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The Embrace of Silence
The Embrace of Silence
Natasha Orme
Romance
Yes - full manuscript is available


Jocelyn is a profoundly deaf teenager living with her father and younger sister, Helen. Since the death of their mother, Jocelyn has tacitly assumed the homemaker role and is beginning to build a life for herself. Romance is finally in the air when an eye-catching new boy arrives at her special deaf school and Jocelyn's life seems to be on the up at long last. Unfortunately for Jocelyn, all is not set to run smoothly for the star-crossed lovers, nor do things go to plan at home where the drama begins with Helen becoming seriously ill.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1
I live in a world of silence. There’s no numbing buzz, there’s no background whispering and there’s no music, at least not in the way one might think. My music is made through the vibrations around me. Despite the silence that I'm enveloped in, I still find beauty in the world. The beauty in the trees, the flowers, the sunset and sunrise. Most of all though, I can see the beauty in people.
I woke up every morning with a gentle shake from my little sister, Helen. Every morning she signed to me letting me know that breakfast was ready or that she’d had a really good dream last night or something silly like that, just so she could be the first to speak to me. That was how I communicated and how I still do. I sign to others. All my family could sign but it was hard when I met people that couldn’t. They would become wary of me as if I was an outsider and it used to really upset me.
I didn’t go to an ordinary school like most teenagers. I wouldn’t have been able to learn. Instead I went to a school especially for teens like me. There was around two hundred of us in total. The school was classed as big.
I’m not a particularly confident person. My disability has held me back all my life. I don’t like being center stage to anything. I’ve never participated in drama or music or anything that might make me stand in front of others. I’d much prefer sitting in the corner and getting on with some work.
I do love to be artistic though. I love bright colors and the way they can blend together. I love to be able to sketch my imagination and show others what I can see. I love the transformation of an image from reality to paper. That is where my passion truly lies. In Art.
There were nine other people in my class. Some of them were able to hear a little maybe in one ear or the other, but most of them, like me, heard nothing. My best friend was a girl named Charlie. Her full name was Charlotte but she hated it. She was very funny. Odd though that sounds, even those of us that can’t communicate like everyone else can convey humor. The one thing I loved the most about Charlie was that she didn’t need to pretend to be somebody else to please everyone. She was much more confident and comfortable than I was with the silence and she didn’t care what people thought as long as she was happy. I really did love her for it and admired her beyond belief. I just couldn’t fathom how she could walk around not listening to anything and still be more self-assured than most girls her age.
The families that lived in our town have lived there pretty much all their lives. Most have lived there for generations and so it was rare we ever got any new students at school. I couldn’t remember the last time a new family moved to the area with a deaf child. I wouldn’t say it was a close-knit community because there was still that large divide between those that think they were better than everyone else and those that generally didn’t care.
That was why I was surprised to find an eleventh member of my class one morning. Nobody had been expecting this new arrival, least of all the teachers. His mum brings him into school one morning explaining how he’d moved to this town over the weekend and wished to enroll him at once. Who just moves over a weekend these days? Surely it’s a business that takes at least a week? Anyhow, he tipped up and the teachers couldn’t really say no. He was deaf in both ears, like me. That was the immediate connection.
His name was Joshua. He sat towards the front of the class and I tried to study him out of the corner of my eye whilst our teacher explained a presentation on our history topic. He wasn’t exactly stand-out-of-a-crowd gorgeous but he wasn’t ugly either. There was something about his fine bone structure that made him curiously handsome. There was nothing particularly unusual about him so he managed to avoid the school gossip. In a way that was a good thing, for him at least.
He didn’t really talk to anyone for the first few weeks of being there. He quietly entered the classroom each day and got on with it. He didn’t make a fuss or effort to fit in. One of the other guys had been talking to him every now and again but Alex hadn’t been getting much luck. He was my other best friend, my guy best friend. He was so sweet and I loved him for it.
