What We Saw From the Outside

Chapter Two

My house is nearly a hundred years old and it definitely looks it. The white paint is chipped and fading, weeds poke through the stone steps in front of our wooden door, the windows are smeared and cracked in a few places, and a rustic chimney protrudes proudly from the top of our steep, black-shingled roof. Our neighbors, whose houses are brand new, mold-free brick buildings with working porch lights, really make our decaying style of architecture stand out.

Despite the abysmal exterior, inside I have always felt at home. Even when the draft makes every room feel like an igloo or when the ants annually seep through our many cracks and eat all the bread, I have always loved this decomposing building. It's been in my family for generations. My great grandfather built it just after he and my great grandmother eloped when Kakariko got its first population boom, and with both my parents dead I like to think of the house as a reminder of their existence. I can't say I miss them much because I can't even remember their faces without the aid of a photograph, but when I was little I liked to imagine them lounging on the floral couch, or lazily cooking in our tiny kitchen. Even as I grew older and thought about them less, I occasionally imagined the creak of the floorboards to be one of them walking through the house. Recently, however, the house lacks the welcoming atmosphere it used to have and I've stopped imagining my parents all together. As I walk up the front steps, the weeds seem thicker, the white paint grayer, and the lights dimmer.

I manage to soundlessly open the front door and quietly walk across the stained carpet to the base of the stairs. I can hear Grandma in the kitchen humming to dancing tunes of her past and, by the sound of the dull thuds, beating some dough yet again. After the accident all she does is cook. Granted, she does work at a local bakery, but at home she's always in the kitchen playing the same songs over and over again and making way too much food for three people. Despite the cheerful rhythms and happy chords, her music sound like dirges late at night.

I slip my shoes off and begin my careful trek up the stairs, staying light on my feet in order to avoid Grandma and hide in my room like I do every day. The first few steps are consistently squeaky, but I stealthily slip past them. I skip the next step and I'm in the clear. Pleased, I begin to walk normally again but, as luck would have it, the step squeaks.

Of course, the one time I want to be silent…

"Link?" Grandma calls from the kitchen and she instantly starts hobbling towards me. Damn it, aren't old people supposed to be deaf?

I sigh and try to casually go up the stairs like I hadn't heard her, but she's already at the bottom of the stairs and calling to me again.

"Link, I didn't hear you come in," Grandma says eagerly in her gentle old person voice. "How are you doing, dear? Do you want a cookie? I just made a fresh batch."

I smile politely and shake my head without looking at her. If she sees my black eye sweet Grandma will become much less cheery.

"Look at you!" she exclaims while taking a few steps up the stairs. "You're so thin! Maybe you'd like some roast beef instead."

I strategically show her the right side of my face so she can see my apologetic smile but can't see my bruised eye, but that doesn't stop her. She's still coming up the stairs even though her legs are shaking and her movements are painfully slow. Every day she makes it her mission to give me a hug when I get home, and watching her struggle to race after me makes me feel guilty for trying to hide from her.

Sighing, I turn and walk down the stairs. Before she can look up I bend down to her short height and gently hug her. Her bony fingers weakly grab onto me while she whispers, "love you" into my ear. I just hold her tighter.

We pull apart and I try to hide my face but of course she sees it. Immediately her smile falls and her beady eyes grow wide, making all of her wrinkles much more prominent. I turn to go back up but her hand latches onto my wrist.

"Link…" she whispers. "What happened?"

I shake my head, but she tugs on my arm.

"Look at me," she demands in a breathless voice.

I try to pry her bony fingers off of me without looking, and I find her grip surprisingly strong for such an old lady.

"Look at me," she orders again but in a stronger tone.

With a sigh, I turn back around and look everywhere but her eyes. Flour is smeared across her pale, wrinkled face and maroon dress, and her gray hair is in its usual bun. For some reason, she looks particularly frail today.

She reaches her hand up to my face and gingerly touches my bruise with a mix of awe, horror, and despair in her dark brown eyes.

"Who did this to you?" she demands in a shaking voice.

My sign language is weak at best, and I'll admit I haven't been practicing as much as I should, so the best I can do is say "Do not be sad" when I really want to tell her to not worry. My hands and fingers fumble as I try to remember the movements and I think I use the wrong fingers for sad, but she gets the point.

"How can I not be sad when my little goose is in pain?" She asks and her eyes begin to water. "Who did this?"

My hands slowly move with each other and I say, "You forget, please."

"Link, if somebody is hurting you then we need to tell somebody…"

I shake my head furiously and repeat, "You forget, please."



She gives me a pleading look, but when I don't succumb her shoulders droop in defeat. Sighing, she gently tugs on my hand and leads me away from the stairs as she says, "Come on, let's get you fed and healed."

