Author Katie Mettner

Butterflies and Hazel Eyes ~ Chapter Four

*REMEMBER This is unedited*



I gazed out across the lake, the slight breeze tippling the blue-green water into tiny peaks of white. The way the sun reflected off the waves left no doubt there truly was a Lady of the Lake, and she was as alive as any woman you’ve ever met.

His finger pointed in front of me and I naturally followed its arc. “Seeing the Apostle Islands up close is totally worth it,” Gulliver said. “There are twenty-one islands, many with old world lighthouses. The lighthouses are automated now, but they still shine over the lake like sentries to protect the sailors traversing the cold, dangerous water.”

“How do you get out to the islands,” I asked. “Ferry?”

“Ferries run to some of the islands, but you also have leisure cruises, private boat rentals, and personal watercraft including kayaks.”

I gave him an out the side of my eye stare of uncomfortable disbelief. “I’ve never kayaked and I don’t think the first place I want to do it is Lake Superior.”

He leaned back in his chair to relax. “Oh, dear, sweet, naïve Charity, how wrong you are. Lake Superior is the only place you should do it.”

I smiled against my will at the man next to me. When we finished breakfast this morning he planned to go back to Butterfly Junction and keep working. I convinced him it was Sunday, a day of rest, and the work would be there for him tomorrow. Besides, we worked again last night for a few hours, just to make sure I had all the doors closed in his server. I had some more code to write tomorrow to beef up the security, which I would do during the day at Chandra’s desk. Tonight, I’d be able to sleep and get myself turned back around to daytime work. The way I figured it, I’d easily be there for a few weeks finishing the job, which was okay. I had nothing else lined up and if I was honest with myself, I loved spending time with Gulliver. I was starting to see my nomadic and solitary lifestyle had gotten old years ago, and was no longer sustainable. I need contact with people more often than an hour before and after a job. I need more interaction than what I get at a diner in the middle of nowhere with a waitress who could care less what I have to say. I didn’t realize how much I yearned to be part of a community until I drove into the little town of Plentiful. I now understood in my heart how hard it was going to be to leave.

I put those thoughts out of my head and crossed my arms over my chest. “Would you teach me how?” I asked. “To kayak, I mean. I’ve never been in one. I’m ridiculously short and I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.”

He eyed me up and down for longer than necessary, but I didn’t mind. His eyes weren’t creepy or sneering, but rather caring and interested. “You are ridiculously short,” he said, his voice filled with laughter.

I punched him lightly in the arm, laughing with him. “Watch it buster, I work hard on this figure,” I said, running my hands down my body seductively. “Not everyone can pull off being a little person.”

His eyes widened in embarrassment as he registered what I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were an actual little person.”

“An actual little person, versus a fictitious little person?” I asked, slightly amused by his wording.

He grimaced and I couldn’t help but think it was cute. He was cute in general, but his facial expressions always allowed me to experience his inner emotions with him, both good and bad. “No, I meant, you know, the word you aren’t supposed to use for little people because it’s not politically correct.”

“Ohhhh,” I said, suddenly understanding why he was uncomfortable. “You mean, dwarf?”

His gaze darted around the empty balcony, for whatever reason, before he answered. “Um, yeah.” He said nothing more, just waited for me to answer while he stared out over the lake.

I worked hard not to roll my eyes to the heavens. “I guess it comes down to each individual person and what they prefer to be called,” I explained. “Dwarfism is the medical term for short stature, but movies and TV have given the word a negative connotation, so people tend to avoid it now.”

He nodded, his hand to his forehead as he searched the lake for something I couldn’t see. “Right. I get it, I do. It’s not as if my legs are exactly easy to describe either.”

My heart ached for him in the way his words were filled with great sadness and pain. My hand automatically rested on his shoulder and squeezed it, dropping down far enough to rub his back above the chair. “In my opinion, we’re more than the attributes of our physical bodies, right?” I asked.

