Chapter Two: Becoming Friends

"Ma, I am going over to Kira's," JD yelled from the back porch.

"Did you do all your chores," JD's mother shouted. "What about your cow?"

"Yes, Ma'am!" JD said, heading into the kitchen.

“Come here and give me a hug.”

His mother took one look at JD and did not like what she saw. “JD, you go and wash up. And put on a clean shirt. That one looks like your cow slept on it, and it smells like dried milk.”

JD hurried up the stairs to his room to get ready. He wanted to arrive on time. All he thought about last night and this morning was how much fun he had with Kira fixing up her bike. This was like a dream come true. Finally, a girl who acted like girls should – none of that girly stuff like all the other girls his age. He didn't even mind cleaning up and wearing a clean shirt. He even brushed his teeth and combed his hair with a part on the side. He hurried back downstairs to get his mom's seal of approval.

"Okay, Mom," JD said. "I'm ready to go!"

"Well, now, you look so handsome," JD's mother said. "You have fun! Be careful riding your bikes into town. Some of these high school and college kids drive like maniacs. And be back here before four. We're having Kira, her mother, and Grandma Sullivan over for dinner.

"Yes, Ma'am, I will," JD said, rushing out the back porch and hopping on his bike. JD had mastered that "slide on the bike without stopping move." It's a tricky move, but if it is done right, you can get going without even stopping to put the kickstand up.

JD nearly made it in the same amount of time it took to drive the car to the Sullivan’s house. When he got to the front porch, he did one of those – slide off the bike while laying it down dismounts. At the front door, he rang the bell and knocked simultaneously.

Kira's mother answered the door and smiled. "Good morning, JD."

"Good morning, Mrs. Sheila, is…" JD said, stopping in mid-sentence after realizing his embarrassing mistake. "Uhmm, I mean. Good morning, Ma'am. Is Kira ready?"

“Yes, she is,” Kira’s mother said. “She’s out in the garage getting her bike.”

JD was already at the garage door when Kira's mother finished her sentence. When he spotted Kira getting her bike, he suddenly got anxious again. He wondered if Kira had succumbed to the alien influence and become girly. Or maybe Kira would not be excited to see him. In a few seconds, dozens of negative thoughts zoomed through his mind. Kira turned and saw JD.

Kira's eyes brightened up, and she smiled. "G’day, JD. Did ya have a good sleep?"

"Uhmm, yeah, I did," JD said, not knowing what he should say now.

“Sweet as,” Kira said. “Let’s get going,”

“Kira, here’s the packet,” Kira’s mother said. “Be sure to ask for Mrs. Wilson. She’s English and will help translate should you get in a bind.”

“No worries, Mum. You taught me enough American to get by,” Kira said.

"Okay, smarty! You two be back here by four. We're going to JD's house for dinner."

"Choice! Bye, Mum!"

"Bye, Mrs. Sullivan!"

“Lead the way, JD!” Kira said.

It was over three miles to the college campus, going the back way through the park. It was a shorter route but tougher to ride due to the hills and turns. JD chose this route to show Kira the park along the river. He already had been plotting an extraordinary adventure, and he wanted to see if Kira liked the outdoors as much as he did.

“How’re you on hills?” JD said. “I want to show you something on the way.”

“No worries,” Kira said. “Where’re we headed?”

"About a mile down this road, we'll turn left at Park RD. I'll try not to go too fast for you," JD said as he zoomed past Kira.

“Hey, wait up!” Kira yelled out as JD zoomed ahead.

When Kira got to Park RD (nearly fifteen seconds behind JD), JD was waiting, straddling his bike and looking back over his shoulder.

“No fair, you got the jump on me,” Kira said.

“Sorry, we’ll do a proper 1-2-3 start this time,” JD said. “This next part is really hilly; I hope you can keep up.”

Kira was not used to losing and did not take to being egged on with trash talk.

“Ha, we have plenty of hills in New Zealand!” Kira said.

"Okay, after this first hill, it's mostly downhill to the river," JD said. "We'll stop at the bridge."

“Aye, aye, sir!” Kira said.

“Alright, ready?” JD said.

"Ready, Freddy!" Kira said.

