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Kayla Rose Daniels moved into the house across the street from me when the summer I was seven. I still remember the smell of cardboard boxes and the removal truck parked outside my front door. My mother made brownies for the family, and I went along with her to welcome them.

It was Jason Daniels, Kayla’s brother, who opened the door. “Welcome to the neighbourhood!” my mother exclaimed before Jason could utter a sound. She did that often, and that was why a lot of mom’s didn’t stand next to her in the playground. But she wasn’t alone, because I held her hand.

“Mom!” Jason yelled, turning his back to us. I remember my mother complained about his poor manners later that evening. But she was still smiling, holding the brownies excitedly.

“Mom’s out, you dimbo,” I heard a girl say. And then she came to the door. That was the moment I saw Kayla Rose Daniels for the first time. There were dirt marks on her face and her pigtails were out of place. Her bangs were too long, and so the fell over her eyes. She was wearing this old yellow T-Shirt slightly too small for her, which said “Harpers Kindergarten,” and those denim shorts that all the girls used to wear. She had the pink converse that my sister’s had been raving about for the past three months. Even back then, it was obvious that Kayla Rose Daniels was cool.

“Hello sweetie, I made some brownies for your family. Welcome to the neighbourhood,” my mother smiled, leaning to Kayla’s height. She held out the brownies; however Kayla did not take them.

“Do they have nuts in them?” she asked, suspiciously eyeing the tray.

“I put hazelnuts in them, why?”

“My Dad is allergic. I’m really sorry, but I can’t take these into the house,” she said, pushing the brownies away. “Who are you?” she asked with her hands on her hips, looking at me. I was shy, and hid behind my mother’s leg.

“Don’t be rude, darling,” my mother told me, gently pushing me forward. “This is Evan Carter,” she said to Kayla.

“My name is Kayla Rose Daniels,” she thrust her hand forward, and I was obliged to shake it. “How old are you?” she asked.

“I am seven years old,” I told her, standing in front of my mother.

“Me too! It was my birthday last Wednesday,” Kayla Rose Daniels replied excitedly, “I got a bike.”

“Well would you look at that!” my mother exclaimed in surprise, “Last Wednesday was Evan’s birthday as well!”

Kayla looked confused for a moment, but then, understanding, she asked, “So we have the same birthday?”

I was about to open my mouth, but my mother got there first. “Yes, you both were born on the very same day,” she laughed. I love my mother, I do, but at that moment in time I really wanted her to stop talking.

“I still have some birthday cake left. Evan, would you like to come and try some? I’m afraid it hasn’t got nuts,” Kayla offered. Her vocabulary was always impressive, even when she was seven. There was an air of superiority about her, and that both scared and intrigued me. Nodding, I followed her into the house.

My mother, slightly bitter at not being asked in, stood in the doorway, still smiling. “Be back for dinner,” she waved goodbye to me, and headed across the road. It was the first time I’d ever been in the house of someone I didn’t know. It was interesting. There were still a lot of boxes around, but the furniture I could see fascinated me. In the corner near the fire, was a hammock. And there were stacks of books where the television should have been. In the middle of the living room, there was a rug that looked like nothing I’d seen before, with all these weirdly patterned bean bags around the room. It was the coolest room I had ever been into. But Kayla Rose Daniels didn’t seem to notice.

“I’ll have to get my brother to cut the cake for us, since I am not tall enough to reach the knife. He’s not a very nice boy, but don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” she said, grabbing my sweaty hand and leading me into the kitchen. Jason Daniels was sitting on the floor, playing with an airplane, when we walked in.

“Dimbo, can you cut the cake for us?” Kayla asked sweetly. She let go of my hand and walked over to him. She was smiling sweetly, spinning on the spot as she awaited an answer.

Grudgingly, Jason rose from the floor and sliced the cake, and then handed each of us a plate. He didn’t say a word. We wondered back into the living room and sat in the hammock. This was extremely exciting for me, since my mother didn’t let me bring food into the living room. Also, I don’t have a hammock.

We stuffed ourselves senseless, and then lay at opposite ends of the hammock and swung. It was a hot summer’s day in Arizona, and the air-conditioned house was cooling. She talked for ages, and I just listened. Her voice was like a soft melody, chiming in my ears. I smiled at the ceiling. Suddenly, she sat up.

“Do you want to see something special?” she asked me suddenly.

“Okay,” I replied. She threw herself off the hammock, landing directly onto a beanbag. I was worried she was hurt for a moment, but then she burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” I ask, struggling to stay in the hammock.

“It’s fun, try it!” she explained, getting off the beanbag. I was afraid of hurting myself. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and then swung the hammock and jumped into the air. The next thing I remember, I was lying face-down on the beanbag. And Kayla Rose Daniels was still laughing.

