You can read Among the Fireflies: Part 1 here.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved winter more than summer. I guess it has something to do with the fact that, in the winter, you can always put on more layers when you get cold, but in the summer, you can only take off so much before it is considered indecent, and you find yourself in a spot of trouble. That, and I am a sucker for a delicious, hot chocolate. With marshmallows, obviously.
Growing up in New England, I was definitely no stranger to the cold, ice, and snow. In other parts of the country, when folks here that there’s snow coming, panic and chaos ensues. Not in New Hampshire. Not in my family. We love the snow.
When my sister, Sophie, and I were younger, our parents would drive us an hour north to the White Mountains, and we would stay in this beautiful resort, right in the heart of the mountains. For an entire week, we would spend hours on end on the slopes, until our mom began to worry that all of our extremities would freeze and fall off. My sister and I were on skis before we were ever even in school. At night, Sophie and I would sit around the fire, sipping hot chocolate, giggling over our frothy mustaches, while trying to warm up our cold fingers. Our dad would visit the pub downstairs, and our mom would paint the most beautiful canvas paintings of the sparkling, wintry landscape right outside our window. It was heaven.
Unfortunately, as we got older, and our lives got busier, we started taking fewer and fewer trips to the mountains. When I met Cassie, at the start of third grade, we immediately bonded over our love of snow. The last trip that my family took to the White Mountains was when Cassie and I were in the seventh grade. It was the best week of my entire life. Ever since, every winter, Cassie and I vowed to return to the mountains whenever we got our drivers licenses.
Sadly, I had started to give up on our plans ever coming to fruition.
As our junior year marched on, Sam and Cassie remained completely, and sickeningly, in love. I had barely spoken ten words in total to Sam, who was now a big shot football player, and one of the stars of our school’s Academic Decathlon team, right alongside Cassie. Sam had gotten his license at the start of our junior year, right after his 16th birthday, and he and Cassie spent most of their leisure time driving around in the red Jeep Cherokee that his dad had bought for him. They also spent a lot of time making out in that Jeep, which I doubt either of their parents knew about.
But Cassie was still the same sweet, perfectly clueless Cassie, aside from all of the making out she had been doing lately. Each day, she waited for me at the school’s front doors, like she had done every day since we first met. Only now, she would stand hand-in-hand with her boyfriend, only loosening her grip to wave me over as soon as she saw me. She would try to make small talk, telling me all about how business was booming at her mom’s pottery shop, and how her dad treated the cutest gray kitten at his clinic, and how much she desperately wanted to keep it, but her mom has allergies, and so on. I nodded, smiled, tried to maintain eye contact, which was not easy, considering Sam’s newly formed biceps looked like they were seconds away from Hulking out of his gray, v-neck sweater.
“My mom said she saw your dad at the Dunkin Donuts in Union yesterday, is he working out there now?” Cassie had asked me a question, which meant I was socially obligated to give her an answer, and stop staring at her boyfriend’s biceps.
“Oh, yeah. They’re building a new gas station off the highway, so his crew goes down that way,” I told her, “The hours are long, but the pay is good. And you know my dad, he can’t go a single day without his Dunkin, so being a short drive away is a score for him. What was your mom doing in Union?”
Cassie’s expression changed suddenly, and I couldn’t quite read her. She looked… sad.
“She, um… she was driving to Farmington. She had to do some stuff down there yesterday, and she stopped for coffee, and I guess that’s when she saw your dad,” Cassie stumbled through her reply, “That woman loves her coffee, you know.”
She tried to smile, but it wasn’t real. Something was wrong. What wasn’t she telling me? I looked to Sam, who quickly averted his eyes, and squeezed Cassie’s hand reassuringly. He knew.
“Well, I better get to class,” he said suddenly, “You two should talk.”
Before I could ask what he meant, he had already taken off down the hall. I turned to Cassie, who was fidgeting awkwardly, still not looking at me.
“Cass, what did he mean? What do we need to talk about?” I asked her, suddenly worried, “Did something happen?”
“I just… it’s my mom. Well, my mom and my dad. You remember what happened freshman year, right?”
“You mean, when your dad cheated on your mom with that random Hannaford cashier who was half his age, then came come sobbing, and told her all about it? How could I forget…” I tried to make light of the situation, but I immediately regretted the tone of my reply, “That was a hard time for your whole family, but I thought they worked it out?”
Cassie’s eyes welled up, “They did, but they didn’t. They were pretending everything was fine this whole time, but it wasn’t. They’re getting a divorce, Naomi. My told me yesterday. She’s moving to Farmington, to live closer to Nana Mary, and she wants me to go with her-“
“You’re moving?” My voice cracked, and Cassie jumped at my sudden outburst, “To Farmington? No! She can’t make you move!” My eyes suddenly began to burn, “It’s the middle of the school year! What about your classes? What about Sam? Does he know? What about the Academic Decathlon team? What about… me?”
Cassie stood there, tears streaming down her face, “I don’t know, Naomi. I don’t know what I’m going to do. She told me that I could choose, but I can’t lose my mom, I just can’t…”
Before she could continue, I stepped toward her, and pulled her in as tightly as I could without breaking her back. Her hair smelled like strawberries, just like it had for as long as I had known her. I could feel her silently sobbing into my shoulder, and as much as I wanted stand there with her, and let her cry it out, an idea came to me.
“Cassie, let’s go up to the White Mountains!” I said suddenly, gently removing myself from her, “Sam has his license now, so he can drive us up there. We’ll go over winter break! I have enough allowance saved to help with gas, and a room that we can all share, and you know that if I tell my mom what’s going on, she will help out. Do you still have the money you saved from helping your mom at the shop this summer?”
Cassie blinked, no doubt processing everything that I had just thrown at her. Suddenly, she smiled, “Naomi… you… you are amazing, you know that? Absolutely. Abso-freaking-lutely! But are you sure you’ll be okay with Sam being there?”
“What? I mean, yeah. Of course. Why would you-“
“I’m not blind, Naomi…” she sounded like a disapproving mother, “I know we haven’t really talk about it much, or at all really, but I kind of got the feeling that you, maaaybe might have liked him when you guys first met… and how you’ve been acting since we started dating? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that something’s there.”
I should have given her more credit. She’s not clueless…
“Cassie,” I inhaled, and let out a deep sigh in preparation for the grand reveal of my deep, dark secret, “Okay, okay. Yes. You’re right. When I first met Sam, I might have had the tiniest, most insignificant, crush on him. I’m over it now though, I swear! I love seeing how happy you are, and if that means that I remain the painfully single third wheel for the rest of my life, then so be it. And, who knows, maybe I’ll meet some cute boys on the slopes!”
“Are you sure?” she asked, scanning my face intently.
“Are you absolutely, positively sure?”
“Yes, Cass!” I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t help but smile.
Cassie beamed a smile that could have lit up the entire galaxy, “You’re the best! I can’t wait to tell Sam! This is going to be so, so cool, Naomi. We’re finally going back to the mountains!”
She gave me one last, quick hug, and giddily ran off to class. I couldn’t help but smile. I had finally told Cassie the truth, and repaired the rift between us that I had caused. It felt good to be honest with her again, even if I had left out a few minor details, like the fact that the sight of Sam made my stomach twist in knots, and that the thought of being the third wheel on their romantic mountain getaway made me want to hurl… but we would climb those mountains when we got to them. Pun fully intended.
Cassie and I were finally returning to the White Mountains, after all these years, and I was determined to make the best of it, no matter what.
To Be Continued…