The sun wakes me mercilessly on Friday morning. Everything is too bright, too loud, too much. My mouth feels fuzzy, my eyelids heavy and dry. Even the sound of my lashes fluttering against each other hurts in my head. Someone snorts next to me and for a very long, torturous second I fear that I made a stupid mistake last night. The ceiling above me is unfamiliar as is the blanket covering me, but I’m still wearing my clothes so I relax, will the world around me to stop spinning – and even more important, roistering – and wreck my brain for details of last night.
I went with Miho to the club. Oh. Jake and my drink. Double oh. The part with our heart to heart is no problem, although now in the too bright light of the too early day I wonder why Miho did what she did back then. There’s more to it than just an extremely attractive co-worker I think, but right now I can’t just outright ask her, can I?
“Stop wriggling so much.” Her grumpy protest out of the depth of her blanket lair is accompanied by a hand that blindly swats around until she finds a pillow that she lazily chucks into my direction.
“Can’t. Gotta get up and check if I still have a job. And if my Mom still has a job.” My blanket is like a cocoon, I need a while to find my way out of it.
“There’s a fresh toothbrush in the drawer in the bathroom. Make us some coffee and don’t talk to me before I had at least one cup of it.” She burrows into the pile of pillows, hides from the sun and her hangover. I hope she has a hangover. It would suck if I was the only one.
As silently as possible I prepare the coffee but the sight of the cake in the fridge makes my stomach churn. Brushing my teeth feels like rubbing them with sandpaper and I accept it as punishment for going overboard last night. At least the minty toothpaste chases off the foul taste. Clear cold water ruins the remnants of my makeup but with the help of Miho’s cleanser I don’t like a raccoon with a really bad anymore. That counts as victory in my books.
“Okay, I gotta go, it’s humble pie for breakfast. Coffee’s on the table and you better get up and ready for work, too,” I inform Miho and rush out. No time to change but the sundress looks much better than I feel. Jake might recognize it though. Not that I care.
The house is empty and quiet when I arrive. Of course I have to change that, the washing machine is the first thing I turn on, followed by the coffee machine. My thundering headache advises me to turn off the hearing aids so I work in muffled silence, grateful for being able to turn of my senses off. It comes pretty handy sometimes.
“Good morning, sunshine! Thanks for the little refreshment last night.”
I jump at Jake’s greeting.
“Geez, you gonna make it a thing now to sneak up on me?” He’s lucky I’m not holding a cup of coffee or this shower wouldn’t end so pleasant.
“Not my fault that it’s so easy,” he says and reaches past me to grab the coffee pot.
“Um, yes it is?” Obviously.
His expression sours, the smile turns into a tight line, a crease appears between his eyebrows.
“Will you ever let that go?” He sets the pot down with enough force that I fear it might break. Thank goodness it doesn’t or I’m sure its hot content would spill all over me again.
“Probably not.” We are far from even, actually he hasn’t even started to make it up to me.
“Fine, be like that.” He storms off, coffee forgotten and I also opt against it now that my heart is racing like crazy already. Don’t have to force a heart attack after all.
Of course I get no reprieve today, while I’m cleaning all the mirrors and glass doors Maddie totters up the driveway, a garment bag over her arm.
I brace for whatever insult she chooses as a greeting, give her a simple nod and keep rubbing at a tiny speck on the mirror in the entryway.
She huffs and puffs but doesn’t address me, keeps muttering under her breath while she rushes past me upstairs, probably on her way to Ben’s room. I mentally make a quick check. His bed is made, curtains clean, the carpet vacuumed. I should be in the clear.
The mirror in the dining room is next and I’m grateful for the thick, soft carpets muffling my own steps as well as those of Maddie who storms down the stairs, lips pinched into a tiny pucker.
“There is no free hanger in Ben’s closet!” she informs me.
“Okay.” I take it just like that, if she doesn’t want me to start a philosophical discourse on existentialism there’s not much else for me to do after her announcement.
