This is the first part of my short story “Fireflies” from my site The Devil’s Take
“Stop looking at your phone.”
“Oh shit — didn’t even realize I was doing it again,” Mel said, slipping her phone back into her purse.
Shannon took a long drag on her cigarette while Mel looked around at the crowd, avoiding Shannon’s accusing gaze.
Groups of people were clustered around tables, standing together by brick planters full of flowers, or leaning up against the ornate, black gate that enclosed the entire patio. The patio blended with the open-air restaurant, Diaz, so that any clear distinction of inside and outside was blurred — Mel could smell the fragrant flowers and the fresh food anywhere she went. Within the restaurant a live band was playing to a full dance floor, their music filling the air as much as the flowers and food. Looking up, Mel noticed strands of white lights stretched from the top of the perimeter gate to the restaurant’s overhang.
“I like these lights overtop of us. They look like fireflies,” Mel said, her eyes jumping from one light to another. They swayed gently as a breeze passed by, as if they were also moving to the music. She smiled, turning back toward Shannon. “You remember my grandparents house? Sitting on their back porch watching the fireflies come out? I used to love that. They would come right up to us.”
“I remember,” Shannon said. “We’d capture them in glass jars. I thought it would be fun to keep them as pets. It would have been really cool having firefly lanterns in our bedrooms. You always made us let them go before going back inside.”
“I just felt bad. Even as a kid I knew they’re meant to be free,” Mel laughed.
“Imagine that … letting something go to be free,” Shannon said.
Mel nodded, knowing the jab was deserved. They were like sisters, and Mel knew that while Shannon could be pushy, she was never mean-spirited. Shannon had her back.
“I’m sorry,” Mel said. “I know I shouldn’t keep checking my phone.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Shannon said, “Look, the idea of tonight is not to stop thinking about him because you’re repressing everything. The point is to not think of him because you literally forget to.”
“It’s just habit,” Melissa said.
“You’re out of habit — you used to be able to walk up to any one of these guys and start an evening with them.”
Mel looked around the patio again. People were laughing, drinking, and bristling with energy.
“This is different — I don’t really know how to dance and didn’t realize that’s what this was. And also I’m not sure that I want to jump into anything with someone right now.”
Shannon leaned forward.
“Mel — I love you, really. So understand I say this as your best friend who wants you to be happy. Fuck that — your last breakup had you down for the better part of a year. How many years do you think you have left?” Shannon asked.
“Jesus, Shan — don’t say that. I’m not dying.”
“Look — two more years and you’re my age. It might not seem like much — but trust me, things change. Seriously — no one tells you this stuff — it just happens and you only realize it after it happened to you,” Shannon said.
Mel looked at Shannon, noticing the crows feet around her eyes. Her face was still bright, and to Mel she would always just be the Shannon she’d always known. But Mel knew what she meant, she had noticed it too. Most of the other women here were at least a few years younger than them.
“You don’t have to rush into anything serious,” Shannon said. “It’s not about the rest of your life. It’s about your life right now. Don’t take it for granted. I remember your last breakup — and yeah you had some serious shit to work through. This time? You’ve been through all this before. You’re young. Attractive. Smart. You just need a boost of self-confidence. Hit the gas.”
Mel frowned at her.
“I thought tonight would be a girl’s night.”
“It is — but like how we used to do it,” Shannon smiled, coaxing Mel. “C’mon. We need new stories to laugh about later. It’s been too long since we’ve done this. Let’s prove the world is larger than the mope-fest you’ve been stuck in.”
“I’m not stuck in a mope-fest.” Mel said.
“This is the first time you’ve been out like this in a month,” Shannon said. “There are only so many movies we can stay in and watch together.”
“I’ve been painting. Reconnecting with myself.”
“I think you’ve been hiding,” Shannon pressed.
“I came out tonight — I’m open to new things.”
“Yeah?” Shannon asked, then looked around the patio. She turned back to Mel and motioned her head. “That guy over there.”
Mel looked over to where she had motioned.
“Why? What if he’s some sort of creep?”
“Not a creep. Creep’s don’t dress that nice.”
“The dangerous ones do.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like — serial killers. The ones where all their neighbors and coworkers go on television and talk about what a great guy he was.”
“Versus if he dressed like what? You know he’s probably a nice guy that’s trying too hard.”
Mel smiled. “Shan …”
“Mel — look you were there for me when I went through my divorce. You remember how low I was during that whole time? You took me out, and you helped me get back to normal when that was the last thing I felt like. But you helped me believe I could be normal again. That things were okay even then, and I wasn’t some sort of loser.”
Shannon took another drag on her cigarette.
“You weren’t some sort of loser. Still aren’t.”
“You could see that. I couldn’t see it,” Shannon exhaled a plume of smoke, “Now I’m telling you what I see.”
Mel looked over at the guy.
“He is cute,” Mel said.
“Look, if he’s a serial killer and only one of us can get away, then I volunteer as tribute.”
She held up two fingers in a promise.
“Stop,” Mel said. She watched the man. He was relaxed, leaning on a nearby planter along the black gate. He had a clear view to the stage and seemed absorbed in the music while finishing a cigarette. A glass sat next to him on the bricks.
Mel sighed, and pulled her phone out to check. Shannon reached over and covered the phone.
“Shit — I’m sorry,” Mel said.
“Don’t be sorry. We’re here to have fun,” Shannon said.
Mel put her phone away.
“Ok,” Mel agreed.
Continued on The Devil’s Take