“1-2-3 Go!” JD yelled as he took off as fast as he could up the hill.

"The last one at the bridge is a rotten egg!" JD yelled out over his shoulder.

Given a fair chance, JD was fast on a bike, but so was Kira. Although JD was able to get a head start this time, Kira soon caught up. Going up a steep hill, even a small one like this one, was still challenging. You had to have the leg-strength and a bike with a chain that would not slip. JD arrived at the top of the hill with Kira right behind him.

Going downhill was a different challenge, especially with the sharp turns and limited visibility. It was risky, but what teenager thinks about risk during a race, especially a boy–girl race?

Most girls at that time were taught to be ladylike and not to get into challenges of athletic skill with boys. Mothers taught their young daughters to be diplomatic and let the boy think he won. No boy wants a girl who makes a boy look like a weakling. Girls should make the boys feel and look like they are their champions. – their mothers would warn them. Well, Kira apparently missed out on those motherly lessons. Kira wanted to win – she did not like to lose. JD had one crucial advantage – he knew this road well and could anticipate the turns. But this time, it was not enough. It was a close finish, with Kira reaching the bridge just ahead of JD. JD thought – this girl has what it takes to go on the quest.

"Come on Sunday, driver. Rattle your dags!" Kira said with a chuckle and a grin.

“What?” JD said.

"It means hurry up, slowpoke!" Kira laughed.

"Yeah, okay, you won fair and square," JD said.

“Hey, we say that too,” Kira smiled.

“Cool!” JD said with a smile. “Maybe you’ll teach me some Kiwi speak.”

“Maybe…” Kira said. “Come on, lead on!”

“How did you get so good?” JD asked with some heavy breathing.

“Some of us back home race for the fun of it. We have an off-road route we use. I’m the only girl allowed to race,” Kira said while looking around at the beautiful scenery in the park and along the river. “JD, this park is wonderful – a small dam with a waterfall. Huge, lovely trees. What are those round stoned areas?"

“I was hoping you’d like it,” JD said. “Those stoned areas are springs. I thought after you’re through at the library, we could come here for a picnic lunch.”

Kira smiled, “JD, Is this a date? Are you asking me out on a date?”

"Uhmm, what? No, no!" JD anxiously thought he had now ruined it. "Just a picnic lunch. My mom said to be your friend."

"Oh, I see," Kira said, teasing. "So, you don't think I am worthy of a date? I'm not pretty enough for you, eh?"

JD's hands slid back and forth across the handlebars. JD stared straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with Kira. Now JD was totally unraveling into a chaotic confusion of thoughts racing through his brain - what have I done, what do I do now, what? What? Like some robot given a command that conflicts with its prime robot law, JD was headed for overload.

“Relax, JD, I’m just messing with ya,” Kira chuckled. “I’d loved to come back here and have a picnic lunch.”

"Huh, okay, ah, yeah, I knew you were," JD blurted out with his brain still trying to find the anxiety off-button. "Great, okay, well, uh, that's super!"

JD mused about Kira's differences as they rode to the college library. Kira was more mature than any girl he knew. She was cute and pretty, but not beautiful in a beauty model sort of way. Kira smiled with her eyes more than her mouth. Kira was open and friendly enough, but it seemed she was hiding some of her emotions. At times, JD felt like she was a sister, but back at the bridge, she elicited the same anxiety he felt around other girls.

“You’re sure quiet,” Kira said. “Is it what I said back at the bridge?”

"No, I was just thinking about stuff," JD said.

“What stuff?”

"Nothing, okay?" JD said with a shrug. "The library is just down this block."

Kira decided to let it drop for now. She didn't want to push it too far and potentially ruin the rest of the summer. After all, she was the visitor, and JD, at the moment, was the only other kid she knew here. But it wasn't like Kira to let anything drop.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Kira said.

“For what?”

“For teasing you back there. I guess it upset you.”

JD knew better than to let someone know they had gotten to you. That was giving them the green light to continue. Never show any sign of weakness. That was the first rule of playground law he learned in fifth grade. Being one of the smartest kids in school and president of the science club already put him on the "prime target list" of the school bullies.

