Apologies to any deaf people who actually end up reading this. It'll probably seem like I'm talking out of my ass.

Two Thousand Fifteenth Year of the Common Era

Lorelei, backpack slung over one shoulder, wandered her way out of the classroom. She was immediately immersed within the crowded hallway, filled with the smells of paper, laundry detergent, body odor, and a multitude of hygiene products. As she wandered toward the cafeteria, she observed the people around her. People traveling at various tempos, various expressions of rush, ease, and stress visible on their faces. People sitting in wait for their classes to start, a few of them pouring over textbooks. One girl had a simply adorable look of rapt concentration on her face. People obstructively chatting in the middle of the hallway; Lorelei tried to lipread on her way past, but she didn't pick up anything substantial. Lipreading was hard.

After a few minutes of walking she arrived in the cafeteria. This place was a little less crowded than that particular section of hallway she had been stuck in—so many people were going between classes—but there were still a multitude arrayed throughout the table-strewn floor. The place also held the detestable scent of coffee, but she did her best to ignore it. Lorelei had just set her backpack across a seat when she felt a tap against her shoulder.

She turned to find her aunt, a small woman in her late forties, who had been following her down. With square shoulders, strong jaw and cheekbones, and expressive eyes, she looked much like the rest of the women in the family. There was a sprinkling of gray in her short brown hair. After a slight smile, she signed, Do you want lunch?

Lorelei shrugged. First, I'm going to the bathroom.

Want me to get you something?

Soup, Lorelei signed with a huge smile.

You do love soup, her aunt signed with her own smile, hers more indulgent.

Who doesn't love soup? Soup is awesome.

Her aunt smiled again and turned toward the food. Lorelei herself turned toward the bathroom, trying to ignore the curious stares her exchange with her aunt had attracted. Really, you would think they had never seen sign before. She picked her way through the cafeteria, and soon reached the bathroom. After allowing someone who smelled of mint in the doorway to make her way through, Lorelei stepped in, and started on her own way past a girl at a sink. Of course, just as Lorelei was about to pass her, the girl stepped back into her path. Lorelei felt herself utter a short grunt of surprise and fell backward a couple steps, the air near her suddenly swirling with aloe and vanilla and a faint tang of body odor. For a moment she worried her unintentional noise sounded weird, but there wasn't a lot she could do about that. Then her eyes fell upon the girl she had bumped into. And almost let out another noise.

Soft, kind face, currently worked into an apologetic expression. Lorelei suspected she would have a dimple on the right side when she smiled. Silky black hair that rolled down her narrow shoulders in waves. Flawless bronze skin. Faded jeans, tight tee shirt. Pretty much perfect ratios all around, though she suspected her right breast was ever so slightly smaller than the other. Nitpicking. She was beautiful.

Lorelei pulled out of her daze and raised her eyes to the girl's full lips. They were moving in what Lorelei suspected was an apology, but she couldn't quite make the words out. Then the girl frowned and cocked her head, clearly confused as to why she wasn't getting a response.

Deaf, Lorelei signed.

The girl just stared at her, still baffled.

Lorelei decided to try an older, somewhat less politically correct version: tapping her ear twice. Still the girl kept staring at her, so Lorelei reached into her back pocket with a sigh—the sound entirely for the girl's benefit. She drew out a card and handed it to the girl. Lorelei knew the card from memory: a swirling graphic in blues, and the text My name is Lorelei, and I am deaf, then a smiley face. She had made them herself for these sort of situations.

Now the girl was staring at her again, but with an expression of surprise. She said something, which Lorelei guessed was, Wow, really? followed by something she didn't get.

Smirking a little, Lorelei reached forward and tapped the card. The girl realized her mistake, a slight pink working across her perfect skin. Lorelei allowed a low giggle to leak out. At the sound—Lorelei hadn't the first clue what it actually sounded like—the girl raised her eyes to Lorelei's, and she was pretty sure she saw in them what she wanted. At least, if her gaydar was working properly that day. So she pulled a pen out from behind her ear—she always kept one handy for just these sort of situations—and took the card back. Then she wrote on the reverse side, Hey, do you have time? Wanna talk? Or write, I guess, then a sticking-tongue-out face. Trying to act all cool and level-headed about it, she handed the card back to the girl. She was aiming for aloof-charming, and she figured she had a twenty-eighty chance it would work.

The girl read the card, then looked up at Lorelei with an eyebrow raised and lips slightly parted. After a moment of consideration she said something. Then the girl caught herself, and nodded.

With the perfect thin smirk—or at least she liked to imagine it was perfect; she couldn't well judge how it looked to others who didn't already believe it was perfect—Lorelei lifted a single finger to indicate she wait a minute, and without turning back to make sure she did, started for one of the stalls.

