Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Five

*REMEMBER This is unedited*



“You’re waddling,” he teased as we left the café and strolled down the street toward his truck. “You must be stuffed.”

“Did you see how much I ate? I won’t need lunch or supper. It’s impossible not to overeat there. I never want to leave here. Everything is plentiful,” I joked.

He chuckled, but his eyes lit as if I had said exactly what he wanted to hear. “This is only your second weekend. You might want to reserve judgment for a bit yet.”

I yanked open the door to his truck and set the to-go box I promised Laverne on the floor. “Maybe, but this is a spectacular place to hang my hat for a while.”

He gave the rim of my ballcap a tap as I leaned against the seat. “It appears you already are. Do you need a boost in?” he asked, motioning to the truck. It sat at about the same height as my motorhome, but didn’t have a step to help me get in.

“Sure, if you could,” I agreed. His crutches fell to the ground and I propped my left leg on the edge of the door, repeating what we’d done at the campground when he picked me up. Once I was inside he shut the door, grabbed his crutches, and cruised around to his side. I buckled in, but the feeling of his hands on me left little tingles of happiness all over my body. I rubbed the gleaming wood dash. “You never said you drove a fully restored 1959 Dodge truck.”

A smile tipped his lips. “In my mind you were just making conversation. Most women aren’t interested in old trucks.”

“Most women don’t drive around the country in a 1964 motorhome,” I volleyed.

“How did you come by old Myrtle?” he asked, his body twisted toward me.

I raised a brow surprised by his question. “Funny story, actually. It was a surfer dude’s gnarly haven. He’d redone the interior in the nautical theme and used it to drive from beach to beach with his boards on the top.”

“So how did you get it?”

I laughed and buried my hand in my hair. “Like dude, he needed money for the dudette he knocked up while being a gnarly surfer dude. I was backpacking through California at the time and hated every minute of it. When I happened upon the motorhome for sale, I counted out the cash into his hand and never looked back. That was six years ago now and she just keeps humming along.”

“You’ve certainly lived an interesting life to date, Charity,” he said, laughter filling his voice. “As for this truck, it wasn’t nearly as exciting. I picked it up at an auction shortly after I graduated college. It was being repossessed so I got it for a song.”

My hand smoothed its way across the red and white leather bench seat. “You’ve taken good care of it. Being in it gives my mind permission to make up a pretend childhood.”

“Come again?” he asked, his brows knitting in the most adorable way.

I stared out the window rather than make eye contact with him. The whole idea was a bit ridiculous, but now I had to answer him. “It’s the kind of truck I picture my grandpa would have driven back in the day, if I had a grandpa. He would have picked me up and taken me for ice cream or down to the pond to fish. He’d throw his old dog, Barney, in the back and we’d drive down to the five and dime or the feed store.”

He rubbed my arm for a moment before his hand fell to the seat. “I’m sorry you have to make up childhood memories, but you can use my truck to do it as much as you’d like. As long as you share your stories with me. They sound fantastic. Something tells me you’re quite creative.”

I leaned against the door to take the pressure off my overfull tummy. “Or looney, one of the two,” I said, laughing as he left the curb.

“Would you mind if we stop at the office?” he asked.

“No, do you need something?” I asked as he followed the road along the lake until the office loomed bright in the morning sunshine. I realized it was only eight a.m. and I’d already done half a day’s worth of activities. There was probably a nap in my future, then again, maybe it was just the pancakes talking.

He parked the truck in front of the office and climbed out, crutching around and offering me a hand to get down safely. I wasn’t sad we had to go through getting me back in the truck another time when we left again. It meant another time he’d touch me today. It was silly, I know, but no one ever said having a crush on someone made sense. I sucked in air and let it escape harshly through my teeth. I had a crush on him? Oh, this wasn’t good. I work for the guy and now I’m talking about crushes. This was definitely the pancakes talking, right?

“Are you okay?” He paused as he unlocked the door. “You’re hissing and whimpering.”

I cleared my throat and pasted on a smile. “Oh, no, I’m perfect. Was just deep breathing after all the food I ate,” I explained, working hard to keep the smile on my face.

