The tale of the butterfly and the wasp is not a famous story, but I know it well. Farrah was a blonde beauty with ocean-blue eyes always filled with the brightness of laughter and hope. Her light seemed to pass to every person she encountered, for she was a social butterfly always looking for a wilting flower to aid. But Corbin, the social wasp, was the one person who seemed to be immune to her sunshine. You are better off leaving him alone, if you wish to avoid the pain of a stinging word. Corbin was the dark, brooding type, like a storm cloud threatening to cancel your vacation to the beach. He never spoke to anyone and went about his life like a silent shadow that easily went unnoticed by those not willing to pay attention.
Farrah bounded through the field, her golden curls bouncing against her back. She laughed as she dodged a child’s hand for the third time. Her thin stature aided her agility as three more children appeared with their hands outstretched.
“We’re going to get you, Farrah!” Daisy shouted with a giggle.
“You can’t hide from us,” William added, lunging for the edge of her skirt. She twisted away, and his hand swiped through the air. She stopped in the tall grass, breathing heavily while the four children gathered across from her.
“Planning their attack, no doubt,” she told herself, using the short break to survey the busy playground nearby. Twenty first-graders tumbled and ran across the wood chips, wild and carefree. Farrah, along with a couple other highschoolers, ran with them to supervise. At least, that’s what they were supposed to be doing. Farrah shook her head at her best friend, Derek, who was acting just as rambunctious as the kids. Her time of respite quickly ended when the wall of four children charged at her. She cowered, laughing. There was no way to escape. The kids tackled her into the grass, rolling around in a fit of giggles.
“Finally,” William said, sprawling out next to Farrah. “I’m done.”
“Farrah, why doesn’t he ever play with us?” Jenna asked, hanging onto the teenager while pointing toward a tree some ten yards away. In the shade of the towering oak stood a sour-looking teen with floppy black hair. He stood with his back against the tree’s trunk, his dark eyes sweeping the area. He cast an icy glare at a second-grader who accidentally crossed into the haven of shadow. The child retreated to the playground.
“Yeah, and why is he always mad?” William asked.
“I don’t know,” Farrah said, glancing at the teenager. Her gaze flitted away from him when he caught her staring. “You should join everyone else on the playground. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Race you!” Jared shouted, jumping to his feet.
“Hey! No fair!” William exclaimed. He ran after Jared with Jenna and Daisy on his heels. Farrah watched them run for a moment before standing. She brushed the grass from her skirt and ventured toward the shadows. As she approached, the boy gave her a withering look.
“What do you want?” he barked at her. She stopped just shy of the shade. She still could feel the warm sunlight on her back.
“I was just wondering if you’d like to join us,” she offered brightly.
“Get tackled by dirty, sticky kids? No thanks.”
His sour tone did nothing to dampen Farrah’s cheerful disposition.
“I think it would be good for you. All you do is sit in the shade.”
“Maybe I like it over here.”
“But you’re always alone.”
“Maybe I like that too.”
He glared at her again.
“I just said I did.”
“No, you said maybe.”
He snorted, crossing his arms as he leaned further into the tree.
“Why are you over here?”
“What makes you think you can call me that? We’re not friends.”
Farrah crossed her arms, holding firm.
“It’s your name, isn’t it?”
“What’s it to you? The last thing I want is pity from the most popular girl in this dump,” he snorted, straightening as he stepped toward her. “You float around like some innocent butterfly, oblivious to the pain around you. Listen, princess. Not everyone has such a great life as you.”
He stopped a couple feet from her, staying within the shadow of the oak.
“You don’t mean that,” Farrah tried, brushing off his comment, but his dark look made her flinch.
“I do!” he shouted and lifted an accusatory finger but paused. He searched her startled eyes for a moment and then lowered his arm. “Leave me alone,” he muttered, turning away from her. He retreated deeper into the shade, keeping his eyes on the ground. Hurt by the sharpness of his words, Farrah turned away. She wiped away a sudden tear and sniffed. She stepped through the grass, her joy fleeing for a moment. She glanced once again in Corbin’s direction before walking slowly to the playground.
I’ve heard that this was the first encounter Farrah had with Corbin, and I’ve often wondered why Corbin’s harsh words didn’t keep Farrah away for long. Farrah continued to talk to Corbin cheerfully, undeterred by his negative spirit. The more he retreated, the harder she tried to make him smile. My mother says that Farrah tried for weeks, but to no avail. The wasp stung her with a harsh word every time she opened her mouth, but Farrah wasn’t the type to quit.
