She had skin like ebony, almost blue-black against the dove-grey fitted sheet, with a smoothly shaven head and features that wouldn’t have been out of place on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. In the days following Lyonette’s death, I desperately needed something—anything—to do, but unlike Bliss and Lyonette, I had neither talent nor interest in creating things. I read, and read a lot, but I didn’t make anything of my own. Bliss buried herself in polymer clay, filling the oven with figurines, half of which she later destroyed in fits of temper, but I didn’t have that outlet, either the making or the destroying.
Three days later, though, the Gardener brought in the new girl, and there was no more Lyonette to give her a graceful introduction. None of the other girls wanted to go near her until she was settled and I wondered just how long Lyonette had been doing her job that no one else even seemed to think about it.
In the days following Johanna’s death, I’d wondered how much—if at all—I was to blame for her choice. If I’d given her a more graceful introduction to her situation, if I’d been more sympathetic or more comforting, maybe she would have been able to cling to that hope her mama told her to have. Or maybe not. Maybe that first view of the Garden, that first moment where it was real, was what made the difference.
It wasn’t like I could ask her.
So I stuck with the new girl, as patient with her as I could be, and tucked the more acerbic comments away. Considering how frequently she burst into tears, it took more patience than I knew I had. Bliss rescued me sometimes.
Not by coming herself—that would have been a very bad idea—but by sending Evita to be sweet and sincere and in many ways such a better person than I could ever hope to be.
The day after the third of her tattoo sessions, I stayed with her through the evening until her drugged dinner took effect. Normally that’s when I left, but I’d seen something I wanted to investigate without alarming her, which meant she needed to be fully asleep. Even after her deep, steady breathing, and the way all the tension left her body told me she was asleep, I let the drug work even further.
Maybe an hour after she fell asleep, I set aside my book and rolled her over onto her stomach. She usually slept on her back, but the process of the tattoo made her sleep on her side to keep pressure off the tender areas. The butterfly book in the library—with Lyonette’s handwriting scrawled in the margins, listing names and locations in the halls—told me the Gardener had chosen a Falcate Orangetip for her, mostly white with a splash of orange on the edge of each upper wing. He liked to choose white and the palest yellows for the darker-skinned girls, for some reason. I guess he was afraid the darker colors wouldn’t show with the same clarity. For this one, he’d finished the orange and moved into the white sections, and something about them just looked wrong.
Now that I could actually bend close to see it without giving her alarm, I could see the added puffiness, the scale-like swellings under the ink, the way the white bubbled grotesquely in huge blisters. The orange wingtips were nearly as bad. Tracing in closer to her spine, even the black outlines and veins pearled. I pulled out one of my earrings—the Gardener never had taken them—and used the post to carefully pierce one of the smaller blisters. Mostly clear fluid leaked out from the tiny puncture, but when I pressed down gently, a milky white spilled out as well.
I washed the earring off in the sink and replaced it in my ear as I tried to think of a solution. I couldn’t be sure if she was reacting to the inks or to the needles, but there was definitely an allergic reaction of some sort. Not immediately life-threatening like a peanut allergy can be, but it wasn’t letting the ink heal. Infection could kill just as much as a histamine response, or so Lorraine had told us on one of her rare friendly days.
Of course, she’d been causing Bliss all sorts of pain by digging around in her feet for splinters, so that probably contributed to the good mood.
For lack of a better idea, I returned to the girl’s side and tried to measure how bad the reaction was in each area. I’d gotten through the orange and half the white when I felt the change.
The Gardener was there.
He leaned against the doorway, thumbs hooked through the pockets of his pressed khakis. Lights were going out all over the Garden as girls went to bed, waiting to see if this would be the night they’d be required to entertain their captor. He’d never called for Lyonette when she was settling a new girl, but then, I wasn’t Lyonette.
“You look worried,” he said instead of a greeting.
I gestured to the girl’s back. “She’s not going to heal.”
As he stepped into the room, he unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled the sleeves of his dark green shirt up to his elbows. The color made his pale eyes glow against his face. He pressed against her back with gentle hands, finding the same things I did, and gradually the concern changed to a look of deep sorrow. “Everyone reacts differently to tattoos.”
I should have felt sorrow, or rage, or confusion.
All I felt was numb.
“What do you do with the girls who never get their full wings?” I asked quietly.
He gave me a swift, thoughtful look, and I wondered if I was the first girl to ever ask that. “I see them properly buried on the estate.”
Eddison growls and reaches for his notebook. “Did he say where on the estate?”
“No, but I think it overlooked a river. Sometimes he’d come to the Garden with mud on his shoes and this wistful look on his face, and on those days, he’d give Bliss river stones to use as a base for some of her figures. Nothing I could see from the trees.”
He balls up the aluminum foil and tosses it at the one-way mirror. “Get a team out to the riverbank, look for graves.”
“You could say please.”
“I’m giving them an assignment, not asking for a favor,” he retorts through gritted teeth.
She shrugs. “Guilian always said please. Rebekah, too, even when she was just assigning sections. But then, I guess that’s why I loved working for Guilian. He made it a very pleasant and respectful place.”
She might as well have slapped him in the face. Victor sees the angry flush climb up from his partner’s collar and looks away so he won’t smile. Or at least so Eddison won’t see it. “Was it just the girls who died before the wings were finished?” he asks quickly.
“No. If they died in such a way that it ruined the wings, he didn’t display them. Avery put several girls into the ground instead of the glass, when he whipped them hard enough to scar across the ink.” She lightly touches her neck. “Giselle.”
“That wasn’t where the conversation ended, was it?”
“No, but you already know that.”
“Yes, but I’d like to hear the rest,” he replies, just as he would to his daughters.
She quirks an eyebrow at him.
Like Lyonette had, I usually borrowed a stool from the infirmary to keep beside the girl’s bed. Sitting on the bed probably would have been fine, but this gave her a little space. Gave her a territory that was hers. The Gardener didn’t really recognize territory in that way. He sat with his back against the headboard, placing the girl’s head in his lap so he could run his hand over her shaven skull. So far as I knew, he never visited the girls in their rooms until after they were fully marked, until after he’d raped them for the first time.
After all, that was what made them his.
But then, he wasn’t there to see the new girl. He was there to talk to me.
And he didn’t seem in any big hurry to do it.
I pulled my ankles up onto the seat, sitting cross-legged on the narrow stool, and spread my book across my lap, reading to fill the empty space until he reached over and gently closed it. Then I gave him my attention.
“How long have you been watching my family?”
“Nearly since my wings were done.”
“But you haven’t said anything.”
“Not to you or anyone.” Not even to Lyonette or Bliss, though I’d been tempted. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was easier to think of him as just our captor. Putting a family in there made it . . . well, more wrong somehow. Just the fact that it could be more wrong was disturbing enough.
“And what do you think when you see us?”