I was startled awake when I realized the room was full of light.
What time is it? How late did I sleep?
It took me a second to remember where I was: the upstairs bedroom of my family's new house in a little town called Sweet Amoris.
My blue gingham quilt was in a tangled mess around my legs. I must have been tossing and turning in my sleep like I did when I had vivid nightmares. Foggy recollections of the dreams only slipped further away the harder I tried to remember, so I let them go.
Today was supposed to be another obnoxiously beautiful day just like yesterday: the sky a cloudless robin's egg blue, the air smelling sweetly of the blue hydrangeas that grew in sprawling bushes all over the adorable coastal town. The brilliant summer sun stung my sleep-encrusted eyes as I stretched and trudged to the window. Mom suggested I leave it open overnight to air out the stuffy bedroom since the house had been vacant for years. I expected to see the treetops of the quiet wooded park beyond the backyard; I chose this room specifically for its view.
But the view I saw instead was a thousand times better.
His golden brown eyes surveyed me through a layer of blond bangs. His whole body glistened in the sun, beads of sweat rolling down his bare chest. His mouth hung open as though frozen mid-gasp. I wanted to think it was because he was as fascinated by me as I was by him, but more likely it was because I scared him. He teetered on unsteady feet and came dangerously close to falling before he regained his balance.
Why was this boy on the roof? He stood on the hot shingles that sloped down just under my second-story window, above where the screened-in porch jutted into the overgrown backyard. I could think of no reason for him to be there.
His jaw creaked open wider, and he offered an uncertain hi, his eyes fixated on mine.
Neither of us knew what to do next.
So I did what comes naturally to me whenever I get scared. I ran to tell my Daddy.
Well, I didn't 'run' so much as 'slowly backed away.' I didn't want to freak him out any more than I already had.
I found Dad downstairs sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, blowing on a mug of strong-smelling black coffee. I shook his shoulder urgently, sloshing his coffee. Um, Daddy? There's a boy outside my window.
He was as confused as I was as he set the cup down on the countertop. A boy? he repeated.
Yes. A few strands of flyaway hair wandered into my blinking eyes and got caught in my eyelashes; I didn't bother to bat them away. He's on the roof.
Dad's shiny forehead furrowed the way it did when he was trying to think. Why's there a boy on the roof?
I threw my head back and rolled my eyes. I don't know, Dad! That's why I'm asking you!
Cool it with the attitude, Jo, he said, nipping the fingertips of one hand closed in a 'shut it' motion. He thought for a second, then suddenly remembered. Oh, I bet that's the neighbor kid. Your mother is paying him to clean out the gutters on the back side of the house.
Gee, that would have been nice to know before I walked right in front of the window! He saw me—looking like this! I motioned my (sort of slutty) summer pajamas: cotton shorts with little strawberries on them and a not-very-supportive spaghetti strap top.
Dad didn't seem too concerned. I was always quick to fly off the handle, but he was the voice of reason. Your mother wanted to let you sleep. She knows you're tired from the move.
I was annoyed at Mom for not waking me up earlier. At the very least, she could have told me about the neighbor boy—or, better yet, closed my window so that he couldn't see into my room. Then again, I was secretly relieved she hadn't asked me to climb out onto the roof and clean the gutters.
Mom must have met these well-meaning neighbors earlier today and took the blond boy up on a half-hearted offer to help fix up the house. Or maybe he had been forced into it by his own mother; other moms were always making their kids do stuff for us, even back home. We must have given the people in this neighborhood the impression that we were especially needy. I doubted there was another family like ours in the whole town.
Dad might have still been talking to me, perhaps telling me to get to work on one of the trillion chores there were to do, but I stopped paying attention. I walked around the kitchen island and took two cold bottles of water out of the otherwise empty fridge and went back upstairs to my room. I just hoped he would still be there.
All of my things were in cardboard boxes stacked against the wall opposite my bed. I opened the one the movers had labeled "girl's bedroom, desk" and fished out a pen and a blank composition notebook. I turned to the first page and wrote a note for the mysterious boy on the roof.
"You look hot," is what I was going to go with at first. But I tore out that page, angrily smashed it into a ball, and threw it into the corner. I absolutely could not show him that. That could have been very easily misconstrued.
The second time around, I was more specific: "It looks like it's hot out there. You must be thirsty." There. Much better.
