Your name is Dirk Strider, and you've always thought your world was pretty active and noisy--robots whirring and clanking, movies playing, music blasting. There was always something going on in the isolated apartment where you lived before being taken to the orphanage. Even now, you’re always listening to music or tinkering with something. You just enjoy the background noise. Perhaps it's because the first eight years of your life were spent in near silence.
Your brother died when you were an infant, leaving behind a strange, puppet-like robot which he had programmed to raise you. Cal, as you call him, did a pretty good job of it, all things considered. Somehow, he always had food on the table for meal time, and your apartment always had electricity and running water. You’ll never know how he did it--and you don’t think you want to. But for the first years of your life, he was your best friend. He taught you all you needed to know about survival in your isolated world. He brought you books that told amazing stories and gave you knowledge about the world that he could not. You soaked up information like a highly absorbant towel, and you were far ahead of those your age with formal education.
When you were eight, Cal managed to get internet for your apartment, andyou discovered a whole world you never knew existed. It was as though your mind expanded exponentially in an attempt to fit as much information as you could come across. And that was when your world exploded with sound. You fell in love with robotics and music and your bro’s movies, and your life was suddenly infinitely brighter.
But as you continued your journey through the sounds the world had to offer, you made a disturbing realization: You were supposed to understand the sounds people made. As you watched more movies and listened to more songs, it was clear you were missing something important. Cal couldn't speak, so he taught you words by helping you learn the alphabet and writing them down. With some googling, you realized the sounds they're making are the words you've been writing. That fact fascinated and excited you--until you realize that speaking was something that people were supposed to be able to do from a very young age. But because no one was around to teach you, you never learned how.
With a bit of study, you quickly learned how to decipher the spoken word, and it felt as though you'd heard it your whole life. But despite that, you never tried to speak it yourself--until people suddenly arrived at your doorstep one day asking how you got there and where your parents were. You opened your mouth to try to tell them, having the words you intend to use firmly fixed in your mind. But all that came out was a halting, garbled mess. You'll never forget the way they looked at you with a mixture of total confusion and pity. You were so horrified by your complete failure that you vowed to never try to speak again. Even when they took you to the orphanage and the other kids made fun of you for never saying a word, you said nothing. When your foster family took you to counselors to get you to try speaking, you stubbornly refused.
Eventually, they gave up and settled for teaching you sign language so that you could attend school. You found that making words and letters into symbols with your hands was not so different from writing, and you adapted to it quickly. Once you could effectively communicate with your foster parents, they realized how quick-witted and knowledgeable you were. It felt as though the three of you were meeting for the first time as you discussed your lives, your interests, and your views, learning about one another in animated discussion. You grew to be so close that they chose to adopt you rather than give you up to another family. You realized that they were forfeiting their chance to adopt a "normal" child (they had told you they only wanted one child) in adopting you, and you asked them why they would do so. You almost broke your usual facade of calm and cried when they told you that, to them, you were normal, and that they were lucky to be able to take care of a child like you, much less call you their son. And true to their word, at home, you never felt like you weren't just like any other kid.
But at school, you never felt normal. You attended different classes than the "normal" kids, and some of the teachers treated you like you were unintelligent because you could hear but couldn't speak. Others thought you were just seeking attention or being difficult to deal with. You didn't really have any friends--there were only a few kids in your class, and you happened not to get along well with any of them.
But by junior high, everything changed. You started chatting regularly with three other kids who frequented a gaming forum, and for once, you hit it off with people your age. As you finished your last years of grade school, you stopped caring so much that school was still terrible--you knew that, when you got home, you had friends to talk to. With them, it didn't matter that you couldn't speak--how were they even to know? You loved talking with all of them. Jane was sweet but pragmatic, always willing to listen and advise--even if you all did what you wanted anyway. Roxy was ten kinds of crazy and always drunk, but she was clever and entertaining and became almost like a sister to you.
And Jake. What could you even say about him? He was dorky and unusual and oddly charming, always willing to tell stories of his "adventures" and quick to empathize when you had a shitty day. In no time, he became someone you were glad to call your best friend. And you found yourself falling in love with him, despite yourself. You knew nothing could ever come of it, since he lived so far away--and was, by all accounts, not a homosexual. But you were content with your combination internet friendship/crush through most of high school--until the summer before senior year.
You had all talked about meeting each other sometime--Roxy, in particular, was adamant about trying to get together the summer after your senior year. The Lalondes owned a lake house that could accommodate all of you, and Roxy had convinced her mother to allow you all to stay there for a week. Jane had already made arrangements to be there--she was more likely to be there on time and in one piece than Roxy. Jake was planning on coming, as well. But you'd been trying your best to use every excuse you could dredge up not to go. But they weren't about to give up--especially Jake, who also spent a significant amount of time convincing you that you should both attend the same college and room together. But you knew that would be a disaster, on multiple fronts.
It's not that you didn't want to meet them--you wanted that more than anything. But you knew that they could never just see you as "Dirk" anymore. Once again, you'd become "That Weird Kid Who Can't Talk." And you couldn't take that. They wouldn't even know sign language--you'd have to write or type everything out just to say anything at all. And Jake... You didn't want to know what he would think of you after he found out.
So you're not entirely sure why you're currently on a plane en route to New York, hoping that Roxy will be there on time to pick you up. Maybe you should be hoping she forgets you're even coming instead. You meant to tell her, before you left, that you couldn't speak. But you couldn't bring yourself to do it. As you exit the plane and head for the baggage claim, even though you look as calm as always, your stomach is twisting itself in knots. But you (reluctantly) agreed to this. And you do want to meet your best friends. But you're scared to death that, once they meet you, things won't be the same.