Dominic let his father and brother leave the room before approaching the young boy they had agreed to adopt. He walked over quietly, patient and cautious. He didn’t want to spook him, but he also didn’t want to appear as if he was afraid to be close to him.
He sat on the floor on the right side of the boy, bent his knees and lay his arms over them for a moment. He could see that he was reading a book, some paperback that had his undivided attention. He barely registered his presence, so Dominic reached behind him to the book case. His shoulder bag, left over from his voluntary work that morning, tugged as he twisted. He lifted it up over his head and lay it beside him so that he could get comfortable. He noticed a glance in his direction, but the boy didn’t speak. He decided to be direct.
“My name is Dominic. What’s yours?” He asked, not in the least surprised that he got no reply. He hadn’t honestly expected one. “I’m here with my father and my brother. We’re hoping to adopt you and take you home to live with us. Is that something you’d like?” He wondered, keeping an eye on him.
The boy was staring at him openly now, with a small, uncertain frown.
“Dominic.” He spoke slowly, pointing to himself in case he could read lips.
There was a trace of understanding, but it was still overshadowed with confusion so he tried again. He used sign language, spelling the letters of his name so that there was no mistaking his meaning. The boy’s gaze flitted between his hands and his face, but there was no confusion any more.
“We want to adopt you. Would you like a new home?” He asked, signing and speaking at the same time.
To his total surprise, the kid lifted one hand from his book and started signing fluidly. He was so fast that it was difficult to keep up with what he was saying.
Dominic said a silent thanks for knowing sign language so well. He volunteered at his high school, teaching deaf kids, and his best friend had been deaf in one ear his whole life.
“Would it be a new home I get to stay in? Would I have to come back?” He asked a flurry of questions with his hand.
Dominic knew he missed a few, but he caught the main points. “Yes, a new home.” He signed with both hands. “It’s a big house, with a swimming pool. You would have your own room and as many books as you wanted.” He told him, turning and reaching into his satchel bag for his tablet computer.
He often used the program on it to translate his speech to sign language when he was volunteering. It had a handy little feature that allowed him to film someone using high speed signing, as he liked to think of it, and have the translated words appear on the screen.
The most vital part of all was that it was an e-reader. As soon as he switched it on the boy shuffled closer and looked over his shoulder. He had to balance it on his raised knees to free his hands for signing.
“This is how I read books. I can store so many books on it that it would fill this entire room. What’s your favourite story?” He asked, hoping he had it so that he could hand it over.
The boy pointed to the book in his hands.
Dominic reached across and gestured to touch the book, since he wasn’t sure what was allowed. The boy nodded his permission, so he pulled the cover closed to see the title. It was a surprising choice for someone who seemed so gentle and childlike. ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ was one of his favourite novels of all time.
“I have that.” He signed with a smile. He tapped the ‘Books’ tab on the tablet and opened up the novel that he had read barely two weeks ago, for the millionth time. He showed it to the boy, letting him see the cover page and watched his eyes widen in joy and surprise. He handed the tablet over. The boy took it tentatively, dismissing the paperback entirely.
Dominic reached out and swiped his finger over the screen, to turn the page. He smiled when he saw the boy’s reaction to the illustration that came up. A faint smile twitched at his lips as he leaned in close to the screen. He tried to copy him, by touching his finger to the screen and swiping it, but he was too quick and not putting enough pressure on the surface.
He showed him again, holding his long finger in his grip to show him how hard to press and how slowly to move. Again, the boy tried and managed to turn the page, beaming in pride.
He touched his fingertip to the bottom of the boy’s chin and gently encouraged him to look up. When he did, he let go and signed to him. “I’m Dominic. What’s your name?” He signed, hoping that now that he’d captured his attention they could have a conversation or at least open up a line of communication between them.
“Rocco.” He signed back quickly.
“It’s nice to meet you, Rocco.” He smiled at him.
Rocco smiled back, his eyes wary, but full of delight and wonder. “You’re Dominic.” He said, as if to make sure that he was right.
“Yes.” He knocked his hand in the affirmative. Then, suddenly, Rocco nudged over until he was sitting right next to him, so close that their hips and shoulders touched, just faintly. A head dropped onto his shoulder and curious eyes turned to the book open on the tablet.
Dominic smiled to himself. He’d made a friend, and it seemed like Rocco was more than happy to be adopted by his father and become his brother. They had a way of communicating with a boy they’d been told was mute and unresponsive. And the best part was that it seemed by breaking that barrier of silence and offering him a solid future he had created some kind of bond or connection between them. One that Rocco trusted and accepted.
Dominic was nearly asleep when a frantic tapping hit his arm. He blinked his eyes open again and turned to Rocco, who looked worried as he tried to capture his attention. It had been nearly an hour since he left him to read his book in peace and waited for his dad and brother to get back from dealing with the formalities.
