Chapter OneI’ve always had this weird obsession with bugs. It earned me quite a bit of teasing from my classmates as a kid, but I was never the type to be bothered with things like friends and popularity. All I cared about was learning more, and more, and more. Usually about the bugs.
During recess in elementary school, I would walk around the school grounds, searching for anything with wings or six legs. I really liked ladybugs and grasshoppers, and anything with a vivid coloring. But my absolute favorite of them all was the butterfly. When I was about seven, I stole all of my father’s notebooks about the butterflies at the conservatory and memorized the Latin names of my favorites. That was when he took me to work with him for the first time.
My dad was an entomologist at the Honor Insect Conservatory, so I suppose the fascination with creepy-crawlers is a hereditary trait. It was a crisp, cold day – normal for Oregon – and he told me that I could come and look at all the butterflies in the garden. I could hardly sit still on the way there, and when we arrived, my face was practically glued to the glass. My father pointed out a beautiful butterfly flying in a cork-screw fashion, and told me it’s name. “That there is a Cosmopolitan butterfly. But here, we call it the Vanessa cardui. Does that sound familiar to you?” It was my name. Vanessa Card. My father was impressed that I figured it out so quickly, and he told me that I was named after this butterfly. From then on, I became obsessed with the Cosmopolitan.
For eight straight years after that, I would go with my father to the insect conservatory every day after school to look at the butterflies, and I would even show around some of the preschool classes that would come in as a field trip, because I was so knowledgeable. One day, a short, skinny girl with freckles and cork-screw curls the brightest shade of red you have ever seen asked me if I could show her around. She was new to Honor and her dad just got a job here and she had gotten lost. We were fast friends. Her name was Harmony Ridis, and her father worked with my father as an entomologist.
One rainy day in May my father woke up and was cooking breakfast, like he always did, and he suddenly fell to the ground. Everything after that was a blur to me. My mother called 9-1-1 and my dad left in an ambulance with my mom, and my gramma came over to watch my little sister and I. Then my gramma, my father’s mother, fell to her knees to crying. That was the spring I turned fifteen, and the last time I ever saw my father alive.
After that I never set foot in the conservatory, even with constant pushing from Harmony and my mother that it would bring back good memories about my father. My father was the person I was closest to in the world, and after he died, I just stopped. I stopped with my fascination with bugs, I quit learning, and I stopped talking to my family. The only person I would speak to with any emotion at all was Harmony. After a year my mother quit trying to break into my shell and just sent me to therapy and grief counseling. We haven’t had a real conversation since.
That’s where I was when I was thinking of that. Therapy. Dr. Winter, my therapist, was staring at me, obviously waiting for a response to a question I didn’t listen to. I was thinking of my dad. If you’ve ever watched a movie or read a book about someone who goes to therapy, you’ll notice that the person usually doesn’t talk about why they’re in there. Before going, when I would see or read about this, I thought that person was doing this for attention. But now I realize that they are completely right in not saying anything. It’s the hardest thing to talk about, your pain.
“Vanessa?” Dr. Winter was sitting with her legs crossed and her back pin-straight behind her huge mahogany desk, one pale eyebrow raised. She was the epitome of obsessive perfection – not one hair out of place, nails all the same length, clothes perfectly wrinkle free. It was like she was trying to model what she wanted her patients to look like when they retire from therapy. But being that perfect every day would be a chore that drove someone back to therapy.
I cocked my head, showing that I had no idea what she asked. She was made an annoyed face. “I asked, Miss Card, if you have had any success in speaking to your mother?”
That was the only thing I told Dr. Winter. That my mother never spoke to me. I thought that would make her realize that I didn’t actually require therapy; my mother just required me out of the house whenever it was possible.
“Nope.” I began twirling a piece of my charcoal colored hair around a finger, refusing to make eye contact. I didn’t want to see her look of pity.
“Perhaps, if you tried harder, your mother would understand how hard--”
“If I tried any harder I’d have to tie her down and force her to have a conversation with me. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend is always hanging around, hogging her attention and making it virtually impossible for me to speak to her. What you don’t seem to understand is that this one-on-one thing your trying to make me do is a two-way street. If she doesn’t want to speak to me, I can’t do anything about it.” I looked up then, staring in to her eyes, unblinking. She flinched and fluttered her eyelids.
Dr. Winter cleared her throat. “I believe that’s all we have time for today, Vanessa.” She rose to shake my hand, like she did after ever session. I gripped her hand firmly. Perhaps a bit too firmly, because she released immediately and smiled dismissively, shaking her hand as I left.
Harmony met me outside the medical building, smoking a cigarette. “I thought you were going to quit those things,” I said, taking one out of her carton. She lit it for me and I took a long puff, walking toward her car.
“Ditto.” She unlocked her little red Neon, pushing her hair out of her face with her free hand. I ducked in and she put the car in drive, speeding toward Honor. “I freaking hate driving all the way up to Portland twice a week. You’re lucky you’ve got me, kid.” She flicked some ash off her cigarette into her built-in ashtray, taking a long drag.
