This is a LGBT story.
Love has many definitions, but the simplest definition is a connection between two people. Such connections can be made by the same gender. It does not matter if a boy loves a boy or a girl loves a girl, the definition of love is present.
My name is Ari. And I am deaf.
I have not felt the pleasure of music, the calmness of rain, or the cheers inside a stadium. All I have are books. I read. A lot. As it is the only way I can imagine the sounds that my ears cannot hear.
I am 16 years old. And most of the time, people cannot tell if I am male or female. I checked my pants and rest assured, I am male. A word has been mainstreamed for this gender ambiguity: androgynous. To be honest, I hate that word. I am who I am and a single word should not define me.
Just because I am skinny and aesthetic to the eye should not make me labeled. I sound self-confident, but I am quite the self-loather. I have blonde hair that stops below my ears. My skin is smooth and the hair on my arms and legs are blonde, giving the appearance of no hair at all. My eyelashes are model-status in length and smear the inside of my glasses. I am tall, a little over six feet; which I guess to some people is not that tall for a boy.
I just started at a new high school. From what I read online, the school itself is large; boasting over a thousand students. The building, or buildings rather, resembles more of a college campus than a high school. This school must be well funded with deep pockets.
My father pulls up to the entrance. Our car is old, broken down, and rusted. I am surprised it still starts.
"Try to make some friends?" my father signs. "Don't go hide in a corner of the building and read."
"But I like reading," I sign back, motioning with my hands.
I can practically hear my father's long, drawn out sigh. After a moment, he signs again, "I'll pick you up after school."
I nod and step out of the car. After a puff of black exhaust smoke, my father drives away.
It is early morning. Dew lightens the grass under the rising sun. I gaze up at the large high school in front of me. Despite my family's money problems, I dress rather well. My father knows fashion makes me happy and a smile is something I rarely show. New clothes make me smile, and to him that is worth the little money that we make. I wear a white, button-down shirt. It is buttoned all the way except for the top. The collar is flipped up. I wear black jeans and sandals since shoes are expensive. I push my glasses up to the correct position on my face and head into the school.
I know students stare, I know students point. Oh, hey, look at the new kid. Look at the piece of shit car he was dropped off in. Sometimes, deafness is a gift. The story is the same for anyone who has ever stepped foot inside a new school. Who do I talk to? Who is friendly? Who is likely to punch me in the face? Is someone going to offer me a place to sit? Will someone be my light in the dark? To be honest, there are many more questions than that. Those are just the ones that immediately popped into my head. My teachers will be required to wear a special device, sort of like a microphone. Since I doubt none of the teachers here know how to sign, the microphone helps me, albeit very little, hear with the aids attached to my ears. I hate wearing these things. It makes me feel like a robot. Students point at them and then at their ears. I grab my aids and shove them into my jeans. I would much rather lip-read. Most high school classes these days are just writing down notes anyway. Hearing honestly is not required.
I reach into my backpack and pull out my current book, War & Peace. The early bell has yet to ring. Many of the students are either grouped outside or wait in the main entrance until they are allowed to enter the school. I find an empty spot on the wall in the main entrance and lean against it until my butt plants on the floor.
Like most high schools, you can tell which group of students belongs to which social hierarchy. A group of students ahead wear varsity jackets, though I cannot tell which sport. A group of goths sit near me, mainly giving me random stares of curiosity. There are other groups I have not seen before in my other schools. Dancers? Show Choir, maybe? I can tell the cheerleaders, the preps, the nerds; the typical social hierarchy is here, give or take a few groups I cannot rank. I am expecting to be picked on; my scan of the groups helps me determine from where.
I am not very well built. Too skinny, pretty pale. I sigh and cross my legs that stretch out in front of me. I open my book and resume reading with the hope I turn invisible. Clearly ignoring my father's advice, but that is what teenagers are supposed to do anyway.
"Can I sit here?" a voice says.
A few more seconds pass before the student kicks me in the leg. I flinch and look up to see a girl.
"Got a hearing problem?" she asks snidely.
