Lit Mag Short Fiction

The Butterfly Garden

Tears are flying down my red, burning hot cheeks as I frantically pack my big chartreuse suitcase with as many of my things as I can. I can’t believe how impulsive I’m being right now. I pack everything I can: my hairbrush, sunglasses, my toiletries, three pairs of denim shorts, some pairs jeans, all my favorite clothing items. And, of course, I make sure to pack my blush-colored dress with the spaghetti straps and the butterfly patterning. That dress has been with me through everything. My grandmother had bought it for me for my 4th birthday. She thought it would look great on my ‘sunkissed’ skin and with my brunette hair as she would say. “Wear this dress when you’re away from Grandma and the cottage. It will remind you of me and the butterflies in my garden that you love so much,” I remember her saying to me. I take a good look at the dress and decide to hold on to it for the bus ride.

I’m about to leave everything behind, all that I’ve ever known, with no plan to return. But I know I’m doing what is best for me. I’m not planning on how long I’ll be gone, but I am planning on where I’ll be. 

Away from this ignorant, irritating town. A town filled with stuck-up people who barely know themselves, trying their best to seek validation from those who are figuring it out too. Hopelessness continues to worsen inside of me as the days go on in this rotting town. I’m sick and tired of being in a high school and a town where I feel nothing. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has been the same since my parents passed away just a few years ago in the car accident. Then when my grandma passed just a few years after? I felt nothing and I had nothing. This still remains to be true.

I was stuck with Lily, who I thought was my best friend, and her family ever since my parents and my grandma were gone. Our families were friends since I can remember. But the strong bond we held between our families has gone to waste. It’s almost like our bond was never really bonded to begin with now that Lily is the person that she is. 

No one is home tonight. Lily is out, who knows where, and her parents are out as well. I walk out of the guest bedroom that I’ve been living in for years now, and I walk into Lily’s bedroom. I leave a note on her ivory, quilted bedspread, that she’s had since preschool; 

“Some things are better left unsaid…- Sage”. I delicately place it on her bed and it shifts just a little due to the gust of wind that I leave behind as I start to rush out the room. I hang on to her door frame one last moment and look back before rushing out the door, taking in the memories that suddenly flood her bedroom, flashing through my mind.

We spent so many amazing times in this bedroom. She’s been my rock through everything. The sleepovers, the movie nights, the incredibly hilarious talks, the sappy eat-a-whole-tub-of-ice-cream talks. And then, of course, there were the fashion shows and dance performances that we put on for our parents. The noise of laughter, talking, crying; it all echoes through my brain. Everything was just perfect then.

I hesitate for a moment until I reach behind me towards my suitcase that stands in front of the doorway. I pull up the handle and as soon as it clicks, I start to shake. I’m actually about to do this. Adrenaline rushes through my veins as I fly down the stairs with my suitcase trailing behind me, making a thud as it hits every single step on the way down. My hand reaches the knob of the front door and as soon as I open it, the warm evening weather of May in New York hits my skin. But the warmth I feel sends a shock through my chest and through my heart. I’m about to leave everything behind. I look back into the house just for a moment until I shut the door behind me without thinking about it anymore.

As uncertain and uncomfortable as I am, I know that not only am I running away from a town I hate, but I’m running away to a place like no other that makes me feel safe. A place that makes me feel present, in a state of tranquility. A place that I grew up in most of my life. My grandma’s cottage upstate. 

My grandma’s cottage was never sold once she passed away because my family is the official owner of the home. I don’t know what I would do if that cottage ever left my life even if I’m not always there.

My fast, eager feet get me through the downtown quickly which eventually gets me to the bus stop. The tears that streamed down my face earlier are now dried up on my cheeks as I break through the cool, evening breeze. I hold onto the hood of my gray zip-up sweatshirt so it doesn’t fly off my head.

I pick up the pace. Swiftly, I rush up the steps of the bus once it arrives and find myself a seat at the very back of the bus where no one could bother me. 

I’ve been staring out the window ever since I sat down, contemplating everything. So lost. My heart starts to pound with panic again until I see the scenery outside the window. The bus makes its way up through secluded backroads that are sheltered by tall, lavish trees. The orange-yellow luminescence of the street lights floods through the windows of the fast moving vehicle, providing me with a feeling of safety. It’s almost like the warmth of the street lights are the nostalgic security of my grandma’s passionate hugs. To feel her so-called spiritual presence in this moment; it puts me more at ease.

The bus makes a slow halt at the bus stop of my grandma’s cozy town. I’m home. I crack a small smile, knowing that I’m finally going to be in a place that I truly enjoy. I quickly grab my suitcase and rush off the bus.

I walk a few blocks and I finally reach it. There it is. The little cottage with the pale yellow wooden structure, surrounded by magnolia and lemon trees that complements the Victorian model of the home. My favorite part of my grandma’s cottage is the butterfly garden. I would sit in there every single day for hours on end in my butterfly dress. I used to believe that it was the dress that attracted the butterflies towards me. I really had, and still have, a special connection to butterflies. Every time I see one it feels like my grandma is with me.