“But I need one!”
I wait for her to stomp her foot but she disappoints me, no such obvious childish behavior today.
“Then get one,” I suggest, turn back towards my task at hand.
“Isn’t that your job?”
That gets my attention. My headache is still bigger than the Mt. Everest, I haven’t really eaten yet – a wise decision, but it still sucks – and the effect of my coffee earlier is rapidly fading.
“No, actually it’s NOT my job. My job description is extensive, but running around to get you a hanger is definitely not part of it. If you are done now with pestering me, I would like to finish this here.”
There’s a faint chuckle coming from the top of the stairs and I would have missed it if i hadn’t put my hearing aids back in use.
“Then tell me where I find some,” she demands to know, kindling my anger even more.
“I have no idea. I’m not living here and if they are not somewhere in the supply closet – and they are not – it’s unlikely for me to come across them. How about you ask Jake if he can spare one? Or simply take of Ben’s things off the hanger, put it on top of another et voilá – a free hanger.” Who would have thought that you can have a whole conversation about clothes hangers? Not me.
“Not sure if I can spare one,” Jake says and swaggers down the stairs, a wide grin on his face. He really likes messing with people, luckily not only with me. I don’t want to think about how my life would be if I was his only target.
“Then I get one from Elias,” Maddie snaps but Jake blocks the stairs.
“Not going to happen. You stay out of Dad’s bedroom, got that?”
That’s not teasing anymore, his whole posture changes. He shifts his weight, gets into a firm stance. He won’t let her pass.
“Or what?” she challenges him, chin raised and hands on her hips.
“Oh, god dammit, stop quarreling like kids.” I throw my cleaning rag on the floor and squeeze past them up the stairs, stomp into Elias’ bedroom and grab a hanger from his closet. I expect them to be frozen in their stare-down but when I get downstairs Maddie is gone and Jake on his phone. Great, now I’m standing there with a clothes hanger like some fool.
He sees me, motions towards the kitchen and I nod, walk off into that direction.
Maddie is rummaging through the fridge, something I have seen her doing a lot lately. I bite my tongue not to let slip what I’m thinking. ‘If you keep that up your wedding dress won’t fit.’ That’s low and I don’t want to drop on her level.
“Your hanger,” I say instead, not the most clever thing to say but at least true.
“Finally.” She snags a piece of cheese and slams the door shut, grabs the hanger and marches off.
“Anytime,” I mutter, shake my head and go back to work.
Or I plan to. Before I can pick up my rag again Jake comes over to me, car keys dangling from his finger.
“That was Dad. Work emergency, you gotta come with me.”
Maddie pops out of the living room, looking as if she has just eaten a lemon instead of cheese.
“What? Doesn’t he have cleaners for the office already?”
The annoyed huff isn’t from me but actually from Jake.
“Not that kind of work. Jazz’s actual profession. He needs an interpreter for sign language.”
I think I never heard someone say a word with that much disdain.
“He needs an interpreter?” I ignore Maddie and focus on Jake instead who nods.
“And, like now.”
“But – there’s still so much to do. I have to wipe the floors and-” I point out. Jake’s grin widens, he winks at me.
“Well, Maddie is still here. Be a good housewife Maddie and take care of that.” He nods at her and grabs my hand, drags me out of the door before I can even get my fill of Maddie’s stupid, shocked expression. Like a fish out of water she’s gulping for air, eyes wide, her whole body trembling with rage. Glorious.
I’m still chuckling when we arrive at the townhall.
Inside there’s a maze of hallways I have never been in. Jake strides through them, knowing his way around, and leads me to visitor room where I meet Elias, a little girl, maybe ten years old, and – much to my surprise – Jared.
“Ah, Jazz, dear, I’m sooo glad you could make it.” Elias motions towards the girl who looks at me with big brown eyes. She signs something and I smile, sign back at her.
“Are you the reason I was called here?”