His shoulder tipped up under my hand but it took a long time to go down again. “Supposedly, but in this day and age, our bodies carry a lot of weight when people form opinions about us.”

I blew out a breath of acknowledgment and understanding. “You’re absolutely right. I would imagine it’s even harder for you. By medical definition I’m a little person, but my dwarfism is proportionate, which makes it easy for me to blend in. I don’t have any of the disabling issues many suffer from with other types of dwarfism. I can’t relate, nor would I ever claim to relate, to those who truly suffer from the disorder. I’m short. I can deal with it.”

He pointed behind us at the campground. “I have to ask. How do you drive a gigantic motorhome? I know you can’t even touch those pedals.”

I chuckled and my whole body jiggled. He often said things to tickle me all the way to my toes, and I found myself aching for the time we spent together. “I have pedal extensions. The cab of the motorhome has the same distance from seat to floor as a truck, so it’s not a huge stretch. My arms are reasonably long, which makes it easier to horse the motorhome around curves and into campgrounds. Myrtle is also only twenty-one feet long. Anything bigger and I’d have serious problems. To be honest, I’m enjoying my time here. I’ve never had Myrtle parked for an entire summer where I have nothing to do but take in the fresh air and sunshine. My soul has been seriously lacking in relaxation lately.”

It was his turn to rub my back as we sat together in the morning sunshine. Most of the other campers weren’t out of their motorhomes yet, though the scent of bacon was beginning to waft toward our noses, which meant soon the grounds would come alive and our private time would end.

“I feel guilty for hiring you for a one-night job and now you’re tied up for a couple weeks,” he said, his gaze trained on my face. “You can tell me no at any time.”

I shook my head at his words and patted his face. “Nope, don’t feel guilty. While I like to relax, I also like to work. This is the perfect mix for me. I can keep my skills sharp and still have plenty of time to sit my butt in one place and enjoy life for a little while.”

A smile worked its way across his face to replace the frown. “If you’re sure, but you can tell me you’re done whenever you need to be done, even if we aren’t finished with the website.”

My brows knitted in anger and frustration. “I’m not the kind of girl who leaves her friends in a lurch, Gulliver. I said I’d help you get this issue straightened out and I meant it.”

He took my hand and squeezed it, but I noticed he didn’t let go. “I’ll take you at your word then, thank you. We do need to discuss your pay, however. We agreed upon your regular wage, which was for one night of work. You’re already into this job for two nights.”

I bit my lower lip, worrying it around. I expected him to mention this, but I wasn’t sure how to respond. I didn’t want to offend him, but at the same time, I didn’t want to charge him either.

He drummed his fingers on his knees while he waited. “I sent Chandra on vacation. She readily agreed since I told her I’d keep paying her for the week she was gone. She didn’t ask questions, just jumped at the chance to go see some family in Superior.”

I rubbed Mojo’s ears after he sat up to see what was happening. He’d been sleeping since we sat down on the balcony. “I’m glad she didn’t fight you about it.”

He laughed and the sound carried across the water in a relaxed and carefree kind of way. “Oh, she was curious, so I lied and told her I was upgrading some of the computer equipment. I indicated she wouldn’t be able to do her work during the time the computers were switched around. She was happy with the explanation and mostly just wanted reassurance she wasn’t being fired or replaced.”

“I can understand her concerns. She won’t be, unless of course she’s the mole.”

He shook his head at me, his mouth slightly ajar. “You’re like a dog with a bone when it comes to this.”

“I don’t like people who steal and cheat to get what they want. If other companies want a safe pesticide they should do the work themselves.”

He took a drink of the brandy old-fashioned in front of him. It was an odd choice of drinks on a Sunday morning if you asked me, but it made him happy. Considering I was drinking a glass of tomato juice straight, I probably had nothing to say about his choices.

He started to chuckle and eventually he was full on laughing until I cocked my head at him. He finally held up his hand as he got himself under control. “Sorry, but it struck me as funny you think a company would spend its own money on R&D when they’re raking in money hand over fist with their current product.”

