Chapter One: New Girl in Town

“Ma, I’m back,” JD said.

“Did you get the vanilla and almond extract?” JD’s mother said.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

"Thank you, dear. Could you help me a little?"

“Sure, what do you need?”

"Grab that basket over there. I want to put the finger sandwiches and biscuits in the middle with that jar of my peach preserves. I need to get the glaze on the poppy seed bread."

 “Ma, when I was coming back from the store, I saw Grandma Sullivan’s car pull up to her house. A woman and a girl got out.”

"That was probably Grandma Sullivan's daughter, Sheila, and granddaughter Kira," JD's mother said. "They recently arrived from New Zealand to help out Grandma Sullivan. I want you to come with me to meet Kira and her mother. Kira will be here all summer, and I want you to be her friend."

Alarm bells went off in JD's brain. This was a full-blown catastrophic nightmare – an entire summer with a girl tagging along! His face scrunched up, and his feet went into automatic stomp-the-ground mode.

JD's experience with girls was nonexistent. Sure, he had met girls – he knew what they were. The Johnson twins up the road were like brothers. They all went fishing, swimming, and exploring together. This past school year, something strange happened to the twins; they got all girly. They wanted to dress up, listen to records, or talk about boys. It was as if some aliens had taken over their bodies.

And something weird happened to JD in the past year. Until then, he saw girls as boys with longer hair and mostly smaller bodies. All except Maria, who was twice his size both in height and width. Maria was his first "fight" in school. It was more of a shoving match than a fight, with Maria doing the shoving and JD doing the falling down.

Now when JD saw a girl, he felt funny inside and out. His speech got erratic and nonsensical when he tried to talk to a girl. His solution was to just avoid all girls. He would hang out with the guys and stay away from the girls. That seemed okay until most of his guy friends caught the same mysterious disease. The guys would stop talking or stop playing a game and start walking after a girl, wanting to speak to her and carry her books. JD was convinced it must be an alien trance or an alien-inspired pandemic. And now, his own mother was putting him in harm's way.

"What? Ah, Ma, do I have to!" JD whined. "All summer?"

 “Yes, all summer!” his mother said. “Her grandmother is ill, and her mother will be busy caring for her. Kira’s come all the way from New Zealand, and she needs a friend. You’re going to be that friend.”

"But Ma, I had plans that did not include some stupid girl!" JD said with a quivering motion. JD knew better than to pitch a fit, so he kept it below that level.

"John David Jayson, what's got into you! Now listen here, mister, you're going to come with me and welcome her and her mother with the same love Jesus gives us. You'll just have to figure out how to include her in some of your plans, ” JD's mother said sternly. "Besides, it won't be every day. She'll have other things to do while she's here. Oh, and just so you know, her mother is a very dear friend of mine, so I expect you to treat them both with respect. "

“Yes, Ma’am.” 

When his mother used his full name, it was time for JD to slowly back away and head to his room. JD knew that if he stayed much longer, he would have to listen to a very long bible lesson about how we needed to be more like Jesus and love our brethren. Then his mother launched a final salvo, "Now, get washed up and put on a nice clean shirt."

For JD, putting on a clean shirt, washing up, and combing his hair were activities about on par with taking out the trash or cleaning manure out of the barn. It was something that had to be done, but you wished someone else had to do it. But there was a good reason to get cleaned up right now - it was a surefire way to get his mother back on loving terms rather than judging terms. And it would give him some time to devise a scheme to get out of being the chaperone for a girl the entire summer.  

"Okay, ma. I'm ready," JD said.  

“Well, you look really nice, JD,” his mother said. “Come give your mother a hug and a kiss.”

JD smiled and thought to himself, Works every time!

“Can I drive to the Sullivan’s? It’s only three miles! Please!”

"No, I told you before, you must enroll in driver's ED. When you get your learner's permit, we'll see. Until then, you can get some practice using the tractor. That back pasture needs some work.”

JD just responded with the sad, hurt, puppy look that sometimes would soften his mother enough for the second salvo of please, pretty please. But his mother was not buying it this time.

JD's mother looked into JD's eyes with one of those, I'm sorry, I must be the mother now looks. "Don't give me that puppy dog frown. This is not open for discussion. Now, please help me with these dishes. Put the basket on the floorboard so it doesn't flip over. And get into the car, please!"

JD was out of options. The only recourse right now was to do as his mom had asked, actually commanded. But he did not want to keep things on edge, so he thought engaging conversation would help tone things down.

 "Where's New Zealand?" JD asked as he got into the car.