She confirms, hesitating a bit. I wink and quickly sign.
“Great, my other job was getting boring already. I’m Jazz.”
“I’m Kimmy.” Her small fingers move quickly and with ease.
“Nice to meet you. Sorry, let me talk to the others real quick.”
She nods and I turn to Elias. “A quick explanation perhaps?”
“Mr. Sanders here brought this lovely young lady today to our monthly meeting and I suggested getting her a better pastime than just crayons and a coloring book. How about you show her around a bit? Go and get ice cream maybe?”
“Mr. Sanders, I wasn’t aware it’s ‘bring your daughter to work day’ today,” I snark with a sweet smile to not frighten Kimmy.
“Even if it was, you would have to ask my co-worker about it, Kimmy is her daughter. Due to some unforeseeable developments she had to leave Kimmy in my care for today and I do know some basic signs-” he waves a bit and clumsily signs ‘how are you?’, much to Kimmy’s enjoyment “- but when Mr. Rosenfeldt suggested finding someone to entertain her while we have to work, I couldn’t resist the offer.” The unspoken ‘I had no idea whom he would call in the end’ drifts between us and I ignore it for now.
“But I do hope you’re not going to give her coffee.”
“Don’t worry, I’m a trained sign language interpreter and I can deal with kids. Kimmy and I will have a lot of fun.” I simultaneously translate it so Kimmy knows what we are talking about, smile widely at her. “When should I bring her back?”
“In two hours max. If anything happens, just call me.” Elias gives Jared an encouraging nod, ushers me and Kimmy out of the door, followed by Jake.
“Now, what would you like to do? Ice cream?”
She makes a face, shakes her head. “No, thanks. Can we go into a bookstore? I look for a certain manga.”
Maybe she’s older than I think so I decide to just ask her. She’s twelve, not completely a kid anymore but not a teenager either. A tricky age.
“When I was twelve I had braces and pigtails,” I tell her and she flashes me a grin.
“And no boyfriend, huh?” A quick glance over to Jake who still follows us outside and her hands cut through the air rapidly. “Is he your boyfriend?”
“Him? No.” A very decisive gesture and even Jake notices that we are talking about him.
“What is she saying?”
“That you are rude not for introducing yourself. Kimmy, this is Jake.” I spell his name for her and she waves at him, a gesture he mimics.
“So if it’s not him, do you have a boyfriend?”
I hesitate. Tricky question.
“No, I don’t. You?”
“No. Boys are stupid.”
“I second that.”
She makes a rude gesture that I pretend not to see, but she says exactly what I’m feeling.
“So you can hear, right?”
We are sitting both in the backseat so we can still talk and I nod, brush my hair aside so she can see my hearing aids.
“I do. But not very well.”
“Were you born with it?”
Jake mutters something about the traffic, the radio is playing.
“No, I lost part of my hearing some years ago due to some accident.”
“Was it strange?”
Strange is not the word I would use and the anger and fear back then drowned out all the weirdness of this muffled hearing, the fact that I suddenly had this other constant noise in my ear.
So I make a vague gesture, something like a ‘meh’ to hearing people.
“I got used to it. What about you? No Cochlear implants?”
She shakes her head, lifts the hair at one side so I can see a scar three fingers behind her ear.
“I had one, but I was allergic to some of its components. The wound didn’t heal, and it itched so much that I scratched my whole head bloody. Mom and Dad decided to get it removed and started learning sign after that.”
“Well, that sucks.”
She shrugs and a quick glance outside tells me that we’re almost at the mall.
It’s a Friday and the shops are packed with people. I give Kimmy my number just in case we get separated and together we follow Jake to a comic and manga book store. She squeals in delight and runs off, reminding me more of a girl than a teenager now. I see some familiar posters, Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura next to One Piece, Death Note and some others. I have to admit, although I’m not a huge fan I read some of those over the years.
“Look at all this stuff,” Jake marvels, eyes wide and his jaw slightly dropped.
