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Feathers of Orange

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Michael Coulter couldn't pinpoint the day the world went silent. He could remember being able to hear when the doctor diagnosed him with measles, but after that, his fever had shot up to a hundred and five and that was the last time he could distinctly remember being able to hear. The world wasn't completely silent to him, but it might as well have been. When he talked about it to hearing people, he described it as someone turning the volume on the radio all the way down, to where you could barely hear it, and then throwing a blanket over the speakers. With the hearing aides, the volume on the dial was turned up a few notches, but another blanket was added.

Describing to people who were always deaf, it was harder. The best he could come up with was standing on one end of a football field and someone on the other end was waving a flag – without the hearing aides, he could tell you which arm they were using to wave it, but nothing else. With them, the sun disappeared behind a cloud and you could tell if the flag was light or dark, and if it was a bright color, what it was.

But it didn't matter. The world was now, for all extends and purposes, silent. And things he used to want to do, used to dream of being able to do – were gone.

At least he had never wanted to be a rock-star.

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if his hearing friends hadn't started to ignore him. That's what hurt more than anything.

*

Not everyone at school was in speech therapy. Michael had learned within the first two weeks of school that not all deaf people were able to learn how to speak clearly – and he had a feeling that a lot of them weren't completely coherent. Others, were not able to speak with any clarity at all. Elisa Ambrose was one of those people. She was a seven year old girl from his first hour class with blond hair and hazel eyes. She reminded him of Megan Chaplain, his former best friend's little sister. They both had gaped-tooth grins and never seemed to be sad. She was what was known as 'profoundly deaf' which, from his understanding, meant she couldn't hear an explosion that would level a thirty-story building even if she was standing right next to it.

Last hour was a class that had twenty students between the ages of seven and twelve. It was a cross between a study hall and a kindergarten. They reviewed ASL, assignments for other classes and learned to socialize. While it wasn't all that bad, Michael had felt rather stupid the first few weeks of it when he was constantly mixing up signs. Thankfully, the kids were rather understanding about the whole matter. Secretly, he envied his classmates – all of them had always been deaf. They didn't know what sound was really like. He'd had the noise of the world snuffed out – and he missed it. Although in the grand scheme of things, he figured he could adapt to being deaf far easier then he could if he had gone blind.

Miss Annie, their last hour teacher, had a 'deaf people can do anything' attitude that was not shared by much of the outside world. Michael was enough of a realist to know that there were a lot of things he'd never get to do. The worst of it was, the one thing he'd wanted to do, more than anything, the only thing he'd ever wanted to do when he got older, was now out of the question. But she'd told all of them to come into class on the Monday after spring break, with something to symbolize their dreams for when they got older. He set the shoebox down at his place on the table, glancing around the already assembled students.

Elisa was flipping through a giant cookbook – he recognized it as the same one his mom had – another girl, Nellie, had one of those fashion plates things – his sister had gotten one of those from Santa this past Christmas. Kyle, the only boy who actually seemed willing to speak to Michael was idly rolling a baseball in between his spread hands. As if he knew he was watching him, Kyle caught the ball and signed to him, his eyes focused on the Converse box resting under Michael's hands.

“What's in there?” The eleven year old gave him a look of genuine curiosity. “Can I see, or do I have to guess?”

Michael smiled faintly and shook his head. He removed the lid and reached into the folds of tissue paper he'd put inside to keep his treasure safe. From out of the box he pulled a gleaming white steel toy plane. He set it on the table and put the box next to his chair, his fingers resting on top of the fuselage, his index finger pointing right at the plane's name, and he looked up at Kyle, hoping he wasn't crying. “My dad gave this to me for my birthday. This is a Pan American 707.”

Kyle leaned over the table to get a better look at it, his eyes a little wide. “I saw one of these in a catalog once.” He touched it with the tip of his finger, and then looked up at him. “You want to fly planes?”

Michael nodded. “I don't think that's possible now.”

Kyle gave him a solemn look, and slowly nodded in understanding. “You could design planes – or help build them.”

