Dangerous to Know & Love(7) by Jane Harvey-Berrick

He gave her a small smile, and gently slid his hand free, dropping it to his lap.

Embarrassed, she pulled her hand back, too, and they both sipped at their coffee to have something to do – something that would alleviate the ghastly silence.

“So… you can lip read?” she said, at last.

He nodded, watching her face.

“Is that... is that why you don’t take notes during lectures?”

He nodded again. “If I tried to take notes, I’d miss half the lecture.”

“But isn’t that really hard?”

He shrugged. “I’m pretty good at remembering stuff: I write the notes up later. They offered me computer-assisted real-time captioning, but… I’d rather do it my way.”

“So your tutors know?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyone else?”

“At school? Only you.”

“I don’t understand – why are you trying to keep it secret? It’s not something to be ashamed of? I mean, you’ve done amazing to get this far…”

“Don’t!” he snarled. “Don’t f**king patronize me!”

“I wasn’t! I…”

“Yes, you f**king were. You’re just like all the rest. I’ve ‘done amazing’ – is that what you said? Why should it be any more ‘amazing’ for me to go to college? I’m deaf, not stupid.”

It was the first time either of them had said the word, and Lisanne blanched.

“I didn’t mean it like that! I’m sorry, I…”

She stared into her coffee cup and felt tears sting the back of her eyes. She couldn’t seem to say anything without making it worse. She couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for him. She knew how tough she was finding college, but at least she was normal. Then she hated herself for thinking like that. Even so, his challenges must be so much harder than her own. And then she realized how terribly lonely it must be – not to be able to join in a group conversation, not to be able to talk about the latest songs or bands, not overhearing the funny or weird remarks other people made, not to be able to play her violin, not to be able to hear her own voice, her own singing. She couldn’t imagine life without her music, without sounds.

But that was the reality of Daniel’s life. No wonder he wrapped himself in a façade of hostility, trying to keep everyone away from him.

“I saw you dancing at the club,” she said, suddenly remembering his dirty dancing, and feeling confused, “with your girlf… with that girl. How did you…?”

He smiled tightly. “I can feel it,” he said. “I can feel the beat of the music through the floor, the vibrations. No one ever notices… that I’m deaf… when I’m in a club – no one can hear for shit in those places either. I fit right in. It’s the one place you could say I have an advantage. Other people have to shout to be heard – I can read their lips.”

His tone was biting.

“Can you… um… can you hear anything at all? I was just wondering because you sound so…”

“You were going to say ‘normal’ again, weren’t you?” he said, accusingly.

Lisanne bit her lip and nodded slowly. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“And you still wonder why I don’t want anyone to know?”

She looked up, seeing only pain and frustration in his eyes.

“Because I don’t want to be defined by this,” he said, his voice soft. “When people know that you have… a disability – Christ, I f**king hate that word – they treat you differently. Half the time they don’t even know they’re doing it. I hate all the f**king stereotypes.” He dropped his head into his hands. “I hate it. I really f**king hate it.”

Lisanne didn’t know what to say or how to behave. It was hard to take in that he had this life changing… problem, issue, disability… what was she supposed to call it?

“I’m so f**king pathetic,” he mumbled. “Two weeks: I managed to… just two weeks before someone – before you – guessed.”

Lisanne looked him in the eye.

“If it hadn’t been for the fire alarm, I’m not sure I would have noticed.” She gave him a small smile. “I’d have just carried on thinking you were a jerk for ignoring me, sometimes.”

His face softened slightly and he tried to smile, although it seemed to get stuck around the corners of his mouth.

“But Daniel: I don’t get why you’d rather people think you were a jerk than… think that you’re deaf.”

He shrugged.

“Jerks are normal. Being deaf… that makes me different. I don’t want to be different.”

Lisanne ran her eyes up and down his tattoos and fixed her gaze on his pierced eyebrow.

“I think you do.”

“What?”

“I think you do want to be different. The way you look.”

He stared at her and shook his head slowly. “You don’t understand.”

“I’m trying to.”

“Yeah, I guess you are.”

“Will you… will you tell me about it? When it started? I mean, you weren’t born deaf, were you?”

“What do you want – my f**king life story?”

“Yes, if you can manage not to cuss with every other word.”

He looked at her in amazement, then laughed out loud.

“You’re funny!”

“Glad I make you laugh!” she snorted, although she wasn’t really mad. It was good to see him smiling again.

But his smile faded quickly.

“I don’t want anyone else to know. I mean it: no one.”

“I promise, Daniel. Besides, it’s your secret to tell – not mine.”

He nodded slowly.

“Guess I’ll have to trust you.”

“Guess you will.”

“Fine, but I’m going to need another damn coffee.”

“Hey – no cussing! You promised!”

“I can’t even say ‘damn’?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Your old man a preacher, by any chance?”

Lisanne rolled her eyes. “So cliché! You think just because I don’t like cussing that I must be a Holy Roller? Now who’s stereotyping?”

He was saved a reply when Maggie came by to top up their coffee mugs.

“You want anything to eat with that, Danny? Or your friend?”

Daniel looked at Lisanne. “You hungry?”

