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Show Me a Sign

By Susan Miura

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Being deaf has its advantages. People think I have a sixth sense, but it’s just a matter of noting the shift in a person’s eyes, the prickle of electricity in the air when a storm is miles away. And when I pray, there are no noises filling the space between me and God. But I’m not praying now in this alley. No, I’m caught up in that fat harvest moon, a cosmic jack-o-lantern illuminating the autumn night. My eyes break away to scan the alley one more time.
Something’s wrong. Nathan should be here by now. It’s weird enough that he texted me to meet him behind the garage. The least he could do is show on time. A breeze scatters leaves along the alley, shooing them behind garbage cans and fences like a mother hen hiding her chicks from a fox. I zipper my hoodie to block out it’s chill and watch pewter clouds drift in front of the moon, obliterating its friendly light. Fear crawls up my spine with its prickly spider legs, lingering at the base of my neck.
The something wrong isn’t Nathan.
Vibrations come from behind me, followed by familiar waves of warmth. A car. How long has it been there? Before I can turn, an ogre hand clamps over my mouth, jerking my head backward as other hands pull me toward a silver coupe.
Wide shoulders, thick arms, definitely men. Black knit ski masks obscure their faces, but not the creepy eyes that glare rivers of terror through my heart. Screams quiver my flimsy vocal chords, their sound blocked by a salty, sweaty hand. I strike out in every direction. One feels like a bear, but I keep fighting. From the shallow front pocket in my jeans, my cell phone crashes to the ground.
There goes my lifeline.
My right foot lashes out frantically and strikes a shinbone, my fingers find flesh and dig in like tiger claws, but in the end, these small victories matter little. Despite my best efforts, the whole grab-n-go takes less than a minute. Rough hands shove me into the car.
No, please –not the car! Not this!
Now they can take me anywhere, do anything. Anything. The battle is lost…but there will be more. I am not done. In the back seat, I am gagged with a cotton rag and bound with plastic ties. An icy wave of despair sweeps through my body. The large man ducks as though searching beneath his seat, then turns toward the driver, his lips impossible to read in the dark. Nodding, the driver reaches under his seat and pulls out a gun.
Oh, God!
I send up desperate pleas to Heaven, but no angelic armies swoop down to block their escape. No lightning bolts or knights in shining armor. And as the car speeds off into the darkness, even my sixth sense fades in the face of a black tidal wave.

CHAPTER 1 -- Gone With the Wind

Nathan (Thursday Evening)

So there’s this girl.
I know, there’s always a girl, but Haylie’s different. Really. She has this wavy hair that drapes down her back and sways like summer wheat. Wouldn’t say that to my friends, though. She’d be “Wheat Girl” from that point on. She’s a junior, like me, and she’s deaf—not much to explain there. Haylie isn’t hot like Pom Pom Anna, or drop-dead gorgeous like that brainy girl on Student Council. She’s what one of those sappy poets might compare to something like a spring rain. But the most important thing about Haylie, at least for now, is she’s missing, which is why I’m sitting in FBI headquarters. The absurdity of it bangs around my head like a pool ball. I mean, I didn’t have anything to do with her disappearance, but try telling that to them.
“Are you absolutely sure you have no idea where she is?” The gray-haired agent, Alessio, leans forward, his words probing, but not accusing. “Think about it. Take your time. Maybe something will come to you.”
Like what? The acid churning in my stomach? Haven’t felt that since last spring, when everyone was counting on me to win the hundred meter Butterfly at Nationals. Which went much better. “No, I told you.” Let’s try this again, guys. Don’t they get it? If I knew, I wouldn’t be able to tell them fast enough. “Check at the zoo. Her stepdad’s the head of something. She hangs out there sometimes, helping with the animals and stuff. Maybe something weird happened.” I rub clammy hands on my jeans, hoping they don’t notice. Wishing I were anywhere but this stuffy room.
“As in?”
“I don’t know. Maybe an animal hurt her and she can’t reach a phone. It’s worth checking out, right?” Watching all those crime shows never prepared me for this. I am completely at their mercy, possibly going straight to jail from here. Tattooed skinheads, strip searches, steel bars—the images pummel my brain.
Agent Alessio sighs. Kind eyes gaze at me like I’m a wounded creature caught in a bear trap. “Nathan, you realize you are not under arrest and you can leave any time, right?”
There are two problems with that. One, Dad would kill me. He wants me to cooperate with them. Two, I’d look guilty as sin. He waits for me to nod my understanding.
