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Boom. Boom. Boom. The pulsating bass rang painfully through my ears as we pushed closer to the stereo. I debated whether to bother Dylan and finally decided to tap him on the shoulder. Like twenty times. Once he realized I wasn’t going to leave him alone, he turned around abruptly to answer. “What?” His exaggerated gesture and furrowed eyebrows made it obvious that he was angry.
“Sorry,” I signed. “I just wanted to know how much closer we’re going.”
A sporadic and most likely drunken dancer stumbled into the small space between us, and I had to shuffle to the right to regain eye contact with Dylan. I signed the word for hurts.
“Hurts?” he asked, as if he thought I had signed the wrong word. “What hurts?”
You mean aside from the flashing strobe lights scarring my eyes and the elbows jamming into my rib cage? I was about to respond when a waving hand caught our attention. “Her ears hurt,” Taylor signed, pointing to me.
“Oh,” Dylan answered, an embarrassed expression spreading across his face. “Sometimes I forget that you’re hearing. Sorry, Liz.” I hoped that the dim lighting would hide my angry flushing; I generally didn’t think that my hearing was an impairment. Isn’t that why the deaf are often called hearing impaired? As if she could feel my irritation, Taylor whacked Dylan’s shoulder. If it didn’t hurt before, it did now.
Dylan shot an angry glance at Taylor that could only be interpreted as ow. “What was that for?”
“Do you realize how you sounded?” Taylor angrily signed, facing Dylan more than me.
“No. I’m deaf.” I could barely suppress a snicker at Dylan’s seriousness as he answered, not that Dylan, Taylor, or pretty much anyone else at the party could’ve heard me.
Taylor rolled her eyes and hit him again. “You know what I mean.”
As fun as it was to watch Taylor put Dylan in his place, he really didn’t deserve it. Besides, after their recent break-up and then make-up, a fight was the last thing they needed. “It’s ok,” I interrupted. “I know what Dylan meant. Besides, I’m flattered that he’d think I’m deaf.” I guess I really did deserve more than a B+ on my first signing exam.
“Really?” Taylor asked. She probably thought I was just trying to be nice. I don’t know, maybe I was.
“Yeah. Really, it’s fine.” Taylor and Dylan just stood there staring at me. In one word, it was awkward. In another, it was claustrophobic. I swore that if one more person stepped on my foot I would shove them to the ground. “Hey, I’m going to get something to drink. Either of you want anything?”
Taylor shook her head immediately, probably reminiscing about the last time she’d gotten drunk (when was that anyway, like Wednesday?). Not that I was actually going to drink alcohol, but for her I would have carried a plastic cup of it. “I’ll go with you,” Dylan signed to me, earning an angry glance from Taylor. “Just to see what there is to drink,” Dylan hastily assured her.
Though her infamously jealous self tried to keep an angry expression, Taylor couldn’t help from smiling when Dylan put his arm around her. “Fine,” she signed. Dylan pulled her closer so that the golden sequins on her extremely tight and short sleeveless dress clung onto his blue jeans as she rubbed against him and he leaned down to kiss her. I glanced away, trying not to focus on any of the gazillion couples making out and practically falling on top of each other as they grinded. Is the past tense of grinding grinded or ground? I’m going to vote ground since the couple in the back literally just fell to the ground. At least it was carpeted
A touch on the shoulder jolted me out of my observation, and I couldn’t have been happier. Dylan pointed to the back of the room to say let’s go, and I nodded, following Dylan’s path to the kitchen concealed by the mass of bodies before us. I glanced one more time behind me at Taylor. She didn’t seem angry or jealous that Dylan was totally ditching her. How uncharacteristic; normally she would’ve blown up like a competitive eater on Thanksgiving. Although normally Dylan hung out with popular, (I hate the word but) hot junior or senior girls, not a dorky awkward freshman who’s (God forbid!) hearing. Wow, this was new; for once Taylor’s lack of hostility was insulting.
I stumbled on an empty beer can that must’ve been tossed at least yard short of the garbage can as we entered the kitchen. Luckily Dylan had already turned to face me and realized I was falling in time to catch me. “You okay?” he asked once he’d steadied me on my feet.
“Yeah,” I signed with a smile on my face. Sometimes my clumsiness even made me crack up. “Thanks.”
