I was immediately peeved when I woke up to the sound of car doors slamming, heavy objects being lugged around, and a parade of hired movers helping a small family get settled in next door. I grunted and pulled my comforter over my head in hopes of some noise cancellation. As predicted, it didn’t work. I rolled over and saw that I had left my window open from the night before. When I got up to close it, it hit me that things would change. That house had been empty for years. Conveniently, my window and the window of the room across from mine in the neighboring house were connected by the rooftop. I spent most of my time on that rooftop, either reading or listening to music while counting the stars. Sometimes, when I needed a break from my family, or if I had a bad game, I would crawl into the room that was indirectly linked to mine and relax. I wouldn’t be able to do those things anymore. I would have to get used to escaping to my room instead of nobody’s room.
I was shaken out of my thoughts when I caught a glimpse of who was moving in through my window. She had long, flowing walnut hair and was, as far as I could tell from my second-floor view, very attractive. Maybe this wasn’t a total loss, I thought to myself as I watched her carry a box into the house. I couldn’t tell if she was straining to carry it, which caused her arm muscles to pop, or if she was just that jacked. I let out the breath I was holding when she entered her new house. I might as well get ready for the day. But when I walked to my night-stand to check the time on my phone, I was annoyed all over again. Eight in the morning?! A door loudly closed outside. I shook my head in agitation and stormed back to my window to close it and the curtains. I hesitated as I saw the girl again. She was walking out of the house but paused. She turned around and met my gaze, startling me. I frantically shut the window and curtains and turned around. I hadn’t even met the girl and she already saw me in nothing but a sports bra and shorts. I didn’t realize my heart was pounding so hard until it was all over. I shook my head while walking back to my bed and getting under the covers. I was determined to get another few hours of sleep, but instead, my mind kept wandering back to the girl’s warm, hazel eyes and how things were changing, yet again.
I managed to climb out of bed a few hours later. The commotion outside had subsided, to my relief. I groggily opened my curtains to let in some natural sunlight and was surprised to see that across from me, the previously empty room was being occupied by the girl from that morning. She was too busy organizing her clothes into drawers to notice me. I smiled to myself. At least my former safe haven was being taken by someone as beautiful as her. Hopefully, she was as nice as she looked.
“Tobin! You slept through breakfast! I saved you some pancakes!” My mom yelled from downstairs. That was enough to break me out of my trance. I sloppily threw on whatever shirt came to eye first and headed downstairs to eat.
“Good morning sweetheart, or should I say good afternoon?” My mom joked as I was fixing my plate of brunch. “I gotta get as many hours of sleep as I can before school completely drains me. Where’s the syrup?” She handed it to me as she sat down at the dining table. She usually only did that when something was up. I hesitantly sat down in front of her.
“Aww, I can’t believe it’ll be your senior year of high school! The more you grow up, the more you remind me of Dad,” She reached over the table to brush my messy brown hair out of my face. “Did you just roll out of bed? I could’ve sworn I heard you walking around earlier.”
“The new neighbors and their loud doors woke me up,” I deadpanned.
“Well, that’s why you wake up early! You get-”
“More hours in the day and a better sleep at night. You’ve only been telling us that since we practically came out of your womb,” She laughed and nudged me in the arm.
“Speaking of habits, is there something you want to tell me? You don’t hover over us while we eat for nothing,” I asked mid-chew.
“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I invited the new neighbors over for dinner,” I nearly choked on a bite of pancake. “Tonight?”
“Yes...why? Is something wrong?” I sighed and finished my plate.
“No. Is Jeffrey up?” I asked, hoping to change the topic.
“He’s in his room playing that damn game. I swear, one day I’m going to chuck his computer into the trash. Could you let him know we’ll be having company tonight?”
“Thanks hun. You’re the best. You go get cleaned up, I’ll tidy things up down here,” She took my plate and kissed my head. I got up and climbed the stairs, stopping at my little brother’s room. I knocked twice before cracking the door open a bit.