He accepted my explanation and went back to unlocking the door. “I can’t believe you ditched Mojo,” he said, for the tenth time. “I feel like for the first time in a week I don’t have to be careful around you.” I cocked my head and he held up his hand. “Not what I meant,” he promised, holding the door for me to go through. Once we were in the building, he locked it again and motioned me toward his office. He leaned on the edge of his desk and sighed. “What I meant was, I’m always afraid of getting too close to you, or startling you, and having Mojo get excited and knock me over.”

I stood near him, but not too close. I was afraid I might do something I shouldn’t, like touch him, or maybe kiss him. “Like I told Laverne this morning, he’s all bark and no bite. He would never physically harm you unless you were hurting me. I see what you mean, though. He’s big and he could easily trip you up and knock you over. I didn’t take your needs into consideration when I insisted he come with me. If you’d rather, I can leave him home since I’ll be working shorter shifts now.”

He shook his head with a smile on his face. That smile was one of the reasons I had a crush on him. Every time he wore it, one grew on my face, too. “No, I can’t, and won’t, ask you to ditch your protection detail. We’ll give him a bed to hang out on. I’m confident if we’re working closely with each other he won’t bother us.”

“Nope, and if you give him a bed he won’t bother anyone, like all day.”

He laughed, his tone rich and deep, unlike the way it was the first time we met. It’s like he’s relaxed into the knowledge I’m here to help him. “I was wondering if you wanted to help me get the office set up for tomorrow. Since Chandra will be back on the phones, you’ll need a new place to work. It’ll have to be close to me since you’ll have constant questions about the website, I’m sure.”

I raised one brow in indignation. “Are you questioning my ability to write sensical information about bugs?” He raised both brows in response and I broke into a fit of giggles. “You’re right. What I know about bugs involves how to get them off the bottom of my shoe.” I gasped and slapped my hand over my mouth. “Sorry,” I croaked from behind it.

He laughed and waved it away. “Don’t worry, I’m not so naïve I think people rescue flies and put them outside to live another day. I do request you save the honeybees and the butterflies, though.”

I did the cross my heart sign. “Done. Now, what do you want me to do?”

He pointed at a desk against the wall. “It will be yours until we’re done with the site. Tell me where you think it will be best and I’ll have the maintenance people put it there tonight. Tomorrow you can set up one of your fancy dancy computers and we can rock and roll.”

“Fancy dancy computers you say?” I laughed because he wasn’t wrong. My computers weren’t for the average person to use. “The office doesn’t make for an easy way to get two desks in here,” I lamented, strolling around the space. “In one place it blocks the door, in the other, the bathroom.” I sighed. “I guess I should sit with my back to the bathroom, leaving enough room for someone to skirt behind me to get into the door. That should work.”

He raised one side of his nose in an expression of disgust. “I don’t think so. How about if we make the desks into an L?” he said, showing me with a crutch. “Since you’re going to have to constantly show me things anyway, it keeps me from having to get up every time.”

“Sure, I mean if it won’t cramp your style to have me so close,” I agreed, leaving the bathroom area and approaching his desk.

“Trust me. I like having you close,” he promised. His hand snaked toward me, but he stopped it at the last moment before he touched my hand.

I didn’t let his fall all the way back to the desk before I grabbed it and held onto it like the lifeline he had become for me. “I do trust you, and trust isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I like being with you, too. You make me laugh, and I genuinely can’t wait to spend time with you. I’d like to do more things outside the office with you. I mean if you’d like to,” I added lamely, when I realized I’d basically asked him out on a date.

His free hand slipped up along the side of my face and his thumb ran across my cheekbone. “I’d like to spend more time with you when we aren’t working, but I don’t want to hold you back.”

I tipped my head into his hand, the warmth of his skin grounding and exciting me at the same time. “Hold me back? What do you mean?”

“Physically,” he answered. “There are plenty of things I can’t do.”

“And I wouldn’t ask you to do them, Gulliver. We don’t have to go out of our way to find things you can’t do. There are thousands of activities in this world and it will be simple to find things you can do.”

Several emotions ran across his face before he spoke again. “I don’t want you to hang out with me because you feel sorry for me.”