Dylan smiled back. “Anytime.” As he turned around to inspect the drinks on the counter, my heart fell. What was that, heartbreak? Jealousy? Nah, I assured myself. No way. I hated relationship; they were disgusting. Most of them didn’t last. They were just a way for teenagers to pass the time and blindly use and abuse each other. Dylan was just the big brother or best guy friend I had never had. Not a crush. Maybe if I repeated that enough times I’d believe it.
To turn my attention away from my feelings or not-feelings (definitely not-feelings), I inspected the kitchen. There were less people in the kitchen than I had expected, probably because everyone else had gotten drunk or passed out already. Aside from Dylan and me there were only four others. A guy and a girl were laughing, sitting at the bar where Dylan was looking over the available drinks. A scary and antisocial looking emo guy (was he a guy? his hair was pretty long) was crumpled over in the corner, probably passed out from alcohol overdose. I’m pretty sure that stench had to be coming from somewhere other than the red plastic cups on the counter. Another guy was holding a bottle of beer, and he was walking…right towards me.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “You’re just standing there gawkin’. Grab a drink. Have some fun.” He reached out to touch me (I don’t even want to think where) but I stepped back.
“What’s wrong with you? Are you always this jerky or are you did you just drink too much because you have no friends?” I signed.
“What the hell are you saying?” the guy asked. “I can’t understand your stupid signing.” He swung his free hand for emphasis.
“Sorry,” I said, still signing as I spoke. “I guess I just assumed everyone here understood sign language.” You know, because to gain admission to the party we had to supply our names and a full sentence in ASL.
“So why aren’t you drinking, baby?”
I rolled my eyes. All of a sudden I wished that I had stayed in the party room to be trampled by high heels and loafers. “I’m not twenty-one. Although that hasn’t stopped you.” There was no way this chauvinistic Neanderthal was older than me, let alone twenty-one.
He smirked. “Gimme a better excuse.”
I clenched my fists behind my back. “Gimme an excuse to drink, then,” I mocked.
He shrugged, his corduroy jacket chafing his arms. “It feels good.”
I snorted. “I suppose the hangover you’ll have tomorrow morning will feel good, too.” The guy glared at me before furiously walking away.
Dylan walked around the bar with a beer bottle in hand. “What was that about?”
I struggled slightly more than normal to understand him since he was really only signing with one hand and balancing the beer in the other. Apparently he had already forgotten that my sign language skills were only sub-par. “It’s not worth repeating. Do you know where I can find some water?”
“Why do I have a feeling that you’re only asking for water because it’s the only drink word you know?”
I scrunched up my nose. “Not true. I just don’t drink and I don’t really like pop.” (Or is it soda? Soda pop? Oh well, it doesn’t really matter since there’s only one word for it in ASL.)
“Oh come on, Liz. I won’t tell anyone if you drink under age.”
Thanks, but I’m not Taylor. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not drinking.”
“Why not?” Dylan set his beer on the counter and lifted himself to sit on it. Unlike Blondie, who had just left, Dylan questioned out of pure curiosity instead of pure stupidity.
I had to jump, but I managed to pull myself to sit on the counter across from him. “You mean aside from all those teens who OD their first time and die, right?” Dylan raised his eyebrows at my dramatics and waved his hand for me to continue. “Ok, fine. That’s only part of the reason.
“I had this science teacher in fifth grade. She told me about how her one college professor made her promise that she wouldn’t drink until she was twenty-one and that she’d never get really drunk. Or drink and drive.” I smiled at the memories. I think her class was the only science class that hadn’t made me run home crying about how I wished I’d been born in the Stone Ages so I wouldn’t have to study technological progress or atoms and crap. “She sent him a Christmas card every year telling him she hadn’t. I made her that same promise before I even knew what a drink was. Every year on the bottom of my Christmas card I’d sign that I hadn’t drunk. Every year.” I shook my head, caught up in the nostalgia. “Until last year,” I added. “When she died of cancer.”
“I’m so sorry,” Dylan signed.
I shrugged. “It’s okay. We weren’t that close. But the only thing worse than breaking a promise is breaking a promise to a dead person who you can never say you’re sorry to.”
Dylan jumped off the counter and walked to the fridge.
