Moon Goddess by Ginger Hamilton

They stalked the darkened field behind Dean's house armed with badminton racquets and watched for a signal from the fireflies. Dean hunkered low in the tall summer grass. He smelled traces of lemon Joy dishwashing detergent lingering on Ginny's hands, and felt a pang in the center of his chest. Tonight I'll prove myself. I'll get the first bat, and she'll love me back. His arms quivered with fatigue and he hunched his shoulders for relief. Focused on the blue-black air, Dean waited for the first flicker.

* * *

It was their secret ritual, killing fruit bats that dipped low to eat the lightning bugs. Their game was forbidden, and exhilarating. Ginny's mother would ground her for the rest of the summer if she found out. Dean's father would whip him with a belt if he knew. Yet every summer evening as the sun set, Ginny and Dean went to the field and waited for fireflies to signal the competition's start.

Ginny played tennis -- took lessons for two hours every day -- and she was good. Dean walked her to the public courts each morning. He watched as Ginny became a beautiful wildcat springing for an unsuspecting bird. She rarely missed. A thrill ran through him when the muscles in her calves tightened. And something deep inside Dean hungered to touch the hair that clung to the rivulets of perspiration on her neck. But he knew he had to earn that right. Maybe tonight, he hoped.

The day had been muggy and hot, but the temperature dropped to a tolerable level as soon as the sun disappeared behind Ginny's house. Fireflies sparkled, ushering in the magic session when shadows become monsters and the unknown lurks behind every outbuilding. Bats drifted in dreamlike circles seeking breakfast, for this was shift change between day and night creatures.

It was Ginny's favorite time of day.

A firefly flickered. Instantly, a shadow dove from the eastern sky. Ginny sprang to her feet and slammed the bat to the ground with a single, panther-like strike.

"The night's mine! "

Dean’s shoulders slumped. "I wasn't ready."

"Ready or not, the night's mine, fair and square."

They stood over the animal and watched as its broken wings twitched. In seconds, the movement ceased.

Dean’s brow furrowed; his jaw tightened. "I'm not playing anymore." He slung his racquet. It landed on the ground beside the dead bat.

Ginny squatted beside the creature and poked its carcass with her racquet. Satisfied it was dead, she flipped the bat up into the air and sent it flying with a solid underhand swing. It soared for several feet, then halted and plummeted to the ground.

Locusts droned. In the distance, a dog barked. Without a word, a truce was made.

Ginny and Dean climbed partway up the hill and lay back in the grass. Dean pointed into the night sky. "There's Corona Borealis, right over Gri fith's roof."

Ginny looked where he pointed. "Let's pretend I'm Ariadne and you're Theseus. You just slew the Minotaur, and we're sailing away." Ginny spooned her body against his.

Dean's cheeks felt hot. "I didn’t slay him; you did. I guess that makes me Ariadne."

"Well, you can kill the next one, Dean."

"I don't want the next one. The night's yours, Ginny“ or should I say, Theseus."

Ginny rolled away from Dean. Overhead, more bats circled the field. She had drawn first blood; the night was rightfully hers. She slapped at a hungry mosquito, and remembered only female mosquitoes bit people.

She took a deep breath. "Then the night's mine, Dean. Because you lost, you owe me a wish. I wish you to tell me the story about Ariadne and Theseus again." Ginny rolled side to side, smoothing the grass until it was flattened beneath her.

Dean snuck a glance at the gentle mounds beneath her shirt. He loved to watch them rise and fall with her breathing. Ginny was changing, somehow growing up faster than he was. He felt a stirring in his pants and squirmed to reposition so she didn't notice.

Ginny closed her eyes and imagined a ship with black sails setting o f for Crete. She suspected Dean was being stubborn, so she started the story. ". . . Ariadne fell in love with Theseus at first sight. She gave him a sword and a ball of string. She told him to tie the string to the door of the Labyrinth so he could find his way out after he slayed the Minotaur . . ."

Dean continued the story. ". . . Ariadne fell asleep on the Island of Delos, and Theseus put out to sea on his ship with the black sails, leaving her behind."

Ginny rolled up on one elbow and squinted so she could see Dean's face when he answered. "Why do you think he left her behind on the island?"

"I don't know." Dean shrugged. “Maybe he was afraid what his father would say if he brought her home."

"Why would he care? I mean, she saved him and all those other people's lives. Didn't he love her?"

"Sure, he loved her." Dean squirmed and gazed up at Corona Borealis. He had the sense that Ginny was sailing away from him right here, right now, and he felt desperate to stop her. The silhouette of a soaring bat sailed between him and the constellation. Dean looked around for his racquet. Maybe the night isn't a total loss.

He searched the sky for the bat to sail past again. When did everything change between us, he wondered. I know it's di ferent, but I don't know why. Dean glanced over at Ginny. Her face was in profile, and the sight of it made his chest ache. A cloud from the east crept closer; he hoped it would block the constellation. Dean didn't care if he ever saw Corona Borealis again.

Ginny struggled to remember the last details of the story. It was the best part, she knew. Then it came to her: Ariadne became the goddess of the shining moon, the spiral dance, and swirling stars.

Standing up, Ginny spun in circles with her head thrown back. She kept her eyes on the moon, and the stars swirled in a magical spiral dance. After several spins, she fell back onto the grass, satisfied. She had seen the swirling stars. She had done the spiral dance. She was the moon goddess.

The seven stars of Corona Borealis twinkled in the distant heavens.

Dean stood and picked up his racquet. "It's late; see ya tomorrow." He trudged up the hill towards home, holding his racquet over his head.

In the darkness, it reminded Ginny of a black sail.


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