“Not really, but thanks.”

“We’re good here, thanks, Maggie.”

“I’ll get you your usual,” she said, “and don’t you roll your eyes at me Danny Colton. I know that you never have any food in the house.”

“Thanks, Maggie,” he mumbled, sounding chastened as the waitress stalked away.

Lisanne raised her eyebrows.

“Danny, huh?”

He grimaced. “Yeah, well, she’s known me since I was a kid. She’s the only one who calls me that.”

“I don’t know – I think it suits you, Danny.”

“Keep it up, preacher’s kid.”

Lisanne scowled and Daniel couldn’t help laughing at her again.

“So, how come your chose this school?” she said, trying to make conversation.

He shrugged.

“It’s got a great business program, good for economics. And I got a partial scholarship. You?”

“It was more mom and dad’s choice. I knew I wanted to do music and there’s a music education program, so I’m training to be a music teacher.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Not really, but it’s close enough.”

When Maggie arrived with a plate of eggs, bacon and grits, Daniel tore into it like a starving man.

“Wow, I guess you really are hungry,” said Lisanne, her eyes about bugging out of her head, amazed by the speed with which he was inhaling everything in sight.

“Mmm,” he said, over a mouthful of eggs and bacon. “Didn’t get around to eating yesterday.”

“What? Not at all.”

“Uh-uh,” he mumbled, shaking his head.

“Why not?”

He swallowed the last morsel and reached for his coffee.

“Haven’t done any grocery shopping. Besides, it never lasts long, so there’s not much point.”

Lisanne shook her head, confused.

“Doesn’t your mom buy the groceries?”

As soon as she asked the question she realized she’d yet again put her giant-sized foot in it.

“Both my parents died – over two years ago now,” he said, staring at a spot on the wall behind her. “It’s just me and Zef now – my brother.”

The breath stuttered out of Lisanne’s lungs.

“How?”

“Car accident.”

All she could do was nod in appalled sympathy. Daniel had been born with intelligence and good looks, but within a few years he’d lost his parents, his hearing, a huge chunk of pride and dignity, along with hope, it seemed.

Lisanne couldn’t begin to understand how he functioned at all, let alone got up in the morning and came to school to study. He must be strong, she decided. Very strong.

Her heart swelled with admiration for him, then burned with pain for the hand life had dealt him.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, helplessly.

He shrugged.

“Life sucks.”

He stretched his arms above his head, and his t-shirt rose up and tightened over his chest. Lisanne’s cheeks began to heat, and then she felt horrible for having faintly lustful thoughts when he’d been baring his soul to her. She was a terrible person.

“What about you?” he said. “What’s your story?”

“Nothing interesting,” she said quickly.

“Tell me anyway.”

“There’s really nothing to tell.”

He frowned. “So you get to grill me about my life, but you won’t say anything back.”

“No, I meant… it’s just boring. What do you want to know?”

“Tell me about your family.”

She sighed.

“My parents are Monica and Ernie. They’re both high school teachers – math. I have a younger brother, Harry: he’s 13. He’s a complete pain in the… well, a pain, but I miss him anyway. He’s into the usual stuff: football, computer games, and just getting into girls.” She shuddered. “He has a poster of Megan Fox on his wall. Mom told him he was objectifying women, but I think dad kind of likes it – the poster, I mean.”

“Yeah, well, she’s hot!”

“Ugh! You’re such a guy,” she jeered.

He winked at her, and she couldn’t help grinning at him.

“Who do you have posters of on your wall at home?” she teased him.

“Why? You wanna see my bedroom?” he asked, raising one eyebrow, the one with the ring through it. “Because I gotta say, I didn’t think you were that sort of girl.”

Lisanne stared at him, utterly without words.

He smirked, concluding that he’d won that round of verbal jousting.

“You ever been kissed, LA?” he said, leaning forward and staring into her eyes, a smile hidden behind them.

“Don’t be a jerk!” she snapped.

“Thought not,” he said smugly.

“I’ve been kissed,” she stammered. “A lot.”

It was a damned lie, but there was no way she was going to admit that to him.

“Good to know,” he said, sitting back, smiling.

“Well, what about you?”

“Yeah, I’ve been kissed. A lot.”

She rolled her eyes.

“I meant do you have a girlfriend?”

“Why, you offering?”

“I don’t know why I bother,” she huffed.

He smiled back at her.

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend. Anything else you want to know?”

Lisanne chewed her lip.

“Ask me,” he prompted. “I won’t answer if I don’t want to.”

“Fair enough.” She paused. “Well, I was wondering… when, um, when did you… when did… I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter.”

His playful expression vanished, and Lisanne could have kicked herself.

“We keep coming back to this shit, don’t we,” he said, his voice angry. “This is why I’m sick of it, why I hate talking about it. It’s so f**king fascinating to everyone else, but this is my life and I know what I’ve lost. Every f**king day I know what I’ve lost. I see you going to rehearsals with Roy and the guys and it f**king slays me. I’ll never have that again; I’ll never hear that music. And you know what? I’m beginning to forget. Sometimes I think I hear music in my head, but I’m not sure anymore.”

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