After spending most of his life in special schools, Caleb Stone now faces public high school in his senior year, a prospect that both excites him and threatens to overwhelm his social anxiety. As a deaf teenager, he’s closed himself off to the world. He speaks a shorthand with his parents and even finds it hard to use American Sign Language with people in his local deaf community. But Caleb finds comfort in his love of photography. Everything he can’t express in real life, he posts on his Tumblr.
Struggling to reconcile his resentment for his father’s cruelty with the grief of losing a parent, Luc Le Bautillier scrolls through Tumblr searching for someone who might understand his goth look and effeminate nature. When Luc reblogs a photo by Caleb, sparking a conversation, they both find it easier to make friends online than in person.
Luc and Caleb confront their fears about the opinions of the outside world to meet in New York City. Despite Caleb’s increasing confidence, his parents worry he’s not ready for the trials ahead. But communication comes in many forms—when you learn the signs.
Excerpt: (From Dreamspinner Website)
WE LIVE in an age of communication. This generation—my generation—has no recollection of a time when someone wasn’t immediately contactable, whether it’s by phone or text or e-mail, or Twitter or Facebook.
My grandparents still think nothing of visiting unannounced, and fumble with arthritic fingers on increasingly small mobile devices. My parents ask me what’s the point in Twitter when text messages exist, why Instagram, they don’t get Snapchat… what’s Tumblr, why is it spelled wrong?
In this world of availability, how does a person who’s unable to communicate with the outside world find their place in it?
My name is Caleb. I’m deaf.
This is my blog.
Luc skimmed over the introduction while frowning. He’d been led to this place by a photograph that had raised the hairs on his arms and sent a shiver down his spine. Having never reacted to art that way before, he was drawn to find out more about the photographer. This… this… outpouring of information was a surprise, and he wasn’t sure how to interpret his own goosefleshed reaction.
The blog was fresh faced and new, only a few months old. Luc was proud of the fact that he’d been a Tumblr user for years, since the early inception of the site. He had thousands of posts and thousands of followers. That was important in exactly one place only. No one in the real world cared.
The blog’s owner—Caleb—had done some work fiddling with the look of things, changing the color and layout and fitting it so it worked as a simple background for his images. There were a few text posts too, in the style of a traditional blog. Luc skipped over those for now and idly clicked the “follow” button. He wanted to know if Caleb would post any more of his pictures.
Back on the main page Luc found the photograph that had led him, in a roundabout way, to the “about me” page and clicked the Reblog button.
Check this guy out, he wrote under the image. Awesome photographer.
Then he sent it out to his followers.
There were a few people out there who he was in fairly regular communication with. New York was the home of Tumblr, and the micro-blogging site seemed to fit with a particular slice of the city’s quirky, arty aesthetic. Luc had been one of those fortunate kids who had grown up surrounded by art in its various forms. His mother had thought nothing of dragging him along to a ballet or to the MoMA when he was younger. His sister was more likely to take him to a poetry jam in the village, but that was Ilse for you.
Luc leaned back, stretching out on his bed, and glanced at the clock on his nightstand. It was a little after eleven—he should have been asleep ages ago if he had any chance of getting eight straight. He’d gotten into a huge argument with his school’s vice principal a few weeks previously about how the school day was unfairly prejudiced in favor of students who had better concentration in the mornings.
Luc was a night owl. His concentration peaked between six and ten in the evening, meaning his homework was near perfect most of the time. And he could happily work or hang out with people online until late in the evening. It was mornings he had a problem with.
After the argument with the man (who accepted that Luc had a point, but he simply could not sleep during his geography class, no matter how dull it was), he’d promised to at least try and go to sleep before midnight, and he had tried. Really, he’d tried. But insomnia had stalked him now for months, and dreamless sleep was always just out of reach.
He opened his Twitter account and sent out a message in 140 characters (or less).
Sometimes when the devil has gone he sends demons back in his place.
With some reluctance Luc reached for his bottle of prescribed pills and dry swallowed one of the little things that were supposed to help him fall quickly into a deep sleep. The type of sleep where you didn’t dream. They took a while to kick in, so he went through his nighttime routine, then crawled back in between the sheets.
Turned the lamp off.
A few minutes later he tapped it once, to make the light come on to its dimmest setting. Then he tried to sleep.
“LUC! GET the fuck up!”
He was up. He just wasn’t dressed. Or out of bed.