I nod. "I'm deaf," I sign.
The girl looks down at my hands. "What are you doing? Can you talk?"
I lip read the best I can. And I shake my head and point to my ear.
"Oh... So you do have a hearing problem."
"My bad," she apologizes. She takes a seat next to me and leans against the wall.
I look at her. She is pretty. My instinct tells me she is someone important on the social hierarchy. She has long, brown hair that falls over one shoulder and some freckles scattered over her face. She is dressed in a shirt and jacket with what I assume is the school logo and mascot. She wears jeans that are tighter than mine, and believe me, that is saying something. She wears cleats with a cat logo. I assume soccer. I stare at her lips when she starts talking.
"My name is Evelyn. But you can call me Eve if you want." She turns to my book and points at it. "What are you reading? Do you like to read?"
I nod and show her the cover.
"War & Peace? Never heard of it."
I just did an internal face palm.
"Hey, Eve!" another student shouts from across the way. She runs over towards the two of us. Another girl.
Eve stands up. I tilt my head up to look at her in case she talks to me. She turns to the other student. "What, Zayna?"
"Come on. The early bell is about to ring and the coach wants to see us. Who's this?" Zayna asks with a nod down towards me.
"New student I think. At least I have never seen him before and we practically know everyone," Eve answers.
Zayna stares at me. "What's your name?"
I stay silent. Signing is pointless.
"...does he talk?" Zayna adds.
I shoot a glare at Eve, who gives a sly smile. "He's deaf. So no, he does not talk."
"Oh," Zayna answers.
I sigh. The word 'Oh' is the universal answer to finding out someone is deaf.
"Let the deaf kid be," Zayna says. She grabs Eve's hand and rushes her off.
I watch the two of them join another group of school jackets, the girls varsity soccer team if I had to guess.
This is why I hate interacting with people. I need a damn translator. I do not want to give my microphone device to everyone I interact with throughout the day. On top of that, I do not want to wear my hearing aids. Seeing them makes students, people even, act differently towards me. They spot hearing aids and treat me differently than everyone else. Maybe act nicer, maybe treat you like dog who needs to be guided around with a leash. I hate it. So I refuse to wear them unless I am forced. And I usually am in classrooms.
The students disperse down the multiple hallways. I get confused, but realize the early bell rang. I close my book and put it away and rise back to my feet. I look around, already lost. I turn my head towards each of the hallways and spin around. I stop when a hand grabs my shoulder.
"Are you lost?"
I spin around and see another boy. He wears a hat with the high school mascot. Headphones hang from his neck. His dark brown hair is just short of buzz cut. A backpack and gym bag hang from his shoulder. He is dressed in athletic gear with low hanging shorts, high-rise socks, and a shirt with no sleeves. An athletic physique is a prominent part of his appearance. He is a bit taller than me. A few more boys stand behind him. They all wear the same varsity jackets and mascot logos. Though which sport I cannot say.
"Are you new here?" he asks. "I don't think I have seen you before." He eyes me up and down. All is fair when it comes to a new student I guess.
I stare at his lips."Yes-" I start to sign, but I stop.
"Are you signing?" he asks. "I can sign, too. My name is O-l-i-v-e-r."
I tilt my head."You can sign?"
Oliver smiles. "I can."
"Why did you learn?" I ask.
"That is a story for another time." Oliver starts talking. "You can read lips right?"
I nod and sign. "Yeah."
A student behind Oliver nudges him. "Come on, Oliver. We are going to be late. The coach is going to-"
Oliver looks at the boy over his shoulder. "The coach can wait." He checks his watch and turns to me. "We still have some time. What's your name?"
"Ari? Interesting name," he answers. "Come on, we'll show you around." Oliver pushes me towards one of the hallways. The rest of the boys follow behind us.
It is always awkward for me to walk alongside other people. Unless I am staring at their lips, I cannot understand a word they say. It has happened before. Someone would be explaining something, schedules, procedures, a story, whatever it may be and I would be oblivious. And it makes me feel bad; like I am ignoring someone.
