"Deeener is ready!" She called from the kitchen. I was in the living room, in front of her TV with her husband and playing with her baby.
Her husband said something to her in Spanish as he hoisted the baby from the floor and made his way into the kitchen. I followed the two of them out of the room, toward the smell of cooking food and lit candles.
"Here jou go, Chimi," my friend said to me as she gestured toward a seat at her table. Her big brown eyes wrinkled in a smile. "Dis is my romantic Balentine's Day deener for jou." Their ordinary dinner table was adorned with flowers and three red candles, surrounded by dried rose petals. She set my glass of white wine next to me.
"Thanks, Pollo," I smiled. I held the cold glass in my hand, the smooth curves of it fitting perfectly in my palm. "It smells so good in here."
"Well, I wanted to make a speeecial deener for us. Jou know: For jou and me and Chuck and Adrian, too. For Balentine's Day. I'm just glad jou could be here wid us."
Chuck excused himself from the room to put the baby down for bed. He shuffled out of the room, the baby cradled in his arms. "Say goodnight to Aunt Chimi," he said as he turned the corner. Adrian's little hand gave a tired wave over his father's shoulder as his eyes began to close. I looked at that little boy, my Godson, and couldn't believe that it will be year since I watched him enter this world.
Although we worked together for over a year, my good friend and I rarely spoke until she was pregnant with her son. Her impending motherhood softened one or the both of us, allowing us to set aside the notion that two pretty girls can't be friends. We began talking all the time, sending little instant messages over our work computers, joking with each other through the lobby of the bank. We took our lunches together and made plans to spend time on the weekends.
"What chould I name my baby?" She asked me over lunch one day.
"Well...It has to be something Spanish..." I told her, pondering all of the possibilities. "How about Enchilada? Or Nacho? Taco? How about Chimichanga?"
"Cheeemeeeechanga?" She squealed, her thick Ecuadorian accent stretching the word beyond its already interminable length. "Cheeemechanga? Oh, dat's too funny!" She let out a peal of laughter. "I like dat. Maybe dat's what I call you. From now on, jou're Cheeemee."
And so my nickname was born. Chimichanga, or Chimi for short.
I refused to be the only one in our friendship with a silly nickname, so I deemed her El Pollo Loco, after a restaurant I frequented in Las Vegas. Pollo for short.
Not long after that conversation, her husband called me from the delivery room to let me know it was time. She grabbed the phone from him.
"Cheemee. Jou have to come heeere." I could hear the pain and fear in her voice.
I promised her I would be right there.
"Tank jou, Cheeme."
I dropped the phone and fled from my house. I drove as fast as I could to the hospital, out of breath even though I wasn't running. I was excited and nervous and thrilled and terrified. I was in a hurry.
When I was denied admission into the hospital because visiting hours were "over," I said the magic words "Maternity Ward" to the nurse and was buzzed through. I ran through the hospital, my gym shoes squeaking on the cleaned floors of the empty hallways. I pressed the elevator call button and willed it to come faster. I wanted to get to Pollo as quickly as possible.
As it turned out, I needn't have rushed. She resisted pushing, she was panicked by the threat of pain. After three hours, it was finally time. The doctor instructed her to push, and after she complied ("Just geet it out of meeee!" she had cried.), he informed her that he could see the head. I was by her head, supporting it and pressing a damp cloth against the sweat on her forehead. "What are jou waiting for, Cheeemee. Go check!" She ordered. And so I did. Her husband and I switched places, and I watched as her son was pushed into the world.
Even then, I was amazed at the gift she had given me. I held Adrian when he was less than ten minutes old. I have a picture of myself, blown up and proudly displayed, in my gym clothes, with no makeup on my tear stained face, holding her minutes-old son.
Her life and mine are completely different: She has a husband and an almost-year-old son. I have me. She has a mortgage. I pay rent. She cooks dinner and cleans the house. I go out to avoid both. But we're tied together for life. She, her baby, her husband and me.
And last night, as she sat me down at her "romantic" Valentine's Day dinner, she told me to "wait right dere." She and her husband disappeared from the room only to return a moment later. They carried with them three long-stemmed white roses and two cards.
"There's one flower from each of us," her husband said, passing me the wrapped blooms as though I'd just been crowned Miss America. I smiled, fighting the same tears of sheer delight as Miss America would.
"And dis card's from me," Pollo said, handing me a card with the words "Friend Forever" scrawled in her large and loopy handwriting.
Inside, she thanked me for being her best friend and for sharing this day with her and her family. She told me she was happy I let her into my life.
Her husband passed me his card. "This one's from Adrian and me." Inside he had written "From the only two men you need in your life. We love you," and signed his son's name and his own.
The two of them make fun of me for crying, so I did my best to fight the tears that were intent to fall. I gave them each a long, hard hug. In part to give myself a second to weep over their shoulders, and in part to thank them. They knew I'd be alone on Valentine's Day. And they wanted me to be their Valentine.
"I love you, friend," Pollo whispered in my ear during our hug. My lip quivered as I told her I loved her, too, and thought of how lucky I am to have friends like these.