The first time I saw the boy on the roof, I was trying to catch a falling leaf. This was one of the things Mr. Dominguez had told me about: that if you caught a falling leaf you could make a wish. Our new backyard didn’t have much, but it did have a lot of leaves, and I had a lot of wishes.
I swiped at a big candy red maple leaf, and wondered who Mr. Dominguez would invite to his barbeques now that our family had moved away. I reached out for a slim yellow leaf, and it danced away. A stiff gust blew and leaves evacuated their branches, fluttering away like colorful birds.
I jumped and spun, but the faster I grabbed the faster my colorful wishes slipped away. I twirled, looking up at a blue sky full of reds and yellows, and that was when I saw Kevin. He was perched on the roof like a squirrel, staring at the big tree that dominated the backyard.
My first instinct was to go get Mom and Dad, before remembering that they were the reason I went outside.
The spot where the boy was sitting was right outside my bedroom. I knew it from the dreamcatcher I’d hung in the window. It was a place where the roof of the porch formed a little shingled balcony.
“Hey,” I shouted at him. “Get down from there!”
He didn’t look down. His lips moved, like he was saying something to himself.
“Hey!” I said. “Hey! HEY!” He ignored me and so I found a little pebble on the ground and threw it at him. It skittered off the shingles on his right.
“I don’t like that,” he said, finally looking down at me. “Stop throwing. You’re too loud. Too loud! My name is Kevin.”
“Hi Kevin,” I said, “I’m Ashling.”
Kevin stared for a second and then looked back to the tree. “Ashling. Ash. Fraxinus,” he said, like the words were puzzle pieces he was fitting together. Don’t throw any more things. Don’t throw any more things at me.”
“What did you just call me?” I said, but Kevin didn’t answer. He started muttering to himself and rocking his head slightly.
“What are you doing on our roof?” I asked. My neck hurt from looking up so much.
Kevin didn’t reply, and his rocking became more vigorous. “What are you doing?” I shouted, as loud as I dared. “Hey, be careful!”
“Stop yelling!” He suddenly hollered. “Go away. Leave. I’m fine.”
I froze, wondering if anyone had heard his shouts. But the angry voices inside the house never stopped.
“Leave,” Kevin repeated. “Or come closer. I don’t like this. You’re too far. Too much shouting.”
“Come closer?” I said. “You want me to go up there?”
“Yes. Or leave.”
“How am I supposed to get up there?” I said.
“Climb,” Kevin said.
“I can’t climb up there!”
“Stop yelling,” Kevin said, “I don’t like yelling.”
I looked at the house. The windows looked dark, showing nothing but a reflection of what was outside: me, the backyard, and the tree.
“Yeah,” I said to myself. “Me neither.”
I went inside as quietly as I could, but I don’t know why I bothered. Nobody could have heard me over the shouting. There was something sharp and broken on the floor, like a vase or a plate. Avoiding the sound of voices, I padded up to my room. It was smaller than my old bedroom. There was mold growing on the ceiling shaped like South America.
I climbed onto my bed to boost myself to the window. I pushed it open and swung myself over to the shingled platform below.
“Oof,” I said as I looked over the edge. It was higher than I’d imagined. I walked over to where Kevin was perched. “Hello again,” I said.
“Fraxinus,” Kevin muttered to me, and then looked back at the tree. “6873,” he said, “6901…” He was 10 or 11, I decided. Older than me, but just by a year or two. I was about to say something else, when he said, “I was wrong. I don’t like this. You should leave. Why are you here?”
“You’re the one who’s on our roof!” I said. “Why are you here?”
“Why are you here?” Kevin shouted back.
“Because I live here,” I said. “Now stop yelling, nobody likes yelling!”
Kevin blinked at me, and then looked back to the tree. “You don’t live here,” he said, finally. “Nobody lives here.”
“I do live here.” I pouted. “We moved here five days ago.”
Kevin stopped and thought about this. “Ok,” he said, finally. “Alright. But you can’t live on the roof. That’s where I sit.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “I think we just want the inside anyways.” I looked back down at the backyard, filled with reddish brown leaves, the color of alphabet soup. “How did you get up here?” I asked.
“There’s a tree in the front,” Kevin said, “I’m a good climber. I like trees.”
The shouting had risen inside the house, but it was like a television playing in a distant room. I couldn’t tell the voices apart. I sat down, like Kevin, dangling my feet over the edge.
“That’s neat,” I said, “what do you like about them?”
“Trees go slowly,” Kevin said. “They change slowly. I’m like a tree. This is when they change most, so I like to come up here every week and count how many leaves are left, so I know what’s been changing. This is my favorite tree,” he said, pointing to the biggish tree in the middle of our backyard. “It’s a paperback maple, Acer griseum, or 血皮枫,” he said, all words that I didn’t understand. “Very rare in North America. See the way its bark peels back and curls? Like cinnamon. It can serve as a garden centerpiece even in the winter.”
I looked down at the tree and its trunk. I’d never really thought about it before, how the bark peeled off the trunk in little sliced rolls, like a tornado of knives had just passed through.
“It looks like it’s hurt,” I said, “or sick.”
“Paperbacks suffer from genetic defects,” Kevin agreed sagely, “their seed viability is down to one to eight percent, which is why they’re so rare.”
“No, what I meant was –” I began, then changed my mind. “My favorite trees are Christmas trees,” I said.
“Those aren’t a kind of tree,” said Kevin.
“Yes they are.”
“No they’re not.”
“Yes they are.”
“No they’re not.”
“Then what do you put ornaments on when it’s Christmas?” I asked.
Kevin opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Most Christmas trees are evergreen conifers, such as spruce, pine, or fir,” he concluded.
“But they are trees.”
Kevin had no response to that, so he went back to counting leaves. “7001, 7052…”
Inside the house, somebody was yelling my name. I wondered if I should get up.
“7134, 7146…” Kevin was still counting.
The shouting from inside was getting louder.
The leaves were swirling around, and I hoped one would blow up here. I wanted my wish. Nothing happened, and I wondered how long I could make it last. I listened to Kevin counting leaves. I listened for a long time.
“11049, 11073… You’re still here,” Kevin said, finally. “Why?”
I shrugged, and hugged myself against the fall chill. “Maybe I just like it out here,” I said, “maybe I just like trees.”
Edited by Lara Kehinde.