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Here I Am (Signed, Sealed, Delivered)

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This feels like the end of the road, Tobin thinks, no matter how much she wishes it weren’t.

She’s been to countless office buildings, hotel ballrooms, and convention halls like this one for over a year, always dressed for success in her favorite slacks, white button up shirt, and blazer, with her hair pulled up neatly into a ponytail, yet she hasn’t made any breakthroughs.

For most people, job hunting sucks. But it sucks even more for Tobin.

She anticipates the sympathetic smiles, the dismissive looks, variations of “We’ll call you,” or worse, “I’m so sorry but…” She’s sure this job fair won’t be any different than the others she has attended.

But, at least, this one gives out a sticker at registration that Tobin is expected to stick to her blazer with Hi! My name is printed at the very top.

Looking around, she sees hundreds of people milling about, thinks this is one of those rare times where she welcomes the silence, takes a deep breath, and writes her name.

Tobin Heath

And with a heavy sigh, she adds...

I’m deaf

*

Tobin pours out her frustration in a string of texts to her best friend Lauren the next day. And she receives a simple reply.

[Lauren]
Have you thought more about
what I said last month?

This topic is really where this conversation is supposed to go… because Lauren Cheney, who has been living in Los Angeles for about a year and working at UCLA as part of their strength and conditioning staff, has also been researching opportunities for Tobin for months. 

And last month is when word gets around campus about a start-up by UCLA alums that focuses solely on training and hiring women, including women with hearing loss.

[Tobin]
ShipX?
Yeah I have actually
Spoke to my mom about it yesterday

[Lauren]
And?
What did she say?

[Tobin]
Said it’s up to me
That they’ll support me no matter what

[Lauren]
So what do you say
Wanna take a chance on the city of angels?

Tobin hesitates as she types her next messages.

She’s not exactly unemployed. She has been working part-time as a contributing writer for an online health magazine, where she can at least use her Journalism degree (sort of).  And she receives supplemental income for her disability.

Her family has always been nurturing. They aren’t poor by any means. But Tobin craves independence.

[Tobin]
I just want a full time job 
But

While she often seems easygoing, looking too cool for school, her self esteem has taken quite a hit after hundreds of job application rejections. 

[Tobin]
Do you really think I can do it?

[Lauren]
I have no doubt in my mind
You’re one of the best drivers I know
You’re athletic
You can lift 75 lbs for sure
You’ve always been focused
And determined 
And brave

[Tobin]
Keep going

[Lauren]
And an ass apparently 

[Tobin]
Lol

[Lauren]
Seriously you can do it!!!

Tobin can’t help but smile and feel hopeful and grateful for her best friend since middle school.

[Tobin]
Thank you

[Lauren]
Do you still have the link I sent you?

[Tobin]
Yep

[Lauren]
Okay
Don’t forget to put my address in your app form

[Tobin]
I won’t forget mom

[Lauren]
And eat your vegetables!

Tobin chuckles as she starts looking for her laptop.

*

Five months go by in a blur.

One moment Tobin is fist-pumping in the living room of her childhood home after receiving her offer letter, the next moment she’s eating celebratory tacos with her cohort near LAX after successfully completing their four-month training.

In between, she dissuades her parents from buying her a secondhand car (but not from buying her plane ticket—round trip, open return). Her older sisters tell her she’s insane. Lauren guarantees they’ll be living close enough to the cargo terminal where Tobin will work and that she’ll get by. (Tobin just doesn’t want to add gas and car insurance to her expenses to be honest.)

She learns that ShipX serves as a contractor for two big name delivery service companies and she’ll be assigned to one as a supplemental driver.

And, all things considered, she thinks she’s settling in nicely to her new life with Lauren as her roommate.

Not having a lot of stuff and only bringing the essentials certainly makes moving in easier. It also helps that their two-bedroom apartment is semi-furnished and Lauren’s former roommate leaves small appliances behind.

They live near the border of Inglewood and South Los Angeles, more than half a mile from the nearest bus stop, which Tobin doesn’t mind. 

One whole day after she arrives in LA, they go on an excursion, commuting to Tobin’s workplace and back, then trekking to grocery stores, pharmacies, the nearest hospital, and other places Tobin might need to get to on her own.

On Sundays, they do touristy stuff, driving to the beaches and around downtown in Lauren’s car. And on Mondays, Tobin writes her articles.

By some miracle, she doesn’t get homesick even though she’s away from her family for the very first time. 

Her mom assures her that she can come home whenever.

Tobin hopes that she can get through this, with just Lauren’s support, as she heads into her first week at work.

*

She starts on a Tuesday and gets partnered with Dave, a kindhearted burly man, for a whole week of work shadowing.

