“They’re not touching her.”
A pained bellow ripped through the Garden and we flinched.
But it wasn’t from a female, so we didn’t move.
Other girls fled from the sound, crowding into my room, until I finally had to tell most of them to leave. We had no idea when this child was going to wake up, and she was going to be terrified and in pain and really didn’t need twenty-something people staring at her. Only Danelle and Bliss stayed, Danelle keeping herself behind the girl so her face wouldn’t be seen right away.
Except the bookshelf on my right wall didn’t entirely hide Lyonette.
Bliss tugged the curtain for my toilet as far as it could go, lifting the bottom and tucking it between several of the books to anchor it. If you knew something was there you could still see her hair, the curve of her spine, but not at a casual glance.
And we waited.
Bliss made a quick errand to fetch bottles of water, as well as bullying a few aspirin out of the cowed Lorraine. Aspirin wasn’t going to do much in the long run—it was great against headaches from the drugs, but that wasn’t what she had—but it was something anyway.
Then the Gardener appeared in my doorway. He glanced at the wall and the arrangement of the curtain, then to the girl on the bed, and nodded, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small control, and after a minute or so of fiddling with it, the walls came down on either side, leaving the front open. “How is she?”
“Unconscious,” I said shortly. “She’s been raped, she’s been hit very hard in the head, and she’ll have a world of other hurts.”
“Was there anything to show her name? Or where she came from?”
“No.” I gave her hand to Bliss so I could walk across the room, standing right next to the pale, suddenly worn-looking man. “No one touches her.”
“No, no one touches her. No wings, no sex, nothing. She is a child.”
To my shock, he actually nodded. “I’m giving her to your care.”
Danelle cleared her throat. “Sir? She hasn’t actually woken up yet; couldn’t she be taken somewhere? Left at a hospital or something? She wouldn’t know anything.”
“I can’t trust that she didn’t see Avery,” he said heavily. “She has to stay.”
Danelle bit her lip and looked away, her hands stroking the girl’s hair.
“I think it best if you leave,” I told him evenly. “We don’t know when she’s going to wake up. It would be best to not have any males present.”
“Of course, yes. You’ll tell me if . . . if she needs anything?”
“She needs her mother and her virginity,” snapped Bliss. “She needs to be safely at home.”
She snorted, but fell silent at his warning tone.
“You’ll tell me,” he said again, and I nodded. I didn’t bother to watch him leave.
He wasn’t gone long before Desmond came, that bruised look even stronger in his eyes. “Will she be all right?”
“No,” I said stiffly. “But I think she’ll live.”
“That yell? Father caned Avery.”
“Yes, because that will make her feel so much better,” Bliss snarled. “Go fuck yourself.”
“What did he do to her?”
“What do you think he did to her? Shook her hand?”
“Desmond.” I didn’t continue until he was finally looking at me, meeting my eye. “This is what your brother is, but it’s what all three of you do, so right now you need to not be here. I know you’re all full of self-pity and loathing right now, but I will not have any males around this child. You need to go.”
“I’m not the one who hurt her!”
“Yes, you are,” I snapped. “You could have prevented this! If you had just gone to the police, or let one of us go so we could go to the police, Avery wouldn’t have been free to kidnap her, to savage her, to rape her, to bring her here where it will happen to her again and again and again until she’s dead too young. You allowed this to happen, Desmond, actively allowed it, so yes, you are the one who hurt her. If you’re not going to do anything to help her, you need to get the hell away from her.”
He stared at me, his face pale and shocked. Then he turned and walked away.
How could a child be worth less than a name? How could all our lives be worth less than a reputation?
Bliss looked after him, then reached out to touch my hand. “Do you think he’ll come back?”
“I don’t care.”
It was even mostly true. I was tired in a way that went deeper than my bones. I simply did not have the energy to think about Desmond’s continued uselessness.
The girl finally regained consciousness around two in the morning, groaning as she started to feel all the various aches and pains. I sat on the bed and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Keep your eyes closed,” I said softly, pitching my voice low and comforting as Lyonette had taught me. I’d pretty much never done it before, but this girl needed me to be softer to her, fiercer for her. Sophia, I thought, would have recognized that distinction. “I’m going to put a damp cloth over your face to help take away some of that pain.”
Danelle wrung out the washcloth and handed it to me.
“We’ll get to that in a bit, I promise. Can you swallow pills?”
She started crying. “Please don’t drug me! I’ll be good, I promise, I won’t fight anymore!”
“It’s aspirin, nothing more. I promise you that. It’s only to help the pain a little.”
She let me sit her up enough to put the pills on her tongue and drink some water. “Who are you?”
“My name is Maya. I was taken by the same people who took you, but I’m not going to let them hurt you anymore. They won’t be able to touch you.”
“I want to go home.”
“I know,” I whispered, adjusting the cloth over her eyes. “I know you do. I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t want to be blind anymore, please let me see!”
I shielded her eyes and slid away the cloth, watching her blink against even that much light. Her eyes were different colors, one blue and one grey, and the blue one had two freckles in the iris. I angled my hand so she could see my face without staring directly into the overhead light. “Better?”
“I hurt,” she whimpered. Tears spilled from the corner of her eyes into her hair.
“I know you do, sweetheart. I know.”
She rolled over and pressed her face into my lap, her skinny arms wrapping around my hips. “I want my mom!”
“I know, sweetheart.” I curled over her, my hair spilling around her like that was any kind of shield, and held her as tightly as I could without causing pain. “I’m sorry.” Sophia’s Jillie would be eleven by now; this girl seemed around the same age, maybe a year older. But thinking of Jillie hurt just then. This child just looked so young and fragile, so broken. I didn’t want to think of bold little Jillie like that.
She cried herself back to sleep, and when she woke again a few hours later, Bliss brought us all fruit. “Lorraine didn’t make breakfast,” she whispered to me and Danelle. “She’s been sitting in the kitchen staring at the wall all night, according to Zulema and Willa.”
I nodded and took one of the bananas, taking my seat next to the child. “Here, you must be hungry.”
“Not really,” she said miserably.
“Part of that is shock, but try to eat anyway. The potassium will help your muscles, help them not be so tight and painful.”
She gave a quivering sigh, but took the banana and bit into it.
“This is Bliss,” I said, pointing to my tiny friend. “And this is Danelle. Can you tell us your name?”
“Keely Rudolph,” she answered. “I live in Sharpsburg, Maryland.”
Forever and a half ago, Guilian had said something about Maryland.
“Keely, do you think you can be brave for me?”
Tears welled up in her eyes again, but God love her, she nodded.