I walk slightly ahead of Oliver, but still at his side; my head turns so I can stare at his lips as he explains the school. "This school is built like a labyrinth. It can be pretty confusing for new students. There are so many hallways and corridors that makes it easy to get lost." He motions with his hands down the various hallways. He turns back to me. "Do you have your schedule yet?"
I shake my head, staring at his lips.
"Right. You receive your semester schedule in the scheduling office. It is different from the main office. Like I said, confusing. I can show you where it is."
I smile at him in thanks.
"Oliver, this really isn't our job to show-" a student behind us begins.
Oliver turns and shoots him a glare. No words need to be said. The boys shrug and turn down a different hallway.
"I appreciate it," I sign.
"No problem at all."
Oliver puts his headphones into his gym bag as we walk into the scheduling office. An older lady sits behind a desk. She looks like she would rather be doing anything else. Her eyes are glued to papers in front of her. "What do you want?" she asks without looking up.
"Ari needs his schedule," Oliver answers.
The woman starts writing. "Schedules were supposed to be picked up last week. There is a fee for picking up your schedule late."
While lip reading, I grimace. Her lips are dryer than a desert and cracked like a lightning strike. I start to sign frantically. "I cannot afford to pay a fee. I-"
Oliver translates. "He says he can't pay a fee."
I turn to Oliver and lip read the last part of what he said.
The woman looks up and scowls to the point of a bad-mannered librarian. She glares at me. "Judging from the clothes you are wearing, you can afford to pay a fee."
I look down at my clothes and return a perplexed look. "These clothes were gifts. I love fashion."
The woman snorts. "Don't look at me like that. And I have no clue what you are saying."
My face turns to anger. "Then maybe you should learn."
A laugh escapes Oliver's lips. I turn to him, but turn back to the lady when she stands up.
"The fee for receiving a late schedule is $50.00 payable by check to the school," the woman boasts. Her lips are horrid to look at. Someone give this old lady some lip balm.
A bewildered look crosses my face. "I did not even know I had to pick up my schedule last week!" My hand movements are crisp, cut, and frantic.
The office door opens and another man steps inside. "Is there a problem here?" he asks. The tension can be felt even without a knife.
Oliver turns around. "Hey coach. Old woman Gracelyn is hassling one of our new students."
Gracelyn stands up to defend herself. "Unlike some people, I follow the rules."
I spin around when Oliver starts to talk and see another man who entered the office. He is well-built and dressed in a t-shirt and gym shorts. A whistle hangs from around his neck, clipboard in hand. The coach sighs and pinches the top of his nose. "Would you cut the new student a break and give him his damn schedule?"
Gracelyn huffs and sits back down. "What's the name again?"
I start to sign my name, but realize that would be useless. I turn to Oliver and give him a look. He smiles and says, "His name is Ari."
Gracelyn scans the new student records and pulls out a piece of paper. "Here is your schedule." She slides the paper across her desk. I walk over and grab it. "Now get out," she demands.
"With pleasure," Oliver answers. The coach exits and we follow suit. The three of us stand outside the scheduling office. Students scatter about, moving to and from classrooms and lockers to start their day. The first period bell has yet to ring. The time between the early bell and the first period bell feels like an eternity. But students cherish that time to connect with friends or talk to other students they rarely see during the school day. The hallways themselves are fairly wide unlike some schools where you are shoved against one another in a mosh pit.
I glance down at my schedule and see my classes. I tested into Honors Biology, but the rest of my schedule is pretty basic. Algebra, History, Government, English. We get to choose two electives. Unfortunately, there is no fashion or similar type of class. So I chose photography and art. The room numbers are listed next to the class and period, but I have no clue where they are.
"Are you really disabled?" the coach asks, clearly talking to me.
I scan my schedule and look around. The hallways are represented by letters with numbers, such as A1 through A5 and so on. I glance back down to my schedule. Oh, I get it. Easy enough.
Oliver nudges me. I turn and look at him and he motions towards the coach. I look at him. The coach asks again, "Are you really disabled?"
