“Finding out about this . . . having it all come out . . . it would kill my mother.”
I shrugged. “Give it enough time and it’ll kill me too. Cowardice may be our natural state but it’s still a choice. Every day you know about the Garden and don’t call the police or let us go, you’re making that same choice again and again. It is what it is, Desmond. You just don’t get to pretend anymore.”
He started weeping again, or maybe it was weeping still, all one massive shock that just kept compounding past his ability to bear it.
He spent the rest of that dark morning lying silently on my bed, and when sunlight came to the Garden, he gathered up his formaldehyde-scented clothing and walked away.
He didn’t talk to me for weeks, and only came into the Garden once: to see Zara after the resin solidified and the wall came away from her case. All the walls lifted then, and the reality that had blurred over the summer crashed back down with resounding force. We were Butterflies, and our short lives would end in glass.
“Wait, I thought you said things changed with Keely,” Eddison says.
“I did, yes. I’m getting there.”
She rubs her thumbs against the blue dragon’s neck and takes a deep breath. “Keely arrived four days ago.”
It took time to keep my promise to Zara. The Gardener readily agreed to get us a full set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I told him what it was for, but he wanted the affair “done right.” He ordered up all sorts of costumes and gave Bliss a box of clays that weighed as much as she did to make us flower crowns. We assigned parts and coached girls through the language. Some of them had read a play or two in English, but most didn’t have much in the way of real exposure.
I’d lived for almost two years with Noémie, who walked around the apartment in her underwear reading aloud soliloquies as she brushed her teeth.
Yes, brushed her teeth, which for that very reason took forfuckingever.
When the evening arrived, the Gardener had Lorraine arrange a feast in the Garden itself, spread on both sides of the little stream. We had these strange chairs somewhere between an ottoman and a beanbag, all in bright colors, and each of us had semi-sheer silk gowns in beautiful colors that for once had nothing to do with the wings inked on our backs. I was reading for Helena and the Gardener had given me a gown of forest and moss greens, with a single layer of deep rose. That was the color Bliss matched for my crown of clay roses.
Most of us wore our hair down under the crowns, simply because for that one night we could.
There was a sharp edge to the laughter as we all prepared. We were doing this for Zara, but the Gardener had made it into a fancy. Even knowing our reason for it, I’m sure he was convinced that it was a measure of how happy we were under his loving care that we wanted to put on an entertainment for him. That man had an astonishing talent for seeing what he wanted to see.
He hadn’t even noticed that Lorraine had bought a wig so she could still seem to have long, well-maintained hair for him to want to play with, the sick bitch.
And he persuaded Desmond to attend.
He was thrown, I think, by his son’s reaction to Zara’s death. Des was his father’s son, but he didn’t have his perspective. Desmond couldn’t see it as anything but murder, yet it didn’t push him into action.
At the end of the first week of silence and absence from his son, the Gardener came to my room before breakfast. “Desmond seems very out of sorts,” he announced as soon as I was marginally awake. “Did you two argue?”
I yawned. “He’s having trouble processing what happened to Zara.”
“But Zara’s fine. She’s out of pain.” He honestly seemed confused.
“When you said you were going to take care of her, he thought you meant take her to a hospital.”
“That would have been foolish; there would have been questions asked.”
“All I’m doing is translating.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you, Maya.”
I’m sure there were a number of father-son conversations in the intervening weeks to which I wasn’t privy, but Desmond showed up for the reading looking like he hadn’t slept for shit. He must have had a presentation in class that day, because he was wearing a dress shirt and tie with his khakis. Granted, the shirt was open at the collar, the tie loose, and the sleeves rolled back, but it was still dressier than usual, and I was somewhat disgusted with myself for the fleeting thought that the sea-foam green shirt looked very good with his eyes.
He had a hard time looking directly at any of us, especially me. I’d told Bliss the gist of our last discussion over a night of making fake chocolate chip cookies with which to trick Lorraine. She’d shrugged and said I was kinder than she would have been.
Seeing as the clay cookies were her idea, I didn’t argue.
The reading started really well. Until Zara’s notes, I’d never paid much attention to the words—once you hear “to be or not to be” mangled by toothpaste, it gets a little hard to care—but this was a really funny play, and we amped it up wherever we could. Bliss played Hermia, and during one of the scenes where we argued, she actually pounced on me from across the stream, startling a belly laugh from the Gardener.
In the middle of one of Marenka’s speeches as Puck, the front door slammed open to frame Avery, a tiny bundle over one shoulder. Marenka stopped and looked to me, her eyes wide within her mask of a White Peacock. I stood and went to her side, watching Avery jog into the Garden. After a moment, the Gardener and Desmond stood beside us.
“I brought us a new one!” Avery announced, his face wreathed in smiles. He shrugged off his burden, letting it drop to the sand. “I found her, I got her. Look, Father! See what I found for us!”
The Gardener was too busy staring at his older son, so I knelt down and twitched aside the wrapped blanket with shaking hands. A few of the girls screamed. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fucking shit.
The girl inside hadn’t even hit puberty yet. Blood crusted one side of her face in streaks from her temple, the fair skin there already starting to bruise, and other bruises, scratches, and impressions could be seen through tears in her clothing as I pulled away the rest of the blanket. More blood soaked her thighs and the fabric around it. Shit, her underwear was covered with pink and purple cursive Saturdays, the kind of thing you just know they don’t make in big girl sizes. A really inappropriate part of my brain noted that it was only Thursday.
She was small, with gangly limbs and the impression of growth, like suddenly she’d shoot up. Pretty, in a preteen kind of way, with a ruined ponytail of almost copper hair, but very, very young. I wrapped the blanket back around her to hide the blood and held her close, utterly speechless.
“Avery,” whispered the shocked Gardener. “What the hell have you done?”
I absolutely did not want to be a part of that conversation. Danelle helped me stand with the girl in my arms, supporting her head. “Bliss, your dress with the back, can we have that?”
She nodded and raced away to her room.
Danelle and I walked quickly to my room, where we stripped the girl, threw her ruined clothing in the laundry chute, and washed her. I had to wash the blood from her thighs and gently squirt more water into her to flush the fluids and bits of torn tissue; Danelle was busy retching into the toilet. She came back, wiping a shaky hand across her mouth. “She doesn’t even have any hair down there yet,” she whispered.
No hair on her crotch or underarms, no breasts, no hips, this was definitely still a child.
Danelle held her up so I could wash her hair. By then Bliss was there with her dress—the only thing that was likely to fit her and keep her fully covered, even if it was a bit loose—so we got her dried off, clothed, and tucked into my bed.
“Now that she’s here, do you think . . .” Not even Bliss could finish that thought.
I shook my head, inspecting the girl’s hand where several nails had torn short. She must have fought. “They’re not touching her.”