A full June moon rose over Metro. The pale light shone down on a small park filled with trees and a small pond. On a bridge over the pond, stood a young man dressed in tight, faded jeans and an oversized tee-shirt. The tee-shirt was dark blue with a napping kitten on it. A soft summer breeze blew the scents of roses and, oddly enough, honeysuckle to Tom Hanson's sensitive nose. Hanson closed his eyes and let the warm zephyr ruffle his long brown hair.
Tom listened to the chatter of the stream that feed the pond in the center of the park. The clear water twisted and whirled over smooth rocks, occasionally splashing the sides of the banks. Overhead, an owl hooted softly and swooped over the young officer's head, clutching a mouse in its talons. Hanson shook his head and sighed.
Near the edge of the trees, Hanson could see the faint sparkles that marked the dancing fireflies that always decorated the summer nights. Tom smiled at the sight as a memory flowed from the deeper parts of his mind.
*** *** ***
It was summer and a five year-old Tom Hanson snuggled against his father and watched as the sun set in a brilliant display of crimson and soft gold. As the first fingers of night stretched over the small house that the Hanson family called home, a tiny light flickered in the new shadows.
"Daddy," Tom tugged on the sleeve of his father's police uniform. "Why are those stars down there?" He asked as he pointed to the first light, now joined by hundreds of other lights. Tom Hanson, Sr. squinted into the darkness and laughed.
"Those aren't stars, Sport," Tom Sr. said. "They're called fireflies."
"You mean, they're on fire?" Tommy asked in horror. His father ruffled his son's shaggy brown hair and chuckled.
"No, they're not on fire, Tommy," Tom Sr. reassured his name sake.
"Then why are they called fireflies?" Tommy demanded.
"Because they have little lights on their bottoms," Tom Sr. explained. He stood up. "Come on, Sport."
Father and son strolled over to the shadows. Tom Sr. quickly caught a firefly in his large hand and showed it to his son. The faint light from the tiny bug reflected in Tommy's excited eyes.
"It's pretty, Daddy!" Tommy reached out to touch it, but his father moved his hand away.
"You must never touch a firefly, Tommy. If you hurt one, it's light won't shine again." Tom Sr. said.
"Would the other fireflies be sad if one was hurt?" Tommy asked, his eyes wide.
"Just like you'd be sad if one of your friends at school were hurt."
"Oh," Tommy Hanson nodded his head. "You'd better let it go then, Daddy."
Officer Tom Hanson, Sr. opened his hand and let the firefly go free. Then, he scooped up his son and settled the young Tommy on his shoulders. The pair watched the fireflies dance and swoop through the summer night until it was time for Tommy to go to bed.
*** *** ***
A new sound interrupted Hanson's musings. He didn't bother to open his eyes or turn around. He knew the sounds of Penhall's less than graceful walk.
"Hey, Doug," Hanson said by way of greeting.
Doug Penhall stood by his best friend, mirroring Hanson's slouched position. "What are you doing out here so late?"
"I couldn't sleep," Hanson responded.
"Yeah." Hanson glanced at his friend. "How's Harry doin'?"
"Getting better. The doc says that he can come home soon," Penhall answered. "Jude's staying with him tonight."
"That's good. I know Harry hates being alone in that hospital," Hanson leaned against the wooden railing. A strange, sad smile caressed Hanson's lips as he watched the fireflies flitting in and out through the pines. His dark brown eyes became distant. Penhall followed his friend's stare.
"The fireflies," Hanson answered. A car backfired, disrupting the peace of the night. Hanson shuttered. He closed his eyes. "When I learned that Harry had been shot..." His voice trailed off. He shook his head to clear his mind. "The light's gone," Hanson said suddenly. Penhall looked over at the forest.
"The fireflies are still there, Tom," Penhall disputed his friend's claim in a worried voice.
"The light that was in Harry, Doug. That's gone," Hanson corrected his friend.
"The light?" Doug placed a hand against Hanson's forehead. "Are you feelin' OK, Tom?"
"You never noticed it? There was a light in Harry's eyes. Even when he was sad or worried. It didn't matter. The light was there and I always knew that he'd pull through. Now, that light's gone."
"OK," Penhall let out a breath. He fumbled for a change of topic. He noticed his friend's intense gazing at the fireflies. "So, you like fireflies, huh?"
"When I was little," Hanson smiled. "I thought that they were little stars." Penhall's eyebrows raised, but he remained silent. "Dad showed me the fireflies and told me never to touch one. He said that they were too fragile and I'd make the other fireflies sad if hurt one."
"I never knew bugs had feelings," Penhall commented. Just then, a car filled with whooping teens rushed pass the park. One of the teens threw a can out of the car, hitting a garbage bin. The clanking of metal against metal produced a new shiver in Hanson.
