Loud and Clear
Jaxon is getting by fine, severe dyslexia or not. Being a cab driver means he doesn’t need to read much, and the job has its perks. The pay isn’t bad, the people can be interesting, and having memorized the city streets keeps him from feeling too stupid.
When he picks up Caleb, a quiet fare in a nice suit, Jaxon doesn't think anything of it. Then he ends up driving Caleb home the next week too, and the next, and the next. Eventually Caleb tries to communicate—by writing things down. Turns out that Caleb has such a bad stutter he spends most of his time mute.
If only Jaxon had an easier time reading what Caleb had to say. But he’s interested in trying, and Caleb seems interested back. They discover that, with a little bit of effort, it isn’t so hard to make themselves understood. Especially when what’s growing between them is definitely worth talking about.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Jaxon pulled up to the front of the Flameshow Bar, looking around for his fare. It didn’t take long to spot the lone man in a really nice suit walking toward his cab, wobbling just a little.
“Caleb Wrotslavsky? Did you call for a cab?” The man nodded, fumbling with a clip wallet, and then shoved an ID card under Jaxon’s nose. Jaxon picked out the C and the W, and that was good enough for him. “Okay,” he said. “Come on in.”
He waited a minute for Caleb to sit down—and buckle up. Good, he hated having to remind people. Then, before he could ask for the address of where to, Caleb handed him a card with the address and logo of the Lindsey Towers, a posh high-rise. Luckily, Jaxon was able to recognize it easy.
“Do you, uh, want this back?” he asked, holding out the card. Caleb nodded and took it. Okay then, guy was clearly a quiet drunk. Jaxon was perfectly fine with that. He clicked on his meter and headed off.
Caleb stayed quiet throughout the whole drive and seemed perfectly happy staying quiet, so Jaxon didn’t bother trying to chat. He was comfortable in silence, and it made for an easy job; just deliver, get paid, move on to the next job, when or if one came in—Tuesdays were usually pretty slow. Didn’t get a lot of calls for cab drivers on Tuesdays. Certainly not at bars. But whatever. To each his own. At least he had called for a cab, instead of trying to drive himself.
“Here we are,” he said, pulling up to the Towers. “Home sweet home?”
Caleb just nodded and handed over a credit card before Jaxon even told him the total. He rattled it off anyway and took the disgruntled-looking nod as permission to run the card.
“All righty.” He handed the card back, along with the receipts. “Just sign the top one and you can go on your way, okay?” Again a nod. Caleb scribbled something, and handed back the second receipt.
“Have a nice night,” Jaxon said, as Caleb moved to get out of the car. Another nod and a barely there hand wave, before the man made his way to the building.
“Okay, then,” Jaxon mumbled to himself, glancing at the second receipt. Nice, not a bad tip. He stuffed it in the right place, made his notes, and then clicked himself back on to awaiting new calls. Weird guy, but definitely not his weirdest. Besides, easy job, and those were nice.
Next Tuesday night, Jaxon was again answering a call for a pickup at the high-class bar. And Caleb was, again, waiting outside when Jaxon pulled up, ready with his ID card.
Jaxon waved it off when Caleb moved to show it to him. “It’s cool. I remember you from last week.” Caleb was dressed up real nice again, from what Jaxon could make out in the dark. A classy-looking gray suit that fit him perfectly. Matched the type of bar he clearly frequented, and the high-rise he lived in. Jaxon threw a passing thought at what the guy did for a living and why he apparently felt the need to get drunk on a Tuesday, before he let it go. His wasn’t to reason why.
When Caleb had clambered in the back of the cab and settled in his seat, Jaxon looked over his shoulder. “Same place as last time? The Lindsey Towers?”
Caleb glanced up surprised, card half-pulled out of his jacket pocket. Then he nodded. Jaxon grinned.
“Cool. I’ll get you there easy.” At Caleb’s drunk-confused expression, Jaxon added, “I’ve got a good memory for this stuff. Part of being good at my job.” He turned back around, eyes flickering toward the rearview mirror to check on Caleb. The guy was smiling slightly, but he didn’t seem inclined to say anything. No big deal. Jaxon clicked on his meter and pulled away from the bar.
The ride was, once again, completely silent. Jaxon listened to audiobooks as he was driving to jobs, but it wasn’t something he could do with a client in the car. A lot of cabbies listened to music, but Jaxon had stopped messing with the radio after his first couple of years; there was no telling what would and wouldn’t offend someone. Now he drove in silence unless his passenger requested something. Caleb didn’t seem all that inclined when Jaxon glanced back again to check.