Luc rolled over, checked the clock, groaned, and rolled out of the other side of his small bed, to the side with his clothes. Since he was the youngest he had the smallest bedroom, one which had barely enough room for a bed, let alone a proper closet. He had tried, once, to put all of his clothes away in the drawers, and they just didn’t fit. Not even when he folded up everything he owned extra neatly and stacked it all in even piles. Luc’s friend Jay affectionately referred to the mess in the room as Luc’s “floor-drobe.”
It was fairly easy to find what he wanted. Over the past year or two he’d collected eight identical pairs of Gap’s black skinny jeans, all in the same size and style. They were just long enough to tuck into his black Chucks, and he wore one of a collection of band T-shirts over the top.
Since he’d showered the night before, all he had to do was brush and style his inky black hair in a swoop over his forehead and sketch a tiny amount of black kohl over his eyelids, carefully lining them.
Luc kept his bag packed by his bedroom door so he just needed to grab it and leave the house, and there—less than fifteen minutes and he was on his way down the stairs and out the door.
“I have breakfast ready for you,” his sister called as he passed the kitchen.
“No, thanks,” he mumbled and grabbed his leather jacket from the peg. Luc shrugged it on, slung the backpack over his shoulder, and let the door slam behind him.
As soon as he was outside, he grabbed his packet of tobacco and rolled a cigarette with deft fingers, then lit it with hands that would tremble until the first hit of nicotine. He exhaled heavily and started toward the subway.
The kids online were usually impressed that he lived in New York City, but now that he’d lived here for a few months, he was convinced it was nowhere near as cool as people thought. The morning rush hour was insane. There was never enough room on the subway, so he usually ended up smushed into some businessman’s armpit during his journey. That was what happened when you were short and good at making yourself invisible.
While many other teenagers were desperate to escape to New York City, Luc had decided when he graduated he was going to go to Seattle, the indie music capital of the United States.
His high school, Millennium High, was in the middle of Manhattan, which meant he had to catch one of the busiest trains in history to get there every day. He had gotten pretty good at daydreaming while listening to the music on his prized iPhone at full blast. He definitely could concentrate on two things at once. Or maybe one canceled the other out; he wasn’t sure.
Luc was intrigued by the blogger he’d been online stalking the night before—the photographer. The revelation that the guy was deaf made him feel weird. He definitely didn’t want to feel sorry for the guy. He’d been on the receiving end of a stranger’s sympathy before, and it sucked.
With death metal blaring into his ears at a volume designed to make them bleed, Luc’s thoughts turned to just how precious his hearing actually was. Feeling guilty for a reason he couldn’t name, he turned the volume down a few notches.
Luc reached the school early enough to go to the cafeteria and pick up an apple before his first class. Not that he’d admit it, but he was hungry. Sometimes when the subway was particularly busy, it took him longer to get to school and there wasn’t time to get anything to eat. Then he spent the whole of his first two classes with a gnawing pain in his stomach until he had a chance to go and get something.
The skinny emo goth look took work.
Luc’s butt hit the seat in his homeroom class at the same time the bell blasted through the corridors. The seat to his right was empty, not because Jay was late to school but because his friend had a habit of hanging out somewhere—anywhere—for a few minutes to make sure he was never on time. It was a rebellion thing.
Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, when Ms. Ware was halfway through her roll call, he sauntered in, flicked a finger at her in a mock salute, and sat down.
“Mr. Shaw, please see me at the end.”
“Sure thing, Ms. Ware,” Jay said with his usual cocky swagger, kicking his feet up on his desk and leaning back on the legs of his chair. When he was in this sort of mood, he rarely lasted in school until lunch period.
Although he was probably Luc’s best guy friend, Jay could be a total dick sometimes. He liked annoying their teachers, he liked rebelling, he liked being kicked out of school. The worst thing was, his grades were consistently in the top quarter of their class. He was stupidly intelligent and could be at the top of all his classes… if he ever bothered to show up.
Luc was never sure if the black nail polish and eyeliner were part of a phase or if Jay was really into the scene in the same way Luc was. There was always the chance Jay would get bored, change his mind, wash it all off, and join a different clique. Luc liked to tell himself Jay would never do that to him, but sometimes he wasn’t so sure. Jay was a bit of a loose cannon.
“What classes do you have today?” Jay asked, only barely bothering to lower his voice.
“English, geography, social studies, PE, math,” Luc recited.
“Ditch after lunch with me.”
“Fuck that,” Luc said. “I’m not ditching PE. I’m already on a written warning, and if Ilse finds out I skipped, she’ll kill me.”