Once I slid off the marble slab I had to run to catch up to him and then tap him on he shoulder to catch his attention. “What are you doing?” I asked
“Getting you some water.”
“Thanks,” I signed as I accepted the plastic bottle. “So do you want to go back in there?” I pointed to the family room.
“Why would I want to do that?” Dylan asked, a grin plastered on his face.
“Slow song. Don’t you want to dance with Taylor?” I nudged him playfully in the shoulder.
“I guess I’d better go back in, then. You coming?”
I shook my head, causing my side bangs to fall into my freckled face. “No. I think I’ll stay out here for a little longer.”
“Okay. See ya soon.” I returned his wave as he walked out and was swallowed by the crowd of dancers. If you could call their erratic seizures dancing. I sighed as Kelly Clarkson sang, “Just me, myself, and I,” over a synthetically added bass. At the moment, it couldn’t be truer.
Was it just me or did something on the other side of the room make a sound? It couldn’t have been scary emo kid because he was just as unconscious as before. I glanced around, making sure I hadn’t missed anyone. Nope, emo kid was still passed out in that corner, the couple was still making out in the other. I glanced around and shrugged as I entered the hallway outside of the kitchen. It was poorly lit, but I could make out the figure of guy jiggling a doorknob. The same guy who was in the kitchen before.
“What are you doing?” I asked, this time remembering to talk.
He turned around quickly, taken by surprise. “What are you doing?” Great, now he was mimicking me.
“Asking what you’re doing,” I all but spit back.
“Fiery,” he said as he walked closer to me. “I like that.” I snorted. “What, you don’t believe me?” he asked, arching his eyebrows. “I can prove it.”
Okay, now he was just being a total creep. “No thanks.” I turned to walk away when he grabbed my arm. He twisted it around so hard that I dropped my water and had to turn to face him.
“Don’t walk away when I’m talking to you.” I was surprised at how level his voice was considering the amount of testosterone and alcohol that must have been flowing through him.
“Last I checked, the conversation was over.” I struggled to free my arm, but his grip only tightened.
“I don’t think so.” He pushed me against the flowered wallpaper behind me.
I gasped as my head hit the wall, and his other hand pressed against my neck. My heart beat faster, presenting the kick of adrenaline I needed to karate chop the arm holding my neck with my free hand and then proceed to elbow him in the face. The shock made him let go of my arm only to use both his hands to grab onto me. Sadly gym class karate hadn’t taught us how to fend off this attack, and the guy was so strong that he easily lifted me up and into the room with the doorknob he had just jiggled. He didn’t even bother to turn on the light or lock the door: he just threw me down onto the bed.
I was about to scream when he lay on top of me and knocked the air out of me. He smacked me in the face with the palm of his hand. “Don’t you dare scream or I will beat you so hard that you won’t recognize your face in the mirror. Understand?” I nodded. It didn’t make much of a difference, anyway. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen hearing people, and the music would effectively drown out my cries. He reached his hand behind my neck and pulled my face closer to his. I tried to turn away, but his grip was too strong, and with him lying on top of me, I didn’t have enough air to effectively hit him with my hands. One of them did find a mark on the side of his head, but it hurt my hand more than it hurt him, and in response, he smacked me in the face again. A sickening smile spread across his face as he pressed his lips on mine, and my struggles futilely brought on more of a beating. Within minutes I could barely move. Whether it was from fear or pain I didn’t know.
Both of our breathing came out in ragged breaths, mine because I was having a panic attack and his because he was a total perv. He grabbed the hem of my dress and pulled the fabric until it was up to my chest. Maybe wearing a tighter dress would have been smarter. He reached to my back and unhooked my bra, tossing it on the floor. His cold hands touched my breasts, and I wreathed beneath him to no effect. “Oh come on, babe. Don’t try to resist.” His hands wandered down my stomach to my underwear. I tried again to struggle, but he just beat my sides with his fists.
“Help,” I signed. “Help.” At least signing kept me from whimpering.
“I can’t understand what you’re fucking saying,” he muttered. “Talk!” He hit my mouth and ears. “You have these for reason.”
My head rolled to the side. It looked like help wasn’t going to come in time.
