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Reading in Silence

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Steve’s not exactly sure when it started.

 

He likes to think it was sometime around Billy beating his face to a bloody pulp, but he knows deep down in his gut that this really all began with that first punch Jonathan sent towards his face. A deserved punch, to be fair, but one that caused a chain reaction that led him to where he was now. 

 

He couldn’t hear anything.

 

Well, ok, that wasn’t entirely true. He could still hear some things, like the vague and muffled sound of a voice that was five feet away. Or the pounding bass of a song turned up to eleven. 

 

But other than that, there was almost nothing.

 

When he woke up in the morning, he could never hear the chirping of birds outside his window, he could feel the rumble of his car but not the ticking of the signal, and while movies were definitely fun to look at, they were almost impossible to understand.

 

One night, he considered asking Dustin if they could rent the script for Star Wars so he could actually follow along for once, but he figured that would be too much trouble and never ended up bringing it up.

 

All things considered, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. He’d had almost 17 years of full hearing. Some people never even got one. Who was he to complain? The accommodations weren’t bad either. He found an alarm clock in one of his mom’s magazines that actually vibrated the whole bed when it went off, so he wasn’t sleeping in. He’d also found a few different alarms that flashed instead of rang. For cooking, among other things. All things considered, he was functioning perfectly fine. Sure there was the occasional migraine, but that was plenty easy to manage.

 

Most of the issues he’d had were more to do with understanding other people.

 

When he’d first noticed the issue growing worse, he’d spent hours in front of the mirror, practicing sounding out words to see the shapes they formed in his mouth. He’d also taken the time to really pay attention to people’s body language so that way he could still understand what they were trying to convey, even if he didn’t get the whole idea.

 

He’d even taken a page out of Dustin’s book and headed for the library, hoping to find some decent “paddles” for his new knowledge exploration. The books on ASL he’d found had been interesting, really interesting, but he’d figured that no one else would want to learn an entirely new language just to talk to one person, so he kept those paddles to himself.

 

But, even with all that training, and all that practicing, he still messed up sometimes.

 

He noticed it in the way Dustin’s brow would crease when he admitted that he still didn’t know the plot of Star Wars, despite them watching it over 10 times. He saw it in the way Nancy used to sigh whenever he wrote an entire essay on the wrong subject because he’d read the teacher’s lips wrong. He even noticed it in the way the people around him gradually stopped including him in conversations because they noticed how he could never keep up.

 

Something about that felt a bit wrong to him, but who was he to judge? If someone had acted like that around him when he could still hear, he’d have probably acted the exact same way. Not that it made the exclusion hurt any less, but it helped him understand, at least. 

 

He was ok, really. He just had to accept that this was his life now, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

 

Of course, the moment he did, that’s exactly when things started to change.

 

He noticed it first when they were all gathered for movie night at that new guy, Argyle’s, place. It was, predictably, Star Wars again, and Steve consigned himself to another night of piecing the plot together, one scene at a time. 

 

But to his surprise and amazement, the movie ended up having subtitles.

 

At first, he was just plain astonished; what had happened? Had the group finally found a version of this movie with subtitles? No, it couldn’t be; they would’ve used it ages ago if that was the case. 

 

But then…he glanced over at Argyle suspiciously. Could he be deaf? He didn’t seem like it, not with the loud and unabashed way that he talked, but maybe that was just him compensating?

 

Either way, he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he settled down and prepared to watch Star Wars for the eleventh and first time. 

 

As enraptured as he was in the story, he almost missed the way Dustin seemingly pursed his lips in displeasure out of the corner of his eye. He must not like the subtitles, but it was ok; they could just watch it again next weekend.

 

After that night, he started paying more and more attention to Argyle, hoping to spot some sort of sign. What kind of sign exactly? He couldn’t say, but whatever it was, he’d catch it soon enough. 

 

It was during his relentless pursuit that he started noticing other strange behaviors, and not just from Argyle. 

 

It started inconspicuously with Eddie and his music suddenly gaining a much higher volume. This didn’t bother him, but it was worrying, was Eddie starting to lose his hearing as well? He certainly hoped not; Eddie didn’t deserve that.

 

After Eddie, it was Robin, randomly dropping to her knees in the middle of the store and scaring him half to death when he finally turned around. He grabbed her arms and pulled her up quickly, mumbling something about her ruining her jeans and, “ Jesus, if you have to be dramatic, can you at least do it in the back?” 

 

The weird behavior persisted, spreading among the entire group like a virus, albeit a fairly friendly one. 

 

It showed up in things like Nancy turning sharply to face him mid-conversation instead of looking around curiously like she normally did. Jonathan using more and more exaggerated facial expressions, to the point that you could see what he was feeling from a mile away. Lucas reaching out to tap his arm to get his attention instead of rapidly waving until Steve eventually noticed. It was really weird…but it was also really nice. He found himself engaging in conversations more than ever before, and the rate of him jumping due to being startled but sudden people's appearances had dropped down to almost 20%. Things were good now. Things were just…kind of nice.

 

One day, a few months after this behavior started, Steve woke up to an intervention in his living room.

 

“An intervention?” he asked, “for who?”

 

“For you, Steve,” Nancy pressed, standing up from the armchair and reaching out to take his hands. “We wanted to talk to you about you being deaf. And why you never told us.”

 

Steve blinked, completely taken aback. He looked around the room at the earnest and serious faces of his friends. Faced with an assault like this, there was only one thing he thought to say.

 

“You guys didn’t know?”