When they arrived at the Towers, Jaxon clicked off his meter and told Caleb the total like usual. Caleb handed over his card without a word, signed the receipt and tip, and handed it back with the pen. Goods for services, exchange complete.
“Have a good night,” Jaxon said, as Caleb climbed out of the car. Caleb paused, and then nodded to him, again with a short hand wave, before heading toward the doors.
Odd guy, Jaxon thought, before letting dispatch know he was available again.
As Jaxon drove over to the Flameshow Bar for the third time in as many Tuesdays to pick up a Caleb Wrotslavsky, he was seriously wondering if this was going to become a new regular routine or what. And why it had started up now. He’d worked plenty of Tuesday nights, and he’d never seen this guy before. Had he just moved to the area? And why Tuesday?
There were several people waiting outside the bar this time, but Jaxon picked out Caleb easily. The tailored suit was a dead giveaway, even though his face was hard to see in the half dark of the bar’s lights.
“Caleb?” Jaxon called, as he slowed to a stop. The man immediately nodded and walked forward, forgoing showing his ID this time and heading straight for the car door to get inside. “How are you doing tonight?”
Caleb glanced up at him, then shrugged.
“Okay,” Jaxon said easily. If Caleb didn’t want to talk, the guy didn’t have to. “The Towers?” Caleb nodded. “Cool.”
Jaxon clicked the meter on, and away they went.
“You’re really not much of talker, huh?” Jaxon couldn’t help but ask at a stoplight, glancing over his shoulder. Caleb actually snorted, the most sound Jaxon had ever heard the guy emit. He shook his head, lips quirking before he went back to looking out the window.
Okay, then. Jaxon shrugged and turned back around, the light green again.
The rest of the trip was the becoming-usual silence. When they pulled up to the Towers, Caleb was ready with his card, handing it over before Jaxon gave the total.
“Impatient to get home, huh?” Jaxon said, swiping it and giving Caleb the receipt to sign.
Caleb shook his head, then, as if thinking about it, nodded before taking the pen and scribbling on the receipt. He handed it back, then got out of the cab.
“Have a nice night,” Jaxon said, as usual. Caleb nodded again and waved, his hand floating by his lips for a second before he turned and headed toward the entrance. He had nice lips.
Jaxon shook his head, turning his attention back down to the receipt in his hand. The same tip, a nice one, and . . . something else scribbled at the bottom.
He turned on the light in his car and squinted. Those were letters, all right. Probably there was even a sentence. Caleb had written something on the receipt. Huh. Curious, Jaxon bent over the words, trying to sound them out. Caleb’s handwriting wasn’t messy or anything, but Jaxon had trouble with letters even if they were typed. Most handwriting tended to make things harder.
Nnn . . . ot . . . Not. Okay. Not mmmu . . . ck. Muck? No, wait, that was an h right? Much. That made more sense. Okay, so, “Not much” and the next words were “of” and “a”; those two were easy, he could sight-read those. The next one was long though. Come on, Jaxon, break it down, you can do this. T-t-t-a . . . l . . . k . . . Ta-llll-kuh. Talk? Talk! And then an “er” at the end . . . Talker! And then two more easy ones, “at” and “all.”
Not much of a talker at all.
. . . What?
Jaxon stared down at the paper and read it again, just in case. He got the same thing the second time around, which usually meant he’d read the thing correctly. So he was probably right, but he took a picture of it with his phone and sent it to his sister anyway, to get a second opinion. Tatyana didn’t have trouble reading—she wasn’t stupid. She was also probably asleep right now, what with the time difference, but maybe she’d get back to him later.
Still, if he was right, what did the note even mean? Besides that, yeah, Caleb wasn’t much of a talker. Clearly.
Well. Whatever. Jaxon wasn’t going to worry about it. He tucked the receipt away, stashed his phone again, and let dispatch know he was available.
Tatyana called him on Wednesday, at way too early in the morning.
“Tati,” Jaxon groaned, squeezing his eyes shut against his phone’s glare. “Time difference, remember?”
“Sorry,” she said, “I’ve got a morning class and wanted to answer you before I left. Didn’t think about the two hours.”
“Jaxon,” she said, and he could hear her rolling her eyes, the brat. “The note? Did you wanna know what it said?”