“We just want information that will lead us to Haylie,” he continues.
“Anything. Would you like your mom or dad to join us? Or perhaps a child advocate?”
“A what?”
“An adult who will look out for you, make sure your rights are not being violated.”
Does he think I’m a kid? I can answer questions without my parents, or a child whatever. I’m almost eighteen, old enough to vote for the leader of our country, or risk my life protecting it. The last thing I need is Mom sitting here teary-eyed, or Dad telling me how to answer.
I sit up a little straighter. “No, I’m fine.”
He pulls out a chair and sits down across from me. Seems like this whole thing’s just wearing him out. “You have the right to ask for a lawyer, if you feel you need one.”
Yeah, that would only cost about a million bucks, and there goes college. Anyway, I have nothing to hide, so it seems kind of stupid to pay a lawyer. “No. I can answer your questions just fine on my own.”
The two agents continue grilling me in this CSI-style room, complete with two-way mirror, wall phone, and air left over from the 1960s. They are highly skilled at rewording the same questions over and over, like the truth will slip out if they use that clever technique. Problem is, I’ve been telling them the truth the whole time.
“Tell us again about meeting Haylie.” Smirley, the younger agent, glares at me with unblinking snake eyes.
I suppress a sigh, knowing attitude will just drag this out longer. “I’d wanted to talk to her for awhile, but I guess I didn’t know what to say.” Warmth creeps up from the acid pit and floods my face. Even I can tell how lame that sounds.
Smirley scribbles some notes. “Do you have a problem talking to people? Do you have friends, or do you spend a lot of time alone?”
Clearly he sees me as a social outcast, talking to other whackos in chat rooms and Googling ways to make bombs or homemade poison. Shifting in my seat, I wonder how to tell these suits about how pretty she is, how smart, how classy. They wouldn’t understand.
I force myself to lean forward and meet his gaze…no easy task with those images of crazed prisoners whispering “fresh meat” as I enter their cell. “I have lots of friends. I was just a little shy around Haylie. Probably because of the signing.” I reach for the glass of water they gave me, mostly for something to do. “I’m more comfortable with talking. We all learn to sign at school, but I’m not the greatest at it.”
He stops scribbling and stares again. Any minute now, his forked tongue is going to flick, I just know it. “Yes, we’re familiar with Beethoven High. The teachers all sign, and the classes are a mix of hearing and deaf kids, right?”
Why does every question sound like an accusation? “Yeah, and all the hearing kids learn to sign, too.”
A lot of deaf kids from the Chicago suburbs get bused to Lakeside for our school. Not Haylie, though. She lives right across Heron Lake.
“And you have Haylie in a class?”
I nod. “Physics.”
At first I didn’t tell anyone about Haylie, not even my friends. She and I would do this little hello wave when we passed each other in school or church. That dopey Bart Simpson grin would spread across my face and linger there until someone snapped me out of it. I thought we were being pretty inconspicuous, but Alec caught me on Tuesday.
“Nathan…what was that?” The woodsy scent of his cologne told me he’d hit that preppy store at the mall again. Few things besides cologne and girls come between Alec Channing and his money.
“You bloomin’ well know what.” He mimicked my little wave.
Alec’s from middle-of-nowhere England, way outside of London and not remotely close to anyplace recognizable, except maybe the Atlantic. After he caught the wave, I spilled my guts about Haylie.
“Well then, if you fancy her, ask her out.” He’s always got these simple solutions that make you want to smack your head for being such a mutt. “Blimey, Nathan, you can’t just go around waving for the rest of your life.”
Now that’s one of the things I like about Alec. No wisecracks about the challenges of dating a deaf girl, just move forward. Do something. Grab a vine and leap.
Agent Smirley’s chair scrapes against the floor as he stands. The sound snaps me back to the present…and the harsh reality that comes with it.
“So what changed, Nate? How and when did you make plans with her?”
“I gave her a note. Tuesday.”
Agent Alessio rubs his eyes, failing to hide a yawn with his hand. The old guy probably wants to go home, flip on the tube, and fall asleep. They look at me, waiting for more, but I don’t give them details. Some stuff just isn’t their business. I’m not going to explain that first I told Alec I was going to make my move. It had finally dawned on me that a month of waves and smiles were probably a sad commentary on my social skills. Saying it out loud gave me the courage to actually do it. So that afternoon, after knocking words around my brain all through U.S History, I passed Haylie a note in Physics.