“Is the ‘stuff’ you’re referring to that lifesize magical girl in tiny school uniform over there?” I grin at him, laugh when his eyes widen further.
“What? No. If you need me, I’m over there with the superhero comics. At least I know some of those.” He quickly runs off and I wonder if he has ever seen hentai. Could be right up his alley. Well, besides tentacle porn. Not sure if he’s into that.
I find Kimmy browsing through some mangas and get her attention to ask her about them.
“Magical Knight Rayearth?”
“Yes, it’s a bit older but a friend recommended it.”
“A friend from school?” I take a volume of it, open it at a random page, right at some fighting scene. It’s not too graphic but not exactly my taste.
“No, from the internet.”
Ah, the internet. I decide not to ask further, we are not exactly friends after all.
“I’ll take these, be right back.” She signs ‘be right back’ as ‘brb’, acronyms work better in sign than in spoken language.
“She’s quite energetic, huh?” The voice sounds directly next to my ear
“Dammit!” I jump, turn around and slap Jake’s chest. “Can you stop doing that?”
“Not sure, it’s so hilarious how you jump every time I talk to you.” His stupid grin doesn’t waver even when I turn on my heel and follow Kimmy to the check out. That bastard knows he’s having the upper hand, being our driver and all.
“What do you want to do next?” I ask Kimmy once she has paid.
“No idea. Ice cream?”
Since that is always an option for me we walk to the ice cream parlor in the mall but upon entering she suddenly stops, drags me back out so we collide with Jake behind us.
She pushes her bag with the books into Jake’s hands and starts signing so fast that I can barely make sense of it.
“Why don’t we go in?” Jake asks but I shush him, my eyes still trained on Kimmy’s hands.
“She saw someone in there. A classmate, I think.”
Kimmy pleads for us to leave and throw a glance into the shop. There’s a boy around her age at one table with a girl.
“Come, let’s go somewhere else.” I grab Jake’s arm and lead him away, followed by Kimmy who shuffles her feet and hangs her head. Poor girl. Boys are really stupid.
Since ice cream is cancelled now we decide to go back to the town hall, waiting there for Kimmy’s mom to pick her up. We drive past Miho’s café so I tell Jake to pull in and we all march into the shop to get some cake if we can’t have ice cream.
“What would you like?” I ask Kimmy who almost presses her nose against the glass cake display.
“Hi, hope you’re having a nice day, too,” Miho greets us sourly.
“Sorry, I was a bit focused on our guest here.” I smile at her, tap Kimmy’s shoulder. “Here, let me introduce you.”
Kimmy looks at me and I start signing. “Kimmy, this is my friend Miho.” I’m grateful that her name is short. “Miho, this is Kimmy.” I stop signing and add verbally: “I met her this morning in the company of a certain regular customer of yours.”
“Hello, Kimmy.” Miho waves, glances at me and then back at the girl. Hesitantly she raises her hands, start signing, too. “How you are?”
Kimmy giggles, a guttural sound, unfiltered and unguarded. Like most deaf people she probably has no idea how she sounds and immediately she slaps a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.
“What?” Miho’s gaze flits from me to Kimmy and back. “Did I accidentally insult her?”
“No, it’s nothing you said. That was great, by the way.”
I quickly turn to Kimmy. “What’s wrong?”
A quick shake of her head and she points to the chocolate cake in the display.
“You don’t want to talk about it?” I press on. She looks away, her way of ending the conversation.
Miho waits for me to fill her in so I gather my thoughts.
“A coffee and an ice tea. One slice of the chocolate cake and one cherry pie. Do you have ice cream?”
“What do you take me for? Of course I have ice cream.”
“Good, we had to skip ice cream earlier. A scoop of vanilla on my cherry pie. Lemme ask if Kimmy wants some, too.”
She wants. At least she’s not ignoring me anymore.
“I could also make you a sundae if you want,” Miho offers. So far she has ignored Jake completely.
