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Created by Templates Zoo

Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Two


*REMEMBER This is completely unedited*

After he gave me the nickel tour of Butterfly Junction, we headed to the only bar in town to discuss the finer points of the business. This was difficult for me, since I was still having trouble grasping exactly what their business was.

“Let me get this straight,” I said, leaning on the table as I took notes. “Your business is research and development for ecofriendly pesticides.”

He nodded once as he lowered his mug of root beer to the table. “Correct. We develop pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to kill pests without killing other non-crop threatening insects.”

I finished writing my notes and eyed him. “Non-crop threatening insects. There’s something you don’t hear every day. How on earth did you get into this line of business? Are you a farmer?” I laid my pen down and picked up my soda, taking a swig. I checked under the table out of habit only to remember Mojo was hanging out at the office with Chandra.

“He’s fine, you know. Chandra will feed him things she shouldn’t and make him a bed out of storage blankets.”

I laughed and sighed at the same time. The laughter was at his words and the sigh was because he was right. “I feel naked without him. He’s my constant companion as I drive around the country. My guess is, Mojo is thrilled to have Charity-free time. I’m always bossing him around.”

He stared me down as he leaned back in the booth comfortably. “I doubt anyone would be thrilled to be away from you, but I definitely can picture your bossy side. Though, I don’t think being bossy is always a bad thing.”

I lowered the glass slowly as I took in his words. I wasn’t sure if I should take it as a compliment or be offended. I had to chuckle because the more time I spent with him, the more I realized it might always feel that way with Gulliver Winsome. He’d say something clearly off color, but he did it in a way you didn’t care. It was slightly frustrating, but also endearing. I suspected he played people in this way to keep them from delving into his personal life. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Rather than speak, he pointed at the pink haired woman in a black apron approaching us with a pizza. I grabbed a plate and fork, while he prepared the cheese and spices for the gooey goodness about to land on our table. The masterpiece was set in front of us and the waitress grinned at Gulliver. “Anything else for you two?”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing at the way she asked it. She made it sound like we were on our first date and awkwardly stumbling through our meet cute. Her giddy display of curiosity told me one thing, as far as this town was concerned, when Gulliver Winsome showed up with a woman, it was a big deal.

“We could use a refill on our drinks, Debbie. Thanks,” he said, handing his mug over, so I did the same with mine. When she was gone, he loaded up my plate with the cracker thin pizza crust covered in cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and black olives. “This is the only place within an hour drive of Plentiful where you can get truly amazing pizza,” he informed me. “When you pass it on the street you think it’s a dive, and let’s face it, it’s not exactly New York City, but the food is spectacular. Dig in,” he said, motioning at the plate.

Clearly, we weren’t going to discuss anything until we’d eaten, so I did as he instructed. He was right about one thing; the food was spectacular. “Mmmm,” I moaned as I finished chewing. “I haven’t had pizza like this since the last time I was in Jersey. I’m liking Plentiful more and more.”

“Not much to like here,” he said offhand, his smile of thanks bright when Debbie set down two more mugs and left again without a word.

“Not true,” I said between bites. “There’s the lake, the silence, the smell of fresh air and sunshine, the lack of traffic, and the ability to see the stars at night because there’s no light pollution, just to name a few. There’s plenty of reasons to like this town.”

He motioned behind him, which is where the lake sat a few hundred yards back. “The lake is the only reason I stay. I love to kayak in the summer. I’m also a fan of the glass-bottomed boat tours to the Apostle Islands. As you tour the lake you can see the shipwrecks under the boat. I’ve done it a dozen times, but still see something new every time I jump on for a ride.”

My head snapped up when he mentioned the islands. “I want in,” I said immediately.

“You’re clearly not from around here. Most people find Lake Superior pretty ho-hum after living here their whole life.”

I washed my pizza down with some root beer before I answered. “I’m not from around here. I’m from Michigan, but we didn’t live by the lake. I moved to California when I was eighteen and lived on the water, which is why I’m attracted to a town like Plentiful. Now, I travel nonstop and see the ocean on both coasts, but there’s nothing quite like the Midwest.”