Farrah approached the shade, and Corbin sent her a chilling look. She stopped at the edge of the tree’s shadow, not brave enough to venture out of the sun.
“What will it take for me to get rid of you?” Corbin asked, clearly irritated.
“All I want to do is be your friend.”
“I don’t want any friends.”
“That sounds lonely.”
“I don’t care.”
Corbin’s voice faltered a little, and Farrah swallowed hard.
“I think you do.”
"Just leave me alone,” he said sharply. He turned away and leaned further into the tree as if blocking himself from her persistent kindness. “It’s what everyone else does.”
Farrah was about to reply when Daisy and Jared ran toward her with Derek in tow. The first-graders launched themselves into her arms, making her stumble. She caught them in a tight hug while they giggled. She smiled at Derek when she caught him giving her an amused look.
“I’m surprised you’re over here again, Farrah,” he said. “Have you finally convinced Shadow Boy to loosen up?”
Derek seemed pleased with his joke, but Farrah didn’t find it funny.
“Don’t call him names, Derek. Just because he wants to be left alone doesn't mean that we can call him whatever we want.”
Derek stepped away from Farrah, surprised by her sharp retort.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, giving him a shallow smile. He nodded, but she wasn’t sure that he believed her.
“Daisy, Jared, let’s go get the soccer ball,” he called to the first-graders, who raced away in search of the ball. Derek gave Farrah a look as he left, and she felt the shadows cast over her. She stepped back, finding herself in the shade of the oak tree. Corbin turned back to her with a glare.
“You didn’t have to defend me,” he said, his tone lighter than before. Farrah stepped further into the shadows. When their eyes met, his intense stare made her avert her gaze.
“You’re wrong, you know,” she said, sitting down a few feet away from him. She smoothed her skirt over her knees and folded her sweaty hands in her lap. Corbin turned fully toward her and sat down too, though he dug his back into the bark of the oak.
“You said that I am oblivious to pain. You’re wrong.”
“I’m serious,” she said firmly. He fell silent. Farrah felt cold and looked up. The leafy canopy was blocking out the warm and comforting sunlight. She shivered, her wall of shallow joy quickly crumbling. “I lost my brother four years ago. We were on vacation and went to the beach to swim in the lake. My parents trusted us to be careful, and we believed that we would be fine.”
She paused for a moment, swallowing hard.
“I waded out too far, and the riptide pulled me under. Jack saved my life, but he didn’t make it out of the undertow. It took eight hours for first responders to find his body.
She stopped and suppressed sudden tears.
“I didn’t think I could ever be happy.”
“But you seem so happy all the time.”
“It’s easier than hiding,” Farrah answered quietly. She paused, a soft smile forming on her lips. “Jack always knew how to make me laugh. When he was gone, I didn’t think I’d ever smile again.”
Corbin and Farrah sat in silence, the truth settling on them both like a damp fog. Neither one spoke for a moment as they both stared at the grass between them.
“I lost my little sister,” Corbin said. Farrah looked up at him. “She had leukemia. We knew it would take her, but I never thought it would happen so fast.”
“What was her name?”
“Don’t be. You remind me of her. She was always laughing and loved being outside. Everyone says that they understand, but—”
They shared a look of understanding, both finally releasing the flood of emotions they’d kept buried for so long. As they continued to look at one another, Farrah smiled.
“You’re not so alone after all.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m not,” Corbin admitted, offering a slight smile. It quickly vanished when Derek ran up to the tree. He stopped just short of the shade and looked at Farrah.
“Farrah, we need more players for soccer. Are you in?”
Farrah paused and looked at Corbin. He avoided her eyes.
“Sure,” she said and turned back to Corbin. “Would you like to play too?” she asked.
Corbin looked back at her, unable to contain his surprise.
“You really want me to?” he asked. Farrah nodded and looked back at Derek, who shrugged.
“It’s fine with me,” he replied.
“Then we’re right behind you,” Farrah said. Derek nodded and ran off to find a few more players. Farrah stood, and when Corbin hesitated, she offered him her hand. He stared at it for a second before taking it. He stood up, but Farrah didn’t let go of his hand. They walked to the edge of the shade and stepped out into the warm sunlight together.
In that moment, Corbin and Farrah shared their deepest pain, finding comfort in the other’s presence. Their story is one I’ve never forgotten even as I grow older. Without them, I wouldn’t be around to tell their tale. I consider my grandparents to be the most understanding people I’ve ever known. My grandpa always told me, “Helen, you can try to hide under the ice of grief and drown in sorrow, but there will always be someone who can break through that wall and save your life.”