"When I was in...Folsom," Hanson spat out the word. "I couldn't sleep at night. The stares that came from the other cells. The noises," Hanson quaked. "The threats," He whispered. "I'd sit on the edge of my cot and stare out the window. In the yard, near the walls, I could see all the fireflies dancing and playing in the shadows. I wanted to be with them so bad...." Hanson's voice trailed off.
Doug Penhall looked down at his best friend. When Hanson used the word fragile, two images flashed into his mind. One of a wounded Harry Ioki laying in his hospital bed and another of Tom Hanson when he arrived at Doug's door after Booker had him released on false pretenses. An older image of both of his friends formed in his mind, and Doug let out a small sigh. Penhall took a deep breath, then said,
"How would the fireflies feel if two of their friends got hurt?"
"Pretty horrible I guess." Hanson shrugged his shoulders. "Why?"
"You know, Tom, Harry wasn't the only hurt."
Hanson looked at his friend, confused. "What do you mean? Who else go hurt?"
"You, Tom. You were hurt too."
"I wasn't hurt. Harry's the one who ended up in the hospital."
"You were hurt. You lost your freedom," Penhall insisted.
"I was only in jail for a couple of weeks," Hanson shook his head in denial. Penhall lifted Hanson's head so that the smaller cop was looking him in the eye.
"Hanson, your light has gone out too," Penhall said quietly. Hanson looked away. "Tom..."
"I hated it in there," Hanson admitted in a ragged voice. "I over heard the other inmates talkin' about what they were planning for me...." Penhall pulled his friend into a tight embrace. Tom Hanson leaned against Penhall's strong chest and sobbed. Doug murmured soothing nonsense words and let his friend's bottled up emotions rage against his tee shirt.
After awhile, Hanson's sobs quieted down to the occasional hiccup and sniffle. Penhall pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to his friend. Tom wiped his eyes and stared down at his tennis shoes. "Sorry, Doug," Hanson mumbled, embarrassed.
"Sorry about what?" Penhall looked at his friend. Tom handed the handkerchief back to his friend.
"Just sorry. Excuse me," Hanson moved down the bridge and stood at the edge of the forest. He watched as the fireflies darted back and forth. Penhall stood in stunned silence. Then, he ran after Tom.
"What do you have to be sorry about?" Penhall demanded.
"I..." Hanson's voice trailed off. He swallowed. "I didn't mean to pull you into this whole mess. I'll see you tomorrow at work." Hanson skirted around Penhall and scampered towards his Mustang. Penhall ran and caught up with his friend before he could get into the old Mustang and drive away.
"Hanson, you didn't drag me into anything. I'm your best friend," Penhall pointed out. The smaller cop looked away, ashamed. "Tom, you're hurting. Don't deny it either," Doug said when his friend shook his head. Tom looked away.
"You don't have to get involved, Doug. Everything will be OK," Tom insisted. "Don't worry about it."
"I do worry about it. So does Judy and Dennis and Fuller," Penhall said quietly. "Tom, you don't have to hide from us. We're your friends."
"Harry needs you guys," Hanson uttered quietly.
"You need us too, Tom," Penhall stated firmly. Hanson stared at the damp tee shirt in front of him.
"I'm OK, Doug, really," Hanson protested weakly.
Doug gently cupped Hanson's cheek and looked his small friend in the eye. Hanson's dark brown eyes were shiny from his recent crying jag and frighteningly dull from weeks of fear and lack of sleep. Dark circles bruised the delicate flesh, blending in with Hanson's long black lashes. Hanson was paler and thinner than he had been before going to jail. Penhall picked up Hanson and plopped down on the engine of the Mustang.
"Tommy," Penhall whispered. "You don't have to go through this alone."
New tears formed in Hanson's large eyes. "What do I do, Doug?" Tom whispered in an almost sotto voice. "How do I make the nightmares stop?"
Penhall didn't have an answer for his friend. Instead, he hugged his friend tightly, then said, "Why don't you go to the police shrink tomorrow? Coach'll give you the time off. If you want, I'll go with you," Penhall offered.
Hanson weakly nodded his head, then yawned. "OK," Hanson agreed. He slid into the driver's seat of the car, then looked up sheepishly. "Can you drive me home?" He asked. His hands were shaking.
Penhall took the keys and his friend hopped into the passenger's seat. The old Mustang roared into life, disrupting the patterns of the near by fireflies. Penhall winced, then whispered "Sorry 'bout that" to the sparkling mass.
Almost instantly, the tiny bugs calmed down and continued their summer dance.
Careful to avoid driving through the fireflies, Penhall backed the car out of the park's gravel lot and pulled into the late night traffic. Hanson leaned his head against his friend's broad shoulder and promptly fell asleep. Penhall smiled softly at his friend, then looked in the rear view mirror. The fireflies were still visable in the darkness.
"Thanks, guys," Penhall murmured.