“It’s a long way from here…on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. You can look it up later in the encyclopedia, ” his mother said. "Now, when we get to the Sullivan's, I want you to be on your best behavior. Remember, Grandma Sullivan is not well. She doesn't need any commotion."

“Yeah, okay,” JD mumbled.

The engaging conversation idea was a complete failure. JD was definitely on thin ice.

It only took a few minutes to get to the Sullivan's house. Grandma Sullivan's daughter, Sheila, was outside by the driveway when JD and his mother arrived. JD's mother nearly leaped out of the car before it stopped when she saw Sheila standing in the driveway. Sheila hurried over and put her arms around JD's mom in an endearing embrace. JD's mom pulled back slightly and looked into Sheila's eyes. JD could see tears slide down his mother's face. She wasn't crying, but she wasn't laughing either. The two stood there, just smiling and staring at each other.

“It’s been too long!” said his mother. “And no word from you for so long!”

“I know,” Sheila said. “I started to write so many times.”

“We’ll talk about that later,” JD’s mother said. “How’s your mom? Is she up for visitors?”

"She's okay right now; she's taking a nap. We have an appointment with the doctor on Monday." Sheila said, "Thank you for helping her until I got here. I would have come over earlier, but I had so much to do to get Kira sorted out."

"I understand; you just worry about your mother," JD's mother said. "We won't stay too long. Just wanted to come to say hi and have JD meet Kira. JD, this is my dear friend, Sheila."

JD weakly waved, “Hi.”

“JD! Is that how I taught you to greet someone?”

JD knew how to properly greet someone, but greeting an adult female made him even more self-conscious than the girl version. He did as his mother requested. He walked up to Sheila, wiped his right hand on his jeans, and reached out his hand, "Pleased to meet you, Ma'am."

Sheila turned toward JD. Smiling, she held out her hand. “Hi JD! Kira is looking forward to meeting you.”

Sheila turned back to JD’s mother and whispered, “Splitting image of his father.”

“I know! Sometimes it’s scary,” JD’s mother said. “JD, would you please bring the basket in with you?”

JD stood there trying to understand what was happening between his mother and Sheila. He watched as Sheila and his mother walked arm and arm toward the house.

Still standing by the car with the basket in hand, he shouted, "I've seen her – seen Kira already."

Sheila and his mother entered the house, and JD mumbled, "Saw her this morning…coming back from the store. Don't need to see her again."

 “JD! You coming?” his mother called out from the doorway.

 This was not a question but rather a shrouded command and warning to not make her come out there to repeat the command.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm comin'," JD muttered.

JD walked to the front door and wiped off his shoes on the doormat. He slowly opened the screen door and peeked inside to scan the room. The only people he saw inside were his mother and Sheila. A smile grew on his face, and a calm came over his entire body. Maybe Kira was asleep or, hopefully, just vanished – taken back to the alien mothership.

"Have a seat, JD," Sheila said. "Kira went to get us some iced tea."

JD looked around and chose the bench near the door as his best option. It would be far enough from the primary influence of Kira and close enough to the door for a quick escape.

"JD, please bring me the basket, and come sit next to me on the couch," JD's mother said.

"Do I have to? I am fine here," JD said, hoping that was the end of that request.

“What’s the matter with you? Come here…sit next to me,” his mother said.

"He's a little shy around girls," JD's mother said softly to Sheila.

It was apparent from the red blush on JD's face that he had heard what his mother said about being shy around girls. It was true, but not something any boy would ever confess to being.

"No, I'm not!" JD said as he plopped down on the far end of the couch. JD handed the basket to his mother and sat there with a disgruntled face and his feet busily moving back and forth, trying to find a comfortable place to hide his embarrassment. 

“Here are some goodies for today and later,” JD’s mother said.

"Thank you so much," Sheila said.

“JD, you have nothing to worry about. Kira is more boy than girl. I wish it was the other way, but it’s not,” Sheila said.

The fact there were two adult females now attempting to soothe away his inability to connect with girls just made it so much worse. If he had the superpower to vanish, he would have disappeared instantly. He thought - Didn't anyone understand how absolutely life-threatening this was? At any moment, he could collapse from a coronary occlusion caused by the acute embarrassment. It couldn’t get any worse, could it? Then it did.

Kira walked slowly into the room, face down, staring intensely at a tray with a pitcher and four glasses of iced tea. She walked like she expected she would trip, and the tray would fly into the air. JD stared at her intently, hoping precisely that would happen. That glorious event would move the focus of embarrassment to someone else in the room.

