“You know, the moon can give you a burn”, said Jean, as the girls spread out their beach towels, the wet grass tickling their bare toes. Jean’s tone was more in line with “did you know” rather than posed as a warning. Caroline looked up at the full moon, bright in the sky, washing over everything including them with a soft glow.
A light cool breeze reminded Caroline that today was the start of October and winter was not far off. Both girls had on their long pj’s and a hoodie, prepared for the temperature drop from the unseasonably warm, sunny afternoon.
Caroline pulled her sleeve back on one arm and held it up in the moonlight. Could it be true? She thought about how she had learned in school that the moon was bright because it was reflecting light back to earth from the sun. Sunlight certainly had an effect on her skin. She still felt the tug of sheets of skin she peeled after a severe August sunburn. “Irish skin”, her Grandpa had noted, adding that both of his parents had come to the states from Ireland. “I don’t think tanning is in your genes.” His own skin was spotted from years of fishing in the sun.
Caroline had given up on tanning well before the news began warning of too much sun and the dangers of UV exposure. Burn, peel, freckle was her typical summer experience, joking with friends that her goal was for all the freckles to one day merge into one amazing tan. Still, she loved being outside and was often guilty of ignoring Mom’s calls to come in out of the sun.
As Jean broke out the snacks, which consisted of ginger ale and red licorice, the purpose of the licorice to act as a straw, Caroline remembered that Jean had also once told her that she could breathe through her eyes. When Caroline challenged Jean on the claim, Jean quickly offered to show her, closing her mouth, pinching her nose, and opening her eyes wide. After about thirty seconds, she smiled proudly and said, “See, I told you,” going on to explain that tear ducts are connected to the sinuses, nose and throat. “It’s all one system,” she quipped.
As further evidence, Jean reminded Caroline of a slumber party where they had laughed so hard that Pepsi had come out of their noses. Caroline had also seen a guy on TV once take a sip of milk and grossly squirt it out of one eye.
She wondered where Jean came up with this stuff. Yet, Jean’s crazy facts always had just enough science behind them to make Caroline question what she thought of as true. Jean was either some sort of mad genius or out of touch with reality. Caroline didn’t care either way. She liked Jean. When she was with her, things were never boring.
Jean was a year older than Caroline. Their mothers had arranged for them to meet. Before Mom took Caroline to Jean’s house for the first time, she had told her that Jean was a little different from other kids their age, and that was OK.
After their snack, the girls laid back on their towels, giggling and trying to make out the man in the moon’s face. They shined the flashlights they’d decorated earlier in the day into the trees, every so often causing a bird to complain from its slumber.
They desperately wanted to see a shooting star. Mom had warned that the brightness of the moon would make it harder to see the stars. Yet, they each had three wishes ready just in case. They never shared their wishes because of course then they wouldn’t come true.
Caroline’s first wish was to grow up to be a ballerina, despite her uncle once telling her that ballet was not a real job. To which she immediately replied that she would be a teacher during the week and a ballerina on weekends. That was years ago when she was only four years old. Right or not, he couldn’t stop her from wishing.
She was certain that Jean’s first wish was for more wishes, which everyone knew was against the rules. Jean wasn’t much for rules like that or buying into what others thought. Besides, what was the harm in wishing?
As they stared up to the sky, Jean began telling Caroline how each full moon had a name. Caroline had heard of the Harvest Moon, which was sometimes in September but landed in October this year. “The next one is called the Beaver Moon, because the beavers will be busy getting ready for winter,” Jean continued in a low voice. “The December moon is called the Cold Moon.” Caroline learned a lot from Jean, including how to be more open to looking at things in new ways. She was old enough to know that Jean saw things differently than most people.
Caroline had just located the seven sisters constellation when she and Jean asked each other in unison, “Did you hear that? Is something over there?” They huddled together and waited. There it was again. Something rustling around in the dry oak leaves over by the yard swing.
Maybe they disturbed a squirrel with their flashlights? Then they heard growling sounds. Caroline wanted to run into the house. “Do you think it’s a werewolf?” she asked. Jean calmly instructed her to turn off her flashlight and be still, “There is no such thing as a werewolf,” added Jean in a tone that indicated she was likely wondering if Caroline was the one who was out of touch with reality.
The growls got louder and louder and all at once a dark figure charged towards them and grabbed the girls. “Bradley”, Jean screamed. “You scared us. How did you know we were out here?”
“I heard you talking on the dock earlier. Sorry, full moon at the lake and all, I couldn’t resist. Besides, I want to have fun, too”, Bradley replied as he nudged them over putting Jean in the middle and grabbing a handful of licorice.
“I thought you were a werewolf.” Caroline admitted, and everyone laughed so hard that Caroline wished she hadn’t drank so much ginger ale.
The three talked about school, their friends at home, and how sad they were to part for the winter. Caroline would be back for the ice festival in January. But unlike her grandpa, no one in Jean or Bradley’s families was interested in ice fishing, so they wouldn’t return until spring. Bradley did like to fish though and began to tell them of a catfish he caught earlier in the day. Jean proceeded to tell them in true Jean fashion about how some catfish can walk around outside the water, which launched Jean and Bradley into a big discussion.
Caroline lay back on her now damp towel, the air heavy with earthiness and autumn. She began to shiver despite her warm clothes and proximity to Jean. The other two argued lightly, their voices rising after Jean’s newest factoid that some fish also fly.
With Jean and Bradley chattering in the background, Caroline returned to her task of finding all seven sisters, the moonlight competing for attention. Her thoughts drifted to what kind of ballerina she should dress as for Halloween, and how lucky she was to stargaze in the moonlight with such good friends.