I swung my head from side-to-side. “I have no reason to feel sorry for you, Gulliver. My God, you’re far more successful than I could ever be, not to mention smart, funny, cute, and a great conversationalist. I want to spend more time with you for those reasons and nothing else.”

He blinked several times and finally a smile curved his lips. “No one has ever said I’m cute before,” he said on a breath. “I like being cute.”

I jiggled with laughter. “Keep it up and I’ll rescind the cute part of the sentence,” I said, poking him in the ribs.

He let out a bark of laughter and bent over to protect his side. When he ducked his head, our eyes met and he leaned in, his lips seeking mine in a hesitant kiss. I relaxed into him slightly to tell him I was a willing participant. He kept the kiss light, but the unexpected emotion was anything but. I wanted him to take this so much further, but he never would, at least not the first time he laid his lips on mine.

He let his lips fall away and he stared into my eyes. What reflected back at me was a wonderment, tinged with a small amount of fear. The fear he’d crossed a line and the fear he hadn’t. I still held his hand, so I squeezed it and offered up a smile to let him know I wasn’t upset. “The kiss was unexpected, but wonderful,” I whispered.

He sighed and his shoulders sank as his chin lowered to his chest. “I was worried I shouldn’t have done it about halfway through.”

“I could tell,” I said, tipping his chin up. “I would have told you no if I didn’t want you to kiss me. We’ve been building up to the kiss since we met and I’m glad we shared it. Now I know with absolute certainty I want to get to know you better.”

He grinned and heaved himself up from the desk. “Maybe we should start today then?” he asked, releasing my hand to grab his crutches. “We could go for a drive or hang out at the motorhome and have a campfire?”

I tapped his chest with my finger. “I was thinking of something a lot more fun.”

“Share,” he ordered, following me to the door of his office. “Do I need to change clothes before we leave?”

I eyed him up and down. “Probably, if we’re going to the island,” I agreed, one side of my lips tipping up.

“The island? Which one, there’s twenty-one of them,” he said, his laughter teasing.

“She said something about Oak Island, but said we should stay away from the smaller rocky islands?”

“Who’s she?” he asked, leading me down a hallway I hadn’t been through at all this past week. The door was locked and I had no reason to go through it. Now I understood why. It led to his apartment, and he had a private entrance from the reception area.

“Laverne. She offered to let us take the campground boat to the island for the day. She said I should take you to see your bugs.”

He snorted unexpectedly, nearly choking until he coughed to clear his throat. “Wow, my reputation precedes me,” he giggled.

He punched in a code and the door clicked, allowing us entrance, much like a hotel. I strolled in nonchalantly, unsure what to expect, but stopped dead a few feet from the door. The room was spectacular, and not at all what I was expecting.

“What?” he asked, closing the door behind him. “Too many bugs?”

It was my turn to giggle. “Give me a chance to take it all in,” I whispered. I stood in the kitchen and was surprised by how roomy the whole living space really was. The kitchen was galley style, with room for a small table against the opposite wall. A half wall divided the kitchen from the living room, which held a sofa, recliner, and TV. The most fascinating part was the walls, which were covered in small memory boxes, each one filled with a butterfly or moth of a different color or size. They were breathtaking as groupings above the television and couch. “Where on earth did you get all of these butterflies? Are they models?”

He shook his head sadly and followed me into the living room. “Unfortunately, they aren’t. They’re all from my travels. I found most of them, but a few were given to me. Some people think they’re too macabre to use for decorating, but it’s me, so they shouldn’t.”

My eyes were glued to the groupings on the wall as I nodded. “Fascinating, actually. I’ve never been this close to a butterfly before. Unless you count when I find them smashed against the grill of my motorhome.” I groaned and hit myself in the forehead. “Not again,” I moaned. “Ignore me.”

He laughed and rubbed my arms as a silent assurance. “It’s the circle of life,” he sang, his tone gone horribly wrong. “You make me laugh, so don’t worry about it. I don’t take myself so seriously I can’t grasp what goes on in the real world. Bugs die, thousands every minute. They aren’t made to live for years and years, they’re a bug. They’re important to our ecosystem, but there will always be another one.”

“Until there isn’t,” I said grimly.

He nodded once. “Until there isn’t, but we aren’t going to worry about the ecosystem today. I guess we’re going boating?”