He shrugged in response. Flying planes was the only thing he ever really planned on doing. There was just something about it – ever since he first read about the Wright Brothers – he wanted to fly. But being able to hear was definitely something you had to be able to to do in order to fly a plane. Right now, he was just hoping to be able to drive a car when he was older. “Perhaps. I bet Miss Annie will tell me I'll be able to do plenty of things with planes.” He slumped down in his chair, staring at the gleaming white plane. “But it's not the same.”

*
Michael returned his Pan Am to its place on his bookshelf, between the B-17 bomber model he'd built last summer and his last pine-wood derby car. He then sat down on his bed, staring at the three objects, wondering why, exactly, everything had to change now that he was deaf – mostly deaf. It just wasn't fair. Scouts had been out of the picture almost immediately – the troop leader hadn't wanted to take the time to explain things twice to him, or something. Not to mention the hearing aides. The hearing aides were a source of scorn from boys in the troop. Mom had said he should expect people to act different. It would just be nice, however, if his old friends would just stop for a moment and realize he was still the same person.

“Mike! Hey, earth to Mike!” He jumped when his brother suddenly appeared in front of him, grinning like an idiot.

“I hate it when you do that, Nick.” He gave him a wary look. “Is something wrong?”

“Sheesh, suspicious much? I came to ask you if you wanted to join me and James – Combat! is going to be on soon.” His older brother hauled him to his feet and gave him a one armed hug. “Mom and Dad told me I'm supposed to keep you out of trouble.”

“I can't cause any trouble in my own room.” He moved so he could see his brother clearly – it made him easier to understand.

Nick folded his arms and looked smug. “Mom and Dad went out and left me in charge. You've been sitting in here, alone for the past two hours. You're coming out to join me and James in a night of TV watching. I've already heated up the leftovers in the oven.”

“Fine.” He let his fourteen year old brother haul him downstairs and into the family room. “Hi James.”

“Hi, Mikey.” James grinned. “Didn't hear you...OW!” He rubbed his head as Nick smacked him on the top of the head. “What was that for?”

“If you can't be nice, you can get your ass out of my home, James McCallister.” Nick looked up at his brother, his face slightly red. “And don't you go telling Mom I cursed.”

In response, Michael slowly smiled, feeling good for the first time today. At least Nick hadn't changed. “I didn't hear a thing.” He went to get the TV trays from where they were stored. He had just grabbed the first one when his sister grabbed the second, her face flushed red as if she'd been crying. He blinked in surprise. “I thought you were staying overnight at Megan's house.”

Susanna Coulter's face twisted into a very angry expression for an eight year old. “I'm not gonna be friends with people who make fun of my brother.”

“Anna...” Great, now he was making his sister lose friends too.

“I'd rather have my brother than that stinky Megan Chaplain.” They carried their trays towards the couch, Susanna only getting halfway there before James got off the couch, took the tray she was carrying from her and took it the rest of the way. “Actually, I like both my brothers better than her.”

“Oh, I am honored, Miss Cootie Queen.” Nick replied, coming into the family room, carrying two plates. “Mike, you sit in the chair nearest the TV, so you can hear a little better.”

“Thanks.” Michael set the third TV tray in front of their dad's easy chair – normally off limits if their father was in the house. It wasn't much closer to the television than the couch – but the extra few feet helped.

*
Michael join in a game of playground tag at recess on Monday morning. Even though it was spring, a faint hint of winter remained in the March air, letting the kids know that while the calender proclaimed a new season, nature might have other ideas in mind. As they lined up to head back inside, he was rather surprised when Kyle ran up to him, a determined look on his face. “Hey.”

“Hi, Michael.” The slightly older boy straightened his shoulders, looking around for a moment before he continued – speaking and signing at the same time – and Michael noted he stumbled over a few syllables as he did. “I was wondering if you would help me with my speaking. And I could help you with your signing.”

“Why me?” He replied, speaking and signing as well – which was sort of hard, keeping the two timed together. “I mean...”

“I noticed the teachers saying you speak well.” The boy grinned, his expression genuine. “You know how to talk. I know how to sign.” He went back to just signing. “We'd have to do it out of school. My mom can call yours.”

“That would work – though I should tell you, I have an older brother and a little sister at my house.”

“That is fine – I've got three older sisters and I'm lucky if I get a total of five minutes in the bathroom in any given week.”

In response, Michael laughed – and after a moment, Kyle did as well.