During the days, I stayed with the newest arrival, an exquisite creature of Japanese descent. During the nights, Danelle stayed with the sleeping girl and I sat up on the cliff, clinging to the illusion of space. Desmond frequently joined me there, and the first few times we sat in silence, each of us lost to our own reading. It had been a long time since I could sit with a male and not feel actively threatened. Not safe, precisely, but not threatened. We talked about his studies, sometimes. Never about the Garden. Never his father.
I hated him, I think, for refusing to put the pieces together, but I didn’t show it. The Gardener was never going to let us go, and Avery was too dangerous to try to influence. I wasn’t sure Desmond was hope, but he was the closest thing to it that I could see.
I wanted to live, and I wanted the other girls to live, and for the first time, I wanted that myth of the escaped Butterfly to be true. I wanted to believe I could get out without ending up in glass or the riverbank.
Then one night Desmond brought his violin.
The Gardener had told me his son was a musician, and I’d seen the way his fingers silently played chords against books, against rocks or knees or any available surface when he was thinking. It was like he translated his thoughts into music so they could make sense.
I was lying stomach-down on the rock with my book and an apple in front of me, keeping an eye on three of the girls down in the main Garden. They were neck deep in our small pond, splashing at each other as best they could, and I knew the sensors had to have alerted the Gardener that someone was in the water, but all they had to do was play long enough for him to get comfortable and move on to something else. He wasn’t present in the Garden that night—he’d mentioned something about a charity function with his wife when I came to escort the new girl back to her room after the first tattoo session—but I didn’t doubt he had a way to watch us if he wanted to. Eleni and Isra had been there three and four years respectively, generally past the point of foolishness, but Adara had arrived only two months or so before me. She mostly held up well, but every now and then she sank into severe bouts of depression that were nearly crippling. They were clinically based, and without her meds I was surprised they weren’t more frequent, but we tried to make sure she wasn’t left alone during these episodes. She was mostly through the latest of them, but her mood still teetered.
Desmond walked up the path, his case in hand, and stopped beside the rock. “Hi.”
“Hello,” I replied.
Normal was a variable thing in the Garden.
I eyed the case in his hand. Would asking him to play for me flatter his ego? Or would it make him feel like I owed him a favor? I was skilled at reading the Gardener and Avery; Desmond was more difficult. Unlike his father and brother, he didn’t know what he wanted.
I was good at escaping people, not manipulating them. This was new ground.
“Play for me?” I asked eventually.
“You wouldn’t mind? I have a proficiency tomorrow, and didn’t want to wake up Mother. I was going to practice outside, but, uh . . .” He pointed up.
I didn’t look. I could hear the rain against the glass. I missed the feeling of rain.
There was nearly always music playing in the apartment. Kathryn liked classical, but Whitney liked Swedish rap, and Noémie liked bluegrass, whereas Amber liked country, and in the end we had the most eclectic listening experience imaginable. Here some of the girls had radios or players in their rooms but for most of us, music was a rare thing anymore.
I closed the book and sat up as Desmond rosined his bow and stretched his fingers. It was fascinating to watch all the little rituals that went into warming up, but when he finally set the bow to the strings to play for real, I realized why his father called him a musician.
It was more than just playing. Though I was no expert, he seemed technically skilled, but he could make the notes weep or laugh across the strings. He infused each piece with emotion. Down in the pond, the trio stopped splashing and just floated so they could hear. I closed my eyes and let the music wrap around me.
Sometimes when Kathryn and I were sitting out on the fire escape or the roof at three or four in the morning after work, a guy from the next building over would come out onto his roof to practice the violin. He’d fumble his fingering and his bow work wasn’t always to tempo, but sitting in the semi-darkness that was as close to true night as the city could get, it was like the violin was his lover. He never seemed to realize he had an audience, everything in him focused on the instrument and the sounds they made between them. It was pretty much the only thing Kathryn and I routinely did together. Even if we had the night off, we made sure we were awake to go outside and listen to that boy play.
Desmond was better.
He segued smoothly from song to song, and when he eventually let the bow swing down to his side, the last notes hovered expectantly.
“I don’t think you’ll have a problem passing your proficiency,” I whispered.
“Thanks.” He checked over the instrument, cradling it gently, and when he was satisfied all was as it should be, he put it away in the velvet-lined case. “When I was younger, I used to dream about being a professional musician.”
“My father took me to New York and arranged for me to spend a few days with a professional violinist, to see what it would be like. I hated it. It all felt . . . well, soulless, I guess. Like if I actually did that for a living, I’d grow to hate music. When I told my father I’d rather do something that still let me love music, he said he was proud of me.”
“He seems frequently proud of you,” I murmured, and he gave me a queer look.
“He talks to you about me?”
“Um . . .”
“You’re his son. He loves you.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“But it doesn’t strike you a little weird that he talks about his son to his captives?”
I decided not to tell him the entirety of what his father had said about him. “More weird than him having captives at all?”
And here he was, finally able to call us captives, and unable to try anything to change that fact.
The stream that connected the waterfall and the pond was barely three feet deep, but Eleni managed to swim all the way up to the rocks before standing. “Maya, we’re going in now. Do you need anything?”
“Not that I can think of, thanks.”
Desmond shook his head. “Sometimes you seem like a house mother.”
“What a twisted little sorority.”
“Do you hate me?”
“What, for being your father’s son?”
“I’m starting to realize just how much,” he said quietly. He sat down next to me on the rock, draping his arms over his bent knees. “One of the girls in my Freud and Jung class has a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. It’s ugly and badly drawn, one of those butterfly-type fairies with a face that looks like a melted doll, but she was wearing a tube dress and I saw it and all I could think of for the rest of class was your wings and how beautiful they are. They’re horrible, but they’re beautiful, too.”
“That’s pretty much how we look at it,” I replied neutrally, curious to see where he was going with this.
“I doubt the sight of your wings gets you off.”
Yes, definitely his father’s son.
But unlike his father, ashamed of that fact.
“In one of my other classes, we were talking about hoarders and I thought of my father’s story about his father’s butterfly collection, but then of course I thought about my father’s version of that, and suddenly I was thinking about you again and how you can be more dignified in nothing but ink and scars than most people can manage fully clothed. For weeks now, I’ve been having these . . . these dreams, and I wake up sweating and hard and I don’t know if they’re nightmares or not.” He shoved his hair back from his face, hooking that hand behind his neck. “I don’t want to believe I’m the type of person who could do this.”
“Maybe you’re not.” I shrugged at his sideways look. “Going along with it is complicated, but it doesn’t mean you’d ever do it yourself.”
“It’s still going along with it.”
“Right and wrong doesn’t mean there’s an easy choice.”