Breakfast was served in the kitchen at seven-thirty, and we had until eight o’clock to eat so Lorraine could get everything cleaned up. You couldn’t get away with skipping meals—she watched us eat and reported it to the Gardener—but one meal in a day you were allowed to be “not as hungry.” If you did it twice, she’d show up in your room to do a checkup.
After breakfast—except those two mornings of maintenance, when we were stuck behind walls—we were free until twelve, when lunch was served in another half-hour window. Half the girls went back to bed, like they thought sleeping through the days would make them go faster. I usually followed Lyonette’s example, even after she was in the glass, and made my mornings available for any girls who needed to talk. The cave under the waterfall became an office of sorts. There were cameras everywhere, and mics, but the crash of even such a small waterfall made it too difficult for conversation to come across clearly.
“And he allowed this?” Victor asks incredulously.
“Once I explained it to him, sure.”
“Explained it to him?”
“Yes. He sat me down to dinner one evening in his suite to ask about it, I suppose to make sure we weren’t fomenting rebellion or something.”
“And how did you explain it?”
“That girls needed some semblance of privacy for mental well-being, and as long as those conversations kept the Butterflies healthy and whole, why the fuck did it matter? Well, I expressed it a little more eloquently than that. The Gardener liked elegance.”
“Those conversations with the girls—what were they like?”
With some of them it was just venting. They were restless and scared and pissed off and needed someone to talk all that feeling from them. They’d pace and rage and pound the walls, but at the end, if their hands and hearts were sore, they were at least a little further from breaking. These were the girls like Bliss, only they lacked her courage.
Bliss said whatever she wanted, wherever and whenever she wanted. Like she said the first time I met her, the Gardener never asked us to love him. He wanted us to, I think, but he never asked us to. I think he valued her honesty, just as he came to value my straightforwardness.
Some of the girls needed comfort, something I was not especially good at. I could have patience with the occasional tears, or the tears that came of that first month in the Garden, but when it went on and on and on, for weeks and months and even years . . . well, that was generally when I lost patience and told them to get over it.
Or, if I was feeling magnanimous that day, I sent them on to Evita.
Evita was an American Lady, her back inked in faded oranges and dull yellows before the wingtips spread to intricate black patterns. Evita was sweet, but not quite bright. I don’t say that to be mean, but because it’s true. She had the understanding of a six-year-old, so the Garden was a daily source of wonder for her. The Gardener only came to her once or twice a month because she always got so confused and scared by what he wanted from her, and Avery wasn’t allowed to go near her at all. Every time the Gardener came, we all worried that she’d end up in glass, but that simple sweetness was something he seemed to treasure.
That simple sweetness meant you could go to her, bawling your eyes out, and she’d hug and stroke and make silly sounds until you stopped crying; and she’d listen to you pour your heart out, without saying a word. For those girls, being around Evita’s sunny smile always made them feel better.
For my part, being around Evita just made me sad, but when the Gardener came to her, she came to me, and she was the one person whose tears I could always forgive.
“Do we need to get a special needs advocate to the hospital?”
The girl shakes her head. “She died about six months ago. An accident.”
Around eleven-fifteen, the “office” closed and a group of us ran laps through the hallways. Lorraine would glare at us if she was present but never said anything against it, because it was really the only exercise we got. The Gardener wouldn’t give us weights or treadmills or anything because he was worried we’d use them to injure ourselves. Then, after lunch, the afternoon was ours until dinner at eight o’clock.
That was when the boredom set in.
The cliff top became my place even more than the waterfall cave, because I was one of the few who enjoyed climbing up and sprawling close to the glass that marked the edge of our prison. Most of the girls did better pretending the sky wasn’t so close, pretending that our world was bigger than it was and that nothing waited Outside. If it helped them, I wasn’t going to argue with them. But I loved it up there. Some days I’d even climb the trees and stretch out and press my hand against the glass. I liked reminding myself that there was a world beyond my cage, even if I’d never see it again.
Early on, sometimes Lyonette, Bliss, and I would sprawl in the afternoon sun and talk, or read. Lyonette would fold her origami creations, Bliss would play with the polymer clay the Gardener bought for her, and I’d read aloud from plays and novels and poetry.
But sometimes we’d go down to the main level, where the stream bisected the almost jungle-like growth, and we’d spend time with the other girls. Sometimes we’d just read together, or talk of less sensitive things, but there were games too, when we got bored enough.
Those were the days that seemed to make the Gardener happiest. We knew there were cameras everywhere because at night you could see the winking red eyes, but on days when we played, he’d come into the Garden and watch us from the rocks by the waterfall, a soft smile on his face like this was everything he could have dreamed of.
I think it’s a tribute to just how bored we got that we didn’t all scatter to our rooms and solitary activities the minute we saw him.
Six months ago, about ten of us were playing hide-and-seek, and Danelle was It. She had to count off to a hundred while standing near the Gardener, because it was the one place none of us were likely to hide, and so the only place she wouldn’t easily hear us hiding. I’m not sure if he was aware of the logic or not, but he seemed charmed to be part of the game, even peripherally.
I nearly always climbed the tree during these games, mainly because practicing for two years on the fire escape of the apartment meant I could climb higher and faster than anyone else. They might find me pretty easily, but they couldn’t actually reach me to tag.
Evita was scared of heights, just like she was scared of enclosed spaces. Someone always stayed with her at night in case the walls came down so she wouldn’t be alone and terrified. Evita never climbed. Except that day. I don’t know why she wanted to, especially not when we could see how scared she was once she got about six feet off the ground, but even when we called across that it was okay, she could still hide somewhere else, she was determined. “I can be brave,” she said. “I can be brave like Maya.”
From beside Danelle, the Gardener watched us with worried eyes, like he did whenever one of us went against our habits.
Danelle reached ninety-nine and just stopped, giving Evita more time to hide. We all did that sometimes, if we could hear her. Danelle kept her back turned and her hands over her tattooed face, waiting for silence.
It took Evita almost ten minutes, but she pulled herself up the tree inch by inch until she was fifteen feet up and sitting on one of the branches. Tears tracked down her face, but she looked at me in a nearby tree and gave me a wavering smile. “I can be brave,” she said.
“You’re very brave, Evita,” I told her. “Braver than all the rest of us.”
She nodded and looked down between her feet at the ground that seemed so far away. “I don’t like it up here.”
“Do you want me to help you down?”
She nodded again.
I stood carefully on my branch and turned so I could start down my tree, only to hear Ravenna cry out behind me. “Evita, no! Wait for Maya!”