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halfway between your house and mine

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"You're supposed to make a wish," Monica says, spinning the dandelion stem between her fingers. "Then blow on it, and it'll come true. Like a birthday cake, sort of, except you can find them everywhere." She frowns a little, blinking at Talla. "Did you have birthday cakes in space?"

Talla shakes her head. She's quiet, but that's okay; Mom always said Monica could talk enough for a whole dinner party.

"You should definitely try it before you leave, or at least some frosting, which is the best part anyway. But they also have candles on them, and before you blow them out, you're supposed to make a wish, just like we're doing now." Monica crouches down to pull another puffy dandelion, holding it out to Talla. "You want to try? I'll show you, if that helps." She scrunches her eyes closed, running through a mental list of possible wishes—a new bike, a puppy, learning how to fly—before deciding on, I hope Aunt Carol is never gone for that long again. She opens her eyes and lets out a deep exhale, rotating the stem until her breath has caught each of the silver-grey seeds, carrying them away on the balmy Louisiana air. Hesitantly, Talla closes her eyes and does the same. When she's done, Monica grins wide at her, and Talla smiles back, if a little shyly.

"It's so green here," Talla says, her voice sounding soft and unsure. She settles down on the grass, curling her toes into the dirt and staring up at the willows as Monica sits down next to her. "I didn't know anywhere could be so green. We could see it from space, but—" she trails her hand across the tops of the stems, watching them bend back under her palm. "I didn't know what it would be like. I didn't know the air would taste so fresh."

Monica inhales and closes her eyes, pretending she's doing this for the first time. Mostly she feels the humidity, the smell of metal and oil from Mom's garage, but it's energizing, too. Fills her up from her lungs to the bottoms of her feet. She knows how quickly plane air can turn stale and recycled, and she can't imagine breathing that but for years. Sure, space sounds cool, and she's definitely going to join Aunt Carol up there soon, but she'd never want to be stranded the way that Talla and her mom were (although it did keep them safe, so, it probably wasn't all bad.)

"You should tell your dad to find a planet like Earth, then," Monica says as she shifts on the grass, feeling the blades tickling the back of her knees. "One where you can see the green from space. And an ocean, too—have you ever been swimming?" Talla shakes her head. "It's so fun, especially when it's hot out. We should go to the beach while you're here, after we have cake."

Talla smiles. "I hope we find somewhere as nice as this."

"You're sure you can't just stay?"

"My father says it's too dangerous now that the Kree know where we are." She turns the bare dandelion stem over in her fingers. "I wish we could, though."

"Me too." Monica reaches over, a little unsure, and curls her fingers around Talla's hand, loose at first, then just firm enough that their palms are pressed together. "But it'll be okay. Aunt Carol says she's going to find a place for you guys to live, and she never breaks her promises. I know she won't let anything happen to you."

"Do you think we'll see each other again?"

"Totally." Monica tightens her grip for a moment, feeling the warmth and weight of Talla's hand in hers. "As soon as Aunt Carol gets you settled, Mom and I will come visit. I'll even bring the Uno cards with me."

It's past dusk, now—the trees above them turned to swaying silhouettes and the sky fading to a dark navy that will now always remind Monica of Aunt Carol's suit. She's still holding Talla's hand, and all of a sudden feels a slight squeeze as Talla lets out a soft gasp, pointing above them as a small glow flickers into the sky, then another until there are a dozen gently floating in the air above them.

"They're fireflies," Monica says, smiling at the look of awe on Talla's face. They're not birthday cake frosting, but they are pretty cool. "If you're careful, you can even catch them. Here, I'll show you." She lets go of Talla for a moment as she reaches up for the closest one, gently closing her hands around it before bringing it close to her chest. When she uncups her palms, the firefly is sitting placidly on the inside of her knuckle, tail flashing with bursts of bright yellow as it crawls over her pinky. "You want to try?"

Talla nods, and Monica gestures her closer, guiding the firefly from her finger onto Talla's. It's starting to get late, but even so, they stay there together as the night grows gradually darker, heads bowed, watching the firefly blink a steady path over the lines and divots of Talla's hand.

"Do you think there will be fireflies on our new planet?" Talla asks after it's flown away, still following it with her eyes. Monica isn't sure. The universe is pretty big, after all, and there aren't even fireflies everywhere in the U.S., let alone on the other side of the galaxy. But she also never knew that there were planets where people would kidnap the world's best aunt, or shapeshifters who are really good at Uno, or cats that could eat people (she still hasn't seen Goose's tentacles for herself, and is like, half-sure that Mom and Fury made that up) so the odds are probably good, right? If the universe could bring back Aunt Carol, then why couldn't it give Talla a new, safe home that's full of grass and oceans and birthday cake and fireflies?

"Yeah," Monica says, smiling wide. "Definitely. A whole sky full of them."