Ben is still bent over his textbook, intently staring at the diagrams and sloppily trying to form the signs. It's slightly painful to watch him. I snap a few times to finally get his attention. "Hey. Why do you only work on your ASL homework? I never see you with any other books."

He shrugs and rolls over onto his side, propping himself up with an elbow. He gets this intense look of concentration whenever I'm signing, like it would be the end of the world if he had to ask me to repeat something. But I've grown up with people who are new to ASL all of my life; I'm patient. Although, I wonder if he doesn't ask many questions because of a pride thing; if he feels like a lesser to me if he's not as good as someone who's been speaking this language for their entire life.

"I don't know. I mean, yeah, I have plenty of other homework. But I've been learning social studies, math, and language arts for my entire life. I didn't know one lick of sign language coming into this, so it requires more work from me, in a way. I know that a lot of students blow it off, but I really would like to me able to be fluent some day."

I raise my eyebrows and ease myself up into a sitting position. "What makes you care so much about learning it?" I'm not as hostile to others learning the language as some Deaf are, but I do get suspicious when people randomly tackle my way of speech. "Not many people want anything to do with learning the language of the blanks."

He cringes at the word, which surprises me. I take it differently if someone like the Lawsons call me blank because they are too. But it is practically a curse word.

"Uh, my little brother is...like you," He says, careful to not say something that might offend me.

That's surprising. "Huh. Deaf? It really is rare. I just know so many because a lot of people send their deaf kids to the hospital where I work. We have a strong ASL program. Pretty much, if you can't communicate conventionally but don't have enough money to afford a private tutor--and who does?--then you go there."

Ben nods slowly, glancing at the floor. "He doesn't know sign language because he's so young--a kindergartner. Yeah, my parents weren't planning on him." He cracks a small smile at that. "But they just found out. My mom and dad just assumed that he was a slow learner and didn't like to talk. Like you said, deafness is so rare and they thought he chose to ignore them when they spoke. But by the first week of school, they had him tested."

"That's actually a common story," I begin. He runs a hand through his dark brown hair while he watches me, making it stick up in even more disarray. "We hear that one a lot," I continue. "Be glad that they caught it so quickly while he's still in the prime age to learn. How do the other kids react to him?"

He shrugs, slight dismay on his face. "I don't know. The kindergartners don't even know that it's weird yet. They don't care. But I know that a lot of the older kids tease him for his clear skin. My parents are debating about sending him to an asylum like the one where you work." He pauses, real anguish forming on his face. "You know, kids are normal until they can't make words on their skin. Then no matter who they are, they're insane then. It's not right." He shakes his head, his lips pressed into such a tight line that they almost disappear.

"You know, if he ends up where I work, I'll keep a good eye on him. How far away do you live, anyway?" I ask, ignoring the last part of his speech because it's all too true and I don't trust myself to civilly comment. The subject is too near and dear to my heart for that.

"Oh, about three hours from here. My mom and dad don't really want him to be too far away, but a conventional elementary school won't take a deaf kid." He pauses and makes air quotes, "It's too much of a hassle and slows down the other children."

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