Hi Haylie, You want to go out for pizza or something? We could walk over to Italian Village on Friday and hang out. BTW, my name is Nathan. P.S. Nice job on the physics test. I saw the A on your paper.
“Then what?” Alessio asks.
“She gave me one back. She said she’d hang out with me Friday after school.”
That afternoon dragged on forever. I figured I wouldn’t get a response until the next day in Physics, but when we passed in the hall, she handed me a note. Then she turned and walked away, that silky hair swaying across her back like an amber wave.
Hi Nathan, I’ve known your name since the school year started. I’ve also seen you at church and swim meets (was that the butterfly, or were you drowning?). Also saw you on guitar in jazz band. As for the test, my mom helped me study. Physics is kind of her thing. Anyway, pizza on Friday sounds good. I’ll see you Saturday, too, if you signed up for laser tag at church. -- Haylie
My heart rocketed like those old NASA launches. Yes! She’d said “yes!” And she was funny, too. Who knew? I tried to imagine our conversation. I don’t sign all that much, since most of my friends can hear. Except Sean, who practically rolls on the floor each time I make a mistake...which is often. I was worried our first real conversation would turn out like one of those TV sitcoms, where I try to ask what type of pizza she wants and say “there’s a moose on your head” or “I think your grandmother is sexy.” I made a mental note to lug my sign language book home the next few nights.
Smirley clears his throat, probably to let me know he’s irritated with my brief answers. “Okay, so you each gave each other a note. Then what, Nate? Do we really have to keep asking that question?”
“Then I responded with the note you found in her backpack.” My stomach winced at the thought of them reading it. I’d snuck it off while Mrs. Barnes droned on about some boring Shakespeare play in Language Arts. Like anyone understands that stuff.
Hey, you’re not the only one with info. Watched you at volleyball—were you serving or swatting flies? Also saw you helping with the Sunday school kids. I’ll meet you at your locker Friday. As for Saturday—watch out. I’ll be armed and ready.-- Nathan
Okay, so it was a little corny, but girls always say they like guys with a sense of humor. Anxious to give her the note and, with any luck, see that knock-’em-dead smile again, I searched the halls between classes. Halls void of Haylie. I didn’t see her until the next afternoon in Physics. Her soapy, lilac scent drifted through my nose and encircled my brain. I set the note on her homework sheet.
A knock on the interrogation room door rips me away from the sweet Haylie memory. A female agent on the other side signals Alessio and Smirley from behind the window. They immediately stand. Must be a boss.
“Excuse us, Nathan.” Alessio almost smiles. “We’ll be back soon as we can.”
Smirley just sneers.
I let my mind drift back to that moment when she looked up at me and signed Hi, Nathan. I realized her eyes were a kaleidoscope of green, gold. and brown. They drew me in like a calm lake with a rip-tide just below the surface. The kind that sucks you under ‘til you can’t breathe. But drowning seemed a small price to pay. I got lost in those eyes, letting them carry me to the depths, happy to leave the real world behind.
The movement of her hands broke the spell. Did you want to say something?
You have amazing eyes…is what Alec would have signed without missing a beat. But I lack my friend’s smooth talking expertise. Blood warmed my face, settling in my ears, which thankfully, were mostly hidden by hair. I shook my head and parked in the desk next to hers, pretending to study the chapter on symmetric figures. When it came time to do sample equations, though, I couldn’t find my pencil. A search through my muddle of books and crumpled papers came up empty. Great. Suddenly a purple mechanical pencil wrapped in a note, appeared on my desk. A neatly printed phone number smiled up at me from the curled paper. I signed thanks to Haylie and started working.
Those seven little numbers burned a hole in my pocket all day. The second I hit sunlight, I whipped out my cell.
what r u doing after school?
wrk @ 4:30.
me & alec will b @ vet pk. I hit send before realizing she might not know the field near my house is called Veteran’s Park.
Very funny. She’s going to make me ask. c u there?
Maybe. I hate maybe. Fine. I’m not going to sound desperate, even though I have to stop myself from texting please. I just type in ok got to go and slip my cell into my jeans pocket.
Alec picked me up and we cruised to Veteran’s, which sits at the west end of the lake near the cattail marsh. According to him, it’s perfect for soccer. Not that I’m into it, but Alec lives for it the way I live for swimming, so I fake my way through it.
