Chapter One Only

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Wednesday Night

A squad car flashes red and blue as it races down the street, its siren swallowed by silence. Just like the fireworks bursting over Navy Pier. Music. Thunder. Voices. Sounds that will never be my reality, and yet...being deaf has its advantages. People think I have a sixth sense, but it's just a matter of noting the shift in a person's eyes, the prickle of electricity in the air when a storm is miles away. No storms ride the breeze in this alley tonight, though; there's just me and that fat harvest moon, illuminating the autumn sky like a cosmic jack-o-lantern and whispering a silent warning that creeps along my spine and lingers at the base of my neck.

Something's wrong. Nathan should have been here by now. My eyes scan the alley one more time before I reread his text.

Need to talk. Can you meet me in 10 behind your garage?

Unexpected, but then, I have no point of reference for what to expect. I take a mental tally of what I know. He's a swimmer, with a nice smile and dark eyes that look at me like I'm...someone special. He's Latino, I think. And he's friends with that soccer guy everyone thinks is so hot. He seems to be doing okay in our physics class, so he's got some brains. And I've seen him from across the lake, playing with his dogs in the backyard – extra points for that. Not much to go on, and yet...there's something about him. Something that makes me excited for our date on Friday.

Movement by the gate startles me. I jump, too on edge from standing in the darkness alone, then see my little brother heading toward me with something flopped over his arm.

"Mom says it's cold." Ben signs better than any hearing person I know. He holds up the hoodie I bought last week when Kamiko and I spent the day in Chicago. I happily put it on, remembering how I almost left it under the seat on the Metra train.

Instead of heading back down the gangway, Ben stays put, scrunching up his nose as he sniffs the air around us. "What's that smell? It's the same one I smelled when we were hiking in Brazil. Remember? That day we saw the anaconda and Mom freaked out?"

A fun memory, though I was happy to put some distance between us and that terrifyingly beautiful snake. I ponder whether to answer Ben's question about the familiar sweet, earthy aroma that often lingers in the alley when the breeze carries it from our neighbor's yard. "Nothing. Somebody must have been cooking." Mom or Dad can explain weed to him. He doesn't need to know tonight.

"It's stinky." He attempts to wave away the scent with his hand, which makes me laugh, but we both stop and squint as a car turns into the alley, catching us in its headlights. It stops, pauses, and backs out onto the street.

"That was weird," Ben says.

I nod, wondering if it was Nathan. Would Ben's presence cause him to leave?

"You got a package right after you went out." He climbs the low fence separating the alley from our yard and perches on top. "It's a little one from your original dad."

"Okay. Thanks." Ben's name for my bio father makes me smile, but really, what else would he call him? It must have been strange finding out Mom was married before and I'm only his half-sister. He never even questioned the difference in our skin color – mine milky white and his mocha latte, until the conversation a few months ago. There's nothing "half" about it to me and Ben, though. We're all in, for better or for worse, through thick and thin, the whole enchilada and all the other clichés.

"When can I meet him?" Hopeful eyes peer at me through the darkness. He hates feeling left out.

The answer eludes me. It's only been two months since my father re-entered my life. We've got a lot to unpack. Having him meet Ben isn't a priority. Not yet. I look at my brother, with his sugar plum heart ready to trust anyone, and want to place him in a bubble where no one can ever break him. He doesn't know what it's like to get left behind. To carry a dark, bitter load of hurt and hate. That will never be part of his world. Not while I'm alive.

Signs in the Dark by Susan MiuraWhere stories live. Discover now