I nearly crawled down the path on the far side of the cliff, where there was actually a slope rather than a mostly sheer face. The sand muffled my steps when I reached the ground, and by moving slowly I was able to step into the stream without a splash. I ducked behind the waterfall and moved quickly down the back hall to Danelle’s room.
The Gardener had pulled his trousers on but not his shirt or shoes, and he sat on the edge of the bed working a brush through Danelle’s auburn curls until they fluffed into a mane all around her. More than any of the rest of us, Danelle loathed his fascination with our hair because it always made hers unmanageable.
They both looked up when I slipped into the room, Danelle’s confusion echoed but edged in anger in the Gardener’s face. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, “but it’s important.”
Danelle cocked an eyebrow at me. When she’d first come to the Garden four years ago, she’d thought sucking up to the Gardener would get her home and had the inked wings on her face to show for it, a mask of red and purple. She’d mellowed through the years, though, and graduated to the “let him do whatever, just don’t participate” way of thinking. I knew what she was asking, but I only shrugged. Whether or not I told her would largely depend on what actually happened.
Stuffing his feet into his shoes and grabbing his shirt, the Gardener followed me out into the hall. “That—”
“There’s someone in the Garden,” I interrupted as quietly as I could. “I think it’s your younger son.”
His eyes widened. “Where is he?”
“Near the pond when I came to get you.”
He shrugged into his shirt and gestured for me to button it while he ran his hands through his hair to get rid of the dishevelment. He was kind of screwed on the funky smell, though. When he set off down the hallway, I followed. After all, he didn’t tell me not to. Well, at least not until we got to one of the doorways and he could see the boy for himself, still waving around the silly flashlight. The man watched his son for a long time in silence, and I couldn’t read the expression on his face. With a hand on my shoulder, he pointed down, which could have meant either sit or stay.
I was the wrong kind of bitch for sit, so I chose stay, and he didn’t argue with me.
From the hallway, I watched him walk out into the Garden, openly and without apparent hesitation. His voice broke the near silence like a gunshot. “Desmond!”
The boy’s head whipped around and he dropped the flashlight. It bounced off a rock with the sound of cracking plastic, and when it fell to the sand the light flickered and died. “Father!”
The Gardener’s hand went into his pocket, and a moment later the walls came down around me, locking the other girls into their rooms and hiding the display cases. And left Bliss and me somewhat stranded, her up on the rock and me in the hall. And I hadn’t exactly told the Gardener she was up there. Shit.
I leaned against the wall and waited.
“What the hell are you doing here? I told you the inner greenhouse was off limits.”
“I . . . I heard Avery talking about it, and I just . . . I just wanted to see it. I’m sorry I disobeyed you, Father.”
It was hard to put an age to his voice. It was a light tenor, which had the effect of making him sound young. He was uncomfortable and embarrassed, clearly, but he didn’t actually seem scared.
“How did you even get in here?”
And could a Butterfly use it to get out?
The boy—Desmond, I supposed—hesitated. “A few weeks ago, I saw Avery pull aside a panel by one of the maintenance doors,” he said finally. “He closed it again when he saw I was there, but not before I saw a punch pad.”
“Which has a security code, so how did you get in?”
“Avery uses the same three passwords for everything. I just tried those.”
I had the feeling Avery was going to have to create a fourth password pretty soon. We weren’t supposed to loiter near the main entrance. That stretch, a little to either side of that locked door, had Lorraine’s room, Avery’s playroom before it had been dismantled, the infirmary and kitchen/dining room, the tattoo room that led into the Gardener’s suite, and a couple of rooms we didn’t know the purpose of, but could guess. Whatever he did in those rooms, that was where we died. All things we weren’t supposed to pay excessive attention to, minus the kitchen, and neither the Gardener nor Avery left while there was a Butterfly who could see them do it.
“Just what did you think you were going to find?” asked the Gardener.
“A . . . a garden . . .” the boy answered slowly. “I just wanted to see why it was so special.”
“Because it was private,” his father sighed, and I wondered if that was the reason he’d actually removed the camera and mic from the cave behind the waterfall. Because he valued his privacy enough to let us pretend we had ours. “If you truly wish to become a psychologist, Desmond, you will have to respect people’s privacy.”
“Except when that privacy forms a block to their mental well-being, in which case I’d be professionally obligated to urge them to talk through those secrets.”
Funny, Whitney had never mentioned that kind of ethical jiggering when she talked about her psych seminars.
“You will then be professionally obligated to keep those secrets to yourself,” the Gardener reminded him. “Now, let’s go.”
“Do you sleep here?”
“Occasionally. Let’s go, Desmond.”
I bit my lip against a laugh. It was a rare treat to hear the Gardener truly flummoxed.
“Because I find it peaceful,” he eventually answered. “Pick up your flashlight. I’ll walk you back to the house.”
“But what?” he snapped.
“Why do you keep this place such a secret? It’s just a garden.”
The Gardener didn’t answer right away, and I knew he had to be thinking through his options. Tell his son the truth, and hope he buys into it, keeps it secret? Lie to him and risk the truth being found out anyway, because a son disobedient once might prove disobedient again? Or was he thinking something worse, that somehow a son could be just as disposable as a Butterfly?
“If I tell you, you must keep it an absolute secret,” he said finally. “You cannot breathe a word about it outside these walls. Don’t even speak about it to your brother. Not a word, do you understand me?”
“Y-yes, sir.” It still wasn’t fear, but there was something there, something a little hard-edged and desperate.
He wanted to make his father proud.
A year ago, the Gardener had told me that his wife was proud of their younger son, not necessarily that he was. He hadn’t sounded disappointed, but maybe against his mother’s easy-shown pride, his father’s was harder to detect. Or perhaps his father simply withheld praise until he felt it had been earned. There were any number of possible explanations, but this boy wanted to make his father proud, wanted to feel a part of something greater.
Stupid, stupid boy.
There were footsteps then, growing softer, moving away. I stayed where I was, stuck until the walls lifted. A minute or two later, the Gardener stepped into the far end of the hall and beckoned to me. I obeyed, like I always did, and he absently ran a hand over my hair, now back in a messy knot. He was seeking comfort, I guess.
“Come with me, please.”
He actually waited for me to nod before putting his hand on my back and giving me a gentle shove down the hall. The tattoo room was open, the machines shrouded in plastic dustcovers until there was a new girl again; once inside, he pulled a small black remote from his pocket, hit a button, and the door came down behind us. Through the room, the door to his private suite was also open. The punch pad beeped when the door closed. His son stood in front of the bookshelves, turning at the sound of the lock engaging.
He stared at me in openmouthed shock.