The company allows her to have a phone with her so that she can talk with Dave but just for the week. 

Armed with a speech-to-text app and a text-to-speech app, Tobin learns that he has been promoted to some sort of manager after working directly for the delivery giant for five years. And Tobin is about to take over the route he’s been handling for the past two years.

“Don’t let the fact that you’ll be clocking in more miles than the others get you down,” he tells her with a smile. “This is a really nice route, I promise.”

Tobin nods and smiles at him in appreciation and keeps doing it all day as he regales her with humorous anecdotes, introduces her to the customers answering their doors, and shares necessary tidbits. 

“Mrs. O’Connell—we call her Mrs. O—loves her flowers. Don’t ever park near them.”

They drive through one gated community after another.

“Packages for señor Jon Aguirre are almost always expensive and fragile.”

Tobin tries to commit each house to memory but it’s proving to be difficult. They all seem to have manicured lawns and big front yards.

The huge two-storey house they’re standing in front of isn't as flashy as the others though. And after ringing the doorbell, Dave supplies another tidbit.

“Expect to deliver a package here every week for Channing Press.”

Tobin nods for the nth time.

“She’s become a bit of a shopaholic—started this year,” Dave chuckles. “And if no one answers the door in a few minutes, we can leave the package. I’ve done it before and spoken to her about it.”

Once they’re back in the van, she types a question in her app. 

A robotic female voice asks, “What…  about… dogs?”

Dave laughs, “Don’t get me started about dogs.”

They talk about the dogs on their route the whole afternoon.

*

The next day, Dave surprises Tobin by asking her to teach him how to sign thank you and you’re welcome.

Tobin beams. 

They exchange phone numbers after that and Tobin teaches him new words and phrases every day for the rest of the week.

*

How was your week? Lauren signs after plopping down on the couch beside Tobin.

Pretty cool, Tobin answers. Tiring. But cool… Dave’s been really nice to me. But I’ll be on my own starting this week.

I’m sure you’ll do just fine, Lauren assures her.

I think so too, Tobin admits.

“Good,” Lauren nods.

She is what Tobin refers to as a hearing person but she’s been learning sign language since middle school and it’s one of the reasons why they’re best friends.

Lauren is a stately, tall, no-nonsense woman, with curly hair and kind, blue eyes. 

Next to her, Tobin looks like a goofy (but pretty) teenager even though Lauren is only a couple of months older.

They’re eating cereal for breakfast, watching TV on the couch, before heading to Sunday Mass.

So what do you want to do today?  Lauren asks. Want to finally go to Griffith Observatory?

Tobin shakes her head, Can we just chill today? Do laundry and stuff?

Okay then, Lauren acquiesces. What about Thursday? What do you want to do for your birthday?

Tobin groans, Do we have to celebrate?

Lauren laughs, That’s up to you… It’s okay if you don’t want to… We can talk about it again later. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something new to celebrate this week.

*

Tobin doesn’t care about turning 26. But she does have plenty of reasons to celebrate, including having a comfy uniform to work in.

As a supplemental driver, Tobin doesn’t wear the easily recognizable bright-colored company polo shirt. 

Instead, she has a simple charcoal gray one tucked into black shorts (with pockets!), which she prefers over pants, with black sneakers and black socks rumpled just below her calves and with the company logo on the shirt as the only dash of color.

There’s a logo cap, too, which she brings along but never wears, opting to just put her hair up in a ponytail.

Tobin doesn’t care about how she looks either. But she has always been inherently cool and can effortlessly pull off an outfit as dull as a delivery driver’s uniform. She only has to smile and it won’t really matter what she’s wearing.

She’s been smiling all morning as she follows Dave’s final advice to have a bit of fun on her first solo outing, assigning nicknames to customers to best remember them by.

Her next delivery is for Shopaholic—not a very creative nickname, she knows, but Tobin hasn’t met her yet so it’ll do for now.

The IDs and house keys on her lanyard bounce off her stomach as she jogs towards the back of her van.

She opens the back door, brings out her scanner and her phone (which needs to be with the packages and not anywhere near the driver’s seat when she’s driving), and then Shopaholic’s order.

She expects to leave it by the door again. But shortly after ringing the bell, the knob turns and the door opens slowly… then a young woman on crutches comes into view.

Tobin immediately notices her eyes—red and watery, undoubtedly from crying—and is at a loss for what to do next.

She settles for what she hopes is a sympathetic smile as the young woman carefully opens the door wide.

She has beautiful olive skin and is wearing a loose tank top and jersey shorts, with her frizzy hair in a messy bun. 

Tobin thinks they’re around the same age and is curious about the crutches and—now that she can see it—the brace on her left knee.