I collapsed on my bed, my feet dangling off the side. I was so miserable that I hadn’t even bothered to take off my sneakers even though my feet were probably blistered after running fifteen miles. I laid in self pity and exhaustion for a good five minutes before my stench propelled me to take a shower. The warm water felt good, and I stood in the scalding water for half an hour until I felt like my skin would peel and the clogged tub would overflow. I sighed as I turned off the water. The blasting sound of the stereo was once again audible. And so was a knocking on my door.
“David! David, open up!”
I grumbled as I opened up the door for Jeffrey. “What do you want?”
Jeffrey glanced at the towel around my waist before walking in. “Dude, what are you doing?”
I walked to my dresser and grabbed a pair of blue jeans. “No, dude,” I mocked, “what are you doing? You said the party would be small. Why the,” I inserted a swear word in sign language, “would you even have a party now?”
Jeffrey sighed. “David, you can’t keep living like this. Come downstairs when you’re done dressing.”
I was about to protest when Jeffrey walked out. Ergh. I hated when Jeffrey played the concerned step-brother. Sure, he had a reason to be concerned. I’d only left my room to eat or run since I’d gotten back from visiting my mom’s grave two days ago, but if he thought this was bad, he should’ve seen me after she’d died. I pulled on a white T-shirt. I considered dressing up more but snorted at the thought.
My watch beeped. 10:30. Crap, I’d promised Ray that I’d be online. I logged onto my game account as I clumsily pulled on my headset. “Sorry, man. I almost forgot.”
“No problem,” Ray panted in between slicing the air with his plastic sword. “What is that sound in the background?”
“Jeffrey’s party,” I said as I thrust my dagger into a demon.
Ray raised his eyebrows and then pushed his circular glasses back up his nose. “And you’re not down there?”
“No,” I answered bluntly. Ray paused the game. “What was that for?”
“Get down there, David.”
“Don’t you start being bossy, too,” I ordered the computer screen.
“David, you don’t even like this game. You’re only playing so you can talk to me. I’m flattered and all, but I’ll be okay. I saw you when you came up two days ago.”
“You sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Ray waved me away. “Go quit being antisocial.”
I sighed. “Fine. I’ll talk to you later.” I took off the headset and swung my knife in the air, trying to find the courage to walk down my own stairs. How pathetic. Focusing on how angry I was at the volume of the music made it easier to build my courage. Wait a minute, I knew this song. I also knew the beats that had been overlaid with it. I ran out my door, not even bothering to let go of my knife or put on my shoes.
“Hey, David,” Jeffrey said as I ran down the dimly lit hallway towards him.
“You hacked my computer and stole my song,” I spat at him.
“Sorry, man, I didn’t know you’d be so upset about it.” The end of his sentence dropped off as he eyed the dagger in my hand, and a look of terror crossed his face. “Are you okay?” He raised his hands defensively.
I laughed. “No, but you do know this dagger sword thing is fake, right? I was just playing some stupid game with Ray.”
“Oh,” he said, his embarrassment obvious. “How’s Ray doing?”
“Fine. He finally got out of the institute.” Jeffrey just looked at me sadly. He hadn’t known me when I’d tried to commit suicide and got stuck in there with Ray. I’d gotten out three years ago, but Ray stayed in after being bullied again at the institute and trying to kill himself for the third time. He may have been a geek, but he didn’t deserve any of that.
“This place is a mess,” I said, trying to break the awkward silence. “You’re cleaning it up.” I eyed a water bottle and a beer can down the hallway. Wait a second. “I thought I told you to lock these doors.” Jeffrey looked down at his shoe sliding against the carpet. “You didn’t,” I begged. Please tell me my step brother didn’t just do it in the room where our grandparents sleep when they visit.
Jeffrey looked up. “I… She…” I groaned, and then proceeded to let loose with a string of every swear word I knew in ASL. “You do know I don’t understand that much sign language, right?”
“Understand this,” I muttered, holding my middle finger in front of his shocked face. “Give me the keys. We’ll talk about this later.”
“But there’s someone I want you to meet,” Jeffrey begged. “I think you’d really like her.
“Maybe later,” I snapped back, although we both knew I would duck out as soon as I got the chance.. “Keys,” I reminded him. Jeffrey sighed and threw them into my hands. “Thanks,” I said grudgingly before he ran into the kitchen to escape my wrath. Escaping wouldn’t be that easy, though; I’d yell at him later.