He lowered his pizza and made eye contact. I could tell whatever he was going to say might make me uncomfortable. “You’re right, and I love your enthusiasm for life. You might be bossy, but you’re also positive and bright about everything, which is rare these days.”

Yup, uncomfortable. I gave him a flick of my shoulder in a nonchalant shrug. “I didn’t grow up in an environment reeking of positivity or brightness, so I made a pact to always keep those as my top two motivators. Where do you live?” I asked, wanting to get the attention off me again.

He tipped his head with indecision “Why, Miss Puck, my place of residence is of a private matter,” he said, in a terrible Scarlet O’Hara voice.

I snorted as I was drinking and root beer went up my nose and back out it again. I coughed and choked, accepting the napkin he handed me to wipe myself up with. When I could speak again, I gave him a dirty look. “You’re a real card, Mr. Winsome,” I said, wiping my shirt of root beer splatter. “I get it, it’s none of my business.”

He grinned, his mug near his lips. “Nah, I was messing with you. Literally everyone in the town knows where I live. It’s not a secret. I reside at Butterfly Junction. I have quarters off the reception area.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed. Not a bad idea though, makes the commute easy and relaxing.”

He pointed at me with his fork. “You’re not kidding, especially with these things,” he said, hooking a thumb at the crutches. “I have a one-bedroom apartment, which is all I need. I’m in the research lab late most nights anyway, so it’s handy to be able to fall into bed after a short trot up the stairs.”

I tisked my tongue. “You know what they say,” I said, drawing out the last word. When he didn’t respond, I filled in the blank. “All work and no play makes Gulliver a very boring boy.”

“Trust me, if there were more people like you here I wouldn’t be bored, but when you live in a place where not a lot happens, you’re bound to spend much of your time working.”

I finished my pizza and leaned on the table. “Why do you live here? Can’t you do this kind of work anywhere?”

He shook his head no as he swallowed. “Not anywhere, no. We need access to fields to test our products. Being so close to the lake means we have the added benefit of testing for runoff in the waters.”

“Ahhh, I get it. I still don’t understand how you happened upon this business.”

He squirmed uncomfortably, but finally resigned himself to answering my question. “I’m an entomologist with a sub-degree as a lepidopterist.”

I raised my brows at the apparent foreign language he was speaking. “A what now?”

He laughed, the sound rich and deep. When it settled, you felt oddly comforted yet excited to hear it again. “Believe me, you aren’t the first one to wonder what I’m talking about, which is why I don’t mention it often. You only need to know about my specialty because of this job, so I’ll explain. An entomologist studies bugs, but there are many subcategories of it. My favorite insects are butterflies and moths, or lepidopterans. It was natural for me to get a second degree as a lepidopterist.”

“Butterfly Junction,” I said slowly, hitting my forehead. “It all makes sense now.” I paused with my hand on my head. “Actually, it doesn’t, other than the name.”

When Debbie returned to the table, he handed her some cash and asked her to box up the rest of the pizza. “The business has several aspects to it, but the most important is research and development. We’re working to develop pesticides to protect the lepidopterans while being effective against other pests that harm crops. If we don’t find ‘cides,’ and cide means to kill, which are safe for bees and butterflies, as well as other pollinating insects, our food supplies will dwindle until there’s nothing.”

“Because all the pollinating insects will be dead,” I said in a low whisper of despair.

He pointed at me with a grim smile on his lips. “Bingo. We’re also trying to protect the waterways. Many of our lakes in the farm belt are ruined by herbicides and fertilizers. They run off into the water causing algae blooms and fish kills. It’s a real problem and we need to solve it or we won’t have water to drink, either. Without food and water—”

“We don’t exist.”

He threw his hands up in the air and did some hushed cheering. “And she wins the gold.”

“I have to give you credit, Gulliver. I’ve learned more than one new thing today. Terrifying, but new. I assume there are plenty of scientists like you out there trying to fix this problem right under our noses? A problem most of us don’t even know exists.”

He bowed slightly in acceptance of the compliment. “It’s a burden to carry, but we do it for the greater good. We’re funded by several private investors and companies who want to find bioethical ways to keep our food supply healthy and prevalent. There’s also hope we can find a way for farmers in poor countries around the world to produce the product. If we can do that, they’ll be able to protect their water supply at the same time.”

