“Can you see me?”
Your words blew cold air in my face, and I could see the heat of your breath in a cloud lingering by your mouth.
“Do you want to?”
You paused, and that scared me a bit, or maybe I was just really cold. Either way, a shiver zipped down my spine. “No,” you finally muttered.
We sat on the roof outside your old window. Green paint chips lay on the wood panels. That was the color you’d wanted it, the most disgusting green I’d ever seen, but I paid $14.96 for it anyway. And when your mom yelled at us for painting the side of her house green, I didn’t care, because you liked it.
“It’s kinda cold.” My fingers were busy peeling paint. My mind was the most peaceful and nervous blank I could imagine.
“Yeah.” I heard the effort it took your body to breathe deep in and out, huffing to stay alive. “Warm front’s supposed to blow through Thursday.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t want it to get warmer. I liked the cold you always seemed to bring in your back pocket.
You were visiting that first week of January because your sister stayed here when the rest of your family left. She said, “I’m not done watching the sun rise on this side of the world just yet.” I liked that. Sometimes when I missed you really bad I would whisper that too. I shut my eyes and thought of you a few feet taller, sitting on the roof of your new house, watching the sun rise on your side of the world. I always imagined the sun was prettier where you were, but I think that might have been a lie I told myself to keep from crying.
During the hot summer nights that made me wish it was socially acceptable to walk around in just underwear, I would sneak over to your sister’s house and sit on the roof outside the window of your old bedroom that she’d made a library. I watched the sky turn black and blue like the bruises you didn’t mean to leave behind, but then it swelled with pink and orange, which made me believe you were thinking of me, when really I knew you were asleep, not thinking of me at all.
I feel asleep on your sister’s roof one night and woke up confused on her couch, green paint chips in my hair. She never said a word, even though I know she heard me slip out the front door. I never said anything either, but she knew more than I could ever put into words.
I saw your dad’s rusty Ford in her driveway Tuesday morning when I was jogging with my dog. I saw the ADTR bumper sticker and knew it was your rusty truck now. I also knew you were back, but I kept on running anyway.
It was your turn to chase me, I was the mouse this time. And you did.
“I didn’t think you’d show up,” you confessed quietly.
“I didn’t either.”
You sucked in all the cold air your body could handle. “I’m glad you did.”
I said nothing.
“You’re taller than I expected.” Your fingers moved to my old shoes, flipping the laces between two fingers.
“I’m five foot nine.”
“I guessed that.” The silence between us was so intense that it made my ears ring.
“You have muscles. I didn’t expect that.” It was true. I thought you’d play chess, not lacrosse.
“I play lacrosse.”
“I guessed that.” I hadn’t, though. Your sister had told me a week into sophomore year.
Your sister told me a lot about you, but I didn’t want to say anything about me. I knew she’d just tell you over the phone, and I didn’t want that. I wanted you to wonder, like you left me wondering.
“The sun’s coming up,” I announced as if you couldn’t tell.
“Here,” you said. You pushed the fuzzy blanket over me and moved closer. “Can I ask you something?” Your voice was deep – a man’s. That was weird to me. I’d seen you cry when your hamster died, and now you were a man. I wanted to hate the way your face was symmetrical and acne-free, but I couldn’t make myself hate you. Instead, I hated myself for wanting you.
“Did you miss me?”
I coughed. “You know the answer to that.”
“I just want to hear you say it.”
My voice was tense. “I missed you more than you know.” I searched for your hand in the dark and found it 8¾ centimeters from my thigh. “I used to come up here when I missed you, but that just made me hate you for leaving me, and I didn’t want to hate you, so I stopped. I stopped thinking about you. I figured you can’t miss someone you don’t think about.”
“You didn’t think about me?”
“I thought about you every day, all the time.” My words hated coming from my mouth, but they needed to be said.
“I kept your old baseball hat, the one you got from Minute Maid Park.” You laughed.
“I know. You posted a picture of you wearing it on Instagram.” It killed me to see it sit so perfectly on your head, tilted to the side because you thought it made you look cool.
“You follow me on Instagram?”
You chuckled a bit and laced your fingers in mine. I relaxed and let you bend them the way you wanted. You were always manipulating me.
“I think I love you,” you whispered into the pink sky.
“Then why did you leave without telling me that?” I could picture my middle school self, peering out the bedroom window, watching you ride away from me in the back of a red Ford that you drove now. I cried for weeks in the bathroom with the faucet running, but my mom knew anyway.
“Because I loved you.”
“That’s a stupid answer.”
“It’s the truth.” You grazed your thumb across my palm swiftly. I didn’t flinch. You wouldn’t win this one, I swore it.
“The truth is stupid. I hate the truth.” The last syllables of my sentence echoed. I thought that was ironic.
“Tell me the truth,” you pleaded.
“I loved you.”
“How do I know that’s the truth?” You were weary of me. I didn’t blame you.
“What color is the side of this house?” I asked.
You hesitated. “Green.”
“What’s my favorite color?”
You knew this; you knew me. “Robin’s egg blue.” Your voice was low, and I sensed your embarrassment in the way you enunciated.
“That’s love,” I said.
“Painting a house an ugly green when your favorite color is blue?”
I could tell you had something to add, but I didn’t want to hear it. “You thought it was an ugly green?” I asked instead. I was surprised. You’d convinced me and the paint guy at Home Depot that you had to have it.
I didn’t have words to spit back, so I sat silently.
You went on, “Remember when we went to the zoo in second grade?”
“Yeah.” I did. Your favorite animal was the zebra. You’d said, “God couldn’t decide which color he liked best, so they got both.” I liked that.
“You pointed to a grasshopper and said, ‘I love that color.’”
Oh yeah, I did say that.
“Do you know what my favorite color is?” you asked.
Of course I did. “Hunter green.”
“That’s love.” You smiled. Even though I couldn’t see it, I felt it.
“They’re both green,” I told you.
“Grasshopper green and hunter green are completely different.”
“I guess so.”
“I still love you, you know.” You said it quietly, like I wouldn’t agree.
“How do you know?” You swallowed loudly.
“Your sister showed me a picture of your bedroom in the new house.”
I knew it was true when I said it, but I hated this irrefutably sobering truth about the distance between you and me.
You and I were sitting in the January cold, figuring out the distance in centimeters of how far apart we were, in heart and in truth. We were 8¾ centimeters apart on the roof that night, and I fell asleep searching for you in between the shades of purple and pink in the rising sun on my side of the world.
“Do you like it?”
“What?” I asked, caught up in my own thoughts.
“No. I hate it.”
“Me too.” You laughed. I laughed too. Your hands were really soft, covering mine from the sting of the cold wind. We were closer than ever, in proximity, I mean. I’d found the idea of you more alluring when I was pouting and longing for you on neighbors’ roofs. But having you next to me was pretty great too. I didn’t hate you, come to think of it. I loved all of you, even the jerk parts that didn’t call me back when you knew I missed you. I loved you enough to overlook that and sit on a roof with you in shorts and a thin blanket in the dead of winter. That’s love, and so is grasshopper green, I’ve come to find out.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.