Then the woman speaks but Tobin doesn’t catch what she says.

Acting on instinct, Tobin points to the recipient name, Channing Press, as she hands over the package and the other woman readily takes it.

Tobin then removes the stylus from the scanner, hands it off to the other woman, holds the device for her to sign, and smiles softly when she’s given back the stylus.

They both reach for the doorknob at the same time but Tobin gets to it quicker. Then she motions for the other woman to go inside, hoping she’ll understand that Tobin is volunteering to close the door for her.

It seems like she does when Tobin catches her saying, “Thank you.”

Tobin smiles again, a bit sheepishly this time, as she waits for the other woman to move back inside before closing the door.

Trotting back to the van with mixed emotions, Tobin decides to change her nickname to Sad Cutie.

*

The night before her birthday, Tobin requests Lauren to drive her to Party City.

She buys silly party kits, decorations, and other party supplies in the guise of throwing a fun birthday party.

*

She wears a unicorn party hat on her next delivery to Sad Cutie and is rewarded with bright eyes and an amused smile.

Tobin is glad that, this morning, she can simply refer to her as Cutie.

She takes a green-colored party horn from her pocket, blows on it, and Cutie laughs.

Tobin’s pretty sure she has a self-satisfied smirk on her face as she keeps the blowout pressed between her lips.

Alas, they can’t just smile at each other the whole day, so they go through the motions of delivering and receiving the package.

Like the week before, Tobin gestures for Cutie to go back inside, watches her hop backwards on her crutches, and reaches for the doorknob.

They lock eyes as Tobin starts pulling on the door.

And just before she loses her from view, Tobin blows the party horn one more time, eliciting a fresh set of giggles from Cutie, who shakes her head and grins as the door shuts.

*

A week later, Cutie is all smiles when she emerges from behind the door on her crutches to face a Batman-kiddie-masked Tobin, who cheerfully hands her the stylus and holds out the scanner for her to sign.

She promptly writes her signature, returns the stylus, and is about to take the package when Tobin notices her lips moving.

Tobin quickly removes her mask. And confusion must be written on her face because Cutie gives her a kind smile and says, “I asked for your name.”

Oh.

Tobin steps closer, shows Cutie her company ID, and misses the baffled look on her face before she reads the name on the card.

“Tobin.”

That’s me, Tobin smiles and points at the middle of her chest.

“Are you,” Cutie hesitates, “not allowed to speak or something?”

Tobin winces before leaning in again to show Cutie another card at the back of her ID—the one that says Driver is deaf.

“Oh.” 

It takes a moment before Cutie turns to her, looking perplexed. 

“So then… how can you understand me?”

One moment, Tobin gestures before checking her pockets for her phone.

She finds it, takes it out, opens her text-to-speech app, and types. Cutie hears the robotic female voice soon after.

“I… can… read… lips.”

Cutie gapes at her in wonderment, “You can?”

Tobin nods with a smile, then realizes that she stares at Cutie’s lips a second too long and shifts her gaze back to Cutie’s eyes. 

Judging from the way Cutie’s eyes twinkle, it seems that she’s been caught. And Tobin doesn’t want to embarrass herself further so she makes a move towards the door. 

Cutie stops her with a hand on her forearm, waits for her full attention, then mouths, “Thank you.”

For a moment, they just smile softly at each other… until Tobin types on her app again to reply with, “My… pleasure,” waves Cutie inside and trails after her, only stopping once Cutie limps past the door.

Cutie faces her again then slowly mouths, “See you next week, Tobin.”

Tobin nods and waves adorably as she closes the door. 

Then she pauses at the doorstep, takes a deep breath, and places a hand over her heart.

*

For several seconds, Tobin stands there, in her dog ears headband, open-mouthed and goggle-eyed, when Cutie appears, beaming, with her hair down, side-swept and flowing in curls.

Oh, forget ‘Cutie.’ Tobin might as well start calling her ‘Her Hotness.’

She strikes a pose, as if to say, Look, no crutches!

And Tobin gives her two thumbs up and a toothy grin then internally cringes at her lameness.

Her Hotness just giggles.

And there’s a playful glint in her eyes when she begins signing, Hi, my name is C-h-r-i-s-t-e-n.

Once again, Tobin stands there, open-mouthed and goggle-eyed at Her Hotness—Christen.

By some miracle, Tobin musters the courage to offer Christen her most charming smile as she clips the parcel between her knees and signs, Nice to meet you, C-pretty.

Christen gives her a questioning look but signs, Nice to meet you, so Tobin takes out her phone and types for robotic girl to say, “We… don’t… spell… out… names… all… the… time.”