“Didn’t bother me none.” JD said, “Here’s the library. Let’s go find Mrs. Wilson.”

They both parked their bikes. Kira grabbed the packet and silently walked alongside JD, looking around the college campus. She had never been to a college, not even in New Zealand.

“Wow, this is a big college,” Kira said.

“It’s a private school, but not as big as the one in Austin,” JD said. “That’s where I want to go.”

“Oh yeah? What’d you want to study?”

"Not sure, probably something in science or engineering," JD said.

“Oh yeah?”

Kira was about to ask if JD was a science nerd, but decided that might push JD right over the edge. This time she just kept it to herself.

JD opened the library door and spotted Mrs. Wilson at the circulation desk. “There’s Mrs. Wilson, come on.”

At the circulation desk, JD said, "Mrs. Wilson, this is Kira. She's supposed to see you."

"Hello, JD!" Mrs. Wilson said. "And hello, Miss Kira - or should I say - Kia Ora Kira. Your mother said you would be coming. Do you have the packet?"

"Kia Ora, um, I mean – pleased to meet you, Mrs. Wilson," Kira said. "Yes, Ma'am, here is the packet."

"Good, first come into my office," Mrs. Wilson said. "We'll go over the schedule and how this will work. Then I'll show you the table I have reserved for you over in the corner by the window. There should be plenty of light and very few distractions."

"Mrs. Wilson, is it okay if I check on something in the reference section?" JD said.

“Sure, JD. Just be sure to put things back where they belong,” Mrs. Wilson said. “I don’t have anyone helping me today.”

JD headed to the reference section to see what he could find about New Zealand. He never liked being uninformed. JD spent most of the next two hours reading about the history and geography of New Zealand, including the Māori people.

When Kira finished her school work, she looked for JD and found him in the reference section, reading and taking notes.

"Hey, JD," Kira said. "I'm ready to go. Whatcha doing?"

“Just reading about some stuff,” JD said while quickly trying to close and cover up the reference books about New Zealand.

 "Ah…are you a bookworm?" Kira said, smiling as she caught a glimpse of the title of one book.

“Naah, I was just passing the time,” JD said. “So, you ready to buy me that Coke float?”

“Yeah, that’s right, I owe you one,” Kira said. “So, where do we go?”

“There’s a drugstore across the street,” JD said. “They have a soda fountain.”

“Sweet as, let’s go!”

Kira was carrying a couple books and a notebook. JD wanted to ask her if she needed help but decided against it. Yet as if some inner force took over, he blurted out, “What’d you have there?”

"Oh, just some books I need to read for the schoolwork," Kira said.

With a girly smile, Kira turned slightly toward JD and said, "You want to carry my books for me?"

"What? Naah…" JD said nervously with that same "girl anxiety." "You can just tie them to the back rack on your bike. We can leave the bikes here; no one will bother them."

“You’re too easy!” Kira laughed. “I was just teasing you.”

JD just looked bewildered and not able to come up with any response. Kira grabbed his arm and pulled him along.

“Come on, let’s get that Coke float,” Kira said.

As they walked along to the drugstore, JD was quiet and withdrawn. Once again, this was that dangerous "girly" territory he feared entering. 

Kira nudged JD and said, "Hey, you know that if a girl teases you, it means she likes you."

JD didn't answer; he didn't know how to respond. Yet, somehow, somewhere deep beyond that wall of fear and anxiety, a new thought – a new feeling took hold and grew. It felt good that Kira liked him. It was good that Kira cared about his feelings. It was okay, perhaps even better, that Kira was a girl.

"So, do you still want to get something and have a picnic lunch by the park?" JD said.

"Sure, I'd like that," Kira said.

“Great!” JD smiled.

JD liked the possibility of this "girl" thing, but then probably the worst thing that could happen happened. Right at the corner by the drugstore was Billy, one of the school bullies. JD prayed and hoped that Billy would just walk around the corner before he was seen. No such luck; Billy turned and saw JD coming across the street.

“Hey, nerd!” Billy shouted. “It’s your lucky day. You’re going to buy me a soda, and I’m not going to whoop your ass!”