“Wow,” I said, my voice tinged with shock and bewilderment. “Right now, I’m thrilled I took this job. I’m completely taken aback by all of this, but I’m fascinated at the same time. Thank you for explaining it to me. I have to admit I’m feeling a bit intimidated, inferior, and self-conscious about the fact I’m sitting here with someone as educated and brilliant as you are, but I’m sure I’ll get over it in time.”

When he smiled, his eyes were bright and reminded me of the reflections off the lake at sunrise. I noticed the edges of his eyes crinkled in an adorable way and gave him the distinguished older man look. “You’re welcome, but don’t feel intimidated or inferior, please. I’m not about my degree. I believe we all have important skills to offer the world. We’re all here doing what we do for a reason. Take us for instance. I’m so desperate to have my computer server checked for security leaks I begged a woman to drive across the country to take this job. Maybe I can develop ecofriendly pesticides, but I can’t write a line of code, much less hack a server.”

I offered him a shy smile. “Thank you for saying so. I’m always a bit intimidated when I go on jobs like these. I’m working with people who are far more educated and light years smarter than I am. You would think I’d be over it after all these years, but the human psyche is an interesting thing.”

He finished his soda and set it down on the table. “And you’re an interesting woman,” he said, tipping his head toward me in a bow. “I can’t wait to get to know you better.”

After a few more minutes of small talk and finalizing the job details, he worked his way out of the booth. I stood too, holding the pizza box while he grabbed his crutches. Since the bar was only a few blocks away from the office, he insisted we go on foot. I couldn’t imagine walking any distance on a leg like his right one. It bowed out at the knee, and to add insult to injury, his left leg was much shorter than the right and he had a large lift on the sole of the shoe. As we strolled along, he pointed out various businesses with his crutch, filling me in on where I could buy certain things I might need while I was here. I realized, as the sun beat down on my back and the fresh air filled my lungs, it had been a long time since I was this relaxed and comfortable in a new town. Never, ever, in the six years I’d done this job was I ever willing to leave Mojo somewhere and go to lunch with a guy I just met. A small part of me feared it had something to do with this particular man and his eyes. I found myself staring into his cinnamon orbs for long bouts of time without speaking, which often left me stuttering around to respond to him. There was no doubt he was hiding something about his life, but who wasn’t? Maybe someday I’d get those secrets out of him, but for today I’d be happy with strolling down the street with him and enjoying his company.

***

I decided to check out the main office and showers before I headed to the motorhome when I arrived back at the campground. With any luck, if the showers weren’t a scary hellhole of spiders and creepy people, I would have time to visit the lake, shower, and be ready at eight when Gulliver picked me up. I told him to pick me up at the main office, not because I was ashamed of Myrtle the Turtle, but because I worried about him on the uneven ground around the motorhome with his crutches. Of course, I told him all of this before we had lunch and I found out how agile he really was on those sticks. I couldn’t figure out a way to backtrack, so I left it alone. No big deal. After tonight I wouldn’t be seeing him again anyway, so whatever.

“Is it a whatever, though?” I asked the air as I shuffled my feet along the gravel packed path with Mojo. It was warm enough to break a sweat in the afternoon sun and I prayed the showers were nice, so I could freshen up before the job tonight.

I kicked a rock along the path in front of us while Mojo stared up at me. He was waiting for me to answer the question apparently. I rubbed his head and rolled my eyes to the heavens. “I guess it’s not a whatever. Gulliver is odd, but I like him.”

I guess the best way to describe him is refreshingly unusual. Considering I spend a lot of time with strangely weird people, refreshingly unusual is a huge step in the right direction. Somehow, I understood the boisterous side of his personality stemmed from his leg issues, and the face he shows the world doesn’t necessarily represent who he is at his core. I kept conjuring a scenario in my mind where he closes the door to his apartment at night, and removes the mask of over-the-top obnoxiousness to let himself breathe for a little while. He’s a guy who loves bugs, and chases them using crutches, all while trying to make his way in an unkind, unfair world.