I cautiously opened each door as I walked down the hall, praying that no one was inside any of the rooms. I locked all the doors but the last where the water bottle and beer can were; so far so good. I’d started turning the knob when I could hear a guy’s voice on the other side of the door. I pressed my ear against the cold wood to hear what he was saying. “Don’t try to resist.” I could feel my pulse quickening. Oh my God. I don’t think that’s what a boyfriend says to a girlfriend, which leaves rape as the only option. I shoved the keys into my pocket and grabbed my cell phone. If this was what I thought it was, I could need proof and an ambulance fast.
I tried my best to open the door quietly and slipped into the room. No one had turned on the light, so it was still pretty dark, but the drapes were open and a full moon was outside. It was light enough that I could easily make out the outline of the guy lying on top of a girl and his fists pounding into her sides. If this wasn’t rape it was definitely abuse.
The girl was moving her hands. What was she saying? It looked like…help. Oh God, definitely rape. The boy hit her face as he raged. “I can’t understand what you’re f*ing saying. Talk! You have these for reason.” Oh God, I had to do something. The boy grabbed her underwear and pulled them down to her thighs. “Hang on one second, babe.” He turned towards me to presumably take off his pants, but I wasn’t about to find out. As soon as he faced me I started snapping pics.
“What the f***?!” the boy screamed as my flash blinded him.
“Get out now or I call the cops,” I said, somehow managing to keep my voice from shaking. “And I’ll show them these.” I waved the cell phone and shot a few more photos as evidence. The guy started to run towards me, but I held up my plastic dagger. Please be as dumb as Jeffrey, please be as dumb as Jeffrey, please be as dumb as Jeffrey, I repeated in my head. The guy must’ve been because he ran off. I let out the breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding. My heartbeat didn’t slow down, however. In front of me was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. And she was in a total panic.
I set my dagger onto the dresser beside me and slid my cell phone back into my pocket. “It’s okay,” I signed. “I’m not going to hurt you. Do you understand me?” I could barely catch her sign yes since her hand moved so little. Her eyes were glued to the dagger I’d just set down.
“It’s okay,” I repeated. “The knife is fake. See?” I picked it up and pretended to stab myself. Okay, it actually hurt a little, but whatever. “I’m going to turn on the lights okay?” The girl furiously waved her hands before signing no.
“Okay, okay. I’m not going to turn on the lights,” I assured her, trying to calm her down. “Why can’t I turn on the lights?”
“You’ll see me,” she signed clumsily.
“It’s okay. I only want to help.”
She looked hesitant. “Okay. You’re going to turn around while I get dressed, and I’ll tell you when you can turn back around.” I was accustomed to all kinds of signing, but hers was particularly difficult to understand. It took me a moment to realize she was signing with her left hand.
I raised my eyebrows. “How are you going to do that? Aren’t you deaf?”
“No. I’m hearing.”
I wanted to ask why she was signing, but I decided to leave that until later. “Fine. Okay. I’m turning around.” I turned to face the wall and shifted my weight from foot to foot while I waited for her to finish.
“Okay. You can turn around now.” Her voice was shaky and weak.
I turned around just in time to watch her fall over. I went to touch her, but she shook her hand not to. “Okay,” I said, the first time I’d spoken to her in this whole encounter. “Are you okay?”
“I think I’m going to throw up,” she panted.
“Okay,” I said, trying to keep her calm. I use okay a lot when I don’t know what to say. “The bathroom is on the other side of the room. Do you think you can make it?” She used her left hand to sign yes. “Do you need me to help you?” She waved me away as she got up, and then almost fell over again.
“Okay, I appreciate that you don’t want me to touch you, but you need help.”
“Fine,” she signed. I gently grabbed her wrist to drape her arm around my neck and slung my arm around her waist. She flinched when I touched her but didn’t protest as I helped her to the bathroom. She collapsed on the tile floor the second I let go of her and threw up in the toilet.
“I’m going to go get you a change of clothes and a first aid kit. Okay?” I had to talk since she still wasn’t looking at me, but she signed yes back. “Good. You’re doing great. When I leave, lock the bathroom door. I’ll tell you when I’m back.” She nodded and closed the door behind me. And then I ran.