So a lot has been going on in my life lately, and I know I didn’t post last week at all, and I apologize for that. NaNoWriMo is not going as well as I would have liked, but I have been working on In/Exhale, both the long-overdue S2 ebook and S3.
So for now, enjoy this excerpt from S2. I hope I can have the ebook finished by the end of the month. 🙂
“The coffee ready yet?” Art called, coming in from the back room.
“Almost,” Renee said, standing on a step ladder, pouring the water into the machine.
“Good. The ASL story hour is at ten, and a lot of people from the Deaf Community come out of the woodwork. I want to make sure everyone has coffee if they want it.”
Renee finished and started climbing down, glancing over at Art, who was pushing a little rolling cart stacked with folding chairs. “Is this something you do often?”
Art sighed. “I used to do it monthly, but the volunteer had her own baby and had to stop. This is the first month in a long time that I was able to find someone else to fill in.”
“I’ll get this started and meet you in the children’s section to get those set up?”
“Sounds good,” Art said, calling over his shoulder. “Make sure there are plenty of cups and sugar and all of that before you do.”
“Of course, si–Art,” Renee said. Even after a couple months, she still sometimes slipped into “sir” instead of the requested first name; her grandparents manners were drilled into her brain.
A few minutes later, Renee was just finishing setting up the chairs for the parents when she heard the chime of the front door, indicating someone was here. It wasn’t quite nine yet, when they officially opened, so she jogged out to the main area of the store to investigate. Her heart did a delightful skip when she saw a familiar blond figure in a wheelchair roll in.
He didn’t notice her immediately, but when he did, his face lit up, and he pushed closer, gliding to a stop just a foot away. “Morning,” he said.
“Morning,” she echoed, her chest suddenly tight and her cheeks flushed. “We don’t open for another ten minutes, but I suppose I can help you if you need anything?”
Kai smiled, shook his head. “I know I’m early, but I figured that gives me time to pick out the books.”
Renee’s eyebrows crawled together in confusion. “Books?”
Before Kai could respond, Art appeared, rushing up to Kai and patting him enthusiastically on the back. “So glad you could make it. The kids have really missed out the past few months.”
Kai and Art shook heartily, but Kai laughed at the bewilderment that was evident on Renee’s face. “I’m guessing he didn’t tell you I’m the replacement.”
Art shrugged. “I try not to get involved,” he said, but he flashed a crafty smile as he muttered something about double-checking the register and disappeared, leaving them alone.
“So . . . when did Art ask you about doing this?”
Kai pushed toward the children’s section. “Last week.”
“And you said yes? I thought you were avoiding here because of me.”
“I was. I didn’t tell him yes until yesterday.” Kai disappeared into the shelves, his back to her, so she couldn’t read his expression. Although, with Kai, even seeing his face may not have clued her in. But surely it meant something if he had only agreed to do this after reconnecting with her, right? And as good an actor as Kai may be, he couldn’t possibly have faked the look on his face when he first saw her. It made Renee smile.
The space between the children’s’ bookshelves was a little tighter than elsewhere in the store, and Kai pulled himself along slowly by gripping the shelves on each side as he scanned the titles.
“What are you looking for?”
He paused, dipped his head back to look up at her. “Something to read to the kids?”
She stuck her tongue out. “What about Dr. Seuss? All kids love him.”
“Yeah, most deaf people can’t appreciate rhyme in the same way that hearies can,” Kai explained, pulling out a book and flipping through it. “I can interpret, of course, but I’d rather do something else that translates better. Preferably something that will help reinforce signs they already know and maybe teach them some new ones.”
“What about Amelia Bedlia? I used to love those when I was a kid.”
Kai replaced the book he’d been skimming and pulled himself farther down the row. “I don’t know those. Jon read to me before our parents died, but after that, my access to books was more limited.” Kai shrugged.
“Oh, it’s about this maid who takes everything literally, so like, she’s told to draw the drapes, so she takes a sketch pad and draws them. Or she’s told to dress the chicken for dinner, so she puts clothes on it.”
Kai reached the edge of the row, so he was able to turn around. She couldn’t read his expression, but his head was tilted to the side slightly. “Draw the drapes,” Kai said as he signed, making an outline of curtains in the air with his spread fingers, bringing them out, then down. Next, he held his hands up, flat, palms out, bringing them together so his thumbs touched. “Draw the drapes,” he repeated in English, this time holding his left hand out and guiding his pinky along his palm, as if he were scribbling on it. “Wordplay like that rarely translates from English to ASL.”
“I’m sorry,” Renee said, staring at her foot as she toed the floor, embarrassed.
“Hey,” he said, reaching out for her, his fingertips just touching her; it was enough to send that wonderful tingle coursing through her, taking away some of her embarrassment. “You’re used to thinking in English. It’s OK. Just . . . imagine you were going to read one of these books, but in French instead of the way it’s written, in English. Think visually. Books where there’s a lot of visual storytelling. Or books that teach colors and numbers and things like that.”
“You act like you’ve done this before.”
Kai shrugged. “Something like that.”
Renee held in a sigh at Kai’s usual noncommittal response, but she let it be. With Kai, it seemed she’d have to choose her battles, and this wasn’t one worth pursuing, at least not right now. Renee followed Kai to an endcap, where a few new releases were displayed alongside some classics.
“Oh, I was obsessed with this book,” Kai said, plucking a copy of the Velveteen Rabbitand flipping through it. “Jon read it to me.” Kai turned a few pages, scanning the text. “I used to wonder if I wasn’t ‘Real,’ and if that’s why I was so broken,” Kai said in a whisper. “I thought, maybe if the rabbit could become Real, I could, too.” He sighed, set the book in his lap. “Real isn’t how you are made,” Kai said, as if quoting, his fingertip tracing the outline of the rabbit on the cover, “but something that happens to you when you’re loved. When you’re Real, you don’t mind being hurt. Once you are Real, you can’t be ugly.”
Renee laid a hand on his shoulder, relieved when he accepted her touch by reaching up and resting his hand on top of hers, only for a moment before looking up at her. His eyes were filled with a depth of emotion she couldn’t quite extract, like staring at the back of a weaving and trying to interpret the picture on the other side.
She squeezed around him, jogging down the shelves till she found what she was looking for, pulling it out and returning to show him. “What about this one?”
Kai blinked, shook his head, as if he’d been lost in thought before finally reaching out and accepting the book. He flipped through it. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Oh, this is perfect, Re.”
She loved hearing her name abbreviated like that, since he was the only one who ever did, and it rolled off his tongue, deep and open and bright. “It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s got a lot of learning stuff in it. Fruits and colors and numbers and things like that.”
He smiled at her, tucked the books between his legs to make sure they wouldn’t fall, and wheeled toward the reading area, laying them out on the folding chair Renee had assumed the reader was going to sit in.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to read these, so I can start thinking of how I’ll interpret them. Especially theVelveteen Rabbit. It’s been a long time and that one’s a bit more complex.”
“Oh. OK. Well, uh, I’ll be in the front if you need me.”
Kai smiled. “You should watch, if you can. You know, later.” He blushed slightly.
Renee nodded, then, at the last minute, rushed up and stole a quick kiss. She wanted to tell him something cheesy, like he felt Real to her, but flushed deep red instead at the mere thought, so held her tongue. “Uh, good luck with the kids. I’ll talk to you after?”
He nodded. “Maybe I’ll even convince Art to let me steal you away for lunch.”