I follow her to the living room and she orders me to lie back on the couch while she fetches some supplies from the kitchen. Reluctantly, I comply and fall back on the floral couch that is stained from years of use, and the cushions sink dramatically under my weight. I listen to Grandma rummaging around in the kitchen while I just stare at the blank T.V. and our huge collection of random trinkets. Much like the rest of the house, the living room is over crowded with items from a long history of snooping around in garage sales and antique stores. The cream colored walls are covered with photos of my sister and I, my parents, Grandma and Grandpa, and other ancient relatives I have no recollection of. Every wooden table is pilled with antique clocks, more pictures, clay pots from Aryll's art class when she was five, and books. So. Many. Books. Grandma has a habit of starting a book and not realizing she's already read until halfway through, so she places it down on a random spot, promising to put it away later or give it to charity, but the book rarely leaves that spot. The Various Haunts of Men and The Horse Whisperer have been on the coffee table for at least three years.

Grandma wobbles in from the kitchen clutching onto a plate of cookies, milk, and a pack of frozen vegetables. With a sad smile, she places it on the coffee table and gently presses the frozen veggies to my face. I flinch under the initial shock of cold but I hold it against my bruised cheek.

Sitting beside me, Grandma peers at my right arm, which is still covered in ink from my conversation with Zelda, and asks hopefully, "Did you talk with Doctor Gaebora?"

I shake my head, but the reminder of Zelda makes the pain lessen just a bit.

Her smile falters, obviously frustrated that I haven't been more open with my therapist, and she inquires, "So…who were you talking to?"

I hesitate, fully aware of what she'll do if I tell the truth, but I curl my hand into a fist and rotate it in a tight circle to say, "Girl."

"A girl?" Grandma repeats, sitting up straighter and shamelessly grinning with that excited gleam in her light blue eyes. "Who?"

I shrug and without much knowledge on sign language the best I can do is, "She goes to head school with me."

Grandma squints and mouths the words "head school" before realizing what I meant.

"Oh, you mean therapy. You do that like this," she explains while showing me the correct gestures for the word. Unlike me, Grandma wasn't terrified by my muteness and she instantly began learning sign language. Even though a person her age shouldn't be able to learn new languages well, she's much better than me.

"Was she nice?" Grandma asks eagerly.

I shrug and stare off into the distance. Thankfully, Grandma gets that I don't want to talk about it and we fall into silence as my wounded eye slowly becomes numb. Grandma fidgets beside me, and she's about to stand up when the front door slowly swings open. Aryll enters quietly, obviously trying to come in unnoticed, and as soon as she sees us watching her "stealthy" entrance she lets out a gasp of surprise.

"What is it with you two sneaking in?" Grandma snaps. "Is hugging me so bad?"

Aryll takes in a deep, shaky breath. Her large cobalt eyes are droopy and surrounded by bags from restless nights, and her golden hair, which is usually pulled back into neat pigtails, is sloppily held together in a ponytail. Smoothing out her wrinkled blue dress, she mumbles, "Sorry, Grandma…I'm just tired."

She drops her bag beside the door and Grandma and her stare at each other for a moment, a silent understanding passing between them. Aryll glances at me for a second right before she turns and rushes up the stairs.

I sigh. I've seen this scene before. Her exhausted, melancholy expression, her neglected hair, and her inability to look me in the eyes are all clear indications that she has been visiting her boyfriend, Colin.

Grandma and I stare up at the ceiling as if we can see through the wood and watch Aryll trudge into her room. We listen to the floorboards creek under Aryll's feet and the quiet closing of her door, and then we just sit there in silence, both wrapped up in our troubled thoughts.

I know why Aryll is acting so weird, but Grandma always scolds me for thinking this way. She can't believe that Aryll hates me and that she blames me for her boyfriend's condition, and sometimes I think Grandma might be right. Aryll's a smart, strong girl after all, and surely she understands it was an accident, yet she never looks me in the eye. She never asks me stupid questions just for the sake of annoying me, nor does she sing to the radio whenever we drive together. She never steals my food or makes me watch dumb T.V. shows with her. She never calls me Big Brother anymore.

"She loves you, Link," Grandma whispers as her bony fingers slowly clasp my wrist. "Never forget that."

I like how she knows what I'm thinking, and I like to think that she's right, but even if Aryll does still love me it's not as much as she used to. After years of me telling her to leave me alone, to stop bothering my friends, to stay inside, it's weird that I miss her now.

I kiss Grandma's forehead, silently telling her I love her and thanking her, before slowly trudging up the creaking stairs. On the way to my room I pause outside Aryll's closed door. Maybe I should try to comfort her…but what would I do? Even if I could speak I would not have the words to heal her.

The past three days I skipped lunch to sleep in one of the plush chairs in the school library, but today a freshman stole my usual seat and my stomach demands to be fed. And that brings me here in the dreaded cafeteria I've been avoiding.

