Oh good, your punk rocker crush is still here,” Bryant said as he stepped into the coffee shop with me. I groaned inwardly and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible.
“How the hell did you manage to finish before me?”
He shrugged in response and headed for the table I used in the morning. I followed reluctantly, but only because hovering by the door would have drawn unwanted attention and turning around to walk back out just seemed stupid when I’d set foot inside already. Once we sat down, I yanked out the laptop and set it up, determined to bury myself in something other than what Bryant was going to have us do.
“Hey! Number one, it’s Friday. And number two, we’re on a mission,” he said and put his hand on the lid to keep me from opening the laptop.
I scowled at him. “We’re not on a mission and I have work I need to do, unlike someone, apparently. How the hell are you still employed?”
“Tenure. And my students adore me.”
“They take your class because it’s easy.”
“Hey, someone’s gotta do it. Anyway, we’re off track. Look. How about we do this the old fashioned way, I’ll go introduce you to him and say some funny things about you to get him to laugh, break the ice and then boom, conversation hits and magic happens.” He wiggled his fingers at me and I snorted in disgust.
“Okay ‘magic fingers’.” I repeated his gesture but with a little more emphasis.
“It’ll be easy. What’s the harm? At least he’ll talk to you then, right? Has to be better than what happened this morning.”
I hated to admit that he was probably right. I’d been floored with how I’d received my rejection. I wasn’t new to rejection, everyone has had it happen to them at some point in time, of course, but usually it was done with being told. Not flat-out silence. Well, not the kind which lasted even when I waited a few seconds longer than usual to get the hint. Begrudgingly, I nodded. “Fine.”
“Yes! Now I get to make fun of you teaching physics! Weirdo. Why couldn’t you do something fun like art or music or theater?”
“And be a total nerd like you? No, thanks, I’m good.”
“Hey, I put on some pretty wicked plays, alright?” Bryant slapped the table almost hard enough to get everyone’s attention before he stood up.
I grumbled to myself as I got out of the seat. I was two steps into following Bryant to the counter, when one of the girls running the register caught my attention. She was looking at Alex and the two of them seemed to be having a conversation while she tidied the bar area. She’d laughed, but no one was at the counter talking to her, but there she was, laughing at … nothing.
“I saw that video, too,” she commented and I was thoroughly confused. What video? No one said anything about a video, and Bryant hadn’t made it over there before she’d burst out. I turned my attention to Alex and saw his smile. “Yup, that one, too,” she said again, still laughing and I was floored.
Was she … talking to herself or to Alex? Or to someone on the radio? I could see the wire going up to her ear, but I couldn’t tell. He never said a word, yet she was staring right at him, chatting like normal. I moved. I couldn’t see Alex properly with the espresso machine in the way. I headed for the other side of the shop so that I could see behind the bar and pretended to look at their merchandise. Bryant came over as well, having noticed my sudden detour.
“What?” he pestered, but I ignored him, too focused on the girl and Alex.
“Did you get the one I posted on your Facebook? The one with the dogs?” she asked. Alex nodded enthusiastically, and then I saw it; his hands moved rapidly, forming shapes with his fingers. Sign language.
I felt horrible. My chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I looked away to stare at the white mugs in shock. I’d taken his silence as rejection and the bitterness I felt over it was washed away in guilt and shame. For a moment, I hated myself for assuming. I should have known, though, as I wracked my brain for all the times I’d encountered him. Alex hadn’t ever said a single word, not to me or anyone; how could I have missed it? I snatched a hold of Bryant’s arm, and dragged him with me out of the Starbucks. I was lucky Alex was too busy with his conversation to have noticed us. It also helped that the shop’s noise level was high enough from all of the mingling customers to hide our escape outside. Once we got across the parking lot, I leaned against the hood of my truck. I rubbed my hands through my hair in frustration.
“So … what was that about?”
I gave him a glare from over my shoulder. “Idiot,” I muttered as I looked away. “I’m an idiot.”
“Hey! I was just about to get you all hooked up with that guy and you went and bailed out on it!”
“I didn’t bail out — okay, maybe I did, but did you see what he was doing?” I waited, but when Bryant just stared at me in return I continued. “He was signing to that girl who was talking to him; he’s mute, Bryant! That’s why he didn’t answer me this morning,” I muttered that last part to myself.
“Oh,” he drew the word out as he put his back against the truck. “Well, shit. I only know a few letters of the alphabet.”
“That doesn’t help me at all,” I groaned. I rested my arms across the hood and laid my head on them. Of all the reasons I’d thought of to explain his silence that morning, being mute was not one of them. It brought a thousand questions to mind, things I wanted to ask him and learn about him, but I knew I would never learn because I couldn’t understand sign language. Like Bryant, I knew so little — letters and some gestures, but it wasn’t enough to follow a conversation.
“New plan,” I announced, feeling oddly invigorated. “Help me find a place where I can learn.”
“Better plan,” Bryant countered, “why don’t you just have him teach you?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Siryn Sueng is a part-time employee. She enjoys writing, cats, lots of anime, and lots of games. (Not always in that order.) Siryn is also a co-writer with Usagi Kita. Together they write under the name ‘Lilia Blanc’ and have published their first book: King’s Lament. Follow the author: Website | Twitter | Facebook