I motioned at him, the sunlight glinting off his eyes and making them dance. Whenever I was with him, I had to force myself not to be constantly distracted by the way his eyes told me everything his words didn’t. “You do, so why can’t they?” I had to admit I was confused by the whole thing, but I didn’t want him to know exactly how much of a dolt I was. I might know computers, but I don’t have a college degree. Hell, I barely have a high school degree.

He set his glass down and addressed me. “Actually, I don’t. All of the research money comes from grants I apply for and our private investors. I spend as much time applying for the money to keep researching as I do the actual research. The business stays alive on the other things we do, like restocking butterfly populations, offering seminars to conservationists about protecting the ecosystem in their forest or urban area, and selling safe seeds to homeowners to plant butterfly gardens.”

“I see,” I said as I drank from the glass. “What you’re saying is the research and development portion is secondary to what you do, or is it vice versa?”

He pointed at me and I noticed the light dim in his eyes a bit. Research and development were not his true love. His eyes told me far more than his lips when it came to that. “The latter. I do all the other branches of the business as a way to keep the business alive and viable. As an entomologist, what’s most important is the development of the safe pesticides before all our bugs are gone and the waterways are destroyed.”

“I imagine it’s still stressful. Especially when you want to go do other things, but you’re tied to the office.”

He tossed his head back and laughed. “Charity, breakfast out with you was the first thing I’ve done socially in over a year.”

I hung my head and shook it in sadness. “I’m sorry, but you must lead an incredibly solitary life. I mean I’m lonely, but I travel for a living.” I cocked my head to the left as I stared him down. “What about your family?”

His gaze flitted back to the lake, so I couldn’t read his true emotions. “I see them occasionally. No one goes out of their way to get together except once a year. We were always a bit dysfunctional and it hasn’t improved with age. The only person I see frequently is my brother.”

I held up both hands. “Hey, I can totally commiserate with you about family. Mine won’t win any awards either.”

We fell into silence then, both of us forcing our gaze to stay on the lake, instead of each other. At least I was forcing mine. I couldn’t say for sure if he was because I refused to glance at him. There was a strange chemistry between us I couldn’t explain. I’ve never been overly interested in dating, considering the life I lead, but something about this man drew me right in. All he wanted was to give this world something bigger than himself. In order to find the solution to a problem we’re all affected by, he had to give up a lot in life with the knowledge there would be no notoriety in the end.

“We never discussed your new wage,” he said, as he stared over the water and islands beyond us. “I can’t afford to pay you the going rate for each day you work, but I’ll make it worth your time.”

I rested my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. “I’m not charging you, Gulliver. You’ve already paid me for the first night. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the hours I put in are hours invested in my future. If you find a way to save the bees and pollinators of the world, I’ll be able to keep eating. If you provide a solution to the field runoff so I have safe drinking water, I’ll be happy. As far as I’m concerned that’s payment enough.”

He twisted toward me slowly, as if what I said didn’t compute. “Seriously?” he asked. My nod was all he needed to know I was dead serious. “Most people don’t understand the importance of what I do, nor do they care. You come across as truly understanding it,” he whispered.

I slipped my hand into his, which lay on his lap, and squeezed it once. “I understand more than you want me to, Gulliver. I understand how you struggle every day to get up in the morning and do your job when it feels like no one cares. I understand how when the day is over and you go home, in the same place you work, how alone you feel staring at those four walls. So rather than keep torturing yourself with the emptiness inside, you go back to work until you can’t keep your eyes open. Sure, occasionally you go out and have some fun, but there’s always this underlying hum of despair and loneliness while you’re out. The only time you find solace in the world is when you’re paddling across the water, the sun glinting off the waves as you aim your boat toward an unexplored island filled with the things you love most. It’s when you find yourself unexpectedly smackdab in the middle of a swarm of butterflies that you can forget the rest of the world for a few moments. I understand how the life you’ve chosen for yourself was exciting and noble when you first started, but now leaves you questioning humanity and our inability to repel evil. If there is one thing I understand to the depths of my soul, it’s the feeling of being isolated and separated from everyone on a daily basis, no matter how hard you try to fit in. It isn’t something I admit to myself often or with ease, but it’s always there.”