I nod. "I was born deaf."
Oliver translates for me. I turn and stare at his lips when he talks. "He says he was born deaf. His name is Ari."
I nod again.
"I see," the coach answers. I turn to him when his lips start moving. "I'm trainer Mike, or coach Mike, whichever you prefer."
I can only nod so much. "Are you Oliver's coach?"
Oliver watches my hands and touches my arm so I turn to him. "Yes, he is my coach."
"Which sport?" I ask.
"Wrestling," Oliver answers.
My eyes go a little wide. I turn back to the coach as if knowing he was going to add something. I was right. "Oliver happens to be the captain. Which reminds me..." Trainer Mike crosses his arms. "Do you know how it looks when my wrestling captain does not show up for morning call?"
Oliver rubs the back of his neck. "Bad?"
Mike shakes his head. "Unbelievable. I will let it slide because you were helping Ari. But do not miss morning call again. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, sir," Oliver answers. The coach turns and walks off, staring at his clipboard.
I turn to Oliver and frown. "Sorry I got you into trouble."
Oliver shrugs it off and signs, "Don't worry about it. It is not my coach you have to worry about, but..." Oliver's hands stop mid-motion. He looks over my shoulder.
I spin around to see Eve, the girl from earlier, stomping towards us. She rams me with her shoulder; like how two students joust when passing in the hall if they do not like each other. I rub my shoulder and step back.
"Damnit, Oliver. What was our arrangement?" Eve asks, crossing her arms.
"That I spend as much time in the morning with you that I can," Oliver answers, as if on cue.
"And have you spent time with me this morning? No," she snaps, answering her own question. Eve is serious if she answers her own question. I suppose that holds true for anyone.
In my opinion, Eve is pretty easy to understand. She is one of those high school girls that is full of herself to the point she thinks she is made of gold. Good to know. Avoiding girls like that can be tricky. They are abundant in high school; the era of divas and show queens. Same can be said for the jerk jocks who shove other students in the hall for no reason.
"I'm sorry," Oliver says. "We can spend time now or after school."
"The first period bell rings in five minutes you idiot," she retorts. "And after school you and I both have practice."
"How about dinner?" he suggests.
"Yeah? Some fast food place right?" she asks annoyed.
Oliver glares, though hides his annoyance. "I was going to make something, but if you are going to be that way then forget it."
"You can cook?" I ask, butting in.
He nods. "I taught myself how to cook over the past few years. I can make quite a few things. But Eve always wants to go out somewhere expensive that I cannot afford. It is both easier and cheaper to buy the ingredients at the supermarket and make the dishes myself. But that would mean staying inside."
"The way you say that makes me sound like a bad guy," Eve answers. "What is wrong about wanting to go out all the time?"
"Nothing. But it feels like you just want to show off, brag about our relationship, or showboat. I can never tell with you. I feel you always have some hidden agenda that I do not know about."
Eve looks at her phone. I see the stream of messages and notifications from various social media. "I'm going to be late. We will talk about this later." She gives me a strange look before she spins and heads down the C-hallway.
Oliver turns and watches her leave. I leer around to watch his lips as he says, "Yeah, I am sure we will. As in me listening and you screaming at me. I can't wait."
I touch Oliver's arm so he turns to me. "She seems pretty high maintenance."
Oliver smirks. "That's because she is."
"She no doubt plays sports. What does she play?"
Oliver locks his hands together on the back of his head. "She is captain of the varsity soccer team."
"How long have you two been together?" I ask.
"Maybe a month? I'm not sure. She kind of decided we were dating. I did not have much of a say in it." He sighs.
I raise an eyebrow. "Don't let yourself be ignored. Trust me, I know all about that. Make her listen."
Oliver laughs. "I have been trying to make her listen for the past month."
I frown. "Are you happy?"
Oliver pretends not to see my question. I pause and watch him. Being deaf keens you into the more misunderstood ways of communicating; mainly non-verbal cues. How we sit, how we stand, our facial expressions, body language, all of it says what people do not have the nerve to say. We all hide something. And what we hide is visible should someone know what to look for.
