The Butterfly House

The Butterfly House

by Marcia Preston

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"I was fifteen when my mother finally told me about my father. She didn't mean to. She meant to keep it a secret forever. If she'd succeeded, it might have saved us all."

Roberta and Cynthia are destined to be best friends forever. When both your fathers are missing, you have a lot in common. Unable to cope with her alcoholic mother, Roberta finds Cynthia's house the perfect, carefree refuge.

Cynthia's mother keeps beautiful rare butterflies on her sunporch and she's everything Roberta wishes her own mother could be. But just like the delicate creatures they nurture, the women are living in a hothouse.

Years later, a hauntingly familiar stranger knocks at Roberta Dutreau's door, forcing her to begin a journey back to her childhood. But is she ready to know the truth about what happened to her, her best friend Cynthia and their mothers that tragic night ten years ago?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781459225640
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 04/01/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 358,214
File size: 372 KB

About the Author

Marcia Preston grew up on a wheat farm in central Oklahoma, and her first two books were mysteries in an Oklahoma setting. She was awarded the 2004 Mary Higgins Clark Award for suspense fiction, and the 2004 Oklahoma Book Award. Her most recent books are general fiction. Before writing novels full time, Marcia taught high school English and was a freelance writer for a long list of national magazines. She also published and edited a specialty magazine for writers.

Read an Excerpt

Alberta, Canada, March 1990

From the window of my husband's house, I see the stranger stop beside our gate at the bottom of the snow-covered hill. He steps from his black Chevy Blazer, leaving the door open, and peers at the name on our mailbox. His down jacket hangs unzipped despite the cold overcast of the morning, and he's wearing cowboy boots. Even from this distance I am struck by the contrast of his black hair against the snow.

"You have the wrong house," I whisper, hoping he'll turn around and go back the way he came. Instead he gets back in the car and drives slowly up the slope. Damn.

I switch off the single lamp on the sunporch and lay aside the pillowtop I'm embroidering, a gift for someone I love. This one is a yellow-and-black anise swallowtail, scientifically correct. A dozen other pairs of silent wings lie stacked on a closet shelf—my butterfly collection, David calls it. Each time he says the words I feel the wings inside my chest. He has no idea.

From the cool shadows of the house, I watch the stranger park his car and walk up the snow-packed sidewalk to the front door. He is surefooted and somber. I guess him to be about fifty, nearly twice my age, and for some reason this makes me even more uneasy. I stand motionless, holding my breath as he rings the bell and waits. Go away. It's the wrong house.

He rings again. He doesn't look like a robber or rapist, but I'm too tired to open the door and pretend to be amiable while I give him directions to whatever he's seeking. I need my solitude, especially today. I realize I'm pressing one palm flat against my abdomen and jerk the hand away, clenching my fist. My breathing clots in my chest.

The bell chimes again, and I jump when the doorjamb rattles under his knock.

Go away, for heaven's sake! Nobody's home. Whoever you're looking for isn't here.

And then the stranger calls my name.

Not Roberta Dutreau, my married name, but my childhood name.

"Roberta Lee? Bobbie?"

His voice sounds deep and somehow muffled. "I saw your light. Please open the door."

My heart pounds. I don't know this man; how does he know me? David is at work—I don't know what to do.

"Please," he calls out. "It's about Lenora."

My breath sucks in. I hurry to the door and jerk it open, sending small tufts of snow onto the hallway floor. No one ever uses this door.

The stranger stands bareheaded, his weight on one leg with both knees bowing outward like a cowboy's. But he isn't a cowboy. He's Indian. His dark eyes meet mine and there's something familiar there—something I cannot name. He's stocky and muscular, a full head taller than I am.

I haven't spoken aloud all morning and my voice sounds hoarse. "Is something wrong with Lenora?"

The stranger keeps one hand in his jacket pocket and the other hooked by the thumb through the belt loop of his jeans. When he finally speaks, his bass voice is flat and expressionless. "You mean besides ten years of prison life?"

I grip the edge of the door with both hands. "Who are you?"

He meets my eyes again. "I'm Harley Jaines."

The name echoes in my head, bounces through the empty rooms. Harley Jaines Harley Jaines Harley Jaines…

"You bastard" I grip the door tighter. "Harley Jaines is dead."

"Sorry to contradict you, but I'm not." A muscle in his jaw twitches.

I remember a photograph from years ago, a young man in uniform with the same black eyes—my best friend's missing father. How I envied Cynthia the heroic status of that photo.

And now he stands at my door.

When my knees sag, the stranger reaches a hand toward my elbow, but I shrink away. He drops his hand to his side. "You'd better sit down. May I come in?"

I turn without answering and weave my way back to the sunporch, my hands touching each chair back and door frame as if I'm walking on a moving train. I hear the door close behind me and his quiet footsteps as he follows.

Sinking into the flowered chair beside the lamp, I pull the afghan over my legs and hug my knees tightly to my chest. He stands in the center of the room, waiting, and finally sits on the sofa without being invited.

His voice is so low-pitched it's hard to distinguish the words above the buzzing in my ears. "I'm sorry to surprise you like this. I need to talk to you about Lenora."