Jessica wasn't sure what she was doing. At the very least, she was almost positive this Lorelei girl was a lesbian. She wasn't entirely sure what had tipped her off. It wasn't the falling apart jeans, nor the open button-down green and black plaid shirt. It wasn't the short, spiky hair dyed a fiery red. It wasn't the facial piercings (three in each ear, one in the eyebrow and the lip). It wasn't even the way the girl had taken a long moment to look her up and down. Although, if it wasn't all that, Jessica wasn't entirely sure what it was. It was something. Maybe it was the combination that screamed lesbian at her so loud she was surprised Lorelei couldn't hear it.

Whoops, she can't hear anything at all, ha ha.

Okay, so she was attractive, and she was most likely a lesbian. And she seemed to have a decent sense of humor right off the bat. But there was one minor snag she had hit already: Lorelei was deaf. She was disabled. Not that she had a problem with disabled people on principle, but...how were they supposed to communicate? Would they have to write everything down? That sure seemed like a hassle, but at least Lorelei had good penmanship.

You're thinking about this too much, stop. It wasn't like Lorelei had asked her out on a date or anything. They were just going to talk. Or write. There's nothing wrong with talking, right? So she could quit thinking about it. After a moment she had her mind pleasantly blank.

With a resounding flush of the toilet, Lorelei was out of the stall. She sauntered her way over to the sink—by the way she walked, Jessica was pretty sure she knew she was cute, and the action inspired the strangest urge to rip her jeans off—and went about noisily washing her hands. It seemed Lorelei actually followed those rules about how long you're supposed to wash, because she was at the sink for quite a while. Before long she was drying her hands, watching Jessica. When Jessica caught her looking, she merely raised an eyebrow and smirked, then gestured for Jessica to follow her out.

They walked back into the cacophonous cafeteria. Once they had gone a few steps in, Lorelei turned in place so she was walking backward, pointed at Jessica, then pointed at the line behind her, with a strange expression on her face that might have been curious. She was asking if Jessica was going to get something.

Jessica shook her head, and said, "No, I don't need anything. I have a big gap between classes, so I've eaten already."

At that, Lorelei raised an eyebrow, then shook her pierced and dyed head, eyes pointed at the ceiling. Jessica realized with a start that she had again gone ahead and tried to tell Lorelei something she would never be able to hear in the first place. It was hard to get out of the habit of talking, it seemed.

Lorelei led them over to a table, where Jessica saw a middle aged woman already sitting. The two of them traded back and forth in gestures for a few seconds. Jessica had always had this sort of assumption that sign language was basically pantomime, that she would likely be able to interpret it just by watching, but that apparently wasn't true; this was complete nonsense to her. Except she did pick up the only thing she knew: thank you, from Lorelei.

After her short conversation, Lorelei slipped a backpack off a chair and sat down. Jessica started around to the opposite side of the table, but Lorelei waved at her, then pointed at the seat next to her, and mimed writing. Jessica wondered if that was actually the word for it or not. Was it called a word in sign language? So at Lorelei's direction, Jessica took the seat next to her. By the time she had settled in, Lorelei had taken out a notebook, turned it open to a page, and put it on the table between them. Then she started bouncing up and down in her seat as she grabbed at a styrofoam container.

"What are you so excited about?" asked Jessica. Then she, once again, remembered Lorelei couldn't hear her, so she grabbed the pen Lorelei had gotten out and wrote it down.

Lorelei had to lean in uncomfortably close to read; Jessica unconsciously backed up a little, ignoring the heat rising on her face. With a huge smile on her own, Lorelei did something with her open hand. Then, much like Jessica's slip-ups, and with an expression on her face that clearly spelled duh to Jessica, she seemed to remember Jessica didn't know sign language, so she too wrote something down, with her left hand. SOUP, underlined twice.

Jessica let out a snort and shook her head, then wrote, You really like soup that much?

It didn't seem like Lorelei was paying attention at the moment. She was taking the cover off her soup, and then as soon as she had it open her smile broke wider. With a snap of her fingers, she got the woman's attention, then said something. Was "said" the proper term? Then her attention was drawn back to the notebook, where she wrote in her looping script, Everyone should love soup. Soup is amazing.

With another shake of her head, Jessica wrote, It's not that good.

Are you kidding me? wrote Lorelei, with an exaggerated expression of disbelief. It seemed she didn't have to watch the page to write, as she was stirring her soup with her open hand, and still making eye contact with Jessica. Soup is pretty much the perfect medium of food. Think about it. There are so many different kinds! Everyone can find a soup to enjoy.

I never expected you to be so gung-ho about soup. I never expected anyone to be.

Smirking now, Lorelei wrote, I will convert you to the Church of the Bowl, just you wait and see.

Jessica underlined Church of the Bowl.

Obviously the faith practiced by all lovers of soup. By the way, I never got your name.

After rolling her eyes, Jessica wrote her name.