Then Tobin signs, My name, and then the letter T, which she taps on either side of her lips.

Christen mimics the hand movement, asking, “That means Tobin?”

Tobin nods, gestures at her big smile, and shrugs.

Christen laughs, “You do have a nice smile.” But before Tobin can blush at the compliment, Christen adds, “What about me,” pointing to herself, with furrowed brows, then tries to replicate what Tobin has done with the letter C in front of her face.

Tobin giggles, shakes her head, then zips her lips.

“Hey,” Christen gives her a playful shove and pouts, “not fair.”

Tobin giggles some more before remembering her job and hands over the packet to Christen, then points at the recipient name, Channing Press.

My s-i-s-t-e-r, Christen signs.

Oh, Tobin mouths.

“Yeah…”

Staring into each other’s eyes with soft smiles is becoming a habit.

Tobin is the first to budge and gestures at the door. 

But Christen shakes her head, “I can manage.” 

Tobin signs, O-k.

Then Christen adds, “No more accessories next week, okay?”

And Tobin nods.

With the sweetest of smiles, Christen says, “See you next week, Tobin.”

Tobin’s heart is affluter as she replies, See you next week, C-pretty.

When Tobin glances at the side mirror, Christen is still standing at her doorstep with her head turned to the van.

*

Of all the daydreams Tobin has indulged herself in about what’ll happen on the next delivery, this isn’t one of them.

A tall handsome man greets her when she arrives at Christen’s. And apparently, he can sign.  

Hello, you must be T-o-b-i-n. I’m N-i-m-a, he smiles warmly then offers his hand. 

Tobin forces a smile, shakes his hand, and responds with, Nice to meet you, N-i-m-a, then asks, Is Miss P-r-e-s-s here? 

You mean C-pretty? Nima smirks.

The color instantly drains from Tobin’s face but she gets a reprieve because Nima suddenly turns around and Christen appears from inside the house and limps towards them.

Tobin can’t read what Christen’s lips are saying from that distance yet but she sees Nima hold his hands up and shake his head.

Christen smiles when she meets her gaze then signs, Good morning, Tobin.

Tobin notices Christen saying, “Shut up, Nima,” before greeting her back, Good morning.

How are you? Christen asks.

If Tobin is surprised that Christen has picked up more words in sign language, she tries not to show it when she replies, I’m fine.

She also tries not to think about Nima being the reason why Christen is better at it.

She tries harder not to feel mortified at the thought of Christen already knowing the meaning of the sign name Tobin has given her.

She tries all of those but fails in two out of the three.

She also fails to notice the look on Christen’s face when she reaches them and Tobin promptly hands over the package, which Christen immediately tosses over to Nima before taking the stylus.

She doesn’t fail to notice that Nima is moving closer and closer to Christen.

And for some reason—except, perhaps, to torture Tobin even more—Christen holds Tobin’s hand that’s holding the scanner as she signs… Then she elbows Nima in the ribs before returning the stylus to Tobin, who jerks her head in his direction and sees another smirk there.

“Don’t mind him,” Christen tells her.

But Tobin can’t bring herself to nod.

See you next week? Christen asks.

Tobin gives her a tight-lipped smile.

Have a nice day, Nima signs.

Have a nice day, Tobin signs before rushing back to the van.

This job should’ve come with a warning not to have crushes on pretty customers, Tobin thinks, especially unattainable ones.

She catches a glimpse of both of them still standing by the doorway as she drives away.

*

What’s with the long face? Lauren asks Tobin as they sit on the couch to eat Chinese take-out for dinner that day.

Nothing, Tobin denies.

Clearly, it’s not nothing, Lauren retorts.

Tobin takes a deep breath and lets out a grumbling exhale. Then she opens her takeout box and starts eating.

Do you think it’s time we got a dining table? Lauren asks. We look pathetic, she remarks before grabbing her food.

They eat slowly, without chatting for a while, until Tobin signs, I feel pathetic.

Lauren makes a show of setting down her takeout box on the coffee table, folding her legs on the couch to face Tobin, and waiting… 

Tobin turns to her with puppy eyes and Lauren tries her best not to smile.

There’s this girl, Tobin confesses.

“Ahh…” 

Tobin covers her face with both hands before telling Lauren all about the prettiness that greets her every Tuesday for more than a month now.

She signs so animatedly for what feels like an hour that Lauren can no longer suppress her grin and Tobin shoves her a couple of times.

*

When the next Tuesday morning rolls around, Tobin isn’t sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed when she doesn’t find an item for Channing Press after she’s done loading her van.

*

Wednesday turns out to be a very trying day.

