Case is deep in thought calculating the formula for non-carbon-based fuel (something dealing with the fraction of 1/137, that number that Feynman calls “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding”–I mean, if it can make stars burn, can’t we somehow leverage it to grill a potato?) when Ira stops by on Boxing Day.
She’s making funny faces at Case, cocking her head to the side, pursing her lips, squinting her eyes, and putting all her weight on one leg. It’s humorous, and Case feels like his purple sweater–all playful inside.
They talk for a bit–even her voice is kinda funny, high and then low. Case jokes about penguins and llamacorns. Before she leaves, while Case dishes up the roast potatoes, she swipes the Winterfest decorations lying outside the front door. Case sees it in his peripheral vision.
It’s not the first time he’s seen her steal things when she thinks no one is looking, or even if she thinks they might see, but that she can get away with it anyway. He accepts this about her. It’s not something he’d confront her with, but if she ever wanted to share with him the thrill of the steal, or even some of the deeper reasons that might lie behind it, Case would listen.
After the first time he saw her swipe something–a pack of seeds at the garden center–he did some research on kleptomania. He wanted to be able to understand and support his friend, if she ever came to him for help.
He found he could understand it pretty easily–he could even relate to it, somewhat. It’s a brain chemical thing–issues with serotonin and the brain’s opiod system, and these imbalances lead to impulsive behaviors. That’s something Case can relate to. He organizes much of his day, including diet, schedules, and actvities, managing the neurochemical functioning of his neurodivergent brain. So he gets this. In fact, it helps him understand why he and Ira are able to be such good friends and communicate so well. They’re both neurodivergent.
He doesn’t have a lot of confidence in treatment methods–they sound too much like ABT to him. But knowing how his own brain works, he’s pretty sure that keeping the stress down and providing a safe, accepting environment will help.
At any rate, her neurodivergence makes him love her more. And he really doesn’t care what she swipes, as long as she’s safe and feeling OK, and if she’s not feeling OK, then he’ll do his best to be there for her.
On New Year’s Day, Case meets up with her on the boardwalk. It’s an unplanned meeting, which makes Case feel like the new year is getting off to the best possible start, with his kismet best friend.
She wanders off to check the community board–Case has another proposal up for voting, about eco-friendly appliances, and Ira wants to get an idea of how much support it has.
“My mom says that you’re the reason everything’s blooming here,” says Olive Tinker, Tinker Tailor’s daughter.
“Ah, no,” Case replies. “Not the reason. One of the reasons. I mean your mom is the original greenie of the community. She got it all started here.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t plant the flowers. You did.”
“Well, me and a lot of other people,” Case says.
“Yeah, but it was your idea.”
Even that is not technically true, Case realizes. Ideas have lives of their own, and if you’re lucky, one visits you, and if you’re in the right situation, maybe you can do something about it.
But he was the one who got to select the plantings, aside from the donations of the ornamentals from the local nursery.
He he chose the blue salvias, which bloom in winter.
When he turns to check on their growth, he spots a blue morpho butterfly hovering over them, his first sighting.
“The butterflies have returned!” he tells Ira. “When I first moved her, five years ago, I met this little girl–well, she’s probably a teenager by now–she said that if we have flowers, that butterflies would come. And look! She’s right!”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, ever,” Ira says. “Case, nobody could’ve done this but you. Nobody would’ve stuck with it, or researched and found the right plants, or been able to inspire an entire community to step up and make these changes. You’re the most impressive person I know, Case.”
Case doesn’t know about that. He thinks she’s trying to swipe his heart. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s already hers, and he’s already pledged just to be there for her, no matter what she steals, and, anyway, the butterflies have returned.