“When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me the reason fireflies glow is because they have a wish inside them,” she said.
Aaron was entranced by the sparks dancing in the field. He imagined he was just about to pull back the veil to find the order in the chaos of their choreography. Simultaneously, Catherine’s fingertips skipped across his back in harmony with the movements. She was lying next to him on the blanket while he sat upright. Her delicate touch sent a jolt of electricity down his spine, snapping him out of his stupor.
“I was saying that when I was a kid my mom said that fireflies had wishes inside them. That’s why they glow.”
He snorted. “If my mother told me that when I was young I would have made it my mission to smash as many of them as I could.”
Catherine gasped and gave him a playful slap on his back. “That’s horrible!”
“I didn’t mean it like that! I meant that, like…like I feel like I’d think they were trapped inside the fireflies and I’d have to let them out!”
“Ahhhh, I see…” Her hand movements became soothing once again.
“So you’ve always been the contemplative type,” she teased.
“Yep, that’s what they called me. Ol’ Contemplative…Aaron…”
“Yeah I hated it while I was saying it.”
“I meant, what a terrible nickname to have as a child.”
“Oh, yeah. Still better than what they actually called me, though.”
She tilted her head slightly to get a better view of the profile of his face. With a wide, playful grin she pried, “What’d they call you?”
“I can’t tell you!” Aaron chuckled.
“Why not?” Catherine’s sing-song tone was subverted by her authoritative finger bouncing off the same spot on his back andante with gradually-increasing force.
Aaron laid back on the ground, quashing the rising rebellion of her impatience. In an act of defiance, she rolled the rest of herself on top of him, arm still pinned beneath his back. Joan of Arc stared down at her conquest, who, more shyly, replied “Because I hated it.”
“C’mon, ‘Contemplative Aaron’ — ”
“Ol’ Contemplati — ”
“Ol’ Contemplative Aaron, the illustrious, the ponderous — ”
A suppressed ripple cut her off from below.
“ — the flatulous…” she continued, flatly.
“The word you’re looking for is flatulent,” he corrected, beckoning his new creation towards her. She swatted his hand away and furiously fanned in the opposite direction.
“Yeah, but I had the whole ‘o-u-s’ thing going on.”
“Hmm…” his face contorted as he plucked a strand of her fiery hair that had — in her whirlwind defense against biological warfare — landed across his face. “Gaseous?”
“I mean, I guess that would have worked. But don’t change the subject.”
“You’re really not going to let it go?” he sighed.
She shook her head as a wide grin crept across her face. “You’ve built it up way too much, now. No hope of turning back from here.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. Breaking eye contact was his only defense; otherwise, he’d give her whatever she wanted. But even knowing this, he still found his gaze drawn to her own emerald doe eyes staring back expectantly.
He inhaled, gave pause one last time to consider his decision, then released a barely audible syllable.
“It was Bob. My nickname was Bob.”
He watched her face cycle through calculation after calculation of attempting to discern the meaning behind the madness, to no avail. By the time she finally shook her head to reboot her fried brain, he could have drawn a portrait of that stunned, ponderous expression. He cut in before she could state the obvious.
“I was a chubby kid and I had eczema. Think you can do the math with those variables?”
“Oh…” she responded. Then, clarity jolted through her face. “Oh! That’s so horrible!”
She dug her chin into his chest and her expression fell somewhere between a pout and a scowl.
“I told you,” Aaron lightly chided, halfway amused by her sudden despondence.
“I thought you were just exaggerating. No one likes their childhood nicknames but most of the time they’re at least…I don’t know…funny, I guess. But that’s just…” she trailed off and looked back at his face again. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he started, as her hand brushed the side of his face. His heart fluttered. Instinctively he grabbed her hand with his own, caressing it with his thumb.
“It’s really not.”
“Are you mad?”
A pause. “…A little, yeah!”
“Why?” he chuckled
With an exaggerated yank she freed her pinned arm from underneath him and shook it awake. “Because —” Another shake. “I hate the thought of you being teased like that. Because you don’t deserve it.”
“Nobody deserves it, Catherine.”
“Well, of course, but I’m not talking about just anybody. I’m talking about you.” She rolled off of him and sat up, staring off into the field.
He smiled. “Well, it’s ancient history. So you don’t even have to think about it.”
He couldn’t tell if she’d heard him. Her furrowed brow was directed out at the world around them.
“Hey.” He propped himself up on one elbow and turned on his side.
She broke away from her fuming and looked at him again, her brow dropping into empathy. They had been talking all night, but in that brief moment they communicated more to each other than words could express in three nights. She finally relented, slowly lying back down. She nuzzled tightly against him.
Crickets chirped in every direction. The faint summer breeze whispered through the grains outstretched before them. And above them, infinity was stretched like canvas over a board.
“If people had wishes inside of them…” Aaron started, suddenly.
“Hm?” her eyes locked to his.
“Do you think we’d all be trying to kill each other to get them out?”
“Okay…well, going beyond the blatant morbidity of that…I’d say we do have wishes inside of us.”
“In what way?”
“In the most literal way, I guess. We all have wishes, you know? Hopes and desires…” she lingered in that moment, trying to find her way forward. Then, to Aaron’s surprise, she giggled.
“And in our own little way, I think we try to smash the wishes out of each other. We try to let them out so they can flourish.”
The warmth of his steady breath washed over the back of her neck, and he could just barely make out goosebumps.
“Does that make sense? I feel like it makes no sense…”
He slowly slid his arms around her. “No, I think I kind of get what you’re saying. Correct me if I’m wrong, but…”
He hugged her close.
“…I think you’re saying you have a wish inside you right now and it’s up to me to let it out!” he bellowed, giving her a playful squeeze and a shake.
The surprise and sudden, but brief, flash of fear forced a boisterous laugh from her belly, far less lady-like than the giggle from a moment earlier.
They rolled around on the blanket, their laughter contributing to the nocturnal cacophony while all around them, the fireflies continued their dance.