God, I missed this place. I can’t even remember the last time I was here. I eagerly walk up the rickety stairs, ready to open the door, until I see a paper notice on the door with a woman’s face on it with a bunch of other information. I begin to realize that it’s the face of a realtor and the selling information of the cottage. 

My heart drops. No no no, this cannot be happening. 

I cannot believe this is happening. The last thing to remain of my life is being stripped from me. I can feel tears start to build up behind my eyes again. My body feels numb and weak. I’ve never felt as lost and confused as I do right now. I’m so sorry, Grandma.

With leisure, I peel the notice off the door and hold it in my shaking hand. As soon as I open the creaky front door to my grandma’s house, I turn on the light and I see everything. The nostalgic smells linked to every memory swirl through my nose and run through my body. I’m finally home. Tears start crawling down my red cheeks, and as they tickle my skin, I try to determine whether I’m crying tears of sadness or joy. I realize it’s a combination called bittersweet.

I plop my weak body down on the old-fashioned couch, still holding onto my butterfly dress ever since I left Lily’s place. As soon as I place myself down, my eyelids begin to feel heavy. I let them fall and my mind suddenly seems to drift away, appearing to be as lost as I am right now. 

I wake up to sunlight in my eyes. It’s already the next morning. The day time flatters the cottage far more than the night time does. I slowly lift myself off the couch, and I walk towards the place the sunlight is shining through. The butterfly garden. The butterflies- so many different colors and patterns- flutter around the trees and flowers of the garden, some flying frantically and some resting on leaves. Thankfully, they are still alive and well. I’m sure my grandma’s beloved butterfly caretaker still comes to look after them. I always thought the idea of a butterfly caretaker was a silly concept, but I am grateful for it now more than ever.

I open the screen door to the garden and in an instant, my heart feels so warmed to be here again. The white rocking chair is still sitting there in the corner of the garden, waiting for me. Once I sit myself down, I take a deep breath in and a deep breath out, allowing myself to feel every feeling this place has to offer. I hold my butterfly dress tightly to my chest, allowing me to feel like my grandma is with me at this moment. I see a butterfly make its way over to me, and I put my finger out for it to land on.

As the butterfly lands on my finer, my feeling of glory is suddenly interrupted by a voice coming from behind me.

“I knew you would be here,” Lily says as she’s leaning against the doorframe.

I’m beyond speechless. How did she find me!? I’m just so infuriated by her presence, but I also feel relieved that she found me. That I now have someone to talk to in all of this.

“How… How did you know I was going to be here?”

She ignores my question. “Sage, what’s going on?” 

I guess I have to assume that she knew where to find me since she knows how much I love this place.

“You don’t understand, Lily,” my throat and my nose start to sting. It seems really easy for tears to sneak up on me these days. “You have no idea what it’s like to lose both your parents and your grandmother in the span of five years; and then to slowly start to lose your best friend to a bunch of airhead, druggie losers when you need her the most?” My mouth starts to quiver. “I’m so lost,” I let in a quick breath of air. “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life anymore, I don’t know where I belong, I don’t know what to do, Lily. I’ve felt so much pain over these past few years and I couldn’t bear it anymore. This cottage is the only place that calms me down now.” I start to think about how it’s eventually going to be sold to some random people; other people will be living in my grandma’s cottage.

“Sage, you have no idea how much I wanted to be there for you and to still be there for you now-”

“Then what were you waiting around for?” I blurt out, cutting her off, which causes tears to build up inside of her. 

“Because I was afraid and, frankly, I still am,” she begins to say all choked up. “Sage…I wanted to be the best possible friend I could be towards you while you were dealing with all of it, but I didn’t know how. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be good enough for you or be sympathetic enough.” More tears stream down her face. She plops herself in the other rocking chair across from me, where my Grandma used to sit whenever we were in the butterfly garden together.

“I know this all sounds so stupid, and it is, but even though its a little too late, I now realize how dumb I was to have distanced myself from you like that.” Her head falls into her hands, and she falls off the chair onto her knees. She continues on.

“I love you so much, Sage,” she looks up at me and whimpers. “I can’t even imagine the pain you must’ve felt and the pain you must still feel-”

I cut her off again, but this time I fall off my chair and I throw myself around her. We’re both crying and hugging each other tightly now, creating a pile of weak limbs and tears. She really is all that I have left. She’s my family whether I like it or not. But what is there even to dislike about her? We’re practically sisters. We do and have done everything together, and I’m not ready to give that up.

“We can figure everything out together. I promise,” she says, breathless. “I need you, Sage.”

I smile weakly, letting out a little laugh. “I need you too.” We laugh together on our knees, while wiping each other’s tears off our faces. Our warm hands are stacked on top of each other now with energy flowing through our veins. After we look into each other’s eyes, we look up to see a colorful butterfly fluttering carefully around both our heads one at a time. Our eyes follow it as it comes in for a delicate landing on top of our hand pile. Thanks, grandma. I knew she would think our friendship is too great to give up on.

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