Lunch was quiet. Barely anyone talked aloud and when there was conversation, it was Chandler and Rocco doing all the signing to each other.
They talked about Chandler’s decision to go to a cooking college, to eventually try to get into Le Cordon Bleu. Rocco talked about looking into college courses of his own, so that he could learn and fill in the gaps of his pitiful education. Latimer added in the occasional comment, but mostly it was just the two of them making an effort.
Donny felt bad for that, but he didn’t want to bring up his medical issues while everyone was eating. So he waited for lunch to be over and for everyone to fall into casual conversation as they sat at the dining table, finishing their drinks. Eventually he cleared his throat and the whole table turned to look at him. Everyone except Rocco, who took his hand.
“I…uh…I decided I’m not going to college. There are a few reasons, so I thought you should all know about them.” Donny explained, talking and using his right hand to sign into Rocco’s palm. It was almost instinctive, rather than a deliberate move to keep him involved in the conversation.
“One reason is because when I visited the college they didn’t ‘realise how deaf’ I actually was.” He explained with his free hand making air quotes. “They thought they’d stick a hearing air in and I’d suddenly be cured.” He scoffed. “I told them I have to communicate with sign language because I can’t read lips that well. They weren’t happy about that and I realised that they were pretty shitty about the whole thing.” He admitted with a sigh.
“The second reason is that I got some news from my doctor before I left.” Donny kept talking, hoping that the disappointment would drain from Dominic’s face. But he knew it wouldn’t. What he was about to say was a whole lot worse than anything any college coach could say to him.
“One of my routine hearing tests came back with bad news. The hearing in my left ear has been gradually deteriorating for the last year. It’s bad now.” He began, nervously. “He thinks I maybe only have a few months to a year left of any type of hearing. Then I’ll be completely deaf, like Rocco.” He explained the extent of his news, looking up at his new boyfriend.
Rocco just sat there smiling at him, so supportive, loving and caring, holding his hand in both of his as if he would never let go.
“That’s why he said that you got your courage to tell us from him?” Dominic asked vocally.
“I wasn’t going to tell you. But then Rocco said he’d already told you I would.” He admitted, with a shrug.
Dominic tilted his head at Rocco, who he noticed looked confused. He felt bad for that, but he didn’t want to admit to what he’d just said and have him be mad at him. Typically, Dom was reading his mind; he signed everything to Rocco so that he knew he’d never intended to tell anyone anything. And, just like he expected, his new boyfriend got angry.
Rocco started signing so fast that Donny was pretty sure he was the only one who could keep up. He was really angry and yet, he was signing as if he thought the whole world could understand him. He didn’t want to tell him that even Dominic was frowning to himself, while intently watching his hands moving from word to word.
“He needs to tell you. For himself. He’s stupid if he thinks he can just shrug it off and it will be okay. It won’t be okay.” Rocco signed to them all and then he tugged on his hand, still clasped in his, until he looked him in the eye. “It won’t be okay.” He insisted, with big sad blue eyes. “You know what it’s like to hear. You’ve been used to it, at whatever volume, for your whole life.” He argued, making him sigh and look away. “When it goes away you’ll get angry and distant and sad. You’ll miss it and you’ll want it back. I can’t understand that.”
Donny already felt guilty enough, without having to hear from his own boyfriend how bad it was going to be.
Rocco tugged his hand again, gently, pulling it close to his chest.
“I can never know what you’re going to lose. But he can.” He insisted, pointing to Dominic with their joined hands.
Donny looked at his best friend, who was tearing up. He could tell this would be hard on both of them, but he lowered his eyes to the table trying to avoid that fact for a few more minutes.
“But I always knew it was possible.” He protested, in defeat. “And you’re the only one who will understand what I feel after I lose the last of my hearing. You’re the only one who knows what the silence is like.” He argued back, keeping his hands low on the table so that the conversation remained private.
“No. I have no idea what silence is like.” Rocco let go of his hand, almost as if he was throwing it away. He lay his elbows on the table and raked both hands through his hair before sitting back and signing to him, just as angrily, just as fast. “That’s my whole point. This is my life. This is how it’s always been. It’s not silence to me. It’s just what it is. It will be silence to you! It will be hell.” He slammed his hand on the table, making Chandler jump.
That was when Donny noticed that Dominic had been translating the parts of their argument that he could keep up with. He rubbed his forehead and stared at the table. He didn’t want to be having this fight in front of everyone. In fact, he would have loved to not have the argument at all.
“You’ll be walking along one day and something will happen. You’ll wonder to yourself, ‘How did I not hear that?’ and then you’ll get angry for forgetting.” Rocco stared at him with sad eyes. “You’ll take it out on everyone around you and that’s okay. You’re going to miss everything. The sound of your own voice, music, laughter, the alarm clock going off in the morning.”
Donny could see that he longed to know what those things sounded like, even just so he could miss them. It broke his heart. “You’re not helping me be okay with this.” He teased softly, cupping his face in one hand.
“Yes, I am. Because you need to know. You need to be prepared for what’s going to happen and how you’re going to feel.” He warned him in sign language. “You’ll never know until you experience it. It’s like walking around with a blindfold on. There’s so much you don’t realise you never noticed before.” He insisted, as if he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Donny could tell he was angry and sad from the way his hands signed faster and harder.