We both got up, and I followed her up the stairs. It was the only time I ever saw her bedroom. There was a “Keep Out” sign on the door, but when she opened it I struggled to understand why you would ever leave this place. The only furniture in it was a bed, which had a load of teddy-bears and other stuffed-toys on it. But all around, on the floor and on the window sill, were empty jam jars filled with water. The sun shone brightly through the large window, hitting the water and making thousands of little rainbows and the jars glowed.

“In our old house, there were a lot of fireflies,” Kayla told me as I wandered round the room in awe. “I loved them so much; I used to play with them all night. They danced with me in the garden in the moonlight. It was magical,” she sat down by the window, fiddling with an old cardboard box. “And then we went travelling to many different places, and there weren’t any fireflies to dance with. So my mom showed me that when you put water in a jam jar and shine it up to the light, it looks like a firefly. So I filled up all these jars with water. They’re all from different places. This one’s from a place called Venice,” she held up a particularly large and beautiful jar. “There is a lot of water there.”

“Where’s this one from?” I asked, holding up a tiny little jar with an equally tiny amount of water.

She walked over to me, and looked at the jar. She had a concentrated look on her face, she was thinking hard. After a few minutes, she remembered. “This one is from a place called Fiji. That’s a very long way away from here. It was beautiful there,” she said in a trance. Kayla wasn’t in the room anymore, she was far away, remembering those beautiful sunrises and beaches.

“Here, you have it,” she said, pushing it towards me.

“I can’t take that! It’s special to you,” I replied, stepping back. Kayla rolled her eyes.

“I have enough jars, and you have none. Plus, you’ll be able to remember me. When we’re older, we might not be neighbours. So you can take this to remember me,” she held it out to me, smiling. I took a shy step forward and took it.

We had a few more adventures, Kayla Rose and I. She showed me this river, and we filled a jar with water from there. She told me that jar would be her favourite one, forever. We played in her back yard for hours and hours. It wasn’t the typical princesses and kings games that I had played with other girls at school. We were explorers. Sometimes we were sailing a boat, or flying a plane, or just walking along. But we were always seeing something new.

“Look!” she’d suddenly exclaim, pointing at nothing.

“I don’t see anything,” I would say, beginning to get upset.

“You’re not looking,” she replied, and carried on playing. Kayla Rose Daniels was special. She made me feel special. She ignited something within me, and when I was around her, I was alight.

But then summer ended and we went to school. She wasn’t in my class and she made new friends. Kayla was extremely popular, everyone loved her. A few years later, we hardly spoke to one another. She never even looked in my direction if we passed in the hallway. And then she moved. I can’t remember where too – her family was always looking for new places to go to. At the end of tenth grade, she had a leaving party. I wasn’t invited, but I could see it from my bedroom window. Just like I had seen her riding her bike, or having a lemonade sale, or building a snowman, or kissing a boy, or driving a car, or coming home drunk. I had seen her laugh, cry, run and fall flat on her face. And no matter what, like her jar which still lay on my window sill, she was beautiful.

They left halfway through July and I never got to say goodbye. I arrived home from the swimming pool one day, and the moving truck had gone from the front of my house. Her living room was empty. I fought back tears as I walked back home. I would never see Kayla Rose Daniels again.
A few days later, there was an envelope addressed to me. There was no return address, but the stamp was from Europe.

Inside was a letter, written in her large, swirly handwriting:

Would you look at that? It’s our birthdays again. We’re 16! And I forgot to get you a present. But I did remember to send you this.
I know we weren’t the best of friends after that summer, and I know you probably never thought twice about me again. I was probably just the “girl across the road.” I bet you can’t even remember my name. But I had a great time with you when we were little, and I want you to know that I remember you. I will always remember you. You were my first ever friend. And I suppose that’s the type of thing most people forget, but I won’t. Ever.
You’re probably on your couch right now, and I’m probably laying in the hammock (which we still have, by the way) in Africa or somewhere. I’m not exactly sure. But you remember those jars I had in my room? Do you remember the one I gave you? You probably threw it away. You probably can’t remember. But it was the first day we met, and it’s stuck in my mind.
But anyways, that jar. It doesn’t really matter whether you have it or not. But I want you to remember this message, at least.
Go and see the world. Please, don’t stay in this town. Be an explorer. Dance with fireflies. Become somebody amazing, because I know you have it in you. And I don’t want to see you become just a home-town nobody. You need to live up to all your potential.
Who knows, maybe, one day, we’ll discover each other again!

I will, Kayla Rose Daniels. For you, I will do anything.

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