When I finished speaking, the last words falling from my lips in a harsh whisper, his chin hung open limply. His chair made a thumping sound as he twisted it toward me and instantly I was in his arms, wrapped up in a soul that sang the same song mine did, every single day.

***

I inhaled the scent of the lake mixed with the vestiges of last night’s campfires. The scents, sounds, and sights are always fresh and different at every campground, and there’s nothing better than living in a camping community. They’re always a fantastic place to meet fun people to hang with, weird people you’d rather avoid, and a place to forge friendships with some you revisit year after year. For the last week I rose every morning at five to take a stroll with the dog down to the dock, which is where my butt was currently parked. I could drink my coffee in the wonder of Mother Nature as she came alive for another new day. The last week spent writing code and answering phones at Butterfly Junction with Gulliver was enlightening, and even though I didn’t see him much during the day, I found myself waiting for those snippets of time we could spend together.

Chandra would be back tomorrow, but I wished I had another week alone. Once she was back I’d have to find someplace else to work while we finished upgrading the website. The server was no longer hackable, and I know this because I tried for three nights straight from three different computers, on four different IP addresses, and hotspots to boot. No one was getting the secrets to the Butterfly Code, as I had taken to calling it, now. A fortress had been built and anyone who wanted in would have to show their hand in an attempt to get it.

Gulliver was starting to twitch the longer the website stayed down. The uptick in phone calls had continued all week, which told me he had the right to be concerned. The breach was fixed now and it was time to get the website going again. I would work on it diligently this week while I used my feminine wiles to convince Gulliver to come out to the campground and have a bit of fun. He was always too focused on his work and tended to forget normal people don’t work sixteen hours a day. It was Sunday today, exactly a week since we sat on the balcony and shared a hug, and it should be a day of rest. The problem was, I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, the emotions I often see in his eyes, and the way his arms wrap all the way around me so easily. He’s a consummate professional at the office, but the underlying level of desire radiating from him tells me I’m not alone in the way I feel.

I sighed as I gazed up at the bright blue sky. “Lord preserve me. I’m never this weird. I mean I’m weird, but this place is making me downright strange.”

“Oh, honey, downright strange is the best way to be,” a voice said behind me.

I jumped, nearly toppling into the water and Mojo lumbered to his feet to bare his teeth at the woman. She froze with her mug in one hand and held her breath. “Mojo, chill,” I scolded. He proceeded to chill by flopping back to the dock to lie in the sunshine. I pointed at him. “Sorry, you scared me and he reacted.”

She waved her hand, but her feet never budged from their spot on the dock. “No, it was my fault. I should know better than to sneak up on people. I forgot all about Mojo being part of the picture. At least he does his job well. It’s awfully early for you to be out here. I was doing a check of the campground when I noticed you,” Laverne explained.

I motioned for her to grab the other chair and carry it over. She joined me and sipped her coffee, staring over the sparkling water as if it was a completely new sight and not one she witnessed all day every day. “What do you think of our little piece of heaven so far? You’ve been here a week and haven’t hit the road,” she said, as if leading me into a conversation.

“I love it here,” I answered honestly. “There’s no place like it, which is saying something considering I’ve traveled the whole of these fifty United States. I have Gulliver’s server ready now, so I can work shorter days and enjoy more of the beauty the lake has to offer,” I said, vaguely uninformative about what I was doing at Butterfly Junction.

