Avery killed girls for fun, and sometimes by accident. Whenever that happened, his father would ban him from the Garden for a time, but then he’d be back.
I’d been there almost two months before he came looking for me. Lyonette was with a new girl who hadn’t been named yet, and Bliss was putting up with the Gardener, so I was on the little cliff above the waterfall with Poe, trying to memorize “Fairy-land.” Most of the other girls couldn’t go up on the cliff without wanting to throw themselves off, so I usually had it to myself. It was peaceful up there. Quiet, but then, the Garden was always quiet. Even when some of the better-adjusted girls would play tag or hide-and-seek, they were never loud. Everything was subdued, and none of us knew if that was how the Gardener preferred it or if it was just instinct. As a group, all our behaviors were learned from other Butterflies, who had learned it from other Butterflies, because the Gardener had been taking girls for over thirty fucking years.
He didn’t kidnap under the age of sixteen, erring on the side of older if he wasn’t sure, so the maximum lifespan of a Butterfly was five years. Not counting the overlaps, that was still more than six generations of Butterflies.
When I met Avery at the restaurant, he was in a tuxedo like his father. Sitting with my back against a rock, the book across my knees as I basked in the warmth of sunlight through the glass roof, I looked up when his shadow fell over me and found him in jeans and an open button-down dress shirt. There were scratches on his chest and what looked like a bite mark on his neck.
“My father wants to keep you all to himself,” he said. “He hasn’t talked about you at all, not even your name. He doesn’t want me to remember you.”
I turned the page and looked back at the book.
His hand grabbed my hair to pull my face up and his other hand cracked painfully across my face. “There’s no busboy here to save you this time. This time you’ll get what you’re asking for.”
I kept hold of the book and didn’t say anything.
He hit me again and blood splashed onto my tongue from a split lip, colored lights dancing in front of my eyes. He yanked the book from my hand and threw it into the stream; I watched it disappear over the edge of the waterfall so I wouldn’t have to look at him.
“You’re coming with me.”
He led me by my hair, which Bliss had put up into an elegant French twist that soon came unraveled in his grip. Whenever I didn’t move quickly enough for him, he turned and cracked me again. Other girls looked away as we passed them, and one even started crying, though the girls nearest her quickly shushed her in case Avery decided a weeper would be more entertaining.
He hurled me into a room I hadn’t been in before, one near the tattoo room at the very front of the Garden. This was a room that was closed and locked unless he was playing. There was a girl in there already, her wrists bound to the wall with heavy rings. Blood thickly coated her thighs and parts of her face, trailed down from a nasty bite on one breast, and her head lolled forward at an awkward angle. She didn’t look up even though I landed on the floor with a loud smack.
She wasn’t breathing.
Avery stroked the girl’s flaming hair, curling his fingers into it to pull her head back. Handprints wrapped around her throat and bone protruded against the skin on one side. “She wasn’t as strong as you are.”
He dove at me, clearly expecting me to fight, but I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.
No, not entirely true.
I recited Poe, and when I ran out of lines I knew, I thought them again and again and again until he threw me against the wall with a disgusted snarl and stalked from the room with his jeans undone. I guess you could say I won.
At the moment it didn’t feel like much of a victory.
When the room finally stopped spinning, I stood up and looked for a key or a latch, whatever would let the poor girl out of those wide cuffs. Nothing. I found a locked cabinet that, when I pulled the door as far as the lock would allow, showed whips and flails; I found bars and clamps and things my mind shuddered away from; I found any number of things, in fact, except a way to give her any shred of dignity.
So I found the remnants of my dress and found a way to drape it around her until the most important bits were covered, and I kissed her cheek and apologized with everything in me, as I’d never apologized to anyone before.
“He can’t hurt you again, Giselle,” I whispered against her bloody skin.
And I walked naked into the hallway.
Everything hurt, and each girl I passed hissed in sympathy. None of them offered to help. We were supposed to go to Lorraine for that, so she could catalogue every injury and report it to the Gardener, but I didn’t feel like looking at her stony face or feeling her press harder than she had to against forming bruises. Retrieving the ruins of the poetry book from where it had fetched up in the pond, I returned to my room and sat in my narrow shower stall. The water wouldn’t come on until evening—we each had an assigned time, unless we’d just been with the Gardener. The girls who’d been there longer could turn their water on themselves, another earned privilege, but that wasn’t me yet. Not for another few months.
I wanted so badly to cry. I’d seen most of the other girls do it time and again, and some of them always seemed to feel better afterward. I hadn’t cried since that fucking carousel when I was six years old, when I sat trapped on that beautifully painted horse and went round and round as both of my parents walked away and forgot all about me. And, as it turned out, sitting in the shower stall waiting for water that wouldn’t come for hours wasn’t going to flip that switch back on.
Bliss found me, water still trickling down her skin from her own shower, her hair wrapped in a brilliant blue towel, the color of the wings inked on her back. “Maya, what—” She stopped short, staring at me. “Fucking hell, what happened?”
It even hurt to talk, my lip swollen and my jaw aching from so many slaps, among other things. “Avery.”
Because there were so many places I was likely to go.
But when she came back, it was with the Gardener, who was unwontedly disheveled. She didn’t say a word, just led him into the room, dropped his hand, and walked away.
His hands were shaking.
He stepped slowly across the room, the horror on his face growing as he catalogued each visible injury, each bite mark or scratch, each deepening bruise or handprint. Because the sickest thing was—and there were so many to choose from—he genuinely did care about us, or at least what he thought of as us. He knelt down in front of me and inspected me with concerned eyes and gentle fingers.
“Maya, I am . . . I am so sorry. Truly I am.”
“Giselle is dead,” I whispered. “I couldn’t get her down.”
He closed his eyes with a look of genuine pain. “She can wait. Let’s get you taken care of.”
Until then, I hadn’t realized he actually kept a suite in the Garden. As we passed through the tattoo room, he bellowed out Lorraine’s name. I could hear her scrambling from the infirmary in the next room, her grey and brown hair fluffing around her face as it escaped her updo.
“Get me bandages, antiseptic. Something to help with the swelling.”
“Just get it,” he snapped. He glared at her until she disappeared, returning moments later with a small mesh bag bulging with haphazardly packed supplies.
He punched a code into the pad on the wall and a section slid back and away, revealing a room done in burgundy and deep gold and mahogany. There was a comfortable-looking couch, a recliner positioned under a tall reading lamp, a television mounted on the wall, and that was all I got a chance to see before he led me through another doorway into a bathroom with a floor-set whirlpool tub bigger than my bed. He helped me sit down on the edge and started running the water, then wet a cloth to wipe away the worst of the blood.
“I won’t let him do this to you again,” he whispered. “My son is . . . my son lacks control.”