Jay snorted. “Fine.”
“Don’t be a douchebag. I’ll ditch last period tomorrow.”
When Jay rolled his eyes, Luc wasn’t sure if this was in agreement or derision. He guessed only time would tell.
The bell rang, and they both rolled out of their chairs, throwing half-empty backpacks over their shoulders and loping toward the door.
“Mr. Shaw….” Ms. Ware called in a softly singsong voice.
Jay rolled his eyes, then winked at Luc.
“Yes, ma’am?” he said, turning back.
Luc hesitated by the door, wanting to watch.
“You were late this morning,” she said.
“Only by a few moments, ma’am,” Jay said solemnly. “You see, I was taking a dump. And it took longer than I expected.”
Luc snorted with amusement. Their teacher sighed.
“Please don’t let it happen again.”
Luc thought it was lucky their English class was on the same hallway, or they’d have been late for that too, which was ironic whatever way you looked at it. As a student who was consistently at the middle of the academic range—he never failed, but he rarely got an “A” in anything—Luc knew he couldn’t really afford to cut classes all the time like Jay did.
Despite the pill from the night before, by midmorning he was flagging. This was the hardest part of the day. Usually when he woke up there was enough energy stored to get him out of bed, onto the subway, and to his first period. After that….
His doctor had suggested a few “tricks” to keep him going, even when it felt like nothing was working. Such as splashing ice-cold water on his face (Ha! The guy had clearly never tried doing that with eyeliner on) or running it over the pulse point on his wrist. Jumping up and down and shaking his arms to get the blood flowing.
They were all temporary measures. He preferred massive amounts of caffeine, either from coffee or the disgustingly sugary energy drinks the school sold in vending machines.
By lunchtime all he wanted was a fucking nap. Jay had already gone, unsurprisingly, but he had been considerate enough to send Luc a text to let him know.
There were a few goth kids he could sit with to eat his lunch. He wasn’t really into the goth scene, not in the same way they were, but he fit in with them a lot better than he did with most of the other kids at school.
He nodded to Ellery as he sat down with a sandwich and an energy drink.
“Tired?” she asked.
Ellery knew everything; their parents moved in the same social circles. She’d always been nice to him, even before, and now she seemed to take it as a personal responsibility to keep her eye on Luc and make sure he was okay in school. She noticed when he was tired. Which was nearly always.
Luc had always thought that, were he straight, Ellery would be the sort of girl he’d want to date. She was a little on the plump side and had awesome boobs. Even as a gay guy he could appreciate them. They liked the same bands, sometimes went to gigs together. And she helped dye his hair black, as long as he returned the favor with whatever color she was sporting that month. Most recently they’d experimented with the “dip dye” look from London—black on top, purple at the ends. For a first attempt it had turned out pretty good.
He ate his sandwich in silence, vaguely tuning in to the conversations around him. It seemed like someone was planning to get tickets for a band passing through on tour. Luc didn’t speak up. Because of his friendship with Ellery there would always be an offer to go along to things like that, and he would normally decide last minute if he would be there or not. His presence didn’t make any difference to these people. Not to say they didn’t care—they were his friends—but whether or not he turned up didn’t change the fact that they would go and have a good time without him.
Luc just about managed to pay attention during his math class, mostly staring at Cameron Barker’s cute butt instead of concentrating on Pythagoras, but PE was a total write-off. He’d turned up, though, so he was relatively safe from his sister’s wrath.
The house was usually empty when he got home. His mother was rarely there when he got in from school, even though he wasn’t really sure where she went every day. She was the sort of woman who didn’t welcome prying questions, even if they did come from a place of concern. Frances Le Bautillier was old money in New York and spent most of her time drinking dry martinis at the bar at the Four Seasons. It was probably for the best that he didn’t know the details.
Luc wandered through to the kitchen and made himself a snack—peanuts, cheese, and apple slices. He didn’t stay slim by working out, after all. He took the snack up to his room and fired up his laptop. There were a few messages waiting for him on his Tumblr account, and he opened the mailbox, hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with faceless online abuse today. Being gay and looking the way he did made Luc a target for people who could hide behind a mask of anonymity. He really wasn’t in the mood for it.
Luc was immediately drawn to a note from Caleb-the-photographer.
I feel the need to thank you for re-blogging my picture. It suddenly gained hundreds of notes.
Luc smiled and typed a reply.
No problem. Although it already had a lot when I saw it first. You really are very talented.
He sat back and reached for a cube of cheese, feeling strangely lighter. And hungry.