“And if the only thing I can do to help you get through this is to rat on you to my brothers, then so be it. But you need support and I can’t give it to you!” He argued sadly.
Donny couldn’t bear to see Rocco so sad; not because of something that couldn’t be helped. He gently encouraged him into his arms and placed a kiss on top of his head.
Rocco held on tight, burying his face in his neck where he could feel the dampness of tears on his skin. It only made him hold him tighter, letting go with one hand that he used to tip his chin up. As soon as he met his gaze Donny kissed him, hoping it would make him feel better.
“Wait…is he…still signing?” Chandler asked, as he felt Rocco’s hand moving around on his back. It was just typical that Chandler was at the head of the table behind him, where he could see Rocco’s hands moving.
“I’m scared for you, Donny. I don’t understand and I never will. I can’t help you with this.” He signed out the words on his back.
Donny held him tighter, kissing his cheek before pulling away from their embrace to talk to him more easily. He glanced up at Dominic, sitting across from him and noticed him smiling.
“I didn’t get most of that. He goes too fast for me when he’s upset.” He explained, relieving a little of his apprehension.
“He’s scared. Because he’ll never know what it is that I’m going to lose. He’s frightened that he can’t help me deal with it and I’m going to flip out. And he’s probably right. I’ve just always been alone with this.” He admitted the main focus of their argument, talking it out without signing a word to Rocco. They had just hashed it out, he didn’t need a repeat as he filled everyone else in.
“Not any more.” Rocco signed to him, making him smile as his hand was held again.
“He can understand that?” Chandler asked, as he realised that his hands were on top of the table and not one of them had signed to Rocco.
“He’s learning to read lips. He tries to watch your lips and your hands at the same time so that he can recognise words again later.” He explained, for the sake of the table, unable to take his eyes off his new boyfriend. “He only knows a few words just now, but ‘alone’ is definitely one of them. He said he saw you saying something about smashing heads in, on the drive back here, when you first picked him up.” Donny went on, so that they knew how hard he was trying to make communication easier for them.
Rocco was certainly something special. He had admitted, just yesterday, that he didn’t have a clue what Chandler had said back in the car when they first brought him home, until he saw him saying the same thing days later. Apparently he’d been signing one of his recipes to him, about smashing two items together in a blender because he didn’t know any other way to put it.
“I promise; I know I’m not alone any more.” He signed to him, to let him know that he was gradually learning his lesson. Even if no-one in the world was ever on his side ever again he knew that Rocco would be.
His boyfriend smiled a happy, content smile and relaxed considerably.
“And I’ll agree to move in.” He spoke and signed at the same time so that everyone was included.
Rocco’s smile grew five times brighter as he lay his head on his shoulder. “Can Donny sleep with me tonight?” He asked Latimer, making his heart race.
The look Dominic gave him hardened noticeably and he looked away, clearly uncomfortable with how close they were and how quickly it had happened.
“Of course.” Latimer agreed, with almost no consideration.
Donny couldn’t help but smile, shaking his head at the brazen way Rocco asked for what he wanted, with no shame. He knew he didn’t want him to sleep in his bed for any other reason than comfort, to know that he was close. But it was still a risky move.
“Will you read to me as I fall asleep?” He asked, gazing up at him with those innocent blue eyes.
“Yes.” He signed back to him, more than happy to accommodate to his wishes. When Rocco made a move to look away, he cupped his chin with the crook of one finger and kept his gaze on him. “You’re the other reason I’m not going to college.” Donny told him, needing him to know that he wasn’t going to change his mind about that.
Rocco stared at him in surprise, so he just kept signing.
“You think I could find you and then walk away?” Donny teased him. “We were made for each other Rocco; you’re everything I ever wanted in a boyfriend; in a life partner.” He confessed, even if it might have seemed stupid to anyone else. “I want to spend my life with you, so you have to promise that if losing what hearing I have changes me you’ll continue to be as patient as you’ve been so far.” He asked, needing some reassurance himself.
“I promise.” Rocco smiled, holding his hand to his face.
Dominic cleared his throat, catching their undivided attention. He didn’t look happy, but he seemed a lot calmer; he gave him the benefit of the doubt, believing that he would get over whatever issues he had soon.
“Don’t worry. None of us followed that. You two have to remember that when you go off on a tangent none of us can keep up.” He said, flashing what had become a rare smile at him.
Donny laughed in relief and turned to Rocco, who frowned in confusion. “Dom says we sign too fast.” He explained to him in sign.
Rocco blushed in embarrassment, hiding his head in his shoulder for a moment. “Then tell him not to eavesdrop.” He signed back.
Donny laughed again, wondering how the hell he was supposed to translate that to the table, since Dominic hadn’t been looking in their direction. He lay his arm over the back of Rocco’s chair, gently brushing the hair at the base of his neck.
“Why don’t you tell him?” He challenged him gently.
Rocco blushed even harder and shook his head, biting his lip as they watched each other closely. He really wanted to get him alone for some private time to talk and enjoy some more of his sweet kisses, but he could tell that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
Dominic reached across and touched his hand to Rocco’s arm, catching his attention. “Why don’t I put some popcorn in and we can all sit and watch a movie? It’s your choice this time.” He told him in sign language.
Rocco nodded excitedly and he seemed the only one unsurprised by his answer. “Can we watch Harry Potter?” He asked eagerly.