess I would drink, too, if I was in his shoes.
"I miss you, too, Nathaniel," I told him honestly. But there was no way I could tell him about everything else I was holding inside. I had to sign off before the Jungle Juice let him say something he would regret in the morning. "I'm tired. I have school in the morning, so I really should go to bed."
I signed off before I could read his goodbye.
Alone in my dark bedroom once again, I wondered what horrors were in store for tomorrow since today had been so unforgettably awful.