I'm going to call you Jes. At Jessica's look, she added, It's easier to sign.

Jessica underlined sign.

For a moment Lorelei blinked at her, then wrote, Names in sign language are usually fingerspelled. Long names are shortened because every language is used by lazy people. Or maybe that's just me.

Now it was Jessica's turn to blink at her. But we're writing.

Giving her a playful look, Lorelei wrote, So? She took in a spoonful of soup. When Jessica didn't write anything, Lorelei did: So, what's your major?

I'm pre-med.

Lorelei gave her a very impressed look. You must be damn smart. I could never do that. Hats off to the future doctor. She tipped an imaginary hat.

For some reason, the written compliment affected her more than it would have spoken. She thought she might even be blushing. It's no big deal.

It is. Here I am just a lowly English major.

Jessica frowned, mostly to herself. I never understood that. How can people major in their native language?

They had gotten to the bottom of the page, so Lorelei turned it over, while letting out her cute little sniggering sound. It's not mine. ASL is my native language. I was born deaf.

Jessica turned to Lorelei with a look of surprise. Then she wrote, You know, that never even occurred to me.

At least the fiery-haired girl was still smiling. Don't worry about it, silly hearing person. Do you know any deaf people?

Jessica just shook her head.

There. It's not something I would expect you to think of. Lorelei slapped down her empty soup cup. Jessica hadn't even noticed her eating that much. Soon she was ecstatically drinking out of a Mountain Dew bottle.

You like Mountain Dew, too, Jessica wrote, smiling at the other girl's exuberance.

Lorelei looked scandalized. Of course. Who doesn't? I know you want some. As soon as Jessica finished reading, and before she could respond, Lorelei started pushing the top of the bottle toward Jessica's lips. Jessica dodged her face out of the way, but Lorelei followed the motion, and Jessica, holding in laughter for some insane reason, tried pushing Lorelei's arm away. They went back and forth like that for a while before Jessica just gave up. Lorelei simply touched the bottle to Jessica's lips and immediately pulled it away. A glance down toward the page revealed that Lorelei had written simply, I won.

Against her will, Jessica snorted out a laugh. Yes, I suppose you did.

I am the winner, Lorelei wrote, smiling all awhile. What did I win?

My germs on your bottle.

Lorelei sniggered some more. I will forever treasure them. She waited long enough for Jessica to read, then, with great reverence in her actions, she slowly took a sip out of the bottle.

You are very silly, Jessica wrote.

Life is more fun when silly, Jes, she wrote, her face pulled into an expression of great gravity, as though silliness were something to be taken very seriously.

I suppose you should take it as a compliment.

Thanks, I will, Lorelei wrote with another wide smile.

Jessica pulled out her phone to check the time, and noticed with some surprise it was time for her to go to class. Maybe writing everything made conversations seem shorter than they actually were, because Jessica certainly hadn't thought that much time had passed. So she wrote, Woops, I have to go to class.

That expression on Lorelei's face might have been disappointment. Really? Where you going?

Honors Organic Chemistry II. It's more fun than I thought it would be.

Chemistry, blech. Lorelei indeed had an expression of disgust on her face. Have fun, I guess. Hey, question, can I have your phone number?

If you had a phone, why didn't we just use that instead of writing?

Lorelei smirked. I wanted to show off my penmanship.

Well, she had a little bit of a point. Her writing was all loopy and beautifully formed. A great contrast to Jessica's own scrawl; her mother joked that she had predicted Jessica would become a doctor long ago just because her handwriting was illegible. Even while rolling her eyes, Jessica wrote down her number.

Thanks, Lorelei wrote, smiling. Have fun in icky chemistry. Talk to you later.

They shook hands in parting, and Jessica started for her chemistry class in the neighboring building, her thoughts wandering. It must really suck to be deaf. No music, no laughter. Anything around her Lorelei didn't have her eyes on may as well not exist. Jessica couldn't even imagine what that would be like, to live in silence. Even as she came away from their first meeting, Jessica felt the beginnings of pity rising within her.

Lorelei watched the hearing girl walk away. Which was definitely a pleasant experience; this Jessica had very shapely legs, and an eye-drawing ass. She had the strangest urge to rip her jeans off. Shaking her head a little to herself, she turned to her aunt. She was watching her. Lorelei made a face at her that clearly asked What?

That hearing girl, her aunt signed, you were flirting with her.

Lorelei shrugged, and held her thumb and index finger a short distance apart. Which wasn't the sign for it, but she was feeling silly.

Lor, she's hearing.

Lorelei rolled her eyes. Is that bad? You're hearing too, last I saw.

Remember, your last relationship with a hearing girl didn't work out so well. Her aunt managed to look concerned, even though Lorelei knew she didn't approve of the whole gay thing. And she could sign, she added.

Someone's worth is not determined by how well they can sign.

