She would collect fireflies in mason jars that smelled of moonshine and take them to her room. She’d tape black construction paper in layers on her windows and pull down the shades to watch them glow and fade in an intricate rhythm of heart beats, of long forgotten conversation, of whispers and of secrets, dancing and pulsing together in an ancient SOS. And I’d watch as green eyes became molten emeralds in a warm yellow glow, and tell her if she didn't set them free, they’d slowly stop shining; one by one, the pulsing would slow, tiny legs would quiver and falter, before falling lifeless to the bottom. And she’d look at me, her honey hair in ringlets from the summer’s humidity, and she’d trace a painted fingernail down the edge of the glowing glass and merely whisper, “I know, but its better this way. They should have someone watching their beauty carefully to every detail, right until the end.”
We’d sit outside on rainy days under the cover of my porch, and set me in her lap as she braided my hair and asked me if I believed in angels. She’d rest her chin on my shoulder and stare off in wonder, while I listened to the tinkling rain drops fall upon our teacups from the day before. She’d start murmuring how silly they are, looking down on us from above, gossiping like old women about the choices we make as their pure white feathers yellow with age, like dusty wedding dresses locked in old heavy chests in the attic. “Nothing is beautiful forever, and they’re ridiculous to look down on us, look,” she whispered against the skin of my neck “even they have to walk upon the ground when it rains.”
I sat in front of the redwood vanity, playing with the limited make up supplies I possessed, painting my lips with pink lip gloss as she painted my fingernails with the same color she used, and she asked me if I’d ever thought of kissing boys. Her giggles floated through the air like wind chimes, soft and sparkling with the smallest breeze when my cheeks began to burn and fluster. And those perfect peach wedges curled around ivory teeth and eventually found their place, full and soft against my forehead, and as those glittering irises met my own she said very softly, “Be careful when kissing boys, girls are soft and easily bruise, and boys like to play rough.” I asked her what she meant and she merely smiled and told me that one day she’d tell me, but for now she wanted me to lay in the sunlight with her and find the fairies in the dust motes.
And when summer heat turned to winter snow we found ourselves in a magical land made of delicate crystal. She held my hand in hers to keep it warm as we trudged through the snow, laughing and making our own lyrics to Christmas songs because none of it mattered anyway. She pulled me to the forest where we hid behind a holly bush, making miniature snow men and giving them names. I was so focused on making them perfect, that I was startled when red tipped fingers brushed my face and tucked my hair behind my ears. “You look cold, but you turn the prettiest shade of pink.” She smiled and I couldn't help but smile back, she placed a hand on my shoulder and pulled me into her coat that smelled of peppermint and warmth. We stood there for moments, watching snow spiral down from the sky above us, sprinkling our hair with glistening flakes. She asked me if I was cold, and before I could reply I felt her lips press against mine, still soft and warm despite the cold, and giggled when my face became inflamed. “No, I suppose you’re very warm.”
She rested her head on my shoulder as I combed my fingers through her hair, her teardrops warm and wet against my skin as she held me close. She babbled about her family and hiccup about the girls from school who called her names, she choked over how she missed me and whispered how pretty I was with another mason jar in her hands that smelled of apple pie. Her fingers found their way to my hand and drew pretty pictures that only I understood as she listened to the steady sound of my breathing. She said she wished she could stay here forever in our world of lace and fairies and fireflies as she stared at the prettiest crystal I’d ever seen wrapped so delicately around her finger. And this time I pressed my lips to her forehead and smoothed her hair from her face and told her how this time we should let the fireflies go, because staying trapped in the jar only makes them die. She sniffled and asked me what difference it made if they were all going to die anyway. I pulled her left hand to my lips and kissed her finger, just below the vice grip that squeezed her heart, “Because at least they’ll die knowing they were free.”