I clapped excitedly then did a fist pump for good measure. “Yes! Let’s do it. What do we need to take with us?”

He threw his arm around my shoulder and kissed my cheek. “You have much to learn young grasshopper.”

***

“Do I get to see inside the infamous Myrtle the Turtle?” he asked as we approached the motorhome. When we arrived at the campground he drove straight to the main office where we talked with Laverne about taking the boat. She encouraged us to do it, offered to load the boat with our cooler and all kinds of bug hunting stuff, which apparently is called ‘field collection supplies,’ for us while I changed my clothes. We promised we’d be right back and left Mojo in her care until I had what I needed from Myrtle.

I peeked over at the motorhome and bit my lip. “You’re welcome to come in if you can get up the stairs. I’m afraid the step is high and not exactly wide.”

He motioned me forward. “I have a butt, and I know how to use it,” he said, his laughter filling the air around the motorhome. I stuck my key in the lock and unlocked the door, giving him space to figure out how to do it. Suddenly, I had an idea.

“Hey, the front will work better. Get in the passenger side and swing around in the seat. I’ll lift your crutches in through the door.”

He kissed my cheek on the way by to the cab. “You’re brilliant. I didn’t even think about the cab.”

I took his crutches once he was in the truck, and angled them in through the side door, holding them out to him once we were both safely inside. He gazed around the space appreciatively. “This is cool. I don’t even need the crutches. It’s small enough I can hold onto the counters.”

I grinned as I leaned on the wall by my bedroom. “I was definitely living the tiny home life long before it was the hip thing to do.”

He eyed the dorm fridge, three-burner stove, and tiny stainless-steel sink before he spoke. “Maybe, but I think it’s perfect for you. Everything is Charity sized.”

I chuckled as he lowered himself to the red Naugahyde couch. “You’re not wrong there,” I agreed as I ducked into my bedroom.

“We should take her over to Madeline Island and do some camping,” he suggested from the other side of the curtain.

“Would it fit on the ferry?” I asked as I changed my clothes. He also informed me I needed my hat, hiking boots, sunscreen, and a rain parka, because on Lake Superior it could decide to rain in the blink of an eye. He wasn’t kidding, either. I’d already experienced the change-on-a-dime weather in the short week I’d been here. Sunny one minute, raining the next, and then sunny again. It was like Mother Nature was suffering some severe mental distress.

“Sure, people take RVs over there all the time, and this is small compared to some of them. There are tons of little shops, great restaurants, and neat places to hike. If you haven’t been you shouldn’t leave the area until you do.”

“Sounds like a blast,” I agreed. “I’m searching for more fun in my life. I’m glad you like to do these things, too. It’s always nicer to have a buddy to share in the experience.”

I stopped speaking long enough to yank my shirt over my head when he muttered something I couldn’t quite make out. It sounded like, great, now I’m a buddy, but I couldn’t be sure.

He cleared his throat. “After we get the website done we’ll go over for a weekend. We’ll make it our reward for a job well done.”

I opened the accordion door and fastened it to the wall. “I think you need it as much as I do,” I said, standing in front of him. Even sitting he was taller than me, which was something I was used to, but I could tell he wasn’t. “For the record, I don’t think of you as a buddy as much as I think of you as a man who has captivated me. I can’t define it any other way, yet.”

He took my hands and nodded once. “Understood, and for the record, I feel the same. Also for the record, you’re awfully darn cute in your little outfit,” he said, tugging on my khaki hiking shorts.

I did a curtsey at his compliment. “Thank you, thank you,” I joked, going to the one closet I had to get my sunhat. “I’m packing a pair of pants in my sleeping bag in case it gets cool.”

“Sleeping bag?” he asked, one brow up in the air.

I held up the blue bag rolled tightly and tied with a black string. “Mojo will want to sleep on something soft in the boat. He’s not a totally adventurous kind of guy.”

He threw his hand to his chest in mock surprise. “I’m shocked by this. We could leave him with Laverne. She did say she didn’t mind keeping him.”

I grabbed my raincoat and sleeping bag, setting them on the small dinette. “She did, but he’s been with her all morning and he’s not going to stand for it. Besides, he needs the exercise once we’re on the island.”

