The ivory comb attacks her tangles like a bobcat’s teeth.
“Sit still, Maggie!”
“I don’t know why I must endure such torture, Mother.”
“Goodness, Maggie, don’t you want to look nice for when the Merrills come tonight? When I was your age, I would’ve been thrilled to have a nice boy like Alan Merrill visit me!”
Maggie’s trussed up good for the occasion, in a maroon velvet jumper and patent leather shoes. All I need is an apple in my mouth, she thinks. Then serve me up on a platter medium rare to the savages.
Thirty minutes later Maggie’s leaning out her window, gazing across the roof that stretches above her family’s sunporch. She longs to scootch out onto its metal corregations, drinking of moonlight and jasmine-scented air. But high places terrify her.
People she can handle with stinging wit—at least in her middle school paper’s humor column. An alien disguised as a boring algebra teacher. A football player who can’t sleep without his pet football… But objects mock her: Can openers shoot from her hands like flying fish. Basketballs bound from her palms into the hoop of the opposing team. Other kids call her The Klutz—especially boys. Well, maybe boys aren’t exactly objects….
She feels the roof mocking her now. Glaring down its gleaming expanse, she sees him.
He’s perched eight feet away: a boy about her age. Skinny and statue-still, with bony knees drawn up beneath his chin. A dark curl spirals down to brush his nose, which looks long and sensitive like the ones on Greek statues at the art museum. And he’s dressed up all stuffy just like Maggie, in a formal black suit. But he wears no tie. Then she sees it—both ends trailing down from his fists, which he twists as though strangling a snake.
He turns and meets her glare. She braces herself for a jeer—but he offers her only a timid smile.
“Maggie! The Merrills are here! Come on down now and say hello!”
Thumping down the stairs after her mother, Maggie feels relieved to see the grown-ups are alone.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about that Alan.” Mrs. Merrill shakes her head. “We got him as far as your front walk, then he vanished like smoke. He’s so afraid of people…. His only friend is his computer.”
“Well, he can’t have gotten far.” Maggie’s mother smiles brightly. “Maggie, why don’t you take him out a plate of your homemade oatmeal cookies?”
Maggie lets herself be pushed outside by grown-up laughter. “Alan?” She half expects some creep to lunge at her from the bushes, knocking the plate from her hands with a war whoop. But nothing. Only silence… And Maggie knows where Alan is.
She’s back upstairs writing about a boy and his best friend: a computer. She’s shoved the cookie plate through her window, out onto the roof as far as she dares reach. Has he seen it? She checks outside: He’s gone. But the plate now sits eight feet away. And it’s empty. Well, almost empty. In its middle lies a scrap of paper. The paper contains writing—visible in the moonlight.
Maggie’s heart starts pounding. She’s scootching through her window, pushing herself out onto the roof. She freezes. Her head swims. The roof is mocking her, daring her to drop off its edge…. But she plunges on, snatches the paper from the plate.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MAGGIE.
Maggie smiles hugely as she flips the paper over and prints her reply: ALAN—THANK YOU FOR GETTING ME OUT ONTO THIS ROOF!
She plunks it back onto the plate and waits. (Waits? Will he ever return? How will she get back to her window?)
Over the roof’s edge, two hands appear. Then a face whose eyes are wide with terror—
“Help!” Maggie screams. “I’m stuck!”
The eyes’ terror melts into concern. The boy swings onto the roof with catlike grace. He’s lifting her note and reading it. A sccond smile lights his face as he prints another message:
MAGGIE—YOU ARE VERY BRAVE AND KIND.
Two hours later, she smiles in her dream. A computer on the roof has printed out a final note: I AM HAPPY YOU ARE MY FRIEND.
The computer becomes a boy with a shy moonlit smile, pressing that note into her palm with trembling crumb-flecked fingers. Together they leap off the roof into the moon. Only one necktie and two patent leather shoes are left behind.
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