“Oh,” he said, remembering that easily. “Yeah. Uh. ‘Not much of a talker at all’?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And a little tongue-sticky-out face.”
What? He hadn’t noticed a face. “Okay. Thanks, Tati.”
“Sure,” she said. “What’s it about?”
“Dunno. A client. Doesn’t say much. I said something about it, this is what I got.”
She laughed. “Funny guy.”
“You doing okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s peachy. Gotta go, though; I wanna grab breakfast.”
“Okay,” Jaxon said. “Call me later?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Bye. Love you.”
“Love you too,” Jaxon said before she hung up. He fumbled with his phone and pulled up the picture he’d taken of the receipt. He hadn’t noticed before, too hung up on trying to read the damn thing, but yeah. There was a little smiley face at the bottom. With a tongue sticking out. Huh.
Jaxon shrugged, shoved his phone under his pillow, and rolled over, trying to fall back asleep for another couple of hours. He’d think about it later.
When Caleb had learned that he was going to have a mandatory drinking evening, he went ahead and called the cab company ahead of time, knowing he wouldn’t be able to make the phone call after the fact. He did the same thing the following Tuesday, and, by the third week, just asked them to keep him on as a regular customer, if that was possible, and he’d cancel it when necessary. The response had been a little confused, but perfectly willing. So Caleb was set for a designated driver for every Tuesday night until this stupid drink-night thing got canceled.
Some people at the office were thinking it would just last for a few months at most, to “solidify the relationships in the company” after the merger or some nonsense like that. Caleb hoped they were right, if only to give his poor liver a break.
Not tonight though. Tonight was another dreaded Tuesday. Yay.
He spent the work day on edge and sharing trepidatious glances with the others on the team who were required to go. When it got to be time for the company cars to take them to the bar, Caleb actually had a brief moment of What if I just don’t go? before sighing and getting in next to Yusuke. Yusuke clapped him heartily on the back and started talking about the latest projections. Which was another reason why he actually had to attend. For all the drinking, until people got too shit-faced, they actually talked about work. Missing this was the equivalent of missing an actual meeting. And it was considered company time, too.
Basically, Tuesdays were the worst.
Though, not completely the worst, Caleb figured, as he clambered inside the cab again, adjusting his suit jacket as he sat down. His driver was cute and didn’t stick his nose in Caleb’s business—he just drove. He was the best cab driver ever. Caleb wished he could actually say it.
“Hey,” the man said, twisting around to smile at him, and yeah, Caleb still didn’t know his name. That was silly. “Evening. Towers again?”
Caleb frowned. Yes, he wanted to go home. But he also wanted to know his cab driver’s name, and he wasn’t coherent enough to even try to ask. And it was probably a long shot that the cabbie knew Sign Language. Instead he pointed a finger at the driver.
“Uh.” The man’s brows furrowed. “What? Is there something behind me?” He glanced over his shoulder, and Caleb was already frowning and shaking his head when the man looked back at him. “No . . . uh.”
Caleb leaned forward and pointed again. Gesturing hard at the man’s face. His driver looked taken aback.
“Uh, my face? Something on my face?” At Caleb’s headshake, he tried, “Okay . . . me?” Caleb smiled and nodded. Yes, excellent. Good. Now he’d learn his name.
The driver raised his eyebrows, clearly bemused. “Uh, sorry. What about me? I’m your driver, remember? Taking you to the Towers? If that’s where you’re going. You haven’t actually . . . uh.” He trailed off again when Caleb shook his head.
Oh! He pulled out his ID again, showing it his driver. The man glanced at it.
“. . . Right,” he said. “Caleb. I remember you from last time. And, uh, the time before that. Look man, you’re gonna actually need to tell me where you want to go, talker or not.”
Caleb smiled inwardly. He’d remembered his note! But the note could wait. He waved the ID and nodded, pointing to himself. Then he pointed again at the cabbie and raised his eyebrows, looking expectant.
“Are you . . . asking what my name is?” Caleb grinned and nodded. Yes! He’d gotten it. Cute and quick enough on the uptake. Good job.
“Oh! I’m sorry, man, this is so— I can’t believe I didn’t introduce myself to you. Uh, I’m Jaxon. Jaxon Tlapa. Hey.” He waved a little, and Caleb beamed.