"Have you been to see her?" I ask.

He nods. "Regularly, for several months. Ever since I found out where she was."

"How is she?"

"She says she's all right, but she isn't. I can see it in her eyes."

"We thought…she said you were killed in Vietnam."

His eyes look away. "It's a long story."

He leans back, gazing out the wide windows toward the endless vista of snow-covered pines. "What I came about," Harley Jaines says finally. "Lenora needs your help."

He looks at me as if waiting for a reaction. But my mind has flown a dozen years away from here, to a house called Rockhaven that overlooks the Columbia River. I'm seeing Lenora the way she was then.

"I talked to the lawyer who represented her, if you can call it that," the stranger says. "He's convinced there was more to what happened than Lenora told him."

The wings rise to the back of my mouth. I wonder if he can see them beating behind my eyes as I regard him blankly. "And what does Lenora say?"

"She's told me about most of her life, a little at a time. She talks about you a lot. But she won't talk about that night."

He waits. A patient man. But my heart is like the permafrost beneath the northern Canadian soil. Resistant, enduring. I face him with silence.

"The attorney thinks you know the whole story. Says that when you were in the hospital, you told him Lenora was innocent."

My mouth twists. "Which hospital? Which time?" But I know exactly what he means.

"Lenora has a parole hearing in two weeks. I want you to come and testify. I've hired an attorney, a good one this time, and we're going to ask for more than parole. We're going to try for a pardon."

Harley Jaines watches my face. "She shouldn't have gone to prison," he says. "You know that, and I know it. I believe you have the power to set her free, if you come to the hearing and tell the truth."

I shake my head. "You're wrong. I have no power."

Outside, it has begun to snow again. I watch the air thicken. From the windows of our sunporch the world is a Christmas card, the pines stacked deep with snow. Despite the warmth of the house, I feel winter in my limbs.

"She's dying in that prison," he says. "When the spirit dies, the body follows."

Wrong again. I'm living proof. How can he be so naive? He's twice my age, a war veteran, a Cherokee, as I remember. But I don't bother to contradict him.

"Bobbie," says this man I've never met before, using the nickname he has no right to use, the nickname his daughter gave me. "Do you know where Cynthia is?"

The question catches me unprepared. I stammer. "I hear from her now and then."

"Why hasn't she visited her mother?"

My eyes cloud and I tighten my mouth to keep my face blank. "You'd have to ask her that."

"I'd like to," he says. "I'd like to see my daughter. She doesn't even know I'm alive."

Cynthia Jaines's husky, anguished voice on the phone six months ago echoes in my head. I picture the thin ghost who came to see me at Green Gables—a euphemism for the mental health facility where I lived for five years before I married David. Would seeing Harley Jaines save Cynthia, or push her, too, over the edge?

"She never gives me an address. I have the impression she moves around a lot. I don't know where she is." This is all true, so I meet his eyes when I say it. I've never been a good liar.

He nods, his face impassive. I can't tell if he believes me. Where were you all those years, I wonder. Why did you let Lenora think you were dead?

But I don't want to know his secrets. I don't even want to know mine.

My mind flutters to the appointment I've made at the women's clinic tomorrow morning and my stomach contracts. Will I be able to drive myself home afterward? What if I'm ill, or bleeding? What can I tell David that he will believe?

If Cynthia were here, she'd go with me. She'd take care of me, lie for me. Or talk me out of the decision I've made. I pull the afghan around my arms and take a deep breath. When Harley Jaines stands up, it startles me.

"I'll let you know when the hearing is scheduled," he says. "May I have your phone number?"

Perhaps if he can call me, he won't come here again. I rise slowly, untangling myself from the afghan, and scribble the number on a pad by the phone. I hand him the paper without meeting his eyes. "Please don't call in the evenings."

He accepts it with cigar-shaped fingers that bear no rings. "Lenora doesn't know I'm here," he says, and pauses. "You tried to tell the truth once, but no one would listen. I'm asking you to try again."

Suddenly I'm weary of his childish assumptions. My voice tightens. "Truth doesn't set people free. Didn't you learn that in the war? You have no idea what you're asking."

This time his dark eyes register some emotion, and I see them take note of the scars that snake down my jawline and flood my throat. He has no right to come here and ask me to rake those scars raw again.

A thought comes to me that his sudden appearance might be some cosmic punishment for the procedure I've consented to tomorrow.

But no. That decision is merciful. I'm sane enough, at least, to know that. If I never know another thing for certain, I know I have neither the right nor the skills to mother a child.

I lead Harley Jaines to the door, close and lock it behind him. But with my back pressed against the door, my eyes closed, I see a vision of Lenora as a young woman—Lenora, with the ocean-colored eyes, the person I've loved most in all my life.

This isn't fair.

Then I remember Lenora seven years ago, in a cold room floored in cheap tile. Her face looked ashen against the orange prison garb, her long chestnut hair already dulled and streaked with gray. And I hear the prison guard's comment behind my back as I stepped into the visiting room: "Ain't she something? Come to visit her mother's killer."