JD stood there thinking - What is it about bullies that they cannot pass up any opportunity to make fun of and belittle others?

 JD would have just handed over the five cents to Billy for the soda any other day. But not today, not with Kira there. It was never about being physically hurt by Billy – well, maybe a little about that. JD was not physically weak, but emotionally, he was. For JD, the fear was more about the confrontation, the self-doubt, and the humiliation. But being humiliated in front of Kira was much worse than getting beat up. So today, JD’s reaction was different.

“Hey Billy,” JD said. “Yeah, I’m not buying you a soda.”

"What did you say, twirp?" Billy said, walking closer to JD.

"I'm not buying you a soda today or any day," JD said, walking closer to Billy.

"Listen, you little piss-ant," Billy said with a fist up. "You're going to buy me that soda, or I'm going to beat the crap out of you right here."

Something inside JD came alive. It was similar to the feeling of assurance he felt yesterday while helping Kira with her bike. JD still felt fear, but countering that fear was self-confidence.

"Piss off!" JD said. "Come on, Kira, let's go."

At first, Billy stood there stunned by JD's rebuff, then he grabbed Kira's arm as they walked past him. "Maybe your redheaded girlfriend will buy me a soda."

JD jumped between Kira and Billy, shouting, "Leave her alone!"

Billy turned, swinging wildly at JD. JD stumbled back to avoid the swing, losing his balance and falling to the ground. As Billy was about to kick JD, Kira leaned forward and poked him in the back of the neck at the shoulder blade with one finger. Billy suddenly stopped and slowly slumped down to the ground. All JD saw was Billy dropping to the ground in slow motion. There was Billy, sitting on his knees with his head down like he was taking a nap.

"What the hell just happened?" JD said, staring at the slumped Billy on the ground.

“I think he needed a timeout,” Kira said with a sly grin. “Come on, help me get him up.”

JD stooped down and shook Billy. “Billy, Billy! Wake up!”

Groggy and disoriented, Billy said. "What? Where am I? What happened?"

JD and Kira helped Billy to his feet. Billy stood there looking puzzled and a bit wobbly.

“You sat down and fell asleep!” JD said. “You, okay?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Billy said. “I’m exhausted. I gotta go home.”

“You need help getting home?” JD said.

"Naah, thanks…it's just around the corner," Billy said, walking around the corner.

JD and Kira followed him and watched as he walked to his house. "Wow! That was weird!" JD said. "I wonder if he's okay?"

“He looks fine,” Kira said. “A good nap will probably help him. Come on, I still owe you a Coke float.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right! You do!” JD said. “Hmm… We’ll have to have them here – we can’t get them to go. I guess we’ll have to do the picnic another time?”

"Sure, we've got all summer," Kira said while looking back to ensure Billy entered his house.

"Better idea!" JD said. "We'll do the Coke floats tomorrow. We can get bottled sodas and sandwiches for a picnic lunch today."

"Okay, that should work!" Kira said.

One of the tricks each kid learns on a bike is holding a soda bottle and a sack lunch in one hand while holding the handlebar with the other hand. Somehow, this ability to balance a bicycle while carrying objects comes pre-encoded into every kid. With lunches in hand, Kira and JD arrived at the park without incident. 

“This is great,” Kira said. “I love the trees along the shore and the sound of water flowing over that small dam.”

“Come on,” JD said. “I know a good spot.”

JD led Kira to a picnic table under a large pecan tree right along the river's edge. Kira sat at the table facing the river, and JD sat beside her.

"The breeze feels so good on my face," Kira said, holding her head up with her eyes closed.

“Yeah, this is one of my favorite spots,” JD said.

“I see why,” Kira said. “Hey, you got something to open the soda bottles?”

“I sure do!” JD said. “I have a bottle opener on my pocket knife.”

“Well, aren’t you the boy scout!” Kira said.

“Ha, who me? I never was even a cub scout,” JD said. “So, that was strange about Billy today. Kinda freaks me out.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Kira said. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“I’m sorry it happened,” JD said. “My friends are not like that. Billy’s just a mean bully. No one likes him.”

“No worries,” Kira said. “You handled it well. Billy probably has some inner demons.”

