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January 24, 2010

'The Boy Next Door'

January 24, 2010|By Patricia McCune Irvine

"Mom? Is it OK if I check out our vacant lot?"

"Go ahead," Mom said. "The boxes can wait."

Matthew grinned. "Thanks!"

"Do you like our new house, Matt?"

"I love it!" Matthew yelled as he grabbed his baseball and bat, raced out the back door and around the house to the gap in the hedge.

Suddenly, he stopped. A boy stood still as a statue on the other side of the vacant lot.

"Hi," Matthew called.

The boy spun around and ran inside.

The next morning, when the neighborhood kids ambled off to school, the boy was not among them. Matthew asked about him.

"Well, he doesn't go to our school," one of the kids answered. "He's taught at home. I think he's weird."

After school, the boy was there again. Matthew moved his arm slowly and threw an easy ball. The boy caught it. And tossed it back, a straight, even throw, right into Matthew's outstretched hands. Then Matthew started across the lot.

"I'm Matthew," he said.

And once again the boy ran back into his house.

The next afternoon, the boy waited in the same place. Matthew stayed where he was and threw the ball. The boy caught it and threw it back. They played catch for quite a few minutes before the boy waved good-bye and went inside. Matthew couldn't figure it out.

"What could be wrong, Mom? He waits for me every day and then runs away."

"Maybe he's just shy."

"Well, he can throw a really good ball. And --" Matthew stopped.

"What is it, Matthew?"

"I don't know."

He liked the boy next door. He wanted to learn his name and play baseball games with him. They did play catch across the lot, but Matthew never once moved closer. Then one day, the boy walked over to Matthew. The boy pointed to his ears and his mouth and shook his head. His hands flew into rapid movements. A few strange sounds came from his throat.

My gosh. The boy couldn't hear. He couldn't speak, either.

Before Matthew could think further, the boy's mom hurried across the vacant lot to her son. They used their fingers and hands and arms in some kind of sign language. The boy marched back to their house. But the boy's mom smiled.

"I'm Matthew," he said.

"I'm Jimmy's mother."

"I wondered what his name was."

"He likes playing ball with you, but it was time for his lesson."

"You and Jimmy talked together."

"Yes. We call it signing." She paused. Jimmy's mom patted Matthew's shoulder as if to say thank you, and left.

Matthew hurried inside.

"Mom! His name is Jimmy. And there's nothing wrong with him. He's just deaf! I want to learn sign language, so I can talk to him. OK, Mom?"

"OK. Sure."

"And I already know the first words I'll sign: 'I'm glad we're friends.' "

Special thanks to Patricia Cantor for this week's illustration. To see more of her work, visit patriciacantor.com/

For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.

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