That One Voice in My Head (3)



Read part 1 here.


Julia

I walked in my house to see my dad home. He sat, watching TV with a beer can in his hand. Three empty cans sat on the coffee table. His hair was getting long, clothes wrinkled, and he hadn’t shaved in a few days, by the look of it.

I was thankful when he didn’t look up, because I felt certain that he would not take my deafness well. I avoided him as a rule whenever he was home, but there was no knowing what he would do after he had too many beers. I tiptoed around him into my room. When Mom got home, I knew there would be a fight. She worked too hard for him to mess up her perfectly organized living room. For once, I was thankful I couldn’t hear.

I flipped through my notebook, then threw it on the ground. I was ashamed of what I’d said to Heather; she was never supposed to know how much I’d envied her. Now that she knew what I thought, she could use it against me. And Jason… how could he fall for the one girl I hated so much? I always knew he didn’t think of me that way, but I still had a small hope that I’d win him over some day. Instead, this whole time, he was pining after my arch nemesis.

I stood up and tiptoed back out of my room. Mom was just walking in the door, and I saw her displeased face at the sight of my dad. I walked around her, avoiding the building conflict. It was just growing dark outside, my favorite time of day. I walked down the street, stepping over the cracks on the sidewalk. Somehow, it calmed me.

Heather popped into my mind again. I never knew about her grandpa. I strangely didn’t feel as mad at her for skipping practices. She was clearly unhappy even with everything she had. What I wouldn’t have given for her life. Or so I thought a few hours ago.

I stepped down to cross the street, staring at my feet as I walked. I’d never had someone as dear to me as Heather’s grandpa was to her. It was almost enviable in itself. I wondered if that was how I’d feel if something like that happened to my mom—

Suddenly my breath was knocked out of me. For a second, my feet didn’t touch the ground, and then my body slammed into the pavement. I didn’t even feel the searing pain in my side until then. I managed to open my eyes, and a car’s headlights stared back at me. I couldn’t breathe. With every attempt, my entire body cried out in pain. I couldn’t move, no matter how hard I tried to stand. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see faces looking down on me. My lungs were screaming for air, but I couldn’t give it to them. I tried to speak, to tell the people to get me air, but instead, I closed my eyes, and it was just me and the pain until even that disappeared.

I woke in a hospital, my mom standing over me, smoothing my hair back a little too aggressively. Every breath I took sent a sharp pain through my body.

“I’m okay, Mom.” My voice came out raspy and cracked. She smiled, turning to the nurse with a clipboard.

After a difficult time of communication, I understood that they were going to keep me in the hospital for another day and that I was going to have a hard time breathing for the next few weeks. Mom wanted to sue the guy who’d hit me, and I wasn’t in the right condition to argue with her. She stayed with me most of the day to make sure I was okay.

I was so thankful to get home when they finally released me. I hated seeing everyone communicate around me without being able to hear a word of it, especially when I was the topic of the conversation. In the solitude of my room, I could finally relax without worrying that someone would enter my room without my knowledge.

For the next few days, I drifted in and out of sleep, not caring what day it was. Mom brought me food, but I didn't have an appetite. I couldn’t hear, I could barely breathe… What was the point of anything?

A hand touched my shoulder, gently shaking me awake.

“Oww!”

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that would hurt.”

My eyes popped open to see the only person I could hear. “What do you want?”

She stood back from me, wringing her hands, not looking me in the face. “I wanted to say I’m sorry. For the way I’ve treated you.”

“Why are you apologizing now when I’m bedridden?”

“This has nothing to do with that. That does suck though. I’ve just been feeling bad about what I said to you. I wasn’t myself, and even though we don’t get along, I don’t hate you. We are kind of stuck with each other.”

She sat on the floor beside my bed, and if I could have, I would have moved farther back in my bed. I didn’t want to trust her.

She sat in silence for a minute, playing with the edge of my comforter. She kept taking breaths as if she were going to speak, but then she’d stop herself. I waited, growing more and more impatient.

“Grandpa passed away,” she blurted out suddenly.

I drew in a sharp breath, and then clutched my ribs, both of which made me want to cry out in pain. When I’d finally gained my composure, I said, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“I didn’t even get to hear him say goodbye. I’ll never hear his voice again…” Heather’s voice faded into tears. I reached out and touched her shoulder.

“I won’t even hear his funeral. Do you know how much I hate this?” Her voice rose again, and she hit the floor with her fist. “Why is this happening to me?” She looked at me, tears streaming down her face. “Please tell me you have another idea. What else can we do? There has to be something.”

I shook my head. Nothing made sense anymore.

Heather bowed her head until it was touching my mattress. “Why did you say you were jealous of my life?”

