AN INVITATION • by Gabrielle Reid

Music throbs through Alexa’s chest. Her hands are raised high amongst a mass of waving arms and the sickening sweetness of too many different brands of deodorant. The heat is overbearing, but Alexa doesn’t mind.

She’s close enough to see each movement of Orlando’s lips as he belts out the lyrics projected onto a screen behind him. Alexa mouths along, her tongue touching the roof of her mouth to form the word ‘love’.

Orlando has the looks to match the fame, and just enough arrogance to make him even more sexy. His cheek dimples as the song ends. The vibrations that were fizzing through Alexa’s body stop while Orlando takes a break to address the crowd. She catches the eye of her best friend, Ellie, over the shoulders of another girl.

“Having fun?” Ellie mouths. Alexa nods. Her mum was wrong about concerts; this is worth every cent. Bodies of other fans hem the girls in and they press against the barrier, where a tattooed security guard eyes them warily. Alexa squeezes Ellie’s wrist to get her attention and signs “water”. Ellie frowns. But Alexa’s throat feels sticky, too dry, and her head is aching.

“One more song,” Ellie pleads. She turns back to the stage without waiting for an answer, shouting and waving at something Orlando has said. Alexa looks up at the stage, a shrine where the music gods are worshipped, and for a split second, Orlando looks right into her eyes. His finger points, then curls back to himself. An invitation for her to join him.

It would be a dream. Sharing the same breathing space, touching his hand, close enough to see the lashes on his eyes and the sweat dampening his hair. The security guard opens a gate in the barrier for her, only her. She swallows and takes a step forward. She can hardly breathe for the nerves.

Orlando would talk to her. Alexa’s lip-reading would be off. She’d reply to the wrong question in her thick, awkward accent. The crowd would rage at the injustice of a deaf girl being awarded this incredible moment with a singer she can’t hear.

No. Screw them. She paid for her ticket; she loves the feel of his music in her bones and the sight of his beautiful face just as much as they do. Orlando chose her.

Maybe it was a charity thing. Maybe he can tell just by looking at her somehow, or maybe her mother gave his PR team a well-meaning heads up that she would be there. She won’t just be the lucky fan who Orlando picked, she’ll be the disability porn for them, the tragic poster child for hearing fans to feel even more admiration for their hero.

Alexa pushes Ellie forward to take the invitation instead.

All eyes are on Ellie. Including Alexa’s. Ellie bounces as she tells Orlando her name and where they’re from. He wraps an arm across her shoulders to sing the next ballad. Alexa gives Ellie a thumbs-up and a grin; in that moment, she’s genuinely happy for her friend. But on the way home, when an exhilarated Ellie signs so fast even Alexa can barely follow, something inside creeps up to constrict her throat.

“I’m tired,” Alexa signs. She leans her head against the bus window. She closes her eyes so she doesn’t have to look at Ellie. She closes her eyes to keep the tears firmly behind her lids. She closes her eyes and holds on to the moment Orlando’s gaze caught her own and his finger pointed in invitation.

She imagines some other scenario, being offered a lift to school by his driver when she stands at the bus stop in the rain. He’ll ask her name and she’ll answer shyly, then he’ll write her love letters until he learns to sign. No one will be watching until later, when she holds his arm at a red carpet event. Then she’ll carry herself with pride and dare the magazines to write about her. When his fans cry out with jealousy or whisper words of pity, she won’t care. She won’t hear them anyway.

Gabrielle Reid is a writer of adult and young adult fiction and non-fiction. She is a mother of three, amateur piano player and PhD student. Her first YA novel, The Things We Can’t Undo, was published in Australia in 2018.

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