He sat patiently while I jammed everything in a bag to take with us. “True, and he will keep the bears from getting too curious about us as well.”

I spun on my heel as my heart pounded. “Bears? You’re kidding me, right? It’s an island.”

“Bears can swim,” he teased, still laughing. “In fact, bears love to swim because they love to fish. There are black bears all over the Apostle Islands.”

I threw up my hands in frustration. “Forget it, I’m not going.” I plunked down on the dinette while he laughed, falling to the side of the couch, his whole body shaking. As much as I wanted to be mad at him for laughing at me, he was too cute. This was the first time I’d seen him this amused. When he sat up and wiped his eyes, there was a smile on his lips and his eyes were shining bright like the sunshine. “What’s so funny?” I huffed.

“Dear, sweet—”

I waved my hand around. “Yeah, yeah, I know, dear, sweet, naïve Charity.”

He snorted, trying to hold in his laughter again until he could compose himself. “As I was going to say, if you think you’re safe from them in this campground, you’re delusional. This is northern Wisconsin. Bears are everywhere.”

I gazed out the door at the sign on the side of the path that mentioned not leaving food out due to bears. “I did see the sign, but since I live in a motorhome I figured no bears would bother me. I don’t want a grizzly bear attacking Myrtle or Mojo,” I said, craning my neck to see outside the windows.

He stood and slipped in next to me on the dinette bench. He put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed it. “No, honey. Grizzly bears don’t live here. They live out west and up into Canada. Black bears are what we have in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Bears are more scared of us than we are of them. They’re also not going to mess with Mojo, since they’re scared of dogs. I’ve known little poodles to scare off bears. One bark from Mojo and any bear hanging around will be outta here. People wouldn’t camp in tents and go hike the islands if bears were a menacing danger. As long as you’re smart, they’ll leave you alone. Keep your food locked up and don’t antagonize them if one comes along. When you’re out with the dog, if one crashes through the trail on you, keep hold of Mojo and don’t be aggressive, but yell at it to go. It will. They don’t want to confront anyone. If you’d feel better we can get you some bear mace, but I doubt you’d ever need it.”

I bit my lip in hesitation, not wanting to tell him I was a chicken. “It would make me feel better,” I admitted. “Especially when I’m out walking Mojo.”

He patted my shoulder in reassurance. “Not a problem, they sell it in town at the sports shop. We’ll pick some up tomorrow at lunch. Today we’ll be safe, no bears will bother us since we aren’t camping, we aren’t carrying food onto the island, and Mojo will be with us. We won’t be alone either. It’s a summer day in June. There will be plenty of people on the islands.”

“If you’re sure. I’m a chicken sissy, but a bear could eat me for lunch in one bite.”

He laughed heartily and kissed my cheek. “Nah, you’re far too grizzled for them to pick you for lunch.”

I shoved his shoulder as he laughed until I couldn’t help but join him. He held up his hands. “I’m kidding. Are you ready? We told Laverne we’d only be a few minutes.”

He stood and held onto the table, deliberately stepping to the seat at the front of the cab and lowering himself to it. I grabbed his crutches and opened the side door. “I’m ready. Once you’re out of here I’ll grab our stuff.”

We repeated our earlier maneuvers before I tucked the sleeping bag and gear under my arm. We strolled down the path slowly, being mindful of the uneven ground and his crutches. He was extremely swift on them and I realized he used them more for balance than as crutches. He can put all his weight on his legs, but he isn’t steady when he can’t hang onto something.

“Aren’t you going to be hot?” I asked as we trucked to the office. “Or should I have worn pants?”

His shrug was meant to be nonchalant, but it wasn’t. It was jumpy instead. “You’ll be fine as long as you use bug spray. There are a lot of ticks out on the islands where we’ll be hiking.”

“Maybe I should put my pants on then,” I said, glancing at the bag. “I didn’t think about ticks.”

“We’ll be covered in spray, and shorts sometimes make them easier to see anyway. We’ll play it by ear. Sometimes, if I know the ticks will be bad I rubber band my pants legs to be sure none get in. Where we’re going there are trails, so it won’t be as bad as trudging through the underbrush.”