I get Kimmy’s attention and her opinion on sundaes. “No, cake it is. But she wants ice cream and cherries in case you have them on top.”
“Hey, what about me?” Jake watches me joining Kimmy at the table, turns in feigned exasperation at my blatant disregard of his ice cream related needs.
“What about you, Rosenfeldt?” Miho asks, already busy preparing our order.
“Can I get a sundae?”
“Dunno, can you?” She smirks, as if it’s some personal joke.
“Would you please make me a sundae?” His annoyed tone is music to my ears and I grin, catch Miho’s gaze. She winks at me.
“I see what I can do.” Just like that she shoves two plates into his hands, turns him into a waiter without giving him the chance to even complain.
“Thanks, it’s looking great.” I also convey Kimmy’s approval of the cake she gets, complete with ice cream and some cherries, grated chocolate and cream topping.
Jake takes a seat at our table, but when Miho comes over with a tray she only brings my coffee and the ice tea.
“Uhhh…” he starts only for Miho to shut him up with a wave of her hand.
“Hold up, I’m getting to it.”
There are a few other guests but no one seems to need immediate attention so Miho just checks up on them casually, jokes here and there before she vanishes behind the counter and grabs a tall glass, drops some scoops of ice cream into it. She sets it aside while getting some of the bills for other guests ready.
“How is your cake?” I ask Kimmy who gives me an enthusiastic thumbs up.
My own pie is heavenly. Sweet and sour, the vanilla ice cream melting on top. Just Jake sits there, still waiting for his order.
“What did you do to piss her off like that?” Good thing that Kimmy can’t hear us, I don’t have to watch my words this way.
“No idea. I guess she’s just holding a grudge.”
I wouldn’t say that I know Jake inside out but definitely enough to justify a raised eyebrow and sceptical look.
“And that has nothing to do with you?”
“Nope, not as far as I can tell.” He changes the topic, points at Kimmy.
“What about our Little Miss Sunshine here?”
“She’s enjoying her cake.”
“Yeah, I can see that. But she was a bit – dunno, cranky just now. Is she alright?” A tiny crease appears between his eyebrows as he narrows his eyes slightly.
“I’m not a psychic, I can’t read her mind. If I could tell what teenage girls are thinking I would be rich, you know?”
Miho saunters up to us with a tall glass filled with ice cream or better, a mushy liquid that used to be ice cream minutes ago. A small dollop of cream and a single cherry on top marks it officially a sundae.
“Here you are, Rosenfeldt.” She slides on a chair and motions towards Kimmy with her chin. “How do I ask if she likes it?”
I quickly show her the signs and she gets Kimmy’s attention, asks her the question.
A flurry of signs are the answer, so fast that I have trouble getting them all.
“It’s the best cake she has ever eaten, she wants the recipe and asks what kind of chocolate you used for the batter and the icing.”
We talk about cakes and baking until Miho has to take care of some guests and their bills. When she comes back our plates are empty, Jake’s sundae is gone, too.
“Anything else I can get you?” Miho smiles at Kimmy but I shake my head.
“We have to go back to the office soon. And meet Mr. Sanders again.” Since Kimmy can’t hear us I mercilessly tease Miho.
“Just the bill please,” Jake interrupts my fun.
“You paying for all or just for yourself?”
“Can’t make the ladies pay for their food. Give me the total,” he says with a wink towards Kimmy who looks at me for clarification.
“He’s being cocky,” I explain with a few signs. “But he’s also paying for us.”
She touches his arm gently, waits until he faces her to bring her hand towards her chin and down in a bow.
“Thanks,” I translate.
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” Under the sudden weight of Kimmy’s stare Jake runs a hand through his hair, clears his throat.
“Oh look, the kid broke him. Way to go,” Miho cheered and I quickly translate to get a laugh from Kimmy. She does, but claps her hand over her mouth before the unmelodic sound can even fade.
“Kimmy? What’s wrong?”