I followed the paved road around to the right and passed a fish house, which raised Mojo’s interest fractionally as he sniffed the rank air. Just past the fish house I noticed the building with a sign declaring: TOILETS/SHOWERS. Oh boy, I love the dual-purpose shower houses. They always smelled sweet and clean, which is Charity sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell. The motorhome has a shower, but you have to hook the shower head to the sink faucet and stand on the same floor you’re going to have to use again later in the night for a potty break.

I took a deep breath and tugged the door open to the women’s side. I stuck my head in, waiting for the lights to come on. When the space lit up I was pleasantly surprised. “Not bad eh, Mojo?” I asked, letting the door close behind me as my eyes adjusted to the lower light of the space. I counted ten toilets and six showers, which was a huge improvement over most campgrounds I stay at along the way. The best part? They were clean and didn’t smell like a latrine. The scent of manure is not what a consider ambiance while taking a shower.

“This will do just fine, won’t it, pal?” I asked the big guy as he followed me out of the building again. He cared because every so often I made him take a shower too, and no self-respecting dog wants to take a shower from a hose next to an old Dodge. They want a shower with manly smelling shampoo, in a nicely lit building, with a curtain for their privacy. Well, at least Mojo wants the lap of luxury. Sometimes, he gets it. Sometimes, he gets the hose next to the Dodge. Considering I take him into workplaces with me, I’m always cognizant of his odor.

Another few minutes of strolling down the path and I found the general store and main office. I was pleased to see it was closer to my RV than I had originally thought. When the door swung open the scent of nachos mixed with beer wafted toward me. If I wasn’t still stuffed from that amazing pizza, I’d be taking some of them back to my house.

Basking in the cool air for a moment I took in the cute, cozy, and well-stocked store before I strode to the counter with Mojo. My eye caught movement from the corner and I waved at a woman scooping up nachos into a bowl. “Good afternoon,” I said, holding tight to Mojo’s leash. “I’m Charity Puck, we spoke on the phone earlier this week.”

“Of course, I remember,” she answered as she held up a finger, carrying the nachos through the racks of food and out a door to a large wooden balcony. I stood on my tiptoes and noticed the balcony overlooked the lake. There were umbrellaed tables for those hoping to relax with a beer, a great view, and the ambiance of yesteryear.

“I’m going to have to check the balcony out, Mojo,” I said as the woman strolled back through the door and approached the desk. It was a shame I couldn’t remember her name for the life of me.

When she spied Mojo, her steps faltered and she came to a halt. “Um, we allow dogs in the campground, but not in the store,” she stuttered.

I smiled the smile I always use when I’m trying to feather Mojo into staying. “I’m sorry, we just got back from town and I wanted to stop and pay my fees. We were at lunch with Gulliver Winsome, do you know him?”

She skirted Mojo widely and scuttled back behind the counter. “Oh, ya,” she said in the most Northern Wisconsin accent to ever hit my ears. “Everyone knows Gulliver. He’s a great guy under all the,” she fluffed her hands around her chest while searching for the right words.

“Fake self-assuredness?” I asked and she grinned.

“Exactly. He does a lot for our little community. Anyway, you want to pay for your stay? You pay for six nights and get the seventh free,” she explained, tapping a sign on the counter.

“Great,” I said, happily handing her my card from my pocket. “I’ll pay for the first week, but I plan to stay for the summer if I don’t get called away for work. Would it be okay to keep paying by the week? Just in case I have to take off. You can keep the money for whatever time I’ve paid for, but don’t stay.”

“Why sure, honey,” she said sweetly. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like. What do you do for a living?”

Having done this song and dance many times, I’ve learned to sugarcoat the hell out of it rather than tell people the truth. I’m a hacker and I’m excellent at what I do, but I can’t exactly use those terms. I cleared my throat. “I’m a security patch technician,” I explained. “I patch leaks in computer servers.”

She rubbed her hands together, curiosity written across her sun-baked features. “Sounds exciting! I bet you have some great stories.”

Oh boy, do I ever. “I have a few,” I agreed. “How much is it for the week then?”