Great, he had a name! That was excellent. That was an excellent thing. Okay. Mission accomplished for tonight. He could go home now. He tucked the ID card away again and buckled his seat belt, then smiled at Jaxon again.
Jaxon sighed. “Caleb. Where am I taking you? Are you going to the Towers or not?”
Oh, right. He nodded. Home was good.
“Double-checking,” Jaxon said. “You want to go to the Lindsey Towers?”
Caleb nodded again, appreciating the thoroughness.
“Okay. Great.” He turned around to face forward again, saying over his shoulder, “Sit tight, I’ll get you there in no time.”
Caleb sat back against the seat. The drive wasn’t too long, and he let himself drift like the last three times he’d done this, watching the flashes of color as the car drove on through the dark. It was always quiet in this cab; Jaxon didn’t play music. It was sort of nice. Just driving, the alcohol buzz, knowing he had a bed waiting for him. Very comfortable bed. And he knew Jaxon’s name now; that was an accomplishment. He wondered why Jaxon was a cab driver. Did he like driving, or the hours, or . . .? He was good at it, that much was obvious.
The cab pulled up in front of Caleb’s apartment complex. “Here we are,” Jaxon said, fiddling with something up front. Caleb fished his credit card out of his wallet and handed it over, taking the receipt and pen Jaxon passed back with them. The cost was always roughly the same, so he barely glanced at the total before adding in the tip. And a quick scribble on the bottom as a last-minute drunken decision.
He gave back the pen and the second receipt and pushed himself out of the cab.
“Have a good night,” Jaxon called to him, like he always did. Probably did to every person he drove around. Still. It was nice of him to say. Caleb smiled and waved, adding a half-formed ASL thank you before he remembered, yeah, that wasn’t going to be understood.
He yawned and turned toward his building. Bed. Bed was a good idea.
Caleb had figured it all out by next Tuesday. He and Sam and a couple of the others who were getting tired of “bonding night.” Order dinner first, eat it with water in the wineglasses, and then, when it came time for shots—why did they always want to do shots?—fake it. Fill the glasses with water, or dump the shot in an empty cup when no one was watching. He couldn’t get away with it every time, but at the end of the night he was only slightly tipsy and felt like for once he wasn’t going to wake up Wednesday morning with a pounding headache. It didn’t make the fact that he was exhausted any better, but it was something.
They all trickled out of the bar, some getting into company cars, others getting the usual rides from friends or significant others. A few, like Caleb, had called for cabs, and he waited until he spotted Jaxon through a rolled-down window.
“Evening,” Jaxon said, as Caleb climbed into the backseat. Caleb nodded and gave him a weary salute. “Are we going to the Towers tonight?”
Caleb nodded and buckled up before leaning back in his seat.
“Ten-four.” Jaxon nodded, before pulling the car away from the curb. They drove on in silence, and Caleb closed his eyes. He felt like he was forgetting something, though, which made drifting off irritatingly difficult. The car stopped at a light, and he opened his eyes again, leaning forward to look at Jaxon.
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted me talking,” Jaxon said, after a second. “Thought you were asleep.” Caleb shook his head quickly and made a “go on” hand motion. Jaxon sighed and handed back a receipt. “Was this a joke, or what?”
Caleb squinted at it. It was the merchant copy of the receipt from last week. He recognized his own handwriting from where he’d scribbled, on the bottom, Do you like being a driver?
. . . Oh wow, he had forgotten he’d written that.
He pushed it back and tried for a rueful smile and headshake. He had been serious. Just. Also incredibly drunk.
Jaxon took it back, and kept driving as the light turned green, getting onto the highway. “I like it fine,” he said. “It’s not a bad job. And I’ve got a head for it.”
Caleb nodded, but Jaxon didn’t seem inclined to say anything else. Oh well.
“I’d ask about your job,” Jaxon added after another minute of silence, “but you already mentioned that you’re not much of a talker.”
Caleb huffed a laugh and caught Jaxon’s eyes when he glanced into the rearview mirror.
“Figured you did something fancy though,” he said. “What with the suit. Business or law or something.”
Caleb bit his tongue to keep himself from trying to answer. Instead he straightened up a little and adjusted his cuffs. Jaxon chuckled, catching the motion as he checked his mirrors. “Yeah, you’re right up there on the food chain, huh?”
The way he said it, Caleb felt inordinately pleased. Maybe he was drunker than he thought.
Word Count: 22,200
Page Count: 93
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Release Date: 05/21/2016