Now it was her aunt who rolled her eyes. No, but it makes it easier.

Lorelei decided to change her approach. It was just innocent flirting, Auntie. It doesn't mean anything. My friends should be here now. I'm gonna look.

You're evading, her aunt signed, unable to hide her annoyed look.

With a teasing smirk, she nodded. Let's go. She stood, slinging her backpack back over her shoulder, and looked out over the cafeteria. Despite the multitude of people, it wasn't hard to spot her friends: they were the only people signing, sitting in a big circle across the room. She quickly made her way there, her aunt following behind her. Before long, they were there. Lorelei let her backpack fall to the ground, grabbed a chair, and slid it into one of the gaps in the circle. When she looked up they met her with a smattering of greetings.

The group, excluding Devon, had all gone to the local deaf and blind school together. There was Ronen—a tall, blocky-looking boy with brown hair, razor-sharp eyes, and strong hands—Laila—a small, delicate girl with long black hair, matching the color of her clothes—Jermaine, Lorelei's best friend—he was silly quite like her, and had a similar fashion sense, complete with piercings and dyed hair, his purple. Then there was Devon, who was hearing, and looked strangely like his fraternal twin Aria, with blonde hair and soft features. Aria was deaf and had left for Gallaudet, but Devon had gradually become friends with the other four over the years, and had more or less taken Aria's place in their group. Everyone's parents had assumed that everyone was going to go to Gallaudet, the only deaf college Lorelei could think of, but most of them had decided they didn't want to move that far away from home. Instead they all had interpreters with them, mostly family members; that was why Lorelei's aunt, who was moving to sit at a table with the other interpreters, had come with her to school.

Laila and Ronen, an on-and-off couple—Lorelei wasn't sure if they were on or off at the moment; it could be hard to tell—had returned to their discussion involving something to do with a movie they had watched, so Lorelei more or less ignored them. As Devon calmly watched, Jermaine, who smelled of disgusting coffee, started drilling her on what she had been up to that day. So they ran through the day, the two of them trading anecdotes on the morning and their classes, the moment Lorelei really didn't want to discuss rapidly approaching. She knew Jermaine would overreact.

Eventually, she had no choice. She knew her aunt was watching, and she would give her crap if she didn't mention it. And I chatted with this hearing girl...

At first Jermaine was unimpressed. No way, I chat with hearing people too. Devon, for one.

Devon gave Jermaine a questioning look. Apparently he hadn't been paying attention, only enough to catch his own name.

He was calling you a dick, signed Lorelei with a smirk.

Why am I not surprised, Devon signed, barely withholding his smile.

Because we love you. Jermaine turned back to Lorelei. So, who's the girl?

Lorelei shrugged a little. Her name's Jes, and she's pre-med. Cute.

For a moment, Jermaine let his head fall into both hands, while Devon laughed, judging by the shaking in his shoulders. You were flirting with her, weren't you? Jermaine eventually signed.

Why does everyone assume that?

We know you. Were you?

A little bit. She used the actual sign this time.

Does she sign, at least? he signed with a suspicious look on his face.

Lorelei shook her head and shrugged.

Again, Jermaine let his head fall into his hands, and Devon continued laughing. Even hearing girls aren't immune to your charms, Devon teased.

No one is immune to my charms, Lorelei signed with a smirk. I am the deaf, lesbian Casanova.

Can we not joke about this? signed Jermaine, looking distinctly annoyed. Seriously. How can you flirt with someone you can't even talk to?

It's easy.

That's not what I meant.

I know. Lorelei's smirk was really getting a lot of play.

So what do you do, type back and forth?

Actually we were writing.

Devon let out another laugh no one around him could hear. Showing off your penmanship?

With a smile, Lorelei signed, You know me.

Why can't you just flirt with some nice deaf girls? signed Jermaine.

Lorelei rolled her eyes at him before signing, How many deaf lesbians do you know?


I already have sex with myself.

At that Jermaine made an exaggerated sighing motion. I didn't need to know that.

I know, signed Lorelei with a smirk. Other than me.

Sandy? Technically, they signed sand when referring to Sandy; it was mostly just funnier than fingerspelling it.

Been there, done her. She's a bitch.

Jermaine shrugged. What about hearing girls that can sign?

I think there are less of them than deaf girls. And I've already swam in that dating pool.

I thought it was just innocent flirting.

I'm allowed to wade.

Stop extending that metaphor, Jermaine signed with a heavy frown.

But I want to get wet. Lorelei waggled her eyebrows, smirking broadly.

Jermaine made another sigh. You're incorrigible.

There's a sign for that. Jermaine had fingerspelled it.

Really? I don't know it.

Trying not to smile, Lorelei made something up at random. Okay, not completely at random: it used the I hand shape.

You're lying, Jermaine signed after a moment of consideration.

Lorelei let her smile slip out. You have pierced my facade.