Rocco pointed to the tablet, so he looked over to it and noticed that the screen was blank. He knew the battery wasn’t dead because he had charged it all night in preparation for volunteering at the community centre that morning. He’d only used it for an hour then and an hour now, so it should have at least another six hours left on it. He held one hand out and signed with the other.
“Can I see it?” He asked.
Rocco handed it over, looking upset, as if he’d done something wrong. He pressed the ‘on’ switch briefly and watched the advertising screen pop up. Just as he thought; it had gone into sleep mode. He showed Rocco, who frowned at him.
“It went on to screen saver because you didn’t turn the page.” He reassured him.
Rocco sighed and nodded. “I was studying the picture.” He explained, in sign.
Dominic swiped the advert away and looked at the small detailed picture on the screen. It filled around half the page and was so small Rocco must have been straining his eyes to make out the details.
“You can make the picture bigger.” He told him, signing silently. “I’ll show you and then put it back so that it’s small and you can try it.” He offered.
Rocco nodded, looking excited, so he put his index finger and thumb pad on the screen and slowly pushed them apart. The picture expanded along with his move. Then he made it small again and handed the tablet back to his new friend.
Rocco tried to do the same, but needed a little guidance on how to control his movements so that he didn’t go too fast or too slow. He was so adorably innocent that Dominic was stunned he didn’t have more friends. Even if no-one could sign or get him to talk he was surely the sweetest boy in existence.
Rocco studied the picture in detail for nearly ten minutes, before looking up and pointing to the side.
Dominic guessed that he wanted to see a different part of the picture, so he showed him how to do it and then watched him take the initiative to try a few different moves. He smiled happily and lay his head back down on his shoulder, clearly happy to go back to his reading.
Dominic smiled to himself and lifted his arm to let him get more comfortable. Rocco adjusted his position to lean against him properly, unfazed by the way he brought his arm down around his shoulders.
“You really are the sweetest boy.” Dominic talked to himself, laying his head against Rocco’s.
They didn’t know each other; they had only had a five minute conversation and already he felt as if they were connected. Deeper than just intellectually or through a friendship. It felt as if their souls were already linked; as if they were born to be brothers, even though they had never met before. He could only imagine what it would be like to have him as his brother.
Rocco only made it even sweeter as he turned his body into him, holding the tablet in his right hand while he draped his left arm across both their bodies and right around his waist. Whether his dad had signed the papers or had the adoption put through or not, Dominic would remember that moment as his first hug with his brother. He gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze to return the embrace and left him to read his book in peace.
Dominic was happy to sit there and watch Rocco read, occasionally stopping to examine a picture in close detail. He was clearly not comfortable using the touch screen tablet, but he didn’t ask for help again and he seemed to be confident with how to use it.
It astounded him that in this day and age even a kid who lived in an orphanage didn’t know what a tablet looked like. Rocco probably didn’t watch TV or hang out with the other kids, or else that exposure wouldn’t have been so shocking or genuinely puzzling for him.
He was drifting into thoughts of what else Rocco might not know about when a shadow fell over them. Rocco was the first to look up, looking scared and unsure. He instinctively put his hand on his raised knee to remind him that he wasn’t alone. What happened to make him react that way?
“How are you boys getting along?” Latimer asked as he and Chandler stopped in front of them, giving them some space to let Rocco feel like he had an escape route if he wanted one.
“Fantastic.” Dominic smiled at him. He turned and tapped Rocco’s arm to drag his eyes away from his family. He looked him right in the eye, obviously unsure of what was expected of him. Dominic pointed to Latimer. “This is my dad, Latimer and my brother, Chandler.” He explained in sign language, making sure to spell their names to make sure he got them with no miscommunication. “You remember I told you about them?” He asked.
Rocco nodded and looked up at Latimer, gazing at him with something in his eyes that he didn’t recognise.
“You got him to communicate?” His dad asked in surprise.
“Communicate? The kid’s been treated like a moron his whole life. He’s just been waiting for someone to treat him like an equal.” Dominic replied gruffly. He wasn’t exactly happy with how frightened Rocco was of everything. What had people been doing to him his whole life?
He got to his feet and stopped when a hand grabbed his ankle. When he looked down Rocco looked absolutely terrified. He wasn’t sure if it was the thought of being left alone, of having to leave the orphanage or if it was just that he had no-one else to talk to. He reached down and brushed his hand over his hair.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to stand here and talk to my dad.” He signed to him, holding his hand to the back of his thigh as he stretched his leg out. He wanted him to realise that he was in need of a good stretch and he wasn’t going to run off and leave him all alone.
Rocco turned to appraise his brother and father, before nodding uncertainly. Dominic took that as permission, so he took another step forward, just to get Rocco to release his ankle in proof that he trusted him, and began talking. He didn’t sign anything he was saying, since he didn’t want Rocco to know.