“That’s not what I said.”

She sighed. “Then why did you say you thought I had it all together?”

“You have everything I ever wanted. My family’s not like yours. I haven’t even seen my grandparents since I was little. Two of them died before I was even born.” I fiddled with my hair. “My dad’s an alcoholic. My mom’s OCD and won’t settle for anything but the best. If I mess up, I’m not her smart, talented daughter anymore. She can barely make enough money to keep the house, especially since she’s a shopaholic and retail therapy is the only kind of treatment she’ll try. We stopped expecting my dad to pitch in a long time ago. He spends half his paycheck at the bar anyway. There’s no way I can get into college without a full ride. We don’t have savings. I tried to get a job, but it conflicted with all my extra-curricular stuff. My life sucks compared to yours. You might be suffering from a big loss right now, but at least you have someone you cared about that much.”

Heather stared at me. I’d never felt so vulnerable in my entire life. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I always thought—“

“You always thought I was the nerdy over-achiever who loved micromanaging and being better than everyone else. Join the club. Nobody likes me. Even my friends think I’m annoying. But it’s okay. You kind of get used to it after a while.”

She sat up on my bed and gently put her arms around me. “I know we’ve always hated each other, but

maybe we could start over. We could probably find some things in common—“

I laughed, and my breath caught again as pain shot through me. Startled, Heather pulled back quickly, our heads bumping.

“Sorry,” we both said.

Then I heard a sound. Not myself, not Heather, but something totally different. It took me way too long to recognize it. The AC. And the rustling of trees outside my window.

I sat upright, ignoring the pain in my side. I could definitely hear the creak of my bed. The rumple of my comforter as I threw it back. Heather looked at me, eyes wide. “Do you hear—“

I nodded, slowly stepping to my floor. It squeaked delightfully. “Does this mean—?”

Heather jumped up. “Can we really?” She pulled out her phone, and in a minute, a beautiful sound of music struck my ear. “We can hear.”

“We can hear!” I yelled and promptly lay back down on my bed, closing my eyes. Even though I normally would’ve hated hip hop, the song blaring on Heather’s phone was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. “This is the best day of my life.”

Heather, after she’d danced around for a minute, called her parents. “Mom? Yes, I can hear you. I CAN HEAR YOU!”

I heard the sound of an excited voice coming out of the phone, and I laughed. It was amazing to hear again.

Heather rushed out, saying a quick, giddy goodbye, and I yelled for Mom until she finally came into my room. She was as thrilled for me as she ever was. I could finally get my life back. I could go to school. I could do the play. Actually, who cared about all that? I could hear. I could talk to people. Make friends.

Realizing I could barely move because of my ribs, I smiled. I could wait.

Heather

My first day back in school, I was stared at like an ex-con who’d just been released from prison. Everyone had heard of our incident with Mr. Young, and I figured nobody would really believe the true story. I mean, I wouldn’t have. I knew I looked crazy, but I smiled at everyone, made conversation with people I’d never even looked at, and paid attention in class. Then, when it was all over, I headed to Julia’s to give her the homework.

As I walked through the parking lot, I saw a familiar figure hurrying toward me. I took a deep breath and smiled. “Hey, Jason.”

“Hey. It’s good to see you back. Are you doing good? You never answered my texts—“

“I appreciate your concern,” I said, thinking of ways to put it nicely. “but I really can’t talk to you.”

His smile faded slightly. “What do you mean?”

“I’m just not interested that way. And you have a great friend who treats you so much better than I ever could.”

“Who?”

I sighed. Boys were so stupid. “Julia.”

He frowned. “Really? But she’s so—“

“She’s a great person, Jason. She’s loyal, hardworking, and cares about things most people take for granted. Sure, she’s a little much sometimes, but aren’t we all?”

“I didn’t know you were besties,” he said under his breath.

“Yeah, well, a lot has changed.”

That weekend was Grandpa’s funeral. As sad as I was to see him for the last time, I was so thankful for the time I had with him. With tears streaming down my face, I thanked God that I’d had such a great person in my life. Not everyone had someone like that.

On Julia’s first day back at school, we ran into each other in the hall. Well, not into each other. I’m pretty sure neither of us would dare even brush into anyone after the experience we had. She smiled at me, and I gave her a small hug. “Welcome back.”

“Thanks.”

“You… you know they cancelled the play, right?”

She sighed and gave a small smile. “I know. It’s okay.”

“Wow, you’ve changed.”

“Haven’t we both?”

I couldn’t help but agree. “Hey, some of my friends and I are going to the mall afterwards. Want to come?”

Julia smiled. “Really?”

“Yeah. We’re friends, after all.”

© 2020 by Nancy E Wood