‘So, I can call someone a dickhead without them knowing?’ Emily’s eyes are wide, as if she’s never realised that Deaf people can swear too. Then again, she probably hasn’t.
I raise my eyebrows at her, biting back a smirk. ‘You could, Emily, but the sign for that one is less subtle than others I could teach you.’
‘Why, does it involve making a dick shape on your head?’ She starts laughing when I don’t answer, her tight brown curls bouncing off her shoulders. I’m going to miss hearing her laugh. At least I’ll still be able to see her smile. ‘We’ll rule that one out then,’ she says.
‘Probably for the best.’
She turns more towards me and lifts her legs off the floor. She crosses them on the couch and I do the same with mine.
‘Do you mind teaching me these signs?’ she asks, drumming her fingers on her knees. Her nails are shorter than mine, bitten back with dried orange paint underneath them. I glance at my polished black acrylics, smiling at the contrast.
‘Of course I don’t mind,’ I say, signing simultaneously. I’ll never tire of the look of wonder she gets when I talk with my hands; it makes me feel like I’m doing something beautiful, something miraculous, rather than simply trying to speak. ‘Plus, how are we supposed to argue when I lose more of my hearing if you can’t swear at me?’
Emily’s eyebrows crease into a frown, and her bottom lip protrudes slightly. Even with that expression, she’s beautiful. ‘I won’t argue with you. Not then, or now.’
‘That’s easy to say when you’ve known me for twenty-four hours,’ I reply, though what I really want to say is thank you. Thank you and I’ll never argue with you either. Thank you and I think maybe-
‘Do you know how to sign pet names? I know they’re the opposite of insults, but I assume they exist in sign language too.’
I can feel heat rush to my cheeks. My brain conjures up a hundred different scenarios to explain why Emily’s asking me that. A hundred different scenarios all involving me. A hundred different scenarios all involving her thinking about me the way I’m scared I’m starting to think about her.
‘I know a few.’ My voice comes out barely louder than a whisper and I cough after I speak, as if to justify it.
‘Are you okay Alana?’ she asks, leaning forward slightly. ‘Your face is almost as red as your hair.’
I inhale quickly, accidentally releasing a small squeak as I do. I feel my toes curling in my bed socks as I shuffle away from Emily, hoping she didn’t notice the noise.
‘I’m fine!’ I say. ‘Just, trying to remember some of the signs.’
‘You don’t have to,’ she says, shaking her head a little. ‘I’m just kind of intimidated by how many signs there are to learn. Nicknames seem to be easier to remember.’
‘They probably are.’ I make a ‘thumbs up’ with both my fists and bring them together so the thumbs are facing each other. ‘And this is babe, or baby or...pretty much anything lovey-dovey really.’ I bend and straighten the tops of my thumbs.
Emily does the action too but, judging by the way my stomach flutters, she may as well have been professing her love for me. Crap I’ve really got to get over this whole ‘crush at first sight’ thing.
‘Is this right?’ she asks, continuing to do it. As she does so, her tongue sticks out a little from the side of her mouth. I’m too busy watching her to reply. I notice she has two tiny freckles on her nose, almost black against the pale brown of her skin. I think about the hundreds covering my own body and I feel myself grinning at the thought of us having something as simple as freckles in common. ‘Alana?’
‘Yeah, sorry! That’s perfect.’ I clear my throat. ‘Though you’re supposed to hold your hands close to your chest, like this.’ I demonstrate and Emily copies me, looking me in the eye as she does so.
‘Babe,’ she says.
I straighten my back and unclench my hands, nodding faster than I mean to. ‘Yep, that’s it.’
She lets out a little giggle that is enough to convince me there’s magic in the world and that it’s in her voice. ‘It’s a bit different to dickhead I guess.’
‘Just a tiny bit.’ I find myself moving back towards her, just an inch at a time, until our knees are nearly touching. Emily looks down at the now minute stretch of couch between us, and I gesture at my hearing aids. ‘It’s just in case they start playing up,’ I lie.
‘That’s okay.’ She sniffs, her little snub nose lifting, and I’m suddenly hyper aware that my nervousness could have caused me to sweat. Shit. Smelling unpleasant is not a good way to make a positive impression. ‘Are you wearing perfume?’ she asks.
I feel my shoulders relax. ‘Yeah, um.’ I wiggle my wrist. ‘It was a birthday present from my mum; my eighteenth was in May.’
‘It smells like cherries; I like it.’
‘It is cherries! And thank you. It’s also vanilla and raspberry scented.’ There’s a moment of silence as I make a mental note to wear the perfume more often, especially when I’m going to be seeing Emily.
‘Do you have anything else to teach me?’ she asks eventually.
I hesitate, considering whether I dare say what I want to; it’s not like she’ll be able to understand me anyway. I wonder if I want her to. I take a deep breath then point to my chest, and then to my head.
‘I think?’ she says.
I nod. Then, I point to myself again and I place my arms across my chest, my right hand on my left shoulder and vice versa. I stay in that position for a few seconds. Emily cocks her head to the side as I drop my arms down again, then briefly point towards her.
‘What does that mean?’ She lifts her hands as if to imitate my actions, but I push them down again so they rest on her legs.
‘It doesn’t matter.