Twenty-five years was a very long time to know someone. An even longer time to be in love with that same person.
These were Jake's thoughts as he continued dressing in his navy blue suit. After he pulled on the pressed pants and buttoned the collared shirt, he moved toward the standing mirror at the back of the large bedroom. He stood there for a quiet moment, studying himself from head to toe. Instead of the tall and broad image standing before him, he was a five-year-old kid again. Heavenly fate had stepped in and changed the course of his young life forever. As waves of joyous, and sometimes painful, memories swept over him, Jake began to realize, now more than ever, he would never want to erase one single moment of that wonderful adventure. While he folded his tie, two deep dimples creased his cheeks and his mind wandered back to that very first day.
His kindergarten teacher was marching her class into the school's cafeteria and that's when he first spotted her. It was near mid-day during the second week of school and all the toddlers were pouring into the over-sized room for lunch period. The room was crowded and noisy – kids shouting, crying, and laughing in all directions – but it took him only a half second to pick her face out of the restless bunch. His fast eyes were immediately drawn in her direction. The first detail he noticed was that she was the same color as his favorite food, peanut butter – minus the jelly, of course – standing out against a sea of kids and grown-ups that were the same color as him, peach – that's the crayon his mom told him to use whenever he drew a picture of her. But it wasn't that delicious thought that dragged his sight over to the lonely little girl, it was her eyes.
When the kids from his class had burst into the room, their chaotic entrance must have scared her. She looked up at the same time as he was running in and that's when Jake was pinned in place by those big brown eyes. They looked just as big and wide and cuddly as the deer from that movie he watched last night – Bambino or Bamba or something like that. One glance and her sadness was plain and clear, even to a toddler with the attention span of a buzzing fruit fly.
Jake couldn't decide which was bothering him more, that she was sitting all alone at the end of that long lunch table or that the girls at the other table facing her were peaking in her direction and then snickering and whispering. Jake watched them do that twice then his anger started to bubble. He had been ready and set to run over to them and yank their prissy little pony tails really, really hard – that would shut them up fast and make 'em leave her alone. Don't hit girls. That was Dad's Rule Number One, and it popped in his head just before his scuffed sneakers started to move in that direction. He told Jake that if he ever heard about him hurting a girl, he would tan his backside real good – and his mom gave a big nod to that. He looked at the girl again, wishing she would go over there and do what he couldn't. Instead, her pretty round eyes stared at him, glanced over at the ugly bullies, then she sighed and lowered her eyes and stared down at her open lunch box. Well, that did it for Jake. He was done watching her get picked on. No sir, not when he was around, never when he was around.
It was at that exact moment when he decided two things – that he and Bambi eyes were going to be best friends forever and that he knew exactly what to do to get back at that gang of witches. Good pals don't come along often, son. You make sure you be a stand-up guy when they need you, no matter what - and his mom had given a double nod to that, so Jake knew it was extra important. So that's exactly what he would do for his new best friend, be a stand-up guy and protect her no matter what - starting right now!
He marched his stubby little legs in a straight line and stopped right in front of their leader, Mary Lou. While she was whispering something and getting the others all worked up for another giggle session, he cut her crap short.
"Mary Lou," he said in his best imitation of a disgusted voice, "you've gotta' big boogie hangin' outta' your nose…and it looks really nasty."
To add to the effect, he grabbed his checkered shirt at the spot where his tummy was and faked illness. The pig-tailed girl with the big teeth immediately threw her hands up to shield her face, but not faster than all the others from her little gang could start crying out eeeewweee in unison and then point pudgy fingers at the imaginary booger. When his job was done, Jake turned and walked away with a satisfied smile stuck to his cheeks.
"Hi, I'm Jake," he said while sticking his hand out to the lonely girl.
He held his hand out straight and firm, just like his dad had taught him, but she just stared at his pointed fingers. When she didn't accept his offer after a few seconds, his patience dropped and he quickly decided to help her out. Even though they were the only two on that end of the table, maybe she didn't realize he was talking to her. Jake took hold of her tiny hand and shook it then offered her another big smile. Her eyes brightened up a bit, and that made him feel much better, but she still had not mumbled a single word.
"I'm Jake," he repeated after letting go of her hand. Then he waited. And waited and waited, until his small patience was all used up. He crossed his arms and huffed. "Now you're s'posed to tell me your name."
Instead of replying, her bottom lipped trembled a little and the corners of her eyes glazed up, like she was going to cry. Calm down, Jakey. You talk like you're ten feet tall. That's what his mom always said when he got too excited and started talking too loud. Maybe he had scared her. And if he scared her, she would never be his best friend forever. His quick thinking came up with a way to smooth over his meanness. Jake sat his blue lunch box with the black ninja pasted on the front down on the table and popped it open. After scanning the inside, he found exactly what he had been searching for. He pulled out the peanut butter sandwich covered in clear wrap and held it out toward her.
"Here, take it," he said.
"No, thank you," she whispered, while moving her face back a little. He winced because he didn't realize he had pushed it so close to her nose.
"Why not?" he said, slightly annoyed at her refusal of his peace-offering.
"Because I'm not supposed to take things from strangers."
He laughed before replying, "But we're not strangers."
"We're not?" Her thin eyebrows pushed together in the middle.
"Nope, we're best friends."
She shook her head and her dark hair moved around her slim shoulders.
"Boys and girls can't be friends," she said softly.
Another hearty laugh from Jake followed.
"Of course they can, silly," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "My mom says my dad is her best friend. After I go to bed, I hear them playing in their room every night. My dad told me that they like to wrestle before they go to sleep."
She giggled and the sound made him so happy that his chest felt funny, like he had a cramp in his heart.
"Okay, I guess we can be friends."
"Good…here," he said and shook the sandwich at her again.
"But what will you eat?"
Just like he was doing a magic trick, Jake used his free hand to reach inside his square blue box and pulled out a second sandwich.
"Ta-da!" he exclaimed.
Then he tried to wiggle his eyebrows the way his dad did when he was saying something funny to his mom, but Jake's expression looked like he was flexing his forehead muscles. His new friend laughed louder and this time it made his stomach feel weird, like there were grasshoppers jumping around in there.
"Okay…thanks," she said and slowly slipped the present from his hands and into hers.
It was taking her a while to unwrap the sandwich, so Jake plopped down next to her on the bench. While he waited for her to finish eating, he ripped the covering off of his own snack and devoured it with three big bites, barely taking a moment to fully chew in between each.
"So what's your name?" he asked while tapping his fingers on the table and sipping from the straw of his juice box.
"Kiara," she said shyly, not really looking at him when she spoke.
He said the name to himself over and over again in his head, so he would never forget it.
Kiara, Kiara, Kiara. Kiara and Jake, best friends forever, he silently promised to himself.
Once the meal was finished, the bond was sealed and a lifetime of special moments was waiting to begin.