I always used to wonder what the world really did sound like. I’d been born deaf and I personally think that’s better than having the ability to hear and then drastically losing it because then you know what you were missing out on whereas I don’t. I guess you could say ignorance is bliss. It must look strange on the outside for someone who hasn’t interacted with deaf people before because for us to be loud and hyperactive, it’s all communicated through the hands and body language whereas for ordinary teens it’s through their voice. Well I’m not saying that we can’t use our voice but we can’t hear ourselves speak and having been deaf all my life, it’s hard for me to form words with my lips. I can lip read pretty well but having never needed to use my own lips for speech it feels foreign even when I try.
It’s an odd feeling being able to speak but not hear what you’re saying. You can feel your vocal chords vibrating and where there should be noise, there’s nothing. Not that I’m not used to the silence but it’s a peculiar feeling. I don’t know how many of my classmates think about this sort of stuff, it’s not like I can accidentally voice my thoughts because it takes extra physical effort to express anything. I’m always grateful that I’m deaf and not blind though. If I couldn’t see, life would be truly miserable. I may listen to silence but I’d rather that than see into nothing.
I used to love going home every evening. Mum had died when I was very young. I have no idea what from. Daddy always found it hard to speak about her. He misses her very much. I’ve only seen him cry twice and both times were on the anniversary of her death. It’s a morbid day of the year for us. Daddy, Helen and me go down to the cemetery and lay some flowers on her grave. We say a few prayers and take it in turns to privately talk to her. Daddy always takes the longest. Father McCoy takes us children into the small church for milk and cookies to give Daddy some peace.
I walked through the door to find fresh flowers everywhere. The anniversary of Mum was last week and we mourn for a week every year. Daddy doesn’t go to work, we don’t pick flowers and the television isn’t switched on. Daddy says it gives us time to think about her and what she’s doing in heaven now. Well, that was last week so Daddy makes a special effort to brighten up the house and chase all the darkness away. I could smell the fresh air sweeping through the rooms and I knew that Daddy was out working.
We weren’t exactly rich but we certainly had enough to live comfortably. Daddy worked as a psychologist and therapist. Not one of those fancy downtown ones but one for those that can’t afford the city prices. He worked with the ordinary people of the town that had problems. He was sufficiently popular and had a stream of regulars. I think he found his work enjoyable because he could sense how he was helping others and it also helped him to forget everything that he didn’t want to remember.
I saw Helen’s backpack on the dining room table, announcing that she was home so I decided to go find her. She was in her room singing to herself. She often took part in the musical productions at school and had been given the main role several times so I took that to be a sign that she was a good singer. It made me proud of her. Not many are able to find a talent such as hers at the age of seven.
I signed to her to ask if she wanted me to do her hair. She signed back that she would. I often played with her hair. Not for any particular reason, just because I could. She loved it. She put some music on her CD player and sat down in front of her chair. I never knew what sort of music she listened to. I gave up trying to keep track. One day it’s songs from children’s programs and the next it’s the latest boyband. I chose to listen to my own music. Silence. It was much more relaxing.
I sat down on the pink chair and plugged the straighteners in next to her vanity table. Pink was Helen’s favorite color and always had been. She was a typical girl in the sense that every item in her room was pink and fluffy. I began the slow process of straightening her long, silky hair. The color shimmered as it cascaded down her back.
It wasn’t long before Helen signed to me to let me know that Daddy was home. She had obviously called his name because he appeared in the doorway. I watched him speak to her and attempted to lip read but couldn’t quite keep up. He signed to me that he thought it was nice that we were sat together, even though it was what we always did. He said that he’d had a hard day at work and hadn’t got anything planned for the rest of the day. I needed to decided what we were going to have for dinner.
I asked her what she wanted and she signed back that she wanted something and chips. I smiled, she always wanted something and chips.
'No chips tonight,' I said. Her face dropped.
'How about potato waffles?' I asked. Her face lit up and she started jumping around. 'Sit still,' I signed. 'I need to finish doing your hair.'
She sat as still as was humanly possible for a seven year old. I thought about how fluid her sign language was for someone so young. It was an advantage for her because it meant that there wasn’t anybody that she couldn’t communicate with. It’s strange how one person with a disability can change the lives of so many.