“It’s one seventy-five for the week, which includes your dumping fee. If you stay more than eight weeks you’ll have paid for the seasonal rate and I wouldn’t charge you anything for the rest of the season.”

I paused in handing her my card. “Really? Most places require you to pay upfront if you want to stay for the season.”

She took the card and slid it through the machine. “I’m not most places. I don’t take joy in screwing people out of hard-earned cash. Besides, you strike me as the kind of girl who could stand to be in one place for a few months.”

I laughed, but the sound was sad rather than amused. “You’re not kidding. I need a break. I’ve been driving around the country nonstop since last September. I could use a few weeks of not moving anywhere in a vehicle unless it’s human powered.”

She pointed out to the balcony, which was half filled with campers doing nothing but staring out over the lake. “If you’re going to do it, this is the best place for it. We’ve got something for everyone. It’s rarely too hot, the water is a great place to be on a summer day, and the sights are out of this world,” she said, pointing at the ceiling. “I’m pointing up because there’s a telescope on the roof you can use.”

I put my hand to my chest in surprise and excitement. “Wow, how awesome. I was thinking last night when I arrived how neat the stars were. They didn’t simply twinkle, they were almost three dimensional in light and reflection. With so little light pollution, stargazing must be a popular pastime.”

She leaned on the counter and nodded as she handed me my card. “They’re beautiful, and let me tell you, the northern lights will leave you breathless.”

I accepted my card and put it back in my pocket. “I’m dying to see them!” I said excitedly. “I travel all around this country but have yet to luck out. I sure hope I see them while I’m here.” I left out the part about how maybe I didn’t want to see them because then I was faced with a new decision to make. I’d made promises to myself, but as long as the northern lights remained elusive, I would never have to face the promise, or lack of promise, of a new life.

“I’m sure you will, and the good news is, you don’t need a telescope to see them. If you stand on the dock by your campsite, the lights will encapsulate you. Soul changing is what it is, I’m telling you. I keep my eye on the forecast for them, and you’ll be the first to know when the next round will come.”

I signed the paper and tapped it with the pen. “I would appreciate it,” I checked her nametag, “Laverne. I think I’m going to like it here.”

“I hope you do! If you need anything we’re open here at the store from six to nine every day but Sunday. We close at six p.m. on Sunday, but we have an emergency number to call.” She bent down under the counter and searched for something, then popped back up. She handed me a magnet and I read the list of numbers. “Those numbers will be all you need for the summer. If you have any problems with your site let me know and I’ll send our maintenance guy out to help. Your area is mowed every Thursday at seven p.m. We find the guests prefer us to mow later in the day when they’re not sleeping.”

I nodded once and stuck the magnet in my back pocket. “Makes sense. I’ll just pick up a few things for the motorhome and head out. I want to check out the lake and shower before I head back to Gulliver’s tonight.”

Her eyebrows rose to her hairline as if she had a juicy tidbit of information no one else had. “You’re working with Gulliver tonight?”

“I have to do my work at night when no one else is using the system,” I explained and her brows lowered in a disappointing plummet.

“I see, what a shame. I think Gulliver could stand to get out more. The boy spends too much time with butterflies.”

I started stacking items off the shelves onto the counter, surprised when the prices weren’t much more than you’d pay in the grocery store. When I finished shopping I waited for her to ring them up. “There certainly are a lot of butterflies around his office, but at least it’s not bats or something equally gross.”

She laughed hysterically as she swiped my card again and handed me the receipt to sign. “You’re not kidding. He’s a peculiar guy, but at least he’s not into bats. We do love our Gulliver here, don’t get me wrong. I just wish he’d stop working and enjoy life a little bit.”

She slid the bag along the counter and I lifted it in one hand while holding Mojo in the other. “You never know, Laverne. Stranger things have happened. Maybe he’ll decide this is the summer he stops working all day and starts enjoying the world around him.”

She gave me a sly smile of understanding. “You never know,” she agreed, waving as I left the store.

When the door closed behind me I wore a smile on my face, too. Plentiful was filled with people who were kind and welcoming, but Gulliver Winsome was the only one on my mind.



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