“Because I’m privileged?”
“More than you can ever fathom. They trust me because I’ve proven to them they can. I have no interest in proving that to you.”
“What do you think his reaction would be if I asked him?”
“I don’t know, but he’s coming up the path, and I’ll thank you not to ask him in front of me.”
“It isn’t easy to ask him for anything,” he murmured.
I knew why that was true for us. I thought it cowardice that it was apparently true for him.
His father rejoined us then, standing over us with a smile. “Getting along well enough, Desmond?”
“Yes, sir. Maya’s very pleasant to talk with.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” His hand twitched as if to touch my hair, but at the last second he brought it up to rub at his jaw. “It’s time for us to join your mother for dinner. I’ll check in on you later, Maya.”
Desmond stood and brought my knuckles to his lips. Seriously? “Thank you for your company.”
“Of course,” I repeated. I watched them make their way back through the Garden. Soon they’d be sitting down in a dining room with Eleanor and Avery, a perfectly normal family conversing over a meal, never mind the lies that hovered over the table like fog.
A few minutes later I heard Bliss come up beside me. “What a tool.” She snorted.
“Will he go to the police?”
“No,” I said reluctantly. “I don’t think he will.”
“Then he’s a tool.”
Sometimes it was hard to argue with Bliss’s logic, such as it was.
But sometimes, tools could be used.
“Why didn’t you think he’d go to the police?”
“For the same reason he wasn’t going to ask his father those important questions,” she answers with a shrug. “Because he was scared. What if he went to the police and his father’s explanation was actually true? Or worse, what if it wasn’t? Maybe he wanted to do the right thing, but he was barely twenty-one. How many of us know the right thing at that age?”
“You haven’t even reached that age yet,” Eddison points out, and the girl nods.
“And I don’t claim to know the right thing. He wanted to believe his father. I’ve never had anyone I wanted to believe that badly. I never felt that kind of need for someone to be proud of me.”
She smiles suddenly, soft and sour and slightly sad. “Lotte worried about that, though.”
“Sophia’s younger girl. I remember one time, after we’d worked till three in the morning, Sophia was at the girls’ school at eight-thirty in the morning so she could see their class plays. She told us about it after she’d gotten a nap in.” The smile spreads, deepens, and for a moment Victor thinks he sees the real Inara Morrissey, the girl who found a home in that strange apartment. “Jillie was fearless, confident, the kind of kid who could throw herself into anything, no hesitation. Lotte was . . . not. Girls with older sisters like Jillie probably never are.
“Anyway, there we were around the coffee table, sitting on the floor to eat a crazy assortment of food from Taki’s, and Sophia’s too tired to bother getting dressed. She just pads over in her underwear, her hair covering most of her ink and not much of her tits, and plops down to eat. Lotte had been fretting about her line for weeks, practicing it over and over again with each of us when we went with her mother to visit, and we all wanted to know if she’d remembered it.”
Victor’s been to those class plays. “Did she?”
“Half of it. Jillie shouted the rest of it from the audience.” The smile shifts, fades. “I’ve never been an envious person, never really saw a point to it. Those girls, though, what they had with each other and Sophia . . . they were worth envying.”
“You could get anything at Taki’s,” she interrupts briskly, flicking her burned and sliced fingers as if to dismiss the sentimentality. “It was between the station and our building, never closed, and he’d make anything, even if you bought the stuff at the bodega next door. Working in the restaurant, none of us ever wanted to cook.”
The moment he could have pushed is gone as quickly as it came, but he makes a mental note of it. He’s not na?ve enough to think she trusts them. Still, he doesn’t think she means to reveal this much emotion. Whatever she’s hiding—and he agrees with Eddison, she’s hiding something important—she’s so focused on it that other things are starting to slip.
He likes Inara, and he sees his daughters every time he looks at her, but he has a job to do. “And the Garden?” he asks neutrally. “I think you mentioned Lorraine had orders to make only healthy food?”
She makes a face. “Cafeteria style. You stood in line, received your meal, and then sat down at these tables complete with benches to make you feel like you were back in grade school. Unless you wanted to take the tray back to your room, which you could pretty much do whenever you felt like it as long as you brought it back at the next meal.”
“What if you didn’t like what was being served?”
“You ate what you could off the plate. If there was an actual allergy involved, there was forgiveness, but if you didn’t eat enough or if you were too picky, things didn’t end well for you.”
There was a set of twins there when I first arrived. They looked identical, right down to the wings tattooed on their backs, but they were very, very different people. Magdalene and Magdalena. Maggie, the elder by several minutes, was allergic to life. Seriously, she couldn’t even go out into the main Garden because she couldn’t breathe out there. If you ever needed help falling asleep, all you had to do was ask her to list her food allergies. Lena, on the other hand, wasn’t allergic to anything. In one of his rare lapses into insensitivity, the Gardener kept them in the same room and always visited them at the same time.
Lena liked to run around in the Garden, and as often as not ended up soaked and muddy and covered in plant bits. This created a rather large problem when she tried to go back to the room to shower. Even if Maggie was in the dining room, she’d come back later, find a shred of grass on the floor, and freak the fuck out. Maggie was allergic to the first twenty or so soaps the Gardener provided, and even then she complained about how dry her skin was, how lank her hair was, and always, always how she couldn’t breathe and why her eyes were so blurry and none of us had any sympathy for her, oh holy fuck.
Maggie was used to her parents falling over themselves to make her comfortable at every step.
I liked Lena, though. Lena never complained—even when Maggie was at her most annoying—and she explored the Garden just as much as I did. Sometimes the Gardener even hid little treasures for her to find, simply because he knew she would. She loved to laugh and seized on any excuse to do so, creating one of those relentlessly cheerful outlooks that would be irritating if you didn’t know she knew the gravity of the situation. She chose to be happy because she didn’t like being sad or pissed off.
She tried to explain it to me, and I sort of got it, but not really, because let’s face it: I’m not that person. I don’t choose to be sad or pissed off, but I don’t exactly choose to be happy, either.
Maggie never ate with the rest of us because she said just being in the same room with things would make her have a severe reaction. Her sister nearly always had to take her a tray of specially prepared food, then swing by to pick it up before the next meal. But then, Lena had the time for that, because you could put any meal before her and she’d suck it down under five minutes. Lena would eat everything without a complaint.