Tobin rings the doorbell to Jon Aguirre Gonzales’ stunning home, all modern and sleek and rectangular, with floor to ceiling glass windows on the second floor. And she thinks it’s quite fitting for a man whose delivery items are almost always expensive or fragile.

She holds the small but heavy box gingerly and waits… 

Pretty soon, she detects a faint smell of something burning. She goes back to her parked van just to be sure… but it’s not it.

The odor becomes more pronounced as she heads back to the front door. It must be from the house. She rings the bell six times in a row. But she doesn’t spot any movement inside.

She bounds to the left side. 

There’s nothing suspicious there.

She hastens to the other side.

And there’s smoke coming from a window.

She runs back to the front door and rings the doorbell again, a bit more frantic this time, but no one seems to be home.

She hopes no one is trapped inside as she texts 911… then her manager… giving both the address… and a description of what’s happening… 

Her manager tells her to wait for first responders, which she already plans to do.

She moves her van further down the street to be out of the way and jogs back to the right side of the house.

The smoke is darker and the odor is stronger.

Tobin prays that help will come soon.

She’s about to go to the nearest house to start ringing doorbells when she spies a fire truck in the distance.

She lets out a sigh of relief and and starts waving with both arms high up in the air.

As soon as the truck reaches the house and a fireman jumps from the truck, she approaches them, showing them her deaf card, and motions for them to follow her to the side.

Then she gets out of their way…

A police car soon follows and Tobin knows she needs to give a statement.

Señor Aguirre still hasn’t come home when the police officers let her go to carry on with her job.

She goes home at 9pm that night.

*

To say that Tobin is surprised to see a package for Christen Press the next morning is an understatement.

It’s just a crush, Tobin repeats to herself while she’s standing there, waiting for Christen to answer the door. It’s just a crush. She’s carrying a box the size of her chest that’s so heavy her toned arm muscles are on display.

It’s just a crush, nothing more.

It’s no big deal.

She has a boyfriend.

Who’s to say she even likes girls?

Tobin doesn’t stand a chance. 

She’s just being nice.

Christen opens the door.

She’s so frickin gorgeous. Damnit.

Hello, Tobin, Christen greets her with a shy smile. 

Hi, she mouths back before Christen reaches for the box. But Tobin keeps Christen away then twists her body to check on Christen’s knee and, just as she suspects, Christen is still wearing a brace. 

Tobin shakes her head no. So Christen steps aside to let Tobin in, with a twinkle in her eyes, then closes the door.

A few steps later, she clasps Tobin’s left arm and Tobin’s clammy hands get even clammier. 

Tobin supposes that it’s to lead her in the right direction as they turn left towards the living room. But does Christen have to put her hand so high up on Tobin’s arm that her thumb is almost underneath Tobin’s sleeve?

Thank goodness she lets go as soon as she points to a console table and Tobin sets the box down.

She gets Christen’s signature and then Christen asks, Hey, do you want water? 

Tobin shouldn’t be taken aback by Christen signing new words anymore but she still is, No, thank you.

“Well,” thank you, Christen signs back then points at the box, “for carrying that for me.”

You’re welcome, Tobin says before gesturing to the general direction of the front door.

Christen bites her lower lip as if hesitating then nods and turns to walk Tobin to the door.

Tobin can’t help but offer her arm for Christen to hold as they walk. And she does, looking particularly tickled.

Christen glances her way every few steps then turns away when Tobin tries to catch a glimpse of her too.

Finally, Christen asks, How are you?

So-so, Tobin answers. How are you?

So-so, Christen mirrors. And they both laugh.

“Tobin,” Christen squeezes her arm when they reach the door then signs, We have a big… 4th of July party… tomorrow… Can you come?

Oh. Tobin makes a fist and uses it to draw circles in the middle of her chest, Sorry… no (I can’t).

“Too bad…”

Tobin gives her a tight-lipped smile when she replies, Maybe next time.

“I don’t know what that means… but okay.” They laugh again then Tobin waves goodbye.

See you next week? Christen asks.

Tobin nods.

Whoever said that ‘It is never the situation that cause suffering, it is your thoughts about it,’ is absolutely right as a couple of choice words echo in Tobin’s mind over and over again.

It’s just a crush. She’s just being nice. It will never be more.

*

Nima answers the door again the following Tuesday.

He grins and signs, Hi, Tobin. Christen will be out soon. 

Hello, Tobin gives him a reluctant smile. Okay, thank you.

She’s still a bit slow, he adds.

And Tobin just nods. 

She itches to confirm with Nima if Christen already knows the meaning of her sign name but stops herself.

How are you today? He asks.

Good, thank you, Tobin answers. How are you?

Highly amused, he tells her, still grinning. 

