"I hate your plan."
I crossed my arms and glared at my brother. "Because I'm the distraction. Did it ever occur to you that I might want to...want to..."
"Holy shit, hell has frozen over. My sweet bestie wants to be bad."
I blushed deeply. "I didn't say that."
"You were thinking it. I just said it for you," Stefie said proudly.
"Well this just shits my plan to holy hell," Joe said with a scowl. He drummed his fingertips on his chin.
The four of us were sitting in our room, the girls' room, discussing the evening. We all jumped when the door opened.
"How's it goin?" dad asked.
"Fine," Joe and I said in unison. Too quickly. Too loudly. Dad smirked. He leaned his weight back into the doorframe.
"Trying to figure out how to escape your mom's and my clutches tonight?"
"No," Joe said. I'm pretty sure I paled.
"Really?" dad said. "Hunh. Funny. I just had one of those hunches." He stared past us. "Y'know, Cozumel is a dangerous place at night. It's too dangerous for you guys to go out alone. But, I'll make sure mom doesn't break into the funky chicken and if all goes well, you guys can spend an hour in the teen club before we head back home."
"Really?" Joe looked hopeful.
The letter had relaxed dad in a way that I couldn't put my finger on it. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Besides, I'll take an hour at the concoct-your-own-sundae shop over a club any day."
"You're getting old, dad." Joe said seriously. Dad laughed.
"Just wiser, son."
I was sunburned. No, I was past the point of burnt. I was a crispy critter. After dad's announcement that we'd get wings without having to be crafty, we had all piled back outside again until dinner. Now the sun had set but my skin was emitting a ridiculous amount of warmth. The eight of us were walking downtown and I was having a hard time keeping up.
"Honey, why didn't you use sunblock?" mom asked.
"You look like you're getting ready to try out for the part of Sebastian from The Little Mermaid," Brayden remarked. Tristan laughed.
"Thanks," I said. Joe came up and slapped me on the back. I bit my lip to keep from screaming.
"Okay," dad said, slowing down. The light from the open shops filled the street. Drunks were already out and about. Music was vibrating the ground. "Remember the rules."
"One hour," Stefie said. Dad nodded.
"Phones on at all times," I added.
We all looked at Joe. He rolled his eyes.
"No drinking, drugs, or other illegal activity."
Dad smiled. "Okay, have fun."
Javen, Joe, Stefie and I all turned at once.
We all turned back. Mom looked gorgeous in a deep blue maxi. Her curly red hair was piled up on her hair, several strands drifting down to lay along her neck and shoulders. "Keep someone with you at all times. I don't want any of you walking around alone."
"Mom," Joe sighed.
"Jonah, don't make me regret listening to your dad."
For a second, I thought he was going to blow it. Amazingly, he caught himself, his jaw tensing and nodded. He punched Javen in the shoulder.
"THIS IS CRAZY! I LOVE IT!"
Stefie threw her arms up in the air and turned in a circle. I stumbled into her as someone knocked me from behind and tried not to scream as my sunburn pain traveled all the way to my toes..
I had never been in a club before except for controlled parties. The place was body-to-body. The temperature hovered somewhere near Hades.
I wasn't having fun. The electric equipment, the amount of noise, and being jostled was having an effect on my hearing devices. More often than not everything was coming out a low screech. I had wanted to party like a rockstar just like mom's letter had instructed, but it looked like I would have to find a different kind of party to experience what it felt like to be on top of the world.
I didn't catch the first part of Stefie's shout but I caught the last. I hesitated. It had been forever since I had seen her so excited. I figured it would be worth the lie to keep her happy. I shook my head, gave a thumbs up, and stuck to her like glue. Until Javen asked her to dance. I pressed myself against a large support beam, the metal cool against my back and watched the two of them. He leaned in close and I watched her lean her head back and laugh. She had learned how to salsa from experts: her parents. Javen stumbled over his feet trying to keep up, but she didn't seem to mind.
I understood the hands that suddenly flew in front of my face better than I would have a human voice. I shrugged, my fingers poised. I was unsure of how to respond. Finally, I looked at Joe and kept my signing simple.
Joe grinned. Another simple response. "Yes." The grin faded. He tugged on his ear, questioningly. "Hurt?" I sighed and nodded.
I was surprised when he took my hand. In a scene reminiscent of Moses parting the red sea, Joe began to plow his way expertly through the throng. I followed, glancing back over my shoulder.
"STEFIE!" I shouted. Joe just shook his head.
I was about ready to pull away from him when he opened a door and half-pushed me inside. The silence that came with the close of the door was almost shocking.
"Better?" Joe asked.
"Where are we?"
My eyes took awhile to adjust. Gone were the bright lights and the disco strobe. All I saw was dark.
"It's just a service alley. No biggie. Looked like you needed to take a breather. Our hour's almost up anyhow."
"That was...nice," I said.
"You sound surprised."
All I could see was his profile, in shadow. I laughed. "Maybe a little. I'm surprised you don't have a girl latched on to you."
The sound of him cracking his knuckles made me jump slightly. "Eh, I guess after all this I just wasn't feeling it tonight. Y'know I kept thinking about the whole 'party like a rock star' thing and..."
"And?" I wanted to hear his point of view.
"Now that I have permission to go crazy, I don't want to. Is that some kind of reverse psychology?"
I laughed. "I guess so. She was smart. Our mom."
There was a scuffling sound. "I found a crate. Sit down."
It took some careful patting, but I eased myself down. I felt Joe's back rest against mine. We were facing opposite directions, but it seemed like we were still of the same mind.
"I wonder how different it would have been if she hadn't died," Joe continued. "Would they have had more kids? Would we have been the only two? Would you have lost your hearing in the first place?"
"My therapist told me not to dwell on if's," I said. Joe snorted.
"I'm glad you got help, but I think a lot of it is b.s.," he said.
"Maybe," I said.
I waited. Joe cleared his throat.
"Do you think it's too late to tell dad that I...love him?"
Tears sprang to my eyes. "Isn't that what you did the day you and Krista tried running away? Over by the barricade?"
"No. I said a lot. Just not...that."
"It's not too late," I confirmed.
He squirmed. "Alright. Well...let's walk around front."
"Okay." We stood up. I grabbed his shirt. "Hey Joe?"
"Thanks for being a good brother tonight. I love you."
"I love you too, Al..."
"But let's keep this between the two of us, okay? I have a rep to keep."