“I see, you wear pants as protection from ticks,” I said, but I noticed him staring straight ahead, uncomfortably. I decided to drop it altogether since I could see he didn’t wear them just because of ticks. “We should leave the cooler on the boat, right? We don’t want anyone messing with it while we’re exploring?”

He sighed, but it wasn’t exasperated as much as it was relieved. “Right, and the bears,” he said, a grin on his face.

“You’re so hilarious,” I said, sticking my tongue out.

“I know, but the truth is, it’s a bear tested cooler, so it would be fine, but we’ll get the cooler when we’re ready for a snack at a picnic table. It’s already almost eleven. We may not even want to eat there. We’ll have to keep an eye on the weather and make sure we get back before dark. We can always have a campfire here.”

I clapped with enthusiasm. “Yes, we will. Laverne said there could be a chance for the northern lights tonight!” I exclaimed excitedly. “I’ve never seen them.”

One side of his lips tipped up. “I did see in the forecast there was a possibility they’ll be at a three tonight,” he agreed as he crutched closer to the office. “The predictions become more accurate the closer you get, so they say within an hour they know exactly where they will be. We’ll have to check it again later.”

“Wait, a three? I don’t understand.” I kicked a rock out of the way as we strolled, so he didn’t have to avoid it. Weird how I noticed those things now and wanted to help him.

“The aurora is scaled by numbers. You need a certain number or higher to be able to see them. Here, we only need a three and they’ll be vivid enough to see. Places further south need much higher numbers.”

“You’re saying a three is good?” I asked, my excitement growing again.

“It’s the bottom of the barrel, so to say,” he explained. “You’ll see the lights, but they may not be as vibrant as say if the number was at a five for tonight. If you’ve never seen them, you probably won’t care if it’s not a super show, right?”

I shook my head side-to-side, almost spastic like. “No, I’ll take anything to be honest. I know there will be more chances, but I’m tired of waiting.”

He threw his head back and laughed with an abandon he only had when we were together relaxing. “There will be plenty of chances, but you don’t always get a clear night. When there aren’t any clouds the lights are brighter and the stars add to it as they shine. It’s a wonder to see the first time. Well, every time really, but the first time you see them you’ll never forget.”

We arrived at the office and I held the door open for him. I followed him in and noticed Mojo passed out behind the counter. “Hey there, big boy,” I called softly so I didn’t startle him. He lumbered to his feet immediately upon hearing my voice and wound himself around me, as if I hadn’t just seen him a few minutes ago. I patted his back and rubbed his chin, cooing about him being a good boy.

Laverne dashed back into the store from the balcony and pointed at him. “Best dog on the planet,” she laughed, as he sat primly next to me. “He doesn’t bother a soul unless someone gets too in your face, then he makes his presence known.”

I rubbed his ears the way he liked it. “I’ve trained him well,” I joked. “Thanks for watching him. It was nice being off Mojo duty for a few hours.”

“He’s welcome to stay here any time,” she insisted. “And thanks for the breakfast, it started my Sunday off right.” She patted her tummy as she wandered behind the counter again. “You heading out?”

Gulliver nodded. “We appreciate you letting us use the boat. I know she’s not ready for kayaking eight miles to the islands.”

“Eight miles?” I asked, my voice cracking on a high note. “I can’t kayak a mile.”

Laverne and Gulliver both laughed simultaneously. “Exactly why you’re taking the boat,” she said. “There are emergency supplies, and an extra gas tank in the back hatch,” she explained, handing Gulliver the keys. “Be careful and head back if the weather starts to turn. Oh, the office will be closed when you get back, so keep the keys until tomorrow. If you want the best view of the northern lights,” she pointed up, “visit the roof. You won’t have any trees obstructing your view up there.”

I gave her a thumbs up, but the idea of seeing the northern lights finally, after all these years, made my heart pound. “You know we’re going to try to see them. Will you come to watch, too?” I asked as we headed to the door.

“We have a dock by our cabin, so maybe I’ll mosey down there. Have fun!” she said as she held the door, winking at Gulliver as we left.

I wasn’t sure what the winking was about, but as I followed him out there was no doubt in my mind I was going to have a blast.



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