I glanced over at Lyonette, who was giving me the pathetic, exasperated, incredulous, what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-to-me look she usually reserved for Evita. “You do it, then. You weren’t the first face she saw, hooray! Now you can take over if you don’t like how I’m doing it.”
I’d had Sophia as a maternal example for young children. New Girl wasn’t that young, and I wasn’t Sophia.
Lyonette closed her eyes and whispered a prayer for patience. Before she could finish, though, she had to fold herself over the toilet bowl again.
The new girl’s hands started to shake, so I took them between my own. It was always warm in the Garden, except sometimes in the cave behind the waterfall, but I knew the shivers were from shock more than anything. “Here’s the thing, and it’s terrifying and bewildering and fuck-all unfair, but it’s still the thing: we are here as the unwilling guests of a man who will come to you for company and, as often as not, sex. Sometimes his son will come to you. You belong to them now, and they will do what they want to you, including mark you as theirs. There are quite a few of us here, and we support each other as we can, but the only way you’re getting out of here is to die, so you’re going to have to decide if this life of ours is better or worse than death.”
“Suicide is a mortal sin,” she whispered.
“Good, that means you’re not too likely to want to off yourself.”
“Jesus, Maya, why not just hand her some rope?”
The girl swallowed hard but—God love her for it—squeezed my hands. “How long have you been here?”
“About four months.”
She looked over at Lyonette.
“Almost five years,” she murmured. If I’d known then . . . but it didn’t matter. It never did. Knowing it didn’t change anything.
“And you’re still alive, and Mama always says, where there’s life there’s hope. I’ll hope.”
“Just be careful with the hope,” I cautioned her. “A little is fine. Too much is crippling.”
“Maya . . .”
“So, New Girl, want to take a tour?”
“Not so much a thing here. You’ll get used to it.”
“Did you bring a dress?” I asked pointedly, and Lyonette flushed beneath her sickly pallor. “And I’m not letting her borrow yours; you’ve probably puked all down the front.”
She hadn’t, but her black dress went all the way to the floor. No way tiny little New Girl was going to manage in that. I would’ve loaned her mine if it would be any better.
“Wait here,” I sighed. “I’ll get something from Bliss.”
Our friend wasn’t in her room when I got there, so I just grabbed something and returned to the new girl’s room, which was, as ever, studiously avoided by the other Butterflies. She made a face at the black fabric—even I had to admit it wasn’t a flattering color on her—but you learned to fear colored clothing in the Garden.
When you were given something other than black, it was because that was the gown the Gardener wanted you to die in.
She obeyed when I told her not to look in the hallway—even I wasn’t so much of a bitch as to show her that right off. She was at the far end of the Garden from my room, just down the hall from Lyonette’s, and bordering one side of the no-man’s-land that held the rooms we weren’t supposed to go in, the door to Outside that we were supposed to pretend didn’t exist. From that position, she was able to see the full breadth of the Garden in one look: all the rich, growing things, the vibrant flowers and white sand paths, the waterfall and stream and pond, the cliff, all the tiny stands of trees, the actual butterflies hovering over plants, and the clear glass roof that seemed so impossibly far away.
She burst into tears.
Lyonette lurched forward but pulled back immediately in a violent shivering fit. The flu probably wasn’t the best way to welcome someone to our verdant cage. I . . . well, I just wasn’t that maternal. As amply evidenced. I watched the new girl as she crumpled to the ground, curled into a tiny ball, as she clutched her arms across her stomach like this was a physical blow she could ward off.
Eventually, when the heaving, soul-shattering sobs had trailed off into whimpers and gasps for breath, I sank down onto my knees beside her, one hand on her yet-unmarked back. “This isn’t the worst pain,” I told her as gently as I could. “But I think it’s the worst shock. From here on out, you can expect it a little.”
At first I wasn’t sure if she’d heard me, because the whimpers continued unabated. Then she threw herself to the side, wrapping her arms around my waist and burying her face in my lap as her shock and grief deepened into full-throated sobs once more. I didn’t pet or stroke her, didn’t move my hand—she’d learn to hate that gesture from the Gardener—but I kept my hand against her warm skin so she knew I was there.
“Do you still have the hallway pictures in here?” she asks abruptly, and the agents shake themselves from the spell of her words. It’s Eddison who hands her the stack, his fists clenched against his thighs as he watches her riffle through them. She pulls out a photo, stares at it for a moment, then places it face-up on the table where the men can see. “A Chiricahua White.” She traces a finger over the sharp delineation of white and black on the wings. “He named her Johanna.”
Victor blinks. “Johanna?”
“I don’t know that there was a system to how he named us. I think he just looked through names until he found one he liked. I mean, she sure as hell didn’t look like a Johanna, but whatever.”
Victor forces himself to examine the wings in the glass. She’s right, the girl was tiny, though her exact height is difficult to gauge from her position. “What happened to her?”
“She was . . . mercurial. For the most part she seemed to settle in okay, but then suddenly she’d get these mood swings that sent a storm through the whole Garden. And then Lyonette died, and then the Gardener brought in a new new girl.”
He clears his throat when she doesn’t go on. “What happened to her?” he asks again, and Inara sighs.
“The walls came down so the Gardener could get the new girl for a tattoo session, but Johanna managed to stay out in the Garden. When the walls went up, we found her in the pond.” In one fluid motion, she grabs the photo and slams it face-down on the metal. “So much for mortal sin.”
Sliding another stack of photos and papers before him, Victor silently sifts through them until he finds the one he’s looking for. It’s a young man, probably a little older than he looks, with artistically disheveled hair so dark brown it’s nearly black. Pale green eyes stand out sharply in a slender, pale face. He’s a good-looking boy, even in this over-pixelated likeness, someone who—at least by appearance—he wouldn’t mind Holly bringing home for him to meet. He should bring the conversation back to this boy.
Not yet. Just a little longer.
He isn’t sure if it’s for her benefit or his own.
“When the Gardener noticed you in the trees.”
“What of it?”
“You said he came to talk to you over a stranger’s bed; was this the girl after Johanna?”
It’s not a smile, more like a grimace to acknowledge his statement. “No. The one after that.”
A little longer. “What did her name end up being?”
She closes her eyes. “She never got one.”
“Timing. Sometimes that’s all it came down to.”