The door swings open, snatching me from the earthy sent of the field where we played soccer and waited for Haylie, to the harsh neon lights of the world in which she’s missing. Alessio steps halfway in, one hand grasping a Coke.
“Looks like we’ll be a little while, kiddo. Hang in there. Have a soda.” He sets it on the table and disappears.
With no one to talk to, I pop open the can and drift back to that day, searching my brain for an elusive clue—anything—that can help find Haylie. We parked at Veteran’s and I tossed my cell on the front seat so it wouldn’t fly out of my pocket when I ran. We hit the field with me as goalie and Alec trying, and mostly succeeding, to score. Every few seconds I’d casually glance toward the street...just checking. Hoping “maybe” meant she was coming. Then smack! Alec whipped the ball at my head. Hot blood roared in my ears. I grabbed the ball and flung it back at him, missing by a foot. “Hey! What’s your problem, Channing?”
“You. Are you guarding the goal, or the bloomin’ road?”
Alec’s sly smile told me he understood about Haylie, but tradition dictated he harass me anyway. About fifteen minutes later, Haylie and her friend Danielle jumped out of a lime green jeep. Together they headed toward us, Haylie waving and smiling. I made a goofy grin at Alec and patted my heart.
He whipped the ball at me again. “You’ve got it bad, mate.”
This time I caught it.
Haylie’s singsong laughter floats my way—a sweet harmony of music, sunlight and pure sugar. It’s the only time I hear her voice. Some of the deaf kids at school can talk, but Haylie just signs. And with the way her hands dance through air, who needs sound?
As they drew nearer, we all signed hi. Easy enough, even for me. Haylie said she couldn’t stay long because she had to tutor some junior high kids in math. Beauty, brains, and the heart of a saint.
Alec’s hands were in motion before I could even begin a response. That’s really smart, he signed. You must be great in math to be tutoring kids. I bet those junior high boys all have crushes on you.
Haylie rewarded him with a smile. Not the smile she flashed me in the hall, or a minute ago when she arrived. A lesser version. Polite. A smile that told me she wouldn’t be joining the multitudes who surrender to the self-proclaimed Prince Channing with this smooth talk, six-pack, and floppy hair. In that moment, I handed her my heart on a silver platter. Luckily she couldn’t hear his accent. As far as girls are concerned, it simply adds another layer of hot.
Footsteps in the hallway jar my attention to the present. I stare at the door, waiting for the knob to turn, but it remains still as the footsteps fade away.
Where was I? Closing my eyes transports me back to the field, where our quick visit was ending. Haylie walked away, hair tossed by the breeze, body softly swaying to a melody she alone could hear. But first she looked right into my eyes, smiled the good smile, and signed, See you tomorrow, Nathan. I managed to wave goodbye, forcing myself not to chase after her like Pepe Le Pew.
Soccer practice was kind of a joke after that. Alec kept teasing me and I couldn’t think of anything but Haylie. We messed around, then headed for his car with me walking ten feet off the ground. They came down hard, though, when I opened the door and saw an empty seat.
A cement block of panic crushed my Haylie high. “My cell’s gone!”
“Nah, can’t be. Check under the seat.”
My hands flew under the passenger seat, grabbing nothing but an empty M&M bag and a nickel. With damp palms, I searched under the other seats, inside the storage compartment and above the sun visor. By the time I finished, I’d added a McDonald’s receipt, shriveled French fries and a girl’s phone number to the first two treasures. “Why didn’t you lock the car?”
“Are you barmy? Who’s gonna steal this hunk of metal?” The Blue Beater had long since left its glory days behind, but it got us places, so it was near and dear to our hearts. A little rust, a few dents—none of that mattered as long as the engine ran and the radio blasted out our favorite tunes.
Alec got in and slammed the door. Muttering at him, I hunted through all the places I’d just searched. “I can’t believe you didn’t lock the car!” Everything was on there. Swim team practices, videos, photos, everyone’s phone numbers. Somebody had to get blamed for this, and he was the only other somebody around.
“You know I never lock it. Did you tell me you were leaving your cell? No. So don’t go having a wobbly.”
I kneel on the grass, bending to search under the car. “Speak English.”
“You speak English.”
And so it went.


Smirley and Alessio return with no apology or explanation. It doesn’t matter, as long as they say the two words I’m dying to hear: we’re done.
They don’t.
“Keep going with your story, Nathan,” Alessio sits across from me and pops open a root beer. “We’re still hoping there’s something, no matter how small, that might provide a clue.”