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Chapter 2

Chapter 2
I finished her hair and turned the straighteners off. She held my hand as we went downstairs and she flitted about the kitchen getting out what she thought we would need. Helen had been helping me make dinner since she was five. Even if she was getting things out the fridge, she wanted to help. She always wanted to help. Especially me. I was her ward and she was my guardian. She always protected me even though I was the one that was supposed to protect her. I guess that was down to my inability to hear.
It upset me that this was the way she had to live. She wouldn’t speak very often because I was the one she spoke to most and she just didn’t need to. I knew that she struggled in English because her vocabulary wasn’t as good as the rest of her class. She did love to read but it was rare she had the opportunity outside of school to put it into practice. Sure, Daddy was around for her to talk to but he was usually home late and left for work early.
I wished more than anything else in the world that I could help her. That I could just encourage her to speak but to her it wasn’t logical when I was around. She couldn’t comprehend why she should speak to someone who couldn’t hear what she was saying. So every day when I saw her sign to me, I was painfully reminded that it was my disability that was holding her back in the most basic of her lessons. It frustrated me that there was nothing I could do.
'What else do we need?’ signed Helen.
'Not sure yet. Let me get started.’ I replied. I gave her small tasks to do around the kitchen and it didn’t take me long to get the dinner set out on three plates at the dinner table.
After dinner, I played a little with Helen before going up to my room to get on with my homework for the evening. I know a lot of teens find it hard to concentrate when it comes to doing homework because there’s just so much around them to play with and some find it hard when there’s noise in the background. Luckily I don’t have that problem. I guess that’s one of the positive effects of being deaf. Probably the only one.
I had to prepare a presentation for our English class the next day so I played around on the computer and managed to get it all sorted in a relatively short space of time. I went and found Helen and signed to ask her if she would watch it for a few minutes. Gladly she took my hand and followed me upstairs. She sat cross legged on the floor in front of me, waiting patiently.
We were required to be able to 'talk’ about what our presentations were on and so I liked to have a little practice beforehand and I hate signing to an empty room. A bit like how some people hate talking to an empty room and always prefer someone to be there to listen to what they have to say. Well, signing is exactly the same. Just because I may be deaf doesn’t mean that I’m completely alien to what is human.
Helen watched my hands attentively as I quickly outlined what I was talking about. Sure I’d speak in more detail when the time came to it but for now, a rough practice would do.
Once I had finished I thanked Helen and went to tuck her into bed. She wanted me to tell her a story tonight. Usually, she would quietly snuggle down and go straight to sleep but every now and again she would ask for a story and every time she did I had to make up a new one. She hated repeats.
'Once upon a time,' I signed. 'There was a beautiful Princess and she lived in the biggest and most beautiful palace in the land. Her Mother was very kind to her and bought her lots of nice gifts. Her Father was a very proud man and loved his daughter very much. The Princess had no brothers or sisters and would get very lonely. She very much wanted someone to talk to and play with and share her secrets with.
'When she had been younger her Mother would buy her all manners of creatures to keep her company. Dogs, cats, birds, snakes, horses, rabbits and she even had a mouse. To begin with the Princess was happy but after a while she became bored of the animals and they were taken away from her.
'Today was her sixteenth birthday which meant that she was now eligible to take a husband and so invitations went out to all the princes and lords and dukes of the land to ask for anyone who thought themselves worthy of her hand in marriage. Many of them came to the castle and many of them tried to woo her...' Helen signed to me to ask what I meant. I quickly signed a different phrase and then continued with my story. I was always amazed by how much attention she paid. It was rare she fell asleep whilst I was signing.
'The beautiful Princess only wanted her husband to have one quality and that was for her to trust him and confide in him. When all these handsome princes and lords and dukes came to see her, she said that they had one day to convince her to tell them her deepest secret...'
'What is her secret?' signed Helen almost jumping up and down in her bed.