Before Tobin can brood over his words, he suddenly turns around, steps aside, and Christen is there, walking towards them, looking even more gorgeous than the week before.

Tobin desperately hopes she doesn’t make any unintentional sounds while staring at Christen in her shorter shorts and tighter tank top with her shiny hair straightened out and her brace gone. But Nima swiftly turns back to her with a laugh so she thinks she might have.

Now Tobin desperately hopes her cheeks aren’t red. 

But it’s Christen’s cheeks that are red. And with a coy smile, she signs, Hi, Tobin.

Tobin greets her back, Hello, and gets on with the delivery without further ado.

Christen pouts a little but takes the package, writes her signature, and returns the stylus before asking, How are you today?

Tobin catches Nima saying, “I asked her that.”

Christen glares at him.

Tobin repeats her answer, I’m good, thank you. 

“...also… she said earlier,” Nima mumbles.

Tobin asks, How are you?

“I’m better,” is all Tobin can understand as Christen goes on and on about something for so long that a crease gradually forms on Tobin’s forehead.

Christen looks at Nima expectantly when she stops talking. And Tobin also turns to him, utterly confused. He rolls his eyes.

Christen says her knee is getting better, he explains, still grinning, with both women looking at him intently. She thinks her rehab is going well. She expects it to get more difficult soon, which is a good thing, because it means she is showing a lot of progress. So she is very happy about that. She is also wondering if you are going to ask her out.

Wha—? Tobin’s eyes widen in shock.

Christen notices and slaps Nima’s arm, “What did you say to her?” 

“What you needed me to,” he smirks.

Christen narrows her eyes at him then softens when she turns her head back, “Tobin…”

Tobin needs for this to be over quickly, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I swear, I wasn’t trying to come on to you. And whatever it is that makes you feel like I was, I’ll stop, I promise.

“Nima,” Christen gives him a questioning look but he has the same shocked expression as Tobin.

Dude, he signs to Tobin, that’s not what that meant—

But Tobin doesn’t let him finish and, with one last glance at Christen, she bolts out of there.

*

Tobin thanks God for bringing her to Jon Aguirre’s doorstep that afternoon.

After last week’s incident, she receives instruction to reattempt delivery to his house on this day, around this time.

Soon after the doorbell rings, a much older man with graying hair and five o’clock shadow opens the door.

“Tobin!” Jon Aguirre rushes out the door, beaming and crushing her in a hug. It’s just the kind of comfort Tobin needs right now—something akin to a dad’s hug.

They pat each other on the back before Jon cups Tobin’s face in both hands.

“Thank you,” he says so earnestly that Tobin manages to smile again as she nods.

Then she pats his shoulder as he lets her go. He checks his pockets, looking for something, but doesn’t seem to find anything there.

“Come on,” he waves her over. “Come on in.”

Tobin follows as he leads her into his house, past an area with a makeshift wall covered in plastic and into the most magnificent kitchen Tobin has ever seen. 

Jon smiles as she takes it all in before giving him the package (which he places on the large kitchen island) and taking his signature.

He moves to a corner, takes a whiteboard propped against the wall on the counter, and brings it over to the island, along with a marker and an eraser.

Tobin notices a grocery list with lots of herbs, vegetables, and specific meat cuts on the whiteboard before Jon erases all of it.

I can’t thank you enough for what you did last week when the fire broke out, he writes then glances at her. I have food for you to bring home. I won’t take no for an answer.

Then he stares at her and checks, “Okay?” She nods before he erases everything and writes again.

If there’s anything you need, anything at all, you let me know, he glances again. Promise me you’ll let me know. He stops writing and fixes his gaze at her. 

Tobin stares right back then shrugs and holds out her pinky.

He laughs and locks their pinkies together.

And Tobin feels a lot better.

*

Lauren and Tobin gush over the squid and mussels from Jon that night, swearing they’re the best they’ve ever had.

Lauren jokes that maybe Tobin should ask Jon for another meal like that.

*

Tobin feels relieved that another Tuesday comes and goes without a delivery for Channing or Christen Press.

The relief, however, only lasts until Wednesday morning. And Tobin finds herself at the door of the Press household again but neither Christen nor Nima is there to greet her.

“You’re new,” remarks the taller, younger woman with curlier hair and rounder face than Christen’s.

Tobin knows better now so she presents her ID to give her name, then flips it around to let the other woman know that she is deaf, without hesitation.

The other woman doesn’t bat an eyelash and simply says, “Ah.” Then she takes her phone out, stands beside Tobin to show it to her, opens a new message, and types, Hey, Tobin. I’m Channing.

Tobin’s face lights up and she instinctively points at Channing as if to say, That’s you!