There is nothing about meeting Haylie at Veteran’s that will help anyone find her. Nothing about what happened next, either. I’m sure of it. It was a meatloaf and potatoes kind of day, smothered in normal.
“I went back home, finished my English paper, and took Cougar and Ruby for a run down the path.” Even moving at top speed, I can’t keep up with those greyhound legs. Cougar never raced, but poor Ruby, those dog track people ran her into the ground. One day they both arrived at the Greyhound Rescue Shelter where Mom volunteers. Next thing you know, our family had two new members.
“When we got back, I hit Facebook to tell Haylie about my cell. Then Mom came in. Said we needed cilantro for the aji.”
Smirley scrunches his face, like he breathed in fertilizer. “Aji?”
“It’s Peruvian hot sauce, Carl.” Agent Alessio jumped in before I could answer. “Really quite good. Spicy, too.”
I’d asked her if she could make the aji without it, but she looked at me like I’d suggested we eat hazardous waste.
“Nathan, do not be so silly,” she said. “Now vete, go.”
“So you went to the store?”
“Yeah. Elena’s Mart over on Maple.” They didn’t need to know the route…did they? The store was in the opposite direction of Haylie’s house. I cruised past it anyway—a little detail I choose to omit. Seems to me I’ve already offered up a lifetime’s worth of personal disclosures. The side trip was pretty stupid, I guess. Still…something I needed to do. It was that shadowy time of night, when everything looks kinda blue, and there was this huge moon hanging in the sky. Haylie’s curtains weren’t closed yet, though. She stood in the upstairs window, probably her bedroom, and appeared to be texting somebody. Maybe me, but some cell phone thief would get the message. My Haylie message.
That night Haylie went missing. I thought she was out sick when she didn’t show up in Physics. Figured there’s goes our date. But right after dinner, the agents came and asked if I was Nathan Cristobal Boliva. They said Haylie was missing and they had “reason to believe” she did not run away. They had “reason to believe” she was taken against her will and might be in danger. Once my heart rebooted, I figured they just wanted to ask about her friends, where she hangs out—stuff like that. But Alessio surprised me with his next statement.
“We’d like permission to search your room.” Dark circles shadowed his aging eyes.
“My room?” I watch enough TV to know what to say next. “Do you have a …” The glare from my father’s dark Peruvian eyes cut me short.
“Yes, agent.” Dad motioned toward my bedroom. “That would be fine. Anything we can do to help.”
“Thank you.” The agent looked at me again. “And you have no problem with that?”
My stomach dropped to the floor. No way I wanted them looking at all my personal stuff, but Dad was…Dad. “Sure, go ahead. It’s not a problem.”
I sat in the living room with my parents, staring zombie-like at the TV, awaiting the moment I’d awaken from this bizarro nightmare. Leaning left, I could partly see inside my bedroom, my private domain, where secrets were safe and dreams were dreamed without fear of invaders. Until that moment. Their hands raided everything—my guitar, my notebooks, my closet and dresser drawers. Ruby’s barking got her booted to the yard. Cougar curled up in a corner, gnawing his collection of stuffed animals and chewed-up socks. I guess we all handle stress in our own way.
The suits looked through my photo album, read notes from girls and pulled all of my anime drawings out of my folder. Every second was torture, but nothing compared to the revelation that something had happened to Haylie.
I turned to my mom. “I just saw her yesterday. She can’t be missing. She was in her own house.” I ached for her to say something positive. “She can’t be missing. Can she?”
Mom patted my arm. “These men, they would not be here if she were not missing, mijo. They know what they are doing. They will find her.”
But she didn’t look me in the eyes when she said it.
The click of my laptop reached me from my bedroom. Slime oozed down my throat and crashed into my stomach. I clenched my middle, leaned over, and caught sight of Alessio reading my emails. No doubt he also saw the last website I looked at was He pulled the plug and carried it out. As I stood up to protest, my father firmly gripped my arm.
“Siéntate!” Quiet enough so only I would hear, stern enough to prevent a rebuttal.
I sat back down without saying a word.
One comforting thought kept me sane: they couldn’t possibly find any incriminating evidence in there because I didn’t do anything.
And now I’m sitting in an interrogation room. How could I have been so naïve?
About five minutes after my computer and printer walked out the door, Smirley emerged with my backpack and said I had to go to their office. Apparently they thought Haylie’s note and purple pencil meant I had stashed her away in a closet somewhere.
Or maybe a shallow grave.

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