Driven by curiosity, the chick moved closer still. Only a few feet away, she slowly knelt on the forest floor, her head cocked to one side, just staring at me with a funny expression on her face.

Her big blue eyes never once moved away from me. I watched her slowly scan me from head to toe and then back again. I thought about what she must be seeing: my dark, messy hair, black T-shirt and jeans, heavy black boots, and leather cuffs on my wrists showing the Hangmen patch.

As her eyes met mine once more, her lips seemed to curve upward slightly into a small kinda smile. I crooked my finger in her direction, urging her to come closer.

She quickly turned, searching all ’round her. Seeing we were alone, she stood up—slowly, as before—and she inched forward toward me, the bottom of her long dress dirtying on a patch of muddy ground.

Now, as she stood before me, I couldn’t help but notice again how tiny she looked. I was tall, so she had to tilt her neck back to look up at me. As I pressed into the fence, my stomach churned. She looked so tired and her blue eyes winced in the corners as she shuffled toward me, like she was in pain.

Noticing she was uncomfortable, I pointed to the forest floor, indicating we should sit. She nodded her head, lowered her eyes and slowly, painfully, dropped to her knees.

She didn’t make a sound. Hoping for another miracle, I inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly. “Wh-what i-is this p-p-p-place? D-d-do you… l-l-live h-here?” I stuttered, occasionally pausing and thinking through my words as I struggled to push them out. A wave of excitement washed through my stomach… I was talking… again!

Her eyes focused on my mouth, but she still kept quiet. Her black eyebrows were pulled tight and her pink lips were pursed in concentration. I knew she was wondering why I talked funny; everyone always did. She would be wondering why I stuttered. I didn’t know. I just always had. Gave up trying to fix it years ago. I talked with my hands now. Didn’t like being laughed at for having a stammer… but she wasn’t laughing at me… not even a little bit. She just looked, well, confused.

As I glanced down in embarrassment, I noticed her hands were right next to her side of the fence, only inches from mine. Without thinking, I reached through and ran my finger across her knuckles. I just wanted to touch her, make sure she was real. Her skin looked so soft.

With a gasp, she snapped her hand back as if my touch were fire and she cradled it next to her chest.

“I-I-I w-won’t h-hurt y-you,” I croaked as quickly as I could force out, worried about the terror on her face… a face that was the same shape as a heart. I didn’t want her to be scared of me. My pop told me that folks needed to fear me, had to distrust me so I’d be safe. Most folks in my world, I knew, would see my signing as a weakness, so my pop told me I had to toughen up and use my fists instead of words. Now folks just thought I was dangerous. Like Ky said, I was born to be feared: the Hangmen Mute.

But right now I wished more than anything that I could trade all that in just to know how to talk right. I didn’t want her to be afraid of me. Not the chick with the blue eyes—blue eyes the color of a wolf’s.

Sitting back in a trance, her wolf eyes drew me in. She looked like a ghost—no, a goddess—like the paintings on the wall at compound. Like the goddess Persephone, wife of Hades, the underworld God the Hangmen wore on their patch.

With a flicker of movement, the chick brought her shaking hand forward to the fence; the ice-blue and white flecks in her irises never broke my gaze, the whites bright as she stared at me.

I stayed completely still. The girl was like a frightened rabbit and I didn’t want to spook her. I’d never seen no one like her, my hands were getting damp and my heart was beating real fast.

Nervously, she ran a fingertip along my hand, a pink blush bursting on her cheeks. I fought to breathe, the too-fast thumping of my heart making me lose focus.

Bending my index finger, I hooked it softly ’round hers and pressed my forehead against the hard mesh wire.

The girl pursed her slightly parted pink lips and wiggled the tip of her nose. I stopped breathing… She was beautiful.

“C-come cl-cl-cl-closer,” I whispered, a hint of desperation in my voice.

Her nose twitched again and I smiled. “Y-you’re so-so b-b-beautiful,” I blurted out, biting my lip as an afterthought. My fists clenched as I grew more and more frustrated with my speech.

She frowned and shook her head and I realized she could understand me. I so badly wanted her to talk back to me.

“Wh-wh-why are y-y-you out h-here a-all a-alone?” The girl began to tremble, the whites of her eyes seeming to take over the blue.

She looked so lost and I wondered what made her that way. I wanted her to feel better, wanted that look on her pretty face to change from sadness to happiness. I didn’t know what to do.

Suddenly, I thought of the brothers at the club and how they made the club bitches happy. Before I knew what happened, I quickly leaned in and pressed my lips against hers through the tiny open space of the wire mesh.

Her lips were so soft.

I didn’t move my mouth, unaware of what to do, so I just left my lips locked on hers. I peeked open my eyes and her lids were squeezed tight. I closed my eyes immediately, hoping the moment would last a while longer.

Lifting my hand, I ran my finger slowly down her face, but she pulled away with a gasp. She stumbled back on her hands wiping furiously at her mouth, tears tumbling down her cheeks.

Fear overtook me and I blurted, “I’m… I’m… I’m… s… s… s—” I stopped and hit my hand against the fence, cursing God that I couldn’t ever speak properly. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and tried to speak again. “I-I’m s-sorry… s-s-sorry, I-I-I d-d-didn’t m-mean t-to sc-sc-scare you,” I managed to force out.