The first period bell echoes through the halls. Students burst into a full sprint. The bell continues to ding for three seconds. That three seconds is the difference between being on-time versus being late. Every student knows this. As soon as the bell dings, the full three-second sprint to class begins to avoid that tardy slip. Some make it, some do not. I am pretty sure no one cares if a student runs in the hall anymore. I think hall monitors have been phased out.
Oliver checks his watch after hearing the first period bell. "Well, I guess that makes us both late. Come find me at lunch, okay?"
I nod at him. He smiles and heads down the C-hallway. I glance back down at my schedule and head down opposite A-hallway. Art is my first class. Though, I am not sure what level of skill the art class is supposed to be. Beginner, intermediate, advanced, who knows.
I walk into the art room. There are large tables instead of desks; stools instead of chairs. The tables are worn and covered with dry paint. Numerous windows engulf the large room with morning light. There are at least 50 students in here, if not more. Good. That makes it easier for me to disappear. I look ahead and see a couple of the students pointing at me. Okay, maybe not. However, most of the students are busy drawing. I look around and see the teacher's desk on the opposite side of the room. With this many students, people even, lip reading is hard. Even if I wanted to know what all of the students are saying, I can't. I reach into my pocket and pull out my hearing aids. I sigh and attach them. I pull out the tiny microphone the teacher is required to equip to his shirt.
After weaving through the tables, stools, and students, I stop in front of the teacher's desk. He looks to be in his early 30s with a full man-beard and glasses. His dress shirt and pants make him overdressed for his teaching role. He runs a hand through his thick brown hair before looking up. "You are late." The first words out of his mouth. Easy words to lip read.
I point at my ears and hold out the microphone.
"What's this?" He grabs it, unsure of what to do.
I sigh and take it back. I equip the tiny microphone to my upper shirt and clip the small device to my belt.
The teacher nods. "Got it." I hand him the device and he attaches it. "You are late," he repeats.
I can't help but grin. I sign, "I'm new." I never think before I sign. I just assume people understand me when that is not the case. Unless you are Oliver.
"He is a new student, Mr. Sheppard. Cut him some slack," a voice says. The teacher leans over and stares past me. I turn and see another student standing behind me holding a painting. "Hi," she says with a smile.
I smile back at her. "Hi."
"Then you can take his tardy slip, Dana," Mr. Sheppard threatens.
"Hey, that's not fair!" Dana yells.
Mr. Sheppard laughs. "I'm kidding. I know he is new." He stands up and claps. "Listen up everyone."
...Great. Why not make me the center of attention? Because fuck me, right?
Dr. Sheppard spins me around. "This is Ari. He is a brand new student. Today is his first day."
"What's with the hearing aids?" a student asks.
"I'm deaf." Again with the signing. Sometimes I can't help myself.
"He's deaf," Mr. Sheppard explains. "Since Dana is already up here, she can help explain the assignment to him and show him his seat. Anyway, back to work."
I know students are talking about me. Being deaf has its advantages I guess.
Dana guides me to my seat and sits down next to me. I get a better look at her. Her brown hair is shorter than most girls. Just from how she sits on the stool, her high-maintenance level is non-existent. I can tell she is not like the average girl. Her upper body is practically on the table as she draws. When someone does not care what position he or she is in when they draw, read, or write, it shows they have a passion for it. Another thing I have noticed about this high school is the lax dress code. In my previous schools, Dana's outfit would get her sent home. She turns to me. "Our first assignment is self-portraits."
I nod at her. I guess this is an advanced class. Just what I was hoping for. Dana places a large piece of blank paper in front of me. There is a mirror already on the desk. I look into it and see myself. And my silly hearing aids. Thankfully, my beach blond hair is long enough to hide them. I glance up and look at the clock on the wall. I let out a sigh.
Lunch cannot come soon enough. For once I do not want to be invisible. I want to communicate with someone.