It’s quarter after ten at night when I get home from my “girls’ night” to find Alex on babysitting duty because Christian got called in to work while I was gone—of all nights, the one night when I didn’t realize my rarely-used emergency mobile phone had run out of power.
I send him downstairs to bed and start closing things up around the house, but the quiet from the deck draws me outside, and I catch my breath, because the woods is alive.
We don’t see too many fireflies anymore. Only one other summer since we’ve lived here have we had anything like the light display going on in my back yard tonight, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t like this. It’s like Magic Kingdom lighting up the castle with sparkles. Or walking past a Christmas tree from a distance.
I hurry back inside. “Alex,” I say. “Grab your glasses and come up here.” His room, too, faces the woods, but I have a feeling that the view from the basement isn’t quite the same as the one from the deck.
We stand out there for a few minutes, surveying the magical array. There must be thousands of them, some of them in the yard, streaking for longer periods of time, others right at the edge of the trees, some illuminating tiny swaths of the foliage for a fleeting moment. A shimmering tapestry. Breathtaking.
It’s unusually cool for June, although the neighbors to either side haven’t figured it out yet; their air conditioners are still running, filling the night with the only obnoxiousness to be had, since the wind is out of the north and for once, we can’t hear I-70. I have a blanket around my shoulders, but Alex is in his shorts and t-shirt. When I offer to share, he’s more than willing. We pull two chairs together and sit down, and suddenly we’re talking. About school, and stars, and fireflies, and fidget spinners, and seeing Rudolph’s light in the sky, and God, and Alex’s earliest memory, and stars again, and fireflies again. The neighbors’ air conditioners trade back and forth, trying to outlast us, but at last they both give up and true quiet falls.
The undulating light display wanes and waxes, wanes and waxes. Wanes and waxes, but less convincingly. It’s getting late. We’re all winding down, even the fireflies. If Christian was home, we’d both have been in bed long before. But I think Alex and I both know we’ve stumbled into one of those gift moments, the ones you can’t plan or anticipate, you just have to accept them when they come.
I reach over and stroke his cheek once, still so soft. It won’t be too much longer before the peach fuzz will start, and then the stubble will overtake for good the little boy I can’t quite remember anymore, except for that visceral longing to brush my lips against cheeks as silky-soft as his once were. I could never get enough of kissing him as a baby.
“I love you,” I say quietly.
“I love you, too,” he murmurs. And we both go quiet, looking at the stars. His head drops back on the deck chair; I hear his glasses squish against the fabric, but neither of us wants the moment to end, even though it’s well past eleven. The wind whispers in cottonwood and sycamore.
Then the west neighbors’ air conditioner kicks on, and I know that’s my sign. We get up and head inside, but the buzz lingers. This is one of those nights I’ll always remember. A firefly night.