She avoids my eye until I snap a few times directly in front of her face.
“What?” It’s impressive how much annoyance a kid can put into a single gesture.
“That’s what I want to know. what’s wrong with you?”
“You heard it! I’m laughing like a donkey!” She jumps up, runs into the restroom and leaves us puzzled.
“I guess I’m going to talk to her a bit.”
Miho nods and wanders off to take care of her work while I give Jake some time to finish off his ice cream.
At least Kimmy isn’t crying. She’s berating herself, harsh gestures with even harsher meanings.
“Hey, what’s upsetting you like this?”
“Nothing.” She’s not looking at me, keeps her gaze fixed on her shoes. You don’t have to be an expert in sign language or body language to know that she definitely refuses this conversation.
But she’s 12 and I’m twice her age, which means I’m twice as stubborn.
“‘Nothing’ wouldn’t make you run off like that.”
So we end up staring at each other for a couple of heartbeats before she rolls her eyes, the universal sign for giving up.
“I hate my laughter.”
At first I’m not sure if I got that sign right, but it’s definitely laughter. There are a couple of different gestures for that word, so I pick another one.
“Yes. So there’s this boy-”
Of course there is. I don’t interrupt her but inwardly roll my eyes.
“-and he made fun of my laughter. Said it sounds like a donkey getting slaughtered.” Her bottom lip trembles and I can’t help but wrap an arm around her, rub her back briefly.
“He’s an idiot. Believe me, high, clear laughter is a myth. Like girls who cry in a pretty way.”
“The worst thing is, I have no idea how I sound! Is it really that bad?”
She grabs a paper towel and wipes her eyes, I wait until she looks at me again.
“It’s not bad, honestly. Just louder than most people. And that’s okay, I mean, I can hear and I am also loud. Really, really loud. But you know what? One day you will look back and think ‘screw you, stupid boy!’ because every missed chance to laugh is just – well, stupid. Laughter is precious and being able to laugh is a gift. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
She is still sniffling when we come back to our table just to find a small chocolate bonbon on each of our places.
Miho waves briefly and I smile and nod.
Jake puts his phone away and gets up to pull the chair out for Kimmy. The corners of her mouth twitch, but it’s not enough for a smile.
“A bit. Someone said something insensitive about her way to laugh and now she’s a bit self conscious.”
Miho snorts behind the counter. “Was it a guy? Sounds like a guy. Or some stupid-”
“Miho! She’s deaf but she can read lips a bit, so you better watch your words.”
One of the other guests starts laughing and Miho grumbles something under her breath.
“If it was a boy I bet he actually likes her. Boys say and do stupid things when they like girls,” Jake imparts some wisdom to us.
“Boys do and say stupid things. Period,” I dryly reply. I’m not used to translating simultaneously anymore so Kimmy looks back and forth between me and him until I give her a quick summary of our exchange. She laughs again and so do I.
“Your laughter is cute and don’t let anyone tell you anything else.” The first time today that Jake says something true, of course I make sure to translate it carefully. But I also have to add something.
“When a boy really likes you, he wants to see you laugh all the time. He does silly things just to see you smile, not stuff to make you cry.”
“Tell her I tend to snort when I’m laughing and was told that it’s actually quite cute by a guy before,” Miho chimes in.
“He must have really liked you,” Jake pipes up. “Was it Miller? Before you broke his heart?”
Miho sucks in a harsh breath and I can clearly see now what beef they have. Of course, Jake had been the friend of Miho’s ex.
“And I think it’s time for us to go now,” I quickly point out and shoo Kimmy towards the door.
“Not you, but definitely him.” Miho is standing completely straight, shows off her complete height that way.
“Sorry,” I whisper and follow Kimmy outside after relaying her thanks and goodbyes. Kimmy picks up my drastically worsening mood but doesn’t ask and I ignore Jake for the ride back. It’s always the same, he does one nice thing and right after that he ruins it by being his typical self.