A Butterfly’s Gift
Mei gazed out of the living room window. Lots of cars zoomed past her apartment building, but Mei was only looking for one little yellow car—Aunt Fay’s.
Mei’s mother handed her a paper bag and said, “I packed you an apple in case you get hungry on the way.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Mei said, but she couldn’t think about eating when Aunt Fay was about to take her to the butterfly garden.
Mei had loved butterflies for as long as she could remember. Her favorite thing to draw was butterflies and her bedroom was decorated with butterfly patterns. But Mei lived in a big city and had seen only a few butterflies fluttering around the park. Today she’d get to see a bunch of them in one special place.
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A loud honk sounded in the street and Mei’s mother walked downstairs. Mei ran.
Aunt Fay’s yellow car puttered along the highway. Mei, who watched the signs for their exit, wished they could go faster.
“You’re excited, aren’t you?” Aunt Fay asked.
“I sure am!” Mei had told all her friends at school about the special trip. “You know how much I love butterflies.”
“I sure do.” Her aunt chuckled. “You read a lot about butterflies, too.”
Mei always checked out books about butterflies whenever she went to the library. Her best friend, Lisa, called Mei the butterfly expert. An expert, she knew, was someone who knew a lot about something.
“I may not be an expert,” Mei told Aunt Fay, “but I know more facts about butterflies than anyone in my third grade class.”
They arrived at the butterfly garden and walked up to the wooden gate.
“Are the butterflies hiding?” Aunt Fay asked.
Mei hopped to peek inside the high windows at the flowers, bushes, and small trees. Then she wondered. It was spring, the time of year when butterflies hatched. But was it too soon and too cold where they lived?
“Welcome.” A man with round eyeglasses greeted them at the gate. “I’m afraid you’ve come at a slow time of year.”
Aunt Fay bought their tickets and they went into the indoor garden. They stepped along the stones of the path and Mei spotted colorful birds flitting in and out of trees. That was all.
Aunt Fay looked around and asked, “Where are all the butterflies?”
“They haven’t hatched yet.” Mei’s feet dragged with her words. “I forgot that it’s still too early for the butterflies in our climate.”
Had they come all this way for nothing? Would Mei’s friends laugh when she told them? Maybe Lisa was wrong. “Maybe I don’t know that much about butterflies, after all,” Mei said in a gloomy hush.
“I find that hard to believe.” Aunt Fay rubbed Mei’s shoulder.
The moment Mei dropped her head she spotted something wiggling on a branch. “Look!” She ran over to the branch.
Aunt Fay bent beside Mei and said, “It looks like a black leaf.”
Mei peered under the branch. “It’s a pupa. That’s the last stage before a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.”
“What are the other stages?” Aunt Fay asked.
Mei rubbed her chin the way her father, a teacher, always did when he was thinking something over. “Well, first its mother hatches the egg and the egg turns into a caterpillar. The caterpillar munches on the milkweed.”
“And then?” Aunt Fay said.
“Then the caterpillar turns into a pupa just like this one and,” Mei spread her arms like long wings, “it changes into a brand new butterfly.”
Aunt Fay sighed. “I guess this pupa won’t become a butterfly today.”
Mei sighed too, and sat with her aunt on a bench beside the branch. Mei read the label, Milkweed, below the branch of the plant with its pink and white flowers. “A lot of butterflies hatch on or near the plants they eat,” she explained to her aunt.
“I guess they like to be born close to their food,” Aunt Fay joked.
They laughed. Still, Mei, who had longed to see many butterflies, felt awful. What could she tell her friends now?
Just then, the branch wiggled again—and again until the pupa cracked. Mei sat on a rock just below the branch to watch tiny legs and black and orange wings wriggle out of the pupa.
“What is it?” Aunt Fay asked.
“It’s a newborn butterfly!” Mei’s eyes widened as the legs, wings, and head popped out of the clear case of the pupa.
The man with the round eyeglasses came over to stoop beside the branch. “Well, I’ll be!” He gaped at the butterfly. “I thought some of the monarchs might hatch soon, but I wasn’t expecting this. You came on a good day, after all.”
Mei guessed that the man was a butterfly expert. “A monarch is the king of butterflies,” she told Aunt Fay.
“Now we’ll get to see its wings grow to full size,” the man added.
They watched and watched as the butterfly shed the last of the pupa it clung to.
“Its wings need to dry,” the man said, “and later it will fly to eat the milkweed leaves.”
Mei thought of how her mother had packed her an apple and bobbed her head. “Butterflies need to eat for energy, too,” she said.
Aunt Fay bought Mei a book about butterflies from the gift shop. She had to return her library books, but this was a book Mei could keep to herself. They walked across the parking lot and a big smile grew on Mei’s face. Now, she would have something wonderful to tell her friends.
“Thank you for the gift, Aunt Fay,” Mei said.
She hugged her butterfly book and smiled all the way home. She had gotten another, even more special gift. A real butterfly had unwrapped itself from its pupa just for Mei to see!