JD focused his eyes on the tray, and it seemed to him his wish might come true. He could hear the ice cubes rattling about in the glasses and ice tea splashed back and forth in the pitcher, almost spilling over the top. The tray was vibrating. JD moved as far back into the couch as he could. This was it! He was convinced that Kira was losing control of the tray, and it was about to crash into the center of the coffee table.

But Kira carefully put the tray down, sighed, and slowly stood up. JD's focus now moved up from the tray to Kira's face.

“Crikey, that was full on!" said Kira, still staring at the tray.

JD did not focus on Kira's words or her surprise at being able to deliver a tray full of glasses filled to the top with iced tea. He focused on Kira's face and mostly on her eyes. Her steel blue eyes sparkled like diamonds. Her hair was copper red with golden highlights. She had it pulled back in a ponytail but with bangs cut just above her eyebrows. JD wondered if any creature could look so beautiful.

“Kira, this is JD. JD, this is Kira, my daughter. Please excuse her for her less than lady-like language,” Sheila said.

Nothing happened. No one moved. JD was still staring at Kira's face. – he was star-struck.

“Well, JD, aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” his mother urged.

 JD's mind was so absorbed in his star gazing that it shut down his hearing.

"JD! Where are your manners!" his mother said in a noticeably louder and intense tone.

There's nothing like your mother's shrill, commanding voice to break any trance-like state. JD had yet to regain complete control of his body. JD slowly got up from the couch, using his right hand to steady himself. His eyes and attention were still focused on Kira's eyes. He stuck out his hand to introduce himself, but Kira moved towards him. She reached out with both hands to JD's shoulders. Her eyes, already glistening, seemed to beam that gleaming light towards JD. With a bright, welcoming smile, she lowered her head to touch JD's forehead and said, "Kia Ora, JD!"

Well, that did it. Whatever emerging manhood in JD that might have given his legs the ability to stand like a man suddenly vanished. JD collapsed backward, nearly crashing over the arm of the couch and into the end table.

“What was that?” JD thought – only he thought it out loud.

“That’s a Kiwi greeting. What ja think eeet was?" Kira said with a giggle as she reached down and offered JD a hand.

"Oh, yeah…I knew that!" JD said, thinking it was closer to an attempt to kiss him. He didn't know what that was nor what a Kiwi was.

“Come here,” Kira said. “Come close and touch your forehead and nose to mine. Don’t worry, I won’t bite you.”

With some trepidation, JD did as Kira instructed. JD's forehead and nose touched Kira's, and something strange happened. JD felt something like an electric current flowing between the two of them. It wasn't a static shock. This feeling was soothing and peaceful, like breathing in and out slowly. JD's jitters and anxiety, which he usually felt when he was this close to a girl, faded away. JD looked up and smiled, looking at Kira smiling back at him.

“Kia ora, JD,” Kira said.

“Kia ora, Kira,” JD replied.

“How do you greet people in Texas?” Kira said.

“Uhm…depends, if it’s a grownup – then I’m supposed to shake their hand and say – ‘Please to meet you!’ or “How do you do!” JD said with a slight but noticeable glance towards his mother for approval. “But if it’s some new kid or one of my friends, I just wave and say ‘hi’ or ‘howdy’ to them.”

Kira raised her hand in a waving motion and said, "Howdy!"

JD smiled, laughed a little, and said, "Howdy!"

"Mum, is it alright if JD comes and helps me with the bike?" Kira said to her mother.

“Sure, if it’s okay with JD and his mother,” her mother said. “Susan, is it okay with you?”

“Well, I wasn’t planning to stay very long. I’m sure your mother needs her rest,” JD’s mother replied.

“Oh, please stay,” Sheila said. “Nanna’s taking a nap. We can have some tea.”

"Oh, alright," JD's mother said. "It would be nice to get caught up some."

"Come on, JD, I need your help," Kira said as she grabbed JD's hand and pulled him through the kitchen, out the backdoor, and into the garage.

JD had little time to think about an answer, much less reply, but he blurted out, "Uhmm…sure, okay!"

There in the garage was another surprise – JD's bike! Well, the girl's version: 3-speed, handlebar brakes, rack on the back, and accessory mount on the front.

"My mum got it used in town 'cause she knew I’d need a bike,” Kira said. “It’d cost too much to ship mine here and back again. Do you know much about bikes?”

Did JD know much about bikes? JD had completely disassembled his bicycle and put it back together several times. He loved to take things apart to see how they worked – nothing assembled was safe alone in the same room with JD. 