The main reason I hate it is because it's loud. People are talking, yelling, complaining, giggling, teasing, taunting, whistling, singing, crying, groaning, fighting, shouting, and laughing at unnecessarily high volumes. They scream over each other, and sometimes a whole table will collectively yell to make a wall of sound for reasons unknown. Occasionally a table will sing "Happy Birthday," which is drowned out by a charming song called "Suck, Suck, Suck a Dick." The cacophony of noise never bothered me until I couldn't add to it myself. Unable to participate in any of this ruckus, I have to listen to every cheer, every swear, and every word of gossip. As I stand in a squished line to order a sandwich, I can hear two girls talking in the pasta line behind me.

"…Colin was dating his sister, and everybody knows how over protective he is."

I don't want to look behind me, because what if I know them? What if I liked them? I don't want to see their shame and distrust.

"But that's ridiculous," the other girl scoffs. "If Link had tried to kill him the police would've figured it out."

Well, at least somebody's on my side.

"Then why doesn't anybody know exactly what happened?" Girl number one asks without even trying to lower her voice or her excitement. "Some people say Colin cut his throat and then Link tried to kill him – "

"Okay, that's just dumb. Colin could never – "

" – Or that Link planned the whole thing! I mean, how convenient that it was wet that night!"

"Well why don't you just ask him?" Girl Two snaps. "He's right there."

"Oh," she says simply. There's a long pause before she asks, "Do you think he can hear us?"

Yes I can, bitch. I'm mute, not deaf.

I'm tempted to turn around and yell…well, glare, I guess, but it's my turn to order and currently my stomach over rules my irritation."What can I get you, sweetie?" a raspy voice asks from across the counter and I grab my pen only to find that it's not there. I pat my pockets for it while regretting my decision to reject the school's offer to give me a mini whiteboard. Stupid pride.

With a sigh, I realize I'll have to resort to sign language, but will she know it? Probably not, but it's worth a shot.

I make my hands into claw-like shapes and then tap them together twice to say "Sandwich," but judging by her confused expression she has no idea what I'm doing.

"Look," she snaps while crossing her arms. "I don't need lewd hand gestures from horny teenagers, so either order or leave."

I shake my head and point to the bread, but before we can try my biggest failure of communication yet a strong hand lands on my shoulder and somebody pushes through the crowd to stand beside me. I look up to see my old friend Mikau smiling at the lunch lady. He's a Zora, so he's naturally tall and incredibly skinny with broad shoulders and a bald scalp. His ears and nose are flat while his sea green eyes are bright with intelligence. His entire left arm, which is so pale it's almost blue, is covered by his tribal tattoo that consists of overlapping circles, swirls, and ancient writing.

"You want your usual?" He asks me in a friendly tone.

Being the social butterfly I am, I just stare at him with confusion. He takes that as a yes and tells the lunch lady I want cuckoo with cheese and buffalo sauce.

"So…" Mikau drawls while the lunch lady prepares it after a pointed glare towards me. "How you doing?"

I shrug and bobble my head. Not much else I can do.

"Nice black eye you got there," he mentions cheekily, probably unaware of who gave it to me. "Do I want to see the other guy?"

I don't respond at all this time and just watch the lunch lady lazily create my sandwich.

There's an awkward silence between us, as I expected, but he hasn't left yet. Putting his hands in his pocket, he leans back on his heels and says casually, "I didn't know you were in this lunch period. Why aren't you sitting with us?"

I shrug again. Why doesn't he understand that I cannot respond? Or better yet, that I don't want to.

The lunch lady hands me my lunch and Mikau playfully slaps my shoulder.

"Come on, I saved you a spot," he urges with a friendly grin, but I just smile apologetically and shake my head while slowly backing up.

"Is it Talo?" Mikau guesses as his smile drops to a frown. "That's fine, the guy can be an annoying dick sometimes. We don't have to sit with them."

Damn it, stop being nice to me! All I can do is smile again and shake my head, and then rush away before he can rope me in.

Thankfully he gets the hint and doesn't chase after me. I feel a pang of guilt for turning him down, and I hope he understands that it has nothing to do with him – because he's really a nice guy – but sitting with him means sitting with Talo, Mido, Grog, and all our other old friends who probably hate me by now. And even if they didn't hate me, what would I do? I'd either just stare at them or I'd try to join the conversation by writing on my arm, but by the time I'd finish my sentence they'd be on the next topic, and then they'd find me a boring, annoying downer. Their positive view of me would deteriorate until they developed the he-tried-to-kill-Colin-let's-hate-him view or simply not want to hang out with me, but they'd feel obligated to hang out with me because they'd feel bad for me, and then I'd be a burden. Even if it were just Mikau and I he'd probably find me boring and annoying too, thus following the same path everybody else will no doubt go on.

Clearly I've thought about this before, and clearly there is no good output. Isolation is key for social survival right now.

