It happened at 9:17 pm. I know the exact time because I had been looking at my watch, timing myself as I brushed my teeth.
"Always brush for one whole minute," Dad used to say.
So I did. Sometimes, I even added on thirty seconds, just to be sure. Anyway, at 9:17, as I was brushing my teeth, someone knocked on my window.
Knock, knock knock. Then a three second pause. Knock, knock, knock. Then a three second pause.
Immediately, I knew who it was. My best friend, Ben. The knock pattern was our emergency call. We hadn't needed it for a while, so I jump a bit at the sound. Part of me doesn't want to answer: the emergency call never means anything good, and if I don't know what's wrong, maybe it won't be real. Still, when your best friend gives you the emergency call, you answer, no matter what. So even though it is late, Mom would want me in bed, and I haven't even finished brushing my teeth, I spit, rinse my mouth, and go to my friend.
I climb out my bedroom window, give Ben our best-friend greeting (a military salute), and ask "What's going on?"
He returns the salute, but it looks half-hearted. "It's bad news," he whispers, "really bad."
He gives me a meaningful look, and I immediately know what the "bad news" is. My heart sinks all the way down to my belly button. I give him a nod to let him know I understand, and he sighs in response. Using the air conditioner unit as a boost, we climb onto the roof of my one-floor home.
"Where to?" I ask into the thick night air.
"Langley Air Force Base. Virginia."
We look at each other, and I know we are thinking the same thing. Virginia's a long way from Riverview, Florida.
"At least it's still on the east-coast," I offer, but we both know it doesn't make a difference. Moving is moving. We are used to it. If you're a military kid, you have to be.
Both Ben and I have parents in the air-force. Ben's dad has an office job now, and my mom flies C-17s. They both work at McDill Air Force Base. When your parent’s career is controlled by the government, starting over in a new state every few years is part of life. I can't hate our government though, because two years, one month, and six days ago it sent my mom here.
At first, I hated Florida. Stepping out of the airport doors felt like stepping into a wall of some sort of hot, suffocating, substance that Floridians called air. The first week had been pure torture. I had been sure that if I didn’t suffocate to death, I would be killed by one of the nightly thunderstorms with thunder so loud you felt like you were being bombed and lightning that split open the sky. Everything changed, though, when I accidentally roller-bladed into Ben's lemonade stand.
Since the ground was so flat here, my dad had decided it would be a safe place for me to learn how to roller-blade. Apparently, Ben's dad thought it would be a good time for Ben to try his hand at business management. While Ben had been sweltering in his stand without a single dollar to show for his work, I had gained confidence on my roller-blades and made the wise decision to take the curve at my highest speed. There, across from Mrs. Faet's yellow and pink painted house, I crashed into Ben's stand and sent plastic cups of lemonade flying into the heavens.
“It must have been fate!” our moms claimed when Ben and I became friends as close as brothers.
But I think it was something else. I think that, maybe, there was some magic in that lemonade, and that as it rained down on us, it cast a spell making us friends forever.
From that day on, Ben and I were comrades in war and leisure. The next time Ben's dad decided Ben should venture into business, my math skills were there to back Ben's customer service. When my dad said it wasn't safe to go to the pool without a swim buddy, Ben grabbed his goggles. We ate popsicles when the sun burned, and popcorn with a game of Battle Ships when it stormed. On bikes or roller-blades or on foot, we explored every inch of our neighborhood. We are together so much that people often assume we are brothers. When Ben's dad got deployed to Qatar, I helped him pack super cool care packages, and when all my dad's safety rules didn't protect him from a rainy night and a 7-car accident, Ben matched me in a black suit and tie. In sun or storm, joy or sadness, I was there for Ben, and Ben was there for me. Now, though, everything would change. Ben would move, and I would stay here until my mom got her next assignment, probably somewhere far away like Hawaii.
"Hey, maybe your mom will get moved to Virginia." Ben says, as if hearing my thoughts. I know the chance is low, but I choose to hope.
"Yeah, maybe." Ben grins at me, and even though it looks sad, I see hope in him too.
"I'll have a lemonade stand ready for you."
"Then I'll pack my roller-blades."
“Then I’ll wear a poncho.”
We laugh and then we talk about our last basketball game and our next school assignment and the hurricane that we had all prepared for but had never come. We sit on the roof in our PJs, and we talk and laugh, and we laugh and talk. The humid Florida night closes around us, and palm tree branches sing in the warm breeze.
I feel a tiny drop of liquid splash on my arm. I know it’s probably rain, but still, I think that, maybe, it was a drop of magic lemonade. I hope it was. I hope because I know that nothing, not war, peace, government, loss, gain, or any other force on earth can break the bond between comrades baptized by magic lemonade.