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The Butterfly House 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
bettyjo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story of living life on life's terms is powerful. The choices we make do have an effect on our lives and our loved ones lives. Bobbie battles the choices of her parents and her own and must come to terms with them all.
lfoster82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book stared a bit slow but about 2-3 chapters in, I was HOOKED! I was drawn to the characters and was engrosssed in the storyline. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I do wish Cincy's character was elaborated on more thoroughly. There were times when she was described looking a certain way or acting a certain way but no explanation why (with the exception of the very end of the book). Other than that, great book!
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meh....okay story, okay characters...just nothing really grabbed me about this one. I enjoy stories in which people are trying to overcome their past, or discover a truth about their past that turns their present upside down...I didn't dislike this book, just didn't necessarily like it either. I would skip it.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked some parts and disliked others. Overall, I felt the book could have been much better. The themes of mothers and daughters and friendship in the face of alcoholism and childhood trauma bring this novel together. Roberta is struggling to overcome the traumatic events of her adolescence and to repair the relationships damaged by a long ago crime. Roberta's struggles are compelling and the resolution of this novel offered the best one could hope for the characters of this novel.
Eliz12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really did not like this book. Trite, sentimental, ridiculous situations. Awful.
kiwifortyniner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of the friendship between four women. When Bobbie is young she meets Cincy and they become good friends as they realize they have something in common. Both are being raised by their mothers on their own. Bobbie spends much time at Cincy and her mother Lenora's house, looking for the love and affection she is missing out on from her mother Ruth who is a depressed alcoholic. Lenora is a lepidopterist and Bobbie becomes fascinated by, and drawn into this world of butterflies. She becomes very close to Lenora and this causes problems for both Cincy, and Ruth who sees this relationship with Lenora as something other than what it is. As the two girls become older jealousys and misunderstandings pull them apart, and one dramatic night an event occurs that will change their lives for ever. Years later a stranger appears on Bobbies doorstep and the events of that night are brought to the fore again leaving Bobbie with very difficult decisions to make. Is she ready to find out what really happened that night?This book is partly written in the present, and partly in the past as we are informed of the events that have lead up to the present. The two stories fit very well together and the characters are very well drawn. It shows well the complicated relationships between the women, their misunderstandings and jealousies. At times very moving and very sad. Well worth a read.
punxsygal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lonely Bobbie Lee finds refuge from her alcoholic mother at her best friend's house, Rockhaven. The house was colored by the butterflies that Cincy's mother, Lenore, studied. As best friends the girls shared all their secrets until adolescence caused the friendship to unravel, leading to tragedy. Now a decade later, Bobbie is still trying to make sense of the past before she can move forward.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Married and newly pregnant, Bobbie Lee answers the door to a stranger and finds herself slapped in the face by her past. She is forced to relive the pain, doubts, and loves of her adolescence¿her deepest secrets. Set in the Northwest, The Butterfly House is fresh and true to life in its portrayal of adolescence, alcoholism, mental illness, and homosexuality. Through Bobbie¿s eyes, we watch two women and their daughters struggle with each other¿s demons and their own, creating turmoil that floods into the lives of the men who love them. This is a book to get lost in.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1990, a man claiming to be Harley Jaines visits Roberta ¿Bobbie¿ Lee with a request. Bobbie insists that the real Harley died in the 1960s in Nam, but the visitor remains insistent as to who he is. Harley wants Bobbie to testify at the parole hearing that his wife Leonora, incarcerated for killing Bobbie¿s drunk mom Ruth in 1971 in Shady River, Oregon, is about to face. He also asks if she can arrange for him to meet his daughter Cynthia, her best friend as children when Bobbie would flee her intoxicated mom to spend time at the Jaines¿ Rockhaven home.--- Bobbie considers both requests, but feels uncomfortable with fulfilling either of them. She has doubts about testifying on behalf of Leonora who was blamed for the fire that razed Rockhaven, killed Ruth, and destroyed the butterfly collection that fascinated Bobbie as a child. She feels strange telling Cindy she met her father long thought dead and that her dad wants to meet his daughter twenty years too late. Worse Bobbie knows the truth of what happened on that fatal day that destroyed two families; having spent time at a mental institution she fears revealing what she knows.--- THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE is a strong character study starring a distraught female protagonist ably supported by a deep secondary cast. The story line shifts eras smoothly through mostly Bobbie¿s looking back over time. Fans will wonder what secret Bobbie hides and why and what will happen if she reveals the truth as she knows it. Marcia Preston delivers a deep multi-family drama that leaves her audience wondering about the decisions made twenty years ago by several individuals--- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bobbie Lee's past was full of heartache that culminated in tragedy and a stint in an mental ward. That is behind her now, and she is making a decent life, until someone thought long dead calls in a favor forcing her to meet the truth head on to save the best friend she ever had, even if it means losing another one. ................... *** The intricate story's necessary flashbacks interwoven with the present both enhance the complexity and hinder the smooth flow of the rather meandering story. Though well crafted, the constant mingling of past and present makes for less than ideal reading. ***