Danelle volunteered her time to the cause as well, inviting the Gardener back to her room like she used to do in the days when she’d earned the wings on her face. I don’t think he was blind to the reasons for it, but I think he was touched by it nonetheless, because even if it wasn’t for his sake, it was at least for Tereza’s. Doing a good thing for another Butterfly was the same as doing it for him.
Desmond poured a glass of milk and perched next to me on the counter, passing the glass between us. “If I were to do something really pathetic, do you think you could pretend to like it to humor my ego?”
I looked at him warily. “I’d love to be supportive and say yes, but I can’t promise that without knowing what it is.”
He drained half the glass in one gulp. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
“Is it still being supportive if I say I’m scared but will come along anyway?”
“It’ll do.” He lifted me off the counter and took my hand as we walked out of the kitchen and into the Garden. It was still a little bit light out, twilight painting across the sky, and I watched the colors change. He ducked us behind the waterfall into the cave, then let go of my hand. “Wait here.”
He came back less than a minute later. “Close your eyes.”
When Desmond told me to do something—more to the point, when I actually did it—I didn’t feel like I was merely obeying. I obeyed the Gardener, I obeyed Avery.
Desmond was more careful about what he asked me to do.
The waterfall drowned out the sound of his movements, but after a moment I heard music. Music I actually recognized. “Sway” was Sophia’s favorite song, the one she danced to with her girls at the end of every visit, and she couldn’t hear the last notes without crying. Desmond took my hands, placed one of them on his hip, and stepped in close. “Open your eyes.”
An iPod and speaker sat on a safely dry portion of the floor near the hallway. He smiled at me, a little bit nervously, and gave a lopsided shrug. “Dance with me?”
“I’ve never . . . I don’t . . .” I took a deep breath, and somehow his nervous smile was on my lips. “I don’t know how to dance.”
“That’s okay. All I can do is waltz.”
“You can waltz?”
“Mother’s charity functions.”
“Ah.” He pulled me even closer, until my cheek rested against his shoulder, and he swayed us back and forth. He held our joined hands against his chest, his other hand sliding to the small of my back. Softly, almost inaudibly at first, he started singing along. I let him lead, burying my face in his shoulder to hide whatever my face was showing.
There’s this moment when you know that suddenly, everything’s changed. Most people have that moment many times in their lives.
I had it when I was three, and I realized my dad wasn’t like the rest of his family.
I had it when I was six, and I sat on the fucking carousel as everyone walked away.
I had it when I had to take a taxi to my Gran’s, when my Gran died, when Noémie poured me that first drink at the apartment.
I had it when I woke up in the Garden, when I got a new name that was supposed to eradicate everything I had been before.
And now, in the arms of this strange, unaccountable boy, I knew that even if nothing else changed, everything was different.
Maybe I could change him. Convince or trick or manipulate him into contributing to the freedom I wanted for all of us—but it wouldn’t be without a price.
“Des . . .”
I could feel his grin against my temple. “Yes?”
“Right now I could hate you a little.”
He didn’t stop dancing, but the smile faded. “Why?”
“Because this is royally fucked up.” I took a slow, deep breath, thought about what to say next. “And because this is going to break my heart.”
“Does that mean you love me too?”
“My mother taught me to make sure the man always says it first.”
He leaned back a little, just enough to see my face. “Did she really?”
I don’t think he could tell if I was serious or not.
The song ended, rolling over to something I should probably have recognized, and he put some space between us. “Who am I saying it to? Because you may answer to Maya, but it’s not who you are.”
I shook my head. “I can’t think like that. Not when I don’t have any chance to be that person again.”
His face fell, but honestly, what did he expect? Then he got down on one knee, holding both my hands, and smiled up at me. “I love you, Maya, and I swear, I will never hurt you.”
I believed part of that.
I didn’t want to feel guilty for it.
But I did, so I perched on his knee and kissed him, and he got so involved with kissing me back that he overbalanced and we both fell onto the damp stone. He laughed and kept kissing me and kissing me and I knew I could never believe the rest of it. Desmond wasn’t good, no matter how much he wanted to be, and better than his family just wasn’t enough. Every day he helped keep us here, he hurt me.
“I didn’t recite Poe that time, in case you were wondering.”
“No, for that I’m sure you were paying full attention,” Victor agrees dryly. “So, were you serious?”
“What, me and Des?”
“Well, yes, but more specifically, what you said about your mother.”
He ponders that for a moment, tries to make sense of it.
“Still want to find out who I am and where I came from?”
He sighs and shakes his head. “Because I can’t put a fake person on the stand.”
“I’m not a fake person; I’m carefully and genuinely handcrafted.”
He shouldn’t laugh. He really shouldn’t laugh but he does and then he can’t stop, and he’s leaning against the table trying to at least muffle the sound. When he finally looks up, she’s smiling at him, a real one this time, and he answers it gratefully.
“The real world intrudes, doesn’t it?” she asks gently, and his laughter fades.
“Keeping me honest?”
“It hurts you to ask, and it hurts you to listen, even when so much of it you’ve heard before. I like you, Special Agent Victor Hanoverian. Your girls are lucky to have you. The story’s almost over anyway. Then it can’t hurt for a little while.”
The end of the summer brought a shift in the Garden. Desmond had spent so much time with us he’d become a fixture, and even though I was the only one he touched, I wasn’t the only one who got to know him. Tereza talked to him more than she talked to me, because music crossed the boundaries of our cage and made her forget, even if just for a while. Even Bliss seemed to like Desmond, though I wouldn’t stake a wager on how much of that was for my sake.
Gradually, the girls felt comfortable with him in a way they never would with his father and brother, because he was never going to ask anything of them. Most of them had given up hope of ever being rescued, so there wasn’t even much bitterness as to why he didn’t report anything.
And the Gardener was over the moon.
The very first time we talked about Des, he’d said “his mother’s very proud of him.” I had thought that meant that he wasn’t, but I knew better now. He was always proud of Desmond, but when faced with a girl who knew only Avery, he had to acknowledge the son who openly shared the same fascination with keeping an unwilling harem. Now that Desmond was part of the Garden, his father’s happiness was complete. Tereza’s breakdown was the only one that summer. There were no accidents, no twenty-first birthdays, nothing to force us to remember that we couldn’t have just a little bit of fun.
Well, except for the Gardener and Avery still raping at will. That put a damper on things.
But the Gardener shifted how he treated me. After Desmond and I had sex, the Gardener didn’t touch me that way anymore. He treated me like a . . . well, like a housemother, I guess. Or a daughter. I wasn’t like Lorraine, I wasn’t being exiled from his affection, but somehow he decided that I was Desmond’s now. With Avery he shared; with Desmond, he gave.
Fucked up, no?