“I know Har. But Portland isn’t so far away.” We lived about thirty minutes outside the city, but every time she came to pick me up she bitched about it the whole ride back. “I can just take the bus back home. You’re the one who offers to pick me up.”
She gave me a you-know-I’m-just-kidding smile. “Hungry?” she asked, scanning the slushy road for fast-food restaurants.
“Nah.” I crushed my nub of a cigarette in the ash tray. The car now smelled like smoke and cheap air freshener. I saw Harmony shrug out of my peripheral vision. She was always looking for an excuse to eat. She inhaled food and never gained a pound. It pissed everyone off, including me.
I looked outside the window into the gray atmosphere. It was a dreary day, which was common in late November. There seemed to always be a mixture of rain and snow falling from the sky until it became cold enough for the weather to stop being bipolar.
“You coming over tomorrow?” Harmony asked, breaking the silence. I shrugged, turning on the radio.
“I guess so.” She whipped unto the back road that led to Honor, driving almost twice the speed limit. She was reckless, but she’d never been into a wreck once or even gotten a ticket.
“You make it sound like I’m so boring to hang out with.” A half smile played on her lips, her freckly nose scrunching up.
“You? Never.” I heard her snort and turn the radio up, some rock song blaring through her crappy speakers.
Truth is, I didn’t really have much to compare hanging out with Harmony to, seeing as she is and always has been my only friend. She, on the other hand, has basically the whole junior class begging to hang out with her at any given time. I’ve overheard on countless occasions one of these people ask her why she hangs out with me all the time. “She’s a loser, Har. Why do you waste your time?” Of course, Harmony just flips them off and walks away. I’m on the same boat as those people. Why does she waste her time? She’s gorgeous Harmony Ridis, with long, silky locks of scarlet hair, porcelain skin, glowing green eyes, and a curves in all the right places. She was funny and popular. I had boringly straight, lanky dark hair, occasionally blemished skin, and common gray eyes. I was careless and absent minded. We were polar opposites. But we fit together so perfectly.
She pulled up to my house and let the car idle. I popped open the door and began walking toward the front door when I heard Harmony crank the passenger window down manually. I turned around and smirked at her effort.
She let out an exasperated sigh. “You’d think with all the damn money we have, they could afford to buy me a better car.” They meaning her parents. I smiled. “So, anyway, don’t be a b****, okay? And call me later.” I saluted and she pulled away.
Anytime she dropped me off, she’d always tell me not to be a b****. Why? Because she thinks
I am one to Pate and my mom. But if I am, it’s for a good reason.
My mom never seemed upset by my dad’s death. She cried at the funeral, she cried whenever my gramma would talk about it, but on her own, she would never cry. She never sat in her room and locked the door just to cry about her husband of twenty years being dead. And then, just one year later, she goes out and finds Pate.
Pate was her boyfriend. He’s about ten years her junior and was just the most obnoxious person I’d ever met in my life. And I was in high school. He was one of those I-know-I’m-not-your-dad-and-I-never-will-be-but-don’t-be-afraid-to-call-me-that type of guys. He got my little sister Christa wrapped around his finger with all the toys and s*** he would bring home. It was sickening.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts and walked inside. My mom was in the kitchen, stirring something on the stove. She looked up as I passed and nodded, not saying anything. Then she just looked back down at whatever she was cooking. I rolled my eyes, walking past her.
“Hey, Nessa!” Pate called from the living room, where he was watching a cartoon with Christa. I ignored him and his casual use of my annoying nickname. I walked up the steps into my room and slammed the door.
My Akita, Larry, jumped up from his nap on my bed at the sound of the door. He ran over to me, tail wagging, and covered my face in kisses. “Hey, Larry,” I said, voice full of affection.
Larry was a present from my dad when I was thirteen. He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen in the world. My dad thought that since they’d be busy with Christa, I should have someone to talk to when they weren’t around. Best present ever.
Even though he reminds me so much of my dad, I couldn’t bring myself to let him go. He was just too much apart of me.
I walked around the clutter in my room to kick my shoes off into my closet, which was in complete disarray. That was the topic of the last conversation my mother and I had. “You need to tidy up this hell hole,” she told me, throwing random shirts into my closet. “You’ve been blessed with one of the only walk-in closets in this house and you waste it.” I didn’t say anything back, I just continued brushing my hair and pretended like she wasn’t there.
I looked out my window and thought about my mother and our relationship. I still loved her, despite everything. But I didn’t like her. I don’t think I could ever like her again.
The forest behind our house blocked the view of everything else outside my window. The tall pine trees were almost double the height of my house, and stretched on and on for miles. My dad had always forbade us to go into the forest. “It’s dangerous, Nessie. Leave it be.”
He never told us why, though, which infuriated me more than not being allowed in. I would sit in my room as a little kid and just look out my window, imagining all the things that could be in there. I’d always think of grizzlies, mountain lions, and for some strange reason, loads and loads of butterflies. But what was wrong with that?
I shut the curtains on my window and laid down on my bed, snuggling underneath layers of blankets. I closed my eyes and dreamed of tall pine trees.