Channing laughs as if she understands, “Yep, that’s me!”

Tobin pulls her phone out from her pocket and lets her app say, “Nice… to… finally… meet… you… Channing,” while she’s smiling from ear to ear.

Channing giggles then types, You’re cute.

Tobin scratches the back of her neck, looking sheepish after typing a reply. Her app says, “Thanks… you’re… cute… too.”

Channing grins, You should see my sister.

Tobin freezes for a split second before trying her best to act nonchalant as she mutes her phone, I’ve met your sister.

Channing peers over Tobin’s phone then types, Christen?

Tobin flinches, Yes.

So amirite? Channing asks. Isn’t she cuter?

What is up with the people in this house? Tobin wonders. You are both cute in your own ways.

Channing takes her time to appraise Tobin with a faint smile on her face, In case you’re wondering, she’s in rehab right now.

Tobin gives Channing a perfunctory smile and then her order, which Channing clips under her arm.

Tobin is about to give her the stylus when Channing types again, And she’s single.

Tobin wills her face not to react but it’s too late—Channing sees her eyes widening briefly and smirks in triumph.

Then she grabs the stylus to place her signature and returns it with her eyes boring into Tobin, who tries to avoid her gaze, but can’t.

“You like her, don’t you?”

Tobin tries to be as impassive as she can, even with her heart hammering against her chest. She unmutes her phone, types on her app, and faces Channing again.

“Doesn’t… everyone?”

Channing’s teasing smile turns into a soft one, Not everyone. Not that it matters. Maybe she’s on the lookout for just one. To like her back.

Tobin turns to Channing with her mouth agape.

Channing giggles again, taps Tobin on the arm twice, and leaves. But not before Tobin catches her saying, “My job here is done,” and looking incredibly pleased with herself.

*

Are you gonna do something about it? Lauren asks Tobin as they begin their stroll along Hollywood Boulevard on Sunday after breakfast. You didn’t say anything when I asked earlier—Don’t tell me you don’t plan on doing anything?

Tobin groans, What can I do?

She’s been holding her feelings in until this morning because they’ve both been very busy for the past three days. To make up for it, they’ve decided to dine out today to play catch up and finally check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame, starting with the area along the Dolby Theater. (They’ve both never been and they’re running out of new places to go to, to be honest.)

Ask her out!

When exactly? When I deliver or when I’m off work and I just show up at her house because I happen to know where she lives? I’m a creep either way.

So what—are you just gonna wait until you’re sure she likes you and makes the first move?

Is that so bad?

Lauren rolls her eyes in frustration, Did it ever occur to you that you both might be waiting for the same thing?

Tobin stops in her tracks and turns to face Lauren but in a flash, Lauren looks alarmed—pulls her away from the road—and Tobin jolts forward—her body twists—her left arm hits the pavement—then her left temple—and she’s sprawling on her stomach on the sidewalk.

She’s quite shaken but she rolls onto her back and takes stock—her left leg hurts but it’s bearable and her left cheek stings.

She lifts her head to look around. Lauren is hovering above her, talking rapidly on the phone, and there’s someone in a helmet rushing towards them from a parked motorcycle. She sits up slowly… 

The bike rider reaches them, kneels beside Tobin, and turns to Lauren, who says, “She can’t hear you. She’s deaf.”

The stranger acknowledges with a nod, removes the helmet and—it’s Keanu Fucking Reeves.

Tobin can’t contain her glee and it shows on her face even if the area around her left eye is starting to hurt more. She instinctively throws Keanu a Shaka.

He chuckles and salutes her right back then asks, “You feeling okay?”

Tobin nods enthusiastically. Lauren smiles and acts as an interpreter.

“Can you wiggle your toes?”

Tobin gives him two thumbs up and even folds her knees—the right without difficulty, the left with a groan.

I’m fine, I’m fine, she signs when the worry returns to Lauren’s face.

“You’re bleeding,” Lauren tells her.

I feel fine, Tobin insists.

“What the hell happened?” Keanu asks.

“Motorcycle,” Lauren says, “driver lost control, swiped her and the others.”  She motions further down the sidewalk with her head.

Keanu turns to Tobin with a smile, “Glad you’re feeling fine,” then turns to Lauren, “Make sure she gets checked for a concussion. I’ll go check on the others.”

Tobin signs frantically—

“What’s she saying?” Keanu asks.

“Uhm,” Lauren hesitates and looks apologetic, “She’s asking for a photo.”

Keanu chuckles again then poses with a Shaka. Tobin automatically does the same. Lauren quickly takes the groupie.

*

Tobin comes home late Tuesday afternoon, after 48 hours of being under observation at the hospital, to a framed blow-up of the photo with Keanu, hanging above the TV.