“We’re having the neighbors over for dinner tonight, so you might want to clean your room and help mom around the house,” I added in the last part to give myself a break. He was glued to his computer all day, playing that stupid game and yelling swear words at strangers online. He never contributed anything to the household and let his room turn into a pig’s sty. Every time Mom asked him to even eat a meal with us, he’d throw a fit and slam his door shut. Typical annoying, emotionally stunted, 14 year old brother.
“Why do I have to help?” He whined, not taking his eyes off of his screen for one second. There was a dirty plate laying on his bed from breakfast that morning. I guessed Mom had let him eat in his room.
“You probably won’t have to do much. Just wipe off the counters and tables and do the dishes. That’s nothing. Or, you could help Mom cook dinner. You’d be able to persuade her to make your favorite dish I bet.” He huffed.
“Okay fine. Close the door when you leave.”
That was all it took for him to agree. I did as he said and went back to my room. Out of curiosity, I looked out my window to see what the girl was doing. She was unpacking a cardboard box of what looked like soccer jerseys. I guess she hadn’t finished with her clothes yet. She looked up at me and we made eye contact. Instead of frantically breaking it, I gave her a small smile and a wave. She sheepishly waved back with a smile and went back to her box. On a whim, I decided to open my window and talk to her. I couldn’t believe that I was being so proactive. As I partially leaned out of the window, she noticed and gave me a confused look. I didn’t even know what I was going to say to her, but I knew that I wanted to hear her voice. As she hesitantly approached her window to open it, I gulped. Here goes nothing!
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” I greeted, kicking myself mentally for being so corny.
“Thanks! Nice to see you’re wearing a shirt this time,” She smiled as I felt heat rush to my face in embarrassment.
“Oh! Yeah-uh, sorry about that. Next time I’ll remember to close my curtain before I sleep,” She started chuckling at how flustered I was.
“It’s okay, it’s fine. I didn’t mind at all” She shyly smirked. I giggled nervously. C’mon Tobin, play it cool.
“I’ll keep that in mind then...” I trailed off, allowing an awkward silence to settle.
“I’m Tobin Heath by the way. And you?”
“Christen Press. Nice to meet you,” She smiled again, which riled up the butterflies in my stomach.
“That’s such a beautiful name,” I said before I could stop myself. “I mean, uh, I just really like it,” She blushed and seemed taken aback, but maintained her contagious, bright smile.
“Thank you! I like your name too. I have to finish unpacking, unfortunately, but it was great meeting you!” She started to retreat back into her room.
“Wait! I’ll see you at dinner later tonight, right?”
“Of course! I never turn down free food,” she joked.
“Can’t argue with that. I’ll let you get back to your unpacking.”
I smiled and went back into my room and shut the window. That went way better than I expected. I still didn’t know what had gotten into me, but I wasn’t mad about it. I found myself wanting to talk to her again, but I knew that I would be pushing it if I interrupted her. Instead, I decided to distract myself with cleaning my room. I had become a summer slob with piles of clothes on the floor, pens and pencils sprawled every which way on my desk, and dirty socks from soccer practice laying around. I wish I could say they were my lucky ones, but I was just lazy. That tradition of not cleaning your socks in hopes of good fortune was disgusting anyways. A few girls on the school’s team subscribed to that superstition. It always made me gag.
I haphazardly organized my mess. It only took about an hour. My phone buzzed with my daily reminder to start my workout. Perfect timing. I was already wearing athletic shorts, so I just swapped my t-shirt for a tank top and grabbed some (clean) socks as I went downstairs.
“Wow! Look at you, getting all fit! Be safe on your jog, sweetheart,” Mom told me as she was rolling out pizza dough. I put my shoes on and headed towards the front. I took a deep breath before I opened the door, pushing aside the anxiety that was rising in my chest.
“I’ll be back soon to help out!” I yelled as I closed it behind me. I felt the warm, humid, summer air stick to my face as soon as the breeze hit me. I glanced up at Christen’s window and saw that she was peering at me. As soon as I met her gaze, she jumped, startled by the fact that I had caught her in the act, and immediately left the window pane. I couldn’t help but grin as I started walking in the opposite direction towards my favorite neighborhood trail.