Unfortunately, my school has a dumb rule that prevents students from leaving the cafeteria if they have food, so eating in a secluded hallway isn't an option. To make matters worse, every table is full, which means I have to sit with people. Damn it.

With a sigh I begin to walk confidently between rows of tables filled with babbling students, trying to look like I have a place to go while being sure to avoid Talo and his table. When I reach the other side of the cafeteria the only empty-ish table is a circular one in the corner, but Fledge is sitting there.

Nobody really likes Fledge all that much. His voice is high pitch and he keeps mumbling like he's always scared, but he has good reason to be. He's the wimpiest kid in the school, his green hair is combed over like he was born in the wrong decade, his clothes are always way too big for him, and he's the only openly gay kid in the school. Most people, including myself, don't mind his sexuality, but if I learned anything from T.V. it's that being gay in high school sucks.

Sadly, I don't have any better options, so I sit down across from without checking to make sure the seats aren't taken, because they never are.

His head snaps up from being buried in his biology textbook and he looks at me with curious, bird-like eyes that are as gray as storm clouds. I ignore him and try to force down some of my sandwich despite my sore throat. Part of the reason I lost so much weight was that I had to be fed through a tube for a couple of weeks after the accident, and swallowing still hurt my throat a month later. Though I can eat fine now, my appetite has depleted and my throat hurts occasionally. Doctor Gaebora thinks my dramatic weight loss might be associated with depression, but since when is being sad a medical illness? I'll get over it…hopefully.

I use my body language to tell Fledge that I have no intention of communicating with him; I'm hunched over my food and I stare straight down at the table like he's not even there. Thankfully, Fledge gets the hint. He looks back to his book and remains quiet, leaving me to my thoughts.

After some time when I know Fledge won't try instigating conversation, I allow my eyes to wander across the room and stare at my old friends chatting at their lunch table. Just by looking and using my experience I can tell what they're all doing. Talo is flirting with Beth, as usual, but she is playing hard-to-get, as usual. Mikau's fingers are rolling across the table as he goes over guitar chords in his head, and his girlfriend, Lulu, is discussing her latest musical achievement. Mido is complaining to Ralph, probably about how Saria won't ever look at him with a smile, and Ralph is arguing with Groose, captain of the football team, whose hair is better. Malo, Talo's brother, sits quietly beside Groose with a glum look on his chubby face.

I can't help but imagine what it was like last year. I would be beside Mikau and Beth would be flirting with me while Talo pestered me with dumb questions about all the cool stuff we would do the upcoming weekend. Then Talo would tease Colin for not coming because he had to help his mom with chores, and the latter boy would just look at his lap and shrug. Colin never did feel comfortable in our group of friends.

My eyes wander again and I notice a nearby group of underclassmen girls looking at me and talking in rapid whispers. They're making up stories about the accident. I can tell by the hasty movement of their lips and their astonished yet excited expressions. I was hoping the talk about me would decrease by now, but I suppose my black eye just added to my new violent reputation. Even though I glare at them, they don't stop. Their mouths keep opening and closing, words spilling out at a rate of a hundred per minute. I wish I could shut them up and tell them I'm mute, not deaf or blind or an idiot, and I can fucking tell that their talking about me. They keep glancing over at me and giggling. What's so fucking funny?

"Ignore them," Fledge mumbles with surprising certainty for such a whiny voice.

My eyes immediately snap to him but he hasn't even looked up from his book. Fledge spoke when he wasn't asked to? Wow.

It takes him a second to realize I'm staring at him, and, judging by his wide grey eyes and red face, I don't think he meant to speak.

Clearing his throat, he adds with an awkward stutter, "I-I just mean…people like to spread rumors but most d-don't actually believe them…. It's only a matter of time before they get bored, and everybody knows it was an accident. Just…just ignore them."

He nods like he's agreeing with himself, and then hides his red face behind his book again.

I keep staring at him though, stunned that Fledge spoke to me. Fledge never spoke unless it was to a teacher or a person of equally low social status. I remember somebody called him mute once as a joke. Odd how I'm with him now…

He doesn't say anything for the rest of the lunch period and continues to hide behind his book, leaving me to mull over what he said. His confidence (which was hard to detect underneath his stutter) is convincing for a moment, but the aching on the left side of my face says differently. I try to ignore the girls but just knowing that they're talking about me makes everything much more painful, and even though I'm only half way through my sandwich, I can't eat it because my throat hurts too much.

With a sigh, I realize I'm probably the only person in the whole world who has ever wished he was wimpy, cowardly Fledge, but at least he doesn't have the title of murderer constantly hanging over his head. Even if time could stop the rumors, could it stop this guilt?

I glance down at my right arm, and some of the ink from yesterday is barely visible. Looks like I'll have something to discuss at group therapy after all.

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