'You will have to wait and see.' She settled back down but the excitement was still gleaming in her eyes. 'All the princes and lords and dukes thought that it could not be that hard because they were all very charming and lots of pretty ladies loved them already but none of them were happy until they had married the richest, prettiest girl they could find.
'Weeks went by and not a single man had been able to learn her secret. Each one of them had become impatient and stormed off. One prince stayed all day but even he eventually got fed up. The Princess was feeling very sad. It seemed that she would never marry. One day a young man knocked on the palace doors and they were opened to him. They asked him who he was and he said he had come to seek the Princess’ hand in marriage.
'The palace knights laughed at him and said there is no way that this silly little man without a grand title could woo the beautiful and kind Princess. Surely he could see that. The young man strode past the laughing knights with his head held high and marched straight up to the Princess. He explained his reason for coming and immediately the Princess had her doubts but she had said any young man could try so she accepted him and said he had one day.
'At first the young man said nothing but gazed at the beautiful Princess before him. After a while he asked her to take a walk with him. They walked out of the palace door and through the cherry trees underneath her bedroom window. The young man asked her questions about herself and she answered, wary at first but gradually she found she was enjoying herself and even asking him questions in return. He was not a very rich man and he did not have any family still alive but despite that she liked him. They walked and talked some more before returning to the palace.
'By this point the sun had set and dinner was being laid so they made their way to the grand dining hall. They talked and laughed over dinner and the young man had not once asked about her secret. The Princess thought this was odd but soon forgot about it as she found she was having such a good time. When it was time for them to go to bed he gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek and retired to his room.
'For hours he desperately tried to get to sleep but no matter how much he tossed and turned, it was impossible. All he could think about was the beautiful, laughing Princess. In the early hours of the morning he crept out of bed and into her room. He approached her bed and took her hand in his. She looked so peaceful sleeping, but her eyelids flickered open and she looked up at him.
'He told her how he could not sleep and desperately wanted to know what her big secret was. He lay down next to her and told her all the wonderful things he could think of. He told her how beautiful she was, how magical her laugh was and how charismatic her personality was...'
'What is charismatic?' signed Helen. I quickly explained and waited to see if she would understand. She thought for a moment and nodded. I smiled. 'Please keep telling the story!'
'Sorry,' I signed back and picked up from where I left off. 'They lay there until the sun came up and still she had not told him what her deepest secret was. During that afternoon the young man was called to the throne room where the young Princess sat with her Mother and Father. The Princess told him that he had failed to find out her deepest secret but the young man begged her to give him another day and every other day for the rest of his life. He told her that he would not rest until he knew her secret and would go to the ends of the world for her if he could only know.
'The King smiled down at this young man that had no fortune of his own and he nodded. The Princess told him that there was no secret but she wanted to find a true husband who would listen to her and love her. She said that he had been so loving and kind that she chose him to be her husband. The young man jumped up and took the Princess in his arms. He gave her a long kiss and they lived happily ever after.'
Helen’s flow of questions was so fast that her tiny little hands could barely keep up. I signed to tell her to slow down and for the next fifteen minutes she asked a complete array of questions. I answered each one with patience and before I’d even finished, she had a second one lined up for me. I eventually got her to settle down and kissed her goodnight, leaving her door ajar enough for a sliver of light to fall across her bedroom floor.
I padded downstairs to find Daddy watching the TV. The motorbikes were on, so of course, he was watching. I liked it when he watched them. He muted the sound, not interested in what the commentators had to say about the race and for a short time I don’t feel so alone as I know that he has nothing to listen to either.
I gave him a kiss on the cheek and signed to tell him goodnight. He asked about Helen and I told him I’d told her a story and she was all tucked up in bed. He smiled gratefully. I trundled upstairs and flopped down on my bed. I was so unbelievably tired and for no reason. I guess it had been a long day. I attempted to undress myself whilst still lying down. I was unsuccessful.
I pushed myself off the bed and undressed, allowing my clothes to litter my bedroom floor. I scoured my room for some pyjamas before eventually getting under the covers and going to sleep.
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