She nodded as she drank from her travel mug, the steam from the cup escaping into the cool morning air. I was most surprised to find out mornings on Lake Superior are often barely fifty degrees, even in the summertime. You’ll never hear me complain, though. I love the cold much more than heat. Wisconsin was one of those places where the weather changed regularly and frequently, but you didn’t mind because the beauty was worth the occasional upset in your plans.

“I’m dying to visit the Apostle Islands. They’re beautiful, intriguing, and call my name every time I stand on the shore. It’s next on my to-do list,” I added, because the silence was making me uncomfortable.

“You should take the ferry over with Gulliver and have him show you around the island. You can even camp there for the night.”

“Which ferry? Gulliver said he takes the kayak over all the time.”

Her lips pursed in a manner of great disapproval. “He does, but I wish he wouldn’t. Lake Superior is not known for her calm demeanor. It’s like he’s trying to kill himself going out there in a kayak. I would prefer if you didn’t encourage it,” she added.

I nearly snorted coffee out my nose at her words. “I’m not sure I have much to say in the matter. He’s a grownup and has obviously done it for years. I can’t say you’ll catch me paddling out to the islands, though. I’ve never been in a kayak and Lake Superior doesn’t strike me as the kind of place a newbie should be out in the middle of.”

She shook her head as she gazed out over the water toward the green islands dotting the blue like a palette. “No, it’s not. I’ve had to bury too many friends because of this lake.” She paused as if she was going to say something more but took a drink of coffee instead. When she lowered her cup, she spoke again. “You can borrow the campground’s boat if you’d like. You have to go on a calm day, because the boat isn’t huge, but it will easily get you out to Oak Island for a little getaway. You could even take a tent and camp for the night.”

I considered her offer for a moment before I answered. “I might take you up on that, Laverne. It sounds like fun, but can Gulliver, you know, get around on the islands?”

“I can’t speak for him, but I know Oak Island has a boat dock and a nice path. Most of the other ones you want to avoid. The shores are rocky and hard to navigate.”

“Great, I’ll talk to him about it tomorrow. It’s been nothing but work, work, work and we’re already into the second week of June. I need to get some exploring in, but exploring alone isn’t much fun. I like going with someone who enjoys being in the outdoors and is knowledgeable about the area we’re in.”

“Gulliver Winsome would definitely qualify then,” she agreed. “He’s always got his nose stuck in a book or magazine about butterflies. If you didn’t know what he did for a living it might be weird.”

I laughed, truly amused by her words. “The first time I had to ride in the Butterfly Junction van it was definitely weird,” I agreed. “Now, I don’t mind it at all. It’s funny how what we initially think is weird or embarrassing is actually kind of cool.”

She winked at me with a grin on her face. “Human nature is a funny thing. Sometimes we forget what we see on the outside doesn’t come close to the heart of the situation.”

I snorted sarcastically at the woman who was grinning like a fool. “Gee, Laverne, was that a euphemism for something? I could hardly understand such a pointed sentence.”

Coffee flew out her nose instantly and she had to cover her face with her hand until she got herself under control. She used her t-shirt to wipe up her face and hands, but she was laughing while she did it. “Okay, I totally deserved your shade there.” She was still laughing when my phone rang.

I yanked it out of my pocket and spied a familiar number. Holding my finger up to Laverne to hold on, I answered it. “Hi, Gulliver,” I said, winking at Laverne whose grin grew exponentially. After a couple of short answers, I hung up again and tucked my phone away in my pocket.

“Gulliver, you say?” she asked and I nodded shyly.

“He was wondering if I had time to go to breakfast this morning at the café,” I explained.

“Which is why you said you have nothing but time,” she said excitedly.

“It’s true,” I said, enjoying the back and forth banter with her. It was becoming more and more obvious I needed to develop some stronger bonds with people who care about me in this life. “He’s picking me up in ten minutes. He wants to be at the café before it gets busy. He’s always self-conscious with his crutches at the buffet.”

Her lips dipped down into a frown and her eyes dimmed for a breath. “I would never have considered how he carries things,” she admitted. “It must be a real pain most of the time.”