“Yeah, enough, I guess,” JD said. “What’s it need?”

"New tires and tubes, for sure," Kira said. "My mum got some – here they are."

"Okay, we'll put them on. First, let's check it over," JD said.

JD checked the wheels, brake levers, pads, spokes, gears, and chain. "We gotta tighten the brake cables and the chain, and some spokes are loose."

“So, we’ll do the tires first?” Kira said.

"Yeah, right," JD said with growing amazement that this girl actually knew how to work on a bike. His amazement maxed out.

Kira put the gears in the smallest chain ring, disengaged the brakes, flipped the bike over, and got a socket wrench out of a toolbox. She had the front wheel off while JD looked on with his jaw dropped and mouth open.

“You wanna do the rear wheel?” Kira said.

“Uhmm, yeah…sure," JD said, still shocked at how much Kira knew about bikes.

“Okie dokie, here, catch,” Kira said as she tossed the wrench to JD.

Usually, by now, being in the presence of a girl for this long a time would have put JD in a chaos of anxiety, but not with Kira. He was rock solid, calm, and more assured of himself. JD grabbed the wrench out of the air and freed the rear wheel from the frame and chain.

“Got any tire levers,” JD said. “…And a spoke wrench?”

“Yeah, gimme a sec…” Kira said as she went searching through the toolbox. “Yep…here, catch!

“Hey, d’ya fancy a race?” Kira said.

"You mean, who can finish installing their tire and tube first?" JD said. "Sure, what's the prize?"

"How about the winner buys spiders at the milk bar?" Kira said.

“Buy the ‘what?’ at the ‘what?’” JD said.

“Oh, right! I forgot you don’t know what that is...a spider is ice cream with Coke.”

"You mean a Coke float at the soda fountain," JD said. "Deal! The first one to finish installing their tire with the tube properly inflated buys the Coke floats tomorrow. Okay, Ready – set – go!"

This was going to be breezy easy, JD thought. He glanced over at Kira; she had already deflated the old tube and removed the retaining nut from the stem. He had to speed up! He knew a trick that might knock off a couple seconds – by removing the tire without using a tire lever. Soon, he had the old tire off and was putting the new one on – now he just had to slip the new tube in, put the retaining nut back on the stem, and add the air. Moments later…

“DONE!” JD yelled with his hands in the air.

“ME TOO!” Kira yelled a second later.

Kira looked over and inspected JD’s work.

“Nice work!” Kira said. “How did you do it so fast?”

"I learned how to roll the old tire off without using a tire lever," JD grinned.

"Good on you!" Kira said with a smile and a slap on JD's shoulder. "Well, let's work on the rest of it."

Working together as a team, the two had both wheels back on, adjusted the chain, and tightened the spokes and the brake cables. They sat back and looked at each other with a satisfying smile.

“We did good, eh?” Kira said. “Thanks so much for the help.”

“Yeah, no problem,” JD said. “It was actually fun.”

JD was happy to be with a girl for the first time in nearly a year. This is going to be a great summer, JD thought. Then, JD's mother walked into the garage.

“JD, you ready? We need to go.”

"Yes, Mom," JD said. "We just finished."

Sheila walked in behind JD’s mother and said, “JD, would you mind showing Kira where the college library is in the morning? Your mom said it was okay.”

“Sure, no problem,” JD said.

JD turned to Kira. “Why do you need to go to the library?”

“Stupid school work…” Kira groaned.

"Kira has to continue her coursework through the summer, or she'll get behind," Sheila said.

“You go to school during the summer?” JD said to Kira.

"No, well, sorta," Kira said. "New Zealand is down under, so our winter is your summer, and your winter is our summer. Our second term began the first of May."

"Kira's school agreed to let her come if she agreed to continue her coursework here," Sheila said. "The librarian will monitor her progress, give her the tests, and mail the results back to her school."

JD’s heart sank down to his knees. He had already started thinking of the cool things he and Kira could do this summer. This had to be another alien plot to destroy his happiness.

“Bummer!” JD groaned. “I was hoping to show Kira some cool things.”

"No worries," Kira said with a grin. "I'm only going to be at the library a few hours in the morning and only Mondays and Tuesdays. I got a bunch of stuff done already before I came. We'll have plenty of time to go and explore!"

"Cool!" JD said, trying to contain his excitement so Kira didn't think he was a freak.

As Kira and JD headed out of the garage, JD's mother and Sheila gave each other a wink and a smile. This may not be an alien plan but a mother-to-mother plan. Either way, JD was happy and excited about tomorrow.