“If you expect to be overlooked or forgotten, you’re always at least a little surprised when someone remembers you. You’re always outside understanding those strange creatures who actually expect people to remember and come back.”
She takes her time then, eating her cinnamon roll, but Victor can tell she isn’t finished with the thought yet. Maybe it isn’t fully formed yet—his youngest daughter will do that sometimes, just trail off until she knows the rest of the words. He isn’t sure if that’s Inara’s reason, but it’s still a pattern he knows, so he kicks Eddison under the table to keep him silent when his partner’s mouth opens.
Eddison glares at him and scoots his chair several inches away, but says nothing.
“Sophia’s girls expect her to come back,” she continues softly. She licks the icing off her injured fingers and winces. “They’ve been with their foster family for . . . well, they’d been there nearly four years when I was taken. Anyone could have understood if they’d given up hope. They didn’t, though. No matter what happened, no matter how bad things got, they knew she was fighting for them. They know she will always, always come back for them. I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will. But then, I never had a Sophia.”
“But you have Sophia.”
“Had,” she corrects. “And it’s not the same. I’m not her daughter.”
“Her family, though. Yes?”
“Friends. It’s not the same.”
He’s not sure he believes that. He’s not sure she does either. Maybe it’s easier for her to pretend she does.
“Your girls always believe you’ll come home, don’t they, Agent Hanoverian?” She smooths a hand along the soft sleeve of the sweater. “They’re afraid that one day you might die in the line of duty, but they don’t believe anything could keep you away if you were still alive.”
“Keep your mouth off his girls,” snaps Eddison, and she smirks.
“You can see his girls in his eyes every time he looks at me or one of those pictures. They’re why he does what he does.”
“Yes, they are,” Victor says, finishing his coffee. “And one of them sent along something else for you.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tube of deep berry lip gloss. “This is from my eldest, who also gave the clothing.”
It startles a smile from her, a real one that makes her whole face shine for a few seconds, her amber-flecked eyes crinkling at the corners. “Lip gloss.”
“She said it’s a girl thing.”
“I’d hope so; this would be a very unflattering shade on you.” Gingerly unscrewing the cap, she squeezes the tube until a bead of shimmering color oozes from the end. She rolls it along her lower lip, managing the upper with no mess or missed places despite her eyes never going to the one-way mirror. “We used to do our makeup on the train on the way to work. Most of us could put our whole face on without ever looking in a mirror.”
“I have to admit, it’s not something I’ve ever tried,” he says dryly.
Eddison straightens the stack of papers, lining their edges precisely with the edge of the table. Victor watches him, used to his partner’s compulsions but still amused by them. Eddison sees him watching and frowns.
“Inara,” Victor says finally, and she reluctantly opens her eyes. “We need to start.”
“Des,” she sighs.
He nods. “Tell me about Desmond.”
I was the only one who liked to find the high places in the Garden, so I was the one to find the other garden. Up on the little cliff, there was this small stand of trees—and by stand, I mean five—that grew right up against the glass. At least a couple times a week, I climbed one of the trees, settled into the highest curve of branches that could support me, and pressed my cheek against the glass. Sometimes if I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was out on our fire escape, against our bank of windows, hearing Sophia talk about her girls, or listening to a boy in another building play violin, as Kathryn sat beside me. To my front and left, I could see almost the entire Garden, except for the hallways that wrapped around us and what was hidden by the edge of the cliff. In the afternoon, I could see the girls playing tag or hide-and-seek along the stream, one or two floating in the small pond, or sitting among the rocks or bushes, with books and crosswords and various things.
But I could also see out of the Garden, just a little. As far as I could tell, the greenhouse we called the Garden was actually one of two, one inside the other like nesting dolls. Ours was the one in the center, impossibly tall, with our hallways wrapped around it in a square. The ceilings in our rooms weren’t especially high, but the walls rose all the way up to the trees on the cliff, black and flat-topped, and on the other side, another glass roof, sloping down over another greenhouse. It was more of a border than a proper square on its own, broad path lined—at least on the side I could see—with plant life. It was hard to see, even from the tops of the trees. Just a sliver here or there, where the angle was just right. In that greenhouse was the real world, with gardeners no one hid from and doors that led Outside, where the seasons changed and life didn’t count down to twenty-one.
The real world had not the Gardener, but the man non-Butterflies knew him to be, a man who was involved with arts and philanthropy, and some kind of business venture—or rather, many kinds of business ventures, from what he sometimes hinted. That man had a house somewhere on the property, not visible even from the trees. That man had a wife and family.
Well, he had Avery, and clearly the asshole had to come from somewhere, but still.
There was a wife.
And she and the Gardener walked through that outer greenhouse together almost every afternoon from two to three, her hand tucked through his elbow for support. She was slender almost to the point of sickliness, with dark hair and impeccable style. From so far away, that was all I could see. They’d walk slowly down the leg of the square, stopping from time to time to inspect a flower or plant more closely, and then slowly walk on until they passed from my limited range of sight. They’d be back once or twice more before their walk was done.
She was the one who determined their pace, and whenever she lagged, he turned to her solicitously. It was the same tenderness he showed to his Butterflies, soft and sincere in a way that sent spiders crawling under my skin.
It was the same tenderness with which he touched the glass of the display cases, with which he wept over Evita. It was in the way his hands trembled when he saw what Avery had done to me.
It was love, as he knew it.
Two or three times a week, Avery accompanied them, trailing along behind and rarely staying for the full hour. He usually did a single revolution and then walked into the Garden, where he looked for someone who was sweet and innocent and so easily gave him the fear he craved.
And twice a week, on consecutive days that were the same as our maintenance mornings, there was a younger son, with his mother’s dark hair and slim build. As with his mother, the detail was lost to distance, but it was clear she doted on him. When he joined them, she moved between her husband and younger son.
For months, I watched them unobserved, until one day, the Gardener looked up.
Right at me.
I kept my cheek pressed against the glass, curled within the leaves high in my tree, and didn’t move.
It was another three days before we spoke of it, and even then only over the bed of a stranger, not even a Butterfly.
Victor takes a deep breath, pushing away that bizarre image of normalcy. Most of the sickos he arrests seem normal on the surface. “He’d kidnapped another girl?”
“He took several a year, but never until the previous one was fully marked and more or less settled in.”
“Why he took several a year? Or why he waited between them?”