Her hearty laugh fills the room as soon as she sees it.

And her gasp a few minutes later is just as loud when she receives a text from Dave.

[Dave]
Christen asked about you this morning

[Tobin]
She did?

[Dave]
She almost panicked when she heard
you got hit by a motorcycle
I told her I haven’t seen you but you told me
you’re fine and you’ll be back tomorrow once
cleared by the doc
Have you been cleared?

[Tobin]
Yeah I am. I’m home now.
Thanks a lot! I owe you lots

[Dave]
Don’t worry about it
Take care of yourself okay

[Tobin]
Will do. Let’s catch up soon.
Thanks again!

Giving thanks seems to be all that she’s doing for the past few days.

She’s grateful to God for watching over her and letting her walk away from the accident relatively unscathed, with only bruises and scratches and a black eye to show for it.

She’s grateful for Lauren and for Dave. She’s grateful for her job and the benefits it provides, which includes healthcare. She’s grateful for everyone who helps after the accident, especially for Keanu.

And she knows now that, if Keanu can magically appear in her life and help, then, anything is possible.

*

She finds a package for Christen on Friday morning. And her body starts buzzing in anticipation.

She counts down all the stops until she gets to her. And at every stop, she tries hard to think of what to do and what to say while she waits for the doors to open.

She’s waiting at Mrs. O’s doorstep and staring blankly to her left when her door opens.

Tobin smiles instantly and waves hello.

Mrs. O smiles back and starts jotting something down on her notepad, the one she brings to chat with Tobin, They’re beautiful aren’t they?

Tobin turns to the left again and realizes that she’s been staring at Mrs. O’s flowers. She nods with a big grin to show her appreciation.

Mrs. O writes again, Would you like one?

*

Tobin’s dopey smile gives way to a look of steely determination as she rings the doorbell to the house she really wants to be in since 7am.

She stands there, waiting, with her left hand holding the package, her right hand behind her back, and her chest heaving with every deep breath she takes… 

She starts rocking on the balls of her feet when the door opens.

“Tobin,” Christen breathes out as she closes the gap between them, so close it makes Tobin realize that her eyes are greenish-gray and she will gladly get lost in them.

But Christen’s touch reels her in, her fingertips caressing her temple gently, tenderly, as she studies her face, every mark, every line.

“Does it hurt?” Christen asks.

Not anymore, Tobin wants to say. But she shakes her head slowly to say no, afraid that Christen will let go. And just as slowly, gradually, she moves to tuck the package in her left hand under her arm and she’s free to hold Christen’s hand on her cheek, the gesture making both of them smile, softly, ardently.

Tobin tilts her head towards their hands and Christen sways a little. But then she takes a quick breath and gives Tobin’s left hand a squeeze before bringing their hands down to their sides, fingers intertwined.

“Dave told me,” Christen says.

And Tobin nods.

“I’m so glad you’re okay…” 

Tobin offers the single rose in her right hand, a radiant pink about to bloom, and Christen’s eyes light up. 

She accepts it with her free hand and Tobin watching her intently and meets Tobin’s gaze when she brings it up to her nose to breathe in its scent. Tobin unwittingly breathes along, her dopey smile returning. 

And Christen beams.

She signs, Thank you, then gives the rose back, requesting, “Hang on to this for a second?”

And Tobin obliges.

Christen takes her phone from her pocket, taps on it twice with her thumb, then holds it out for Tobin, moving even closer that their cheeks are almost touching.

It’s a heady feeling, their proximity, and Tobin fumbles a few times as she enters her phone number on the keypad.

Christen takes the rose from her hand then hits the call button when she’s done and Tobin’s phone vibrates in her pocket.

She takes it out, clicks on decline, and takes a deep, calming breath before creating a new contact, purposely hiding her screen from Christen, who is smiling but eyeing her suspiciously.

She shows the saved name for Christen a few seconds later, grinning.

Honeybunch Sugarplum 
Pumpy-umpy-umpkin

Christen narrows her eyes but looks amused. Tobin shakes her head, her expression asking, No?

She edits and types again.

Christen brings the rose to her other hand that still hasn’t let go of Tobin’s other hand and pokes Tobin on the stomach.

Tobin tries to dodge, but not really, and the smile on her face grows even bigger, wider. 

She shows her phone again.

Sweetie Pie Cuppycake 
Gumdrop Snugllely-Spigooms

And Christen snorts, shaking her head.

These dorks just keep grinning stupidly at each other until Tobin leaves. 

Even then, Tobin keeps grinning stupidly on her own...

So this is what it feels like, she thinks, to throw caution in the wind.

*