“Yeah, whatever,” JD said. “I didn’t like how he treated you.”

"Don't worry; I can take care of myself," Kira said. "Hey, when we're finished eating, let's check out those springs."

“Sure,” JD said.

The two sat there eating lunch and enjoying the fresh air and scenery.

"I love this," Kira said. "It's so peaceful. You can hear the fish jumping, the bees buzzing, and butterflies visiting the flowers. So much life energy here."

“Yeah, this is one of my favorite spots,” JD said.

“One of?” Kira said. “If the others are anything like this, I can’t wait to see them.” 

“Are you finished?” JD said.

“Yeah, all done!” Kira said.

“Okay, let’s clear the table. There’s a trash can over there.”

“So, you a clean freak?” Kira teased with a smile.

JD looked startled and embarrassed. Kids never like being told they were anything that their parents wanted them to be.

"Hey, relax!" Kira said, trying to ease the tension. "I think it is a good thing! Especially keeping our garbage out of nature."

"Okay, I guess," JD said. "It's just the way I was taught. Come on, I think you'll like the springs. They've been used for thousands of years."

JD led the way to the round-stoned area close to the picnic table. Springs dotted the entire region due to the nature of the geology. It was well known throughout the county that these springs were used by Native American Indians for thousands of years.

At the springs, Kira looked down at the clear water bubbling up from the ground. "Wow, the water is so clear! Is it safe to drink?"

"I wouldn't," JD said. "I took a sample from the pool's edge and looked at it using my microscope at home. I saw several amoebas and paramecium."

"Yeah?" Kira said. "You mean one-cell critters? How cool is that!"

Well, this was a first for JD. A girl who not only didn't laugh at the fact he had a microscope but was also interested in what he found using it.

"Yeah, but there are other critters here, too," JD said. "Come down here along the stream. Look, do you see the minnows and tadpoles?"

“Wow, yeah, I see’em,” Kira said. “There are hundreds of them.”

JD got a stick and lightly tapped the tall grass along the bank of the stream coming out of the spring-fed pool. Out jumped lots of tiny frogs.

“See the frogs!” JD said. “And wait, I’ll turn over a couple of these rocks. There! See it!”

“What? Where?” Kira said.

A crawdad was there scurrying for cover with its tail, stirring up the water. 

“Koura!” Kira said. “We have those in New Zealand too!”

“Here, we call them crawdads,” JD said.

“Māori call them koura,” Kira said. “But the pakeha kiwis call them crayfish.”

“I read about the Māori,” JD said. “What is pakeha?”

“Pakeha is the Māori word for New Zealanders who are not Māori,” Kira said.

“So, I guess I’m Pakeha?” JD said.

"No, silly, you're an American," Kira said. "You would have to live in New Zealand to be considered pakeha. If you came to visit New Zealand, you would be a tauiwi or foreigner."

“Hmmm…interesting,” JD said. “I’d like to know more about New Zealand.”

"I'll make you a deal," Kira said. "This summer, we explore where you live, and I'll tell you more about New Zealand."

“Deal!” JD said. “I know some neat places, but not sure you’d be interested in all of them.”

“Try me,” Kira said. “I pretty much like anything outdoors.”

JD tried not to get too excited, but he gave up a little with a smile. “Cool!”

“We best head back,” Kira said. “I have some homework to do for tomorrow and some chores, before we come to visit.”

"Yeah, I have some chores, too," JD said.

“Hey, I had such a fun time today,” Kira said.

"Me too," JD said, blushing a little.

There was no racing going back, just two friends riding their bikes home. JD's mind was still trying to process all that had happened today – this morning, going to the library, the incident with Billy, and the picnic lunch with Kira. Kira was definitely not like the other girls he knew. He felt different around her than he did with anyone else. When JD faced Billy, JD felt confident and more assertive. Sure, Kira did produce some of that same anxiety he felt around other girls, but it was not the same – he was not afraid to be himself around Kira.

"Well, you're home," JD said, straddling his bike. "I guess I'll see ya later?"

“Yeah, see ya later,” Kira said. “And thanks again for the fun time today.”

"Sure, no problem," JD said as he rode away. "I had fun, too!"