“He doesn’t let on, but I can only imagine. He’s excellent with those sticks, but it’s hard to carry something and use two crutches. I don’t mind helping him carry his plate, and it makes me feel good to know he trusts me to have his back with it, too. The food there is unlike anything I’ve ever had. I’ll probably gain fifty pounds this summer if I don’t figure out an exercise plan.”

She waved her hand at me in dismissal. “I know for a fact you walk at least two miles with the dog every day. We have bicycles at the office too, you just grab one and take off, you don’t need to sign them out or anything.” She eyed me and raised her brow. “I would stick with one of the girl BMX bikes we have. I don’t want you to get hurt on the bigger ones.”

I laughed gleefully at the idea of me riding a ten-speed bike. “You’re too funny, Laverne, but you’re also right. I haven’t ridden a bike in at least ten years. Maybe I better start with a trike and work my way up.”

She stood, still chuckling as she returned the chair to the edge of the dock. “I’m sure you’d be fine. Well, I’ll let you get back to the motorhome since Mr. Winsome is on his way. If you guys decide to take the boat out, stop by the office when you get back from breakfast. The weatherman reports you’ll have a beautiful day. They’re even saying tonight might be a possibility for the aurora borealis.”

I clapped my hands so loudly Mojo woke up. “Seriously? I’m stoked!”

She held her hands out to calm me. “It was just a possibility. They predict, but they aren’t precise. I would suggest being ready for them over the next few nights, though. Even if they’re not strong, if you’ve never seen them before, they’ll still wow you.”

Mojo and I followed her up the embankment to the path, his leash in my hand. I rarely clipped it on him anymore. He never got more than two feet away from me, so unless we were going to be on the road headed into town, he got a little bit of freedom, too.

When we crested over the top of the hill the birds were singing their songs of peace and happiness, and the sun was drying the dewy grass. “Say,” Laverne said, pointing at Mojo. “Why don’t I keep him for you while you eat? You can’t take him along and he’ll be lonesome in the motorhome.”

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Only a few minutes ago she was scared of the beast, and now she was offering to keep him for me. “Oh, I couldn’t ask you to babysit Mojo, Laverne, but thank you. I know you already have enough to keep you busy.”

She planted her hand on her hip in a display of stubbornness and determination “It’s fine, honestly. The office is closed anyway for another couple hours and he’ll stay on the dock in the sun while I clean the boats and empty garbage. I’m sure we’ll have a good time, right Mojo?” she asked the big dog as if she expected him to nod.

“I guess he would love to keep laying in the sunshine. He’s harmless. He would never bite a soul, I just let people believe he would,” I explained. “I’m little and I travel too much not to have some kind of protection, even if he is all bark and no bite.”

She ruffled the top of his head as if he was the size of a poodle instead of a pony. “I’m not worried about him hurting me. He only gets upset when his girl is messed with, I respect his limits.” She held her hand out for the leash. “You go on now and have fun. Stop back at the office when you’re done and pick him up.”

I grinned and slapped the leash in her hand. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll even grab you a doggy bag.” I laughed with true amusement at my words. “Okay, a Laverne bag,” I promised, crossing my heart. “I’m sure he will have fun being with someone other than me.”

She clipped the leash on the dog while I rubbed his ears and told him to be a good boy. He stayed rooted in place until I pointed down the lane. “Go with Laverne, Mojo. I’ll see you soon,” I instructed the dog who stood up off his hind end and lumbered down the path after Laverne. He stopped and stared at me a couple times, and each time I waved until he decided whatever it was Laverne had to offer was worth checking out. I glanced down at my outfit and let out a chuckle. I had better find something better than this old holey Mount Rushmore t-shirt and yoga shorts to wear. I climbed into the RV and dashed straight to the back. I had just the outfit in mind. It would definitely leave a lasting impression on the man who had already left one on me.



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