The neighbor boy must have heard me crinkling up my first draft and came back into view in the window frame. The look of mild curiosity on his face quickly changed to one of pleasant surprise when I crossed the room to meet him, holding out a frosty bottle of water. His shy smile made my heart flutter. He must have been popular with the ladies at his school. How could he not be popular, with a body like his? The thought made me scrunch my face into a smile, too.
Neighbor Boy gratefully accepted the water, pulling off his gunky gardening gloves to twist the cap open. He tilted his head back and poured almost a third of it down his parched throat. A few cold trickles slipped out of the corners of his mouth and dribbled down his neck, mingling with his sweat.
I made sure to maintain a poker face, resisting the urge to lick my lips. I clutched my own unopened bottle of water and held perfectly still.
Thank you, he breathed as he swallowed.
I just sort of stood there for a second, blatantly staring at him, until I remembered the notebook I held to my chest. I held it out to him so he could see it.
He wiped the sweat out his eyes and read it. He smiled a gorgeous white smile and agreed that yes, it was hot out here.
"I'm sorry about before," I wrote under my opening line. "No one told me there would be a boy on the roof outside my window." An unbelievably fine boy, I might add.
He laughed. He was sorry, too. He didn't mean to scare me. His eyes shifted from the words on the notebook up to my face and lingered there. He seemed to be studying it. Studying me.
I instantly regretted not washing my face. Or brushing my teeth. Or combing my hair. I probably looked like I just rolled out of bed—because I had, in fact, just rolled out of bed.
He tilted his head. You can't talk? he asked, his hand absentmindedly touching his throat.
"I can, sort of," I wrote in response, "but I almost never do. I don't sound right."
You don't...sound right? he repeated, his face screwing up with confusion. I saw the words Virginia and accent on his lips. His moist bangs swayed as he gently shook his head. I wouldn't make fun of you, he assured me.
Aw, how cute! Mom must have told him where we moved from; he thinks I'm too shy to talk because of an embarrassing Southern accent.
In that case, he was half right. I was sure my accent was embarrassing, but I had no way of knowing one way or another if it sounded especially 'Southern.'
If I wasn't careful, I was going to fall hard for this boy. He was definitely cute—and nice, for agreeing to clean a handicapped stranger's gutters—but he was a little slow on the uptake. He still hadn't figured it out.
"No," I wrote, "It's not that. I'm deaf."
This was the part I'd been dreading. Usually, when 'regular' people found out I was deaf, they wore a mixture of pity and guilt on their faces, and from that moment on I became part of the scenery—to them, just another warm body, not really able to contribute or be fully included.
But not Neighbor Boy. When he read the note, there was not a trace of pity, not one iota of guilt. There was curiosity, maybe even excitement, and something else I couldn't think of a word for. It was a tiny nod—like how you would nod when accepting a challenge.
He asked with his eyes to take the notebook from me. I obliged, handing him the pen, too.
His sweat seeped into the paper where his wrist touched it. "My name is Nathaniel," he wrote in small, bleeding letters over the smudge. "I never asked you yours. I didn't mean to be rude."
"Johanna," I scrawled, showing off with a slightly more elaborate cursive 'J' than usual. "And I don't think you're rude. Not at all."
Johanna, he said out loud.
I liked the way my name looked on his face when he said it.
He smiled his boyish smile and bashfully looked away when it was his turn to write. "Would it be alright if I asked for your number so I can text you?"
Sweet Amoris was officially the best town ever. I'd been in it less than twenty-four hours, and I already had boys clamoring onto my roof to ask for my phone number.
I wrote out my number in the corner and tore it off so he could take it with him. He raised an eyebrow at the odd-looking Virginia area code before slipping it into the pocket of his athletic shorts.
"I guess I'll leave you alone now," I wrote reluctantly, "so you can finish whatever my Mom is making you do."
"I've been done for a while," he admitted, turning the page over to write a reply. "I was just up here admiring the view. I'm the one who should leave you alone."
Was he admiring the view of the park...or me?
The familiar giddiness that came with the onset of a crush crept its way into the cracks of my broken heart. Nathaniel needed to get away from me fast, before I got us both into serious trouble.
I couldn't afford to get myself into this kind of trouble. Not this soon.
… But maybe trouble with Nathaniel would be different.
Goodbye, I waved, smiling ear-to-ear.
I watched as he descended the ladder that leaned against the porch below. Goodbye, he waved back just before he disappeared, probably not even realizing he already knew a word in sign language.
I left the window open all morning, just in case he wanted to come back and 'admire the view' some more.