“Do you want me to answer that?” Eddison asks with a grin.
She glowers at him. “I was hiding Sophia,” Inara repeats more softly. She glances at Victor. “I appreciate that my word may not be worth particularly much, but I swear to you, that’s the truth. I knew if Sophia’s name came up, so would the truth about Jillie, and I couldn’t . . . Sophia worked so hard to get her life back together. I couldn’t be the thing that turned that upside down. I couldn’t be the reason she lost her girls. I needed time to think.”
“About what?” Victor asks.
She shrugs. “I needed to see if there was a way to avoid tying her back to the Garden. Hiding the book would have been the easiest, but that . . . well. So then I thought, if I could just delay long enough, I could call her, warn her, but she . . .”
“You didn’t expect her to come.”
Inara shakes her head.
“But you knew about the Garden,” Eddison insists.
“Not that it was them.” Inara cradles the sad little dragon in both hands. “When her memories of the Garden started bleeding, it was at the sight of the costume wings, nothing more. None of us who worked that night said what the clients looked like; why would we? And they were fundraising for Madame Butterfly, the theme made sense. I didn’t know.”
Victor nods slowly. “You knew about the Garden, though, so when you woke up there, you didn’t panic.”
“Exactly. I tried to watch for Avery’s codes, but he was more careful. Well, it had been ten years, after all. I looked everywhere but I couldn’t find another way out. I even tried breaking the glass up by the trees. Didn’t even crack.”
“And then Desmond.”
“Desmond?” asks Sophia.
“The Gardener’s younger son. I tried . . .” Inara shakes her head, shoving her hair out of her face. “You know how Hope can get the guys she’s fucking to do anything for her? Like they’d walk through a burning building if she mentioned her favorite necklace was in there?”
“Yes . . .”
“I tried that.”
“Oh dear.” Sophia bumps her shoulder into Inara’s, a smile lighting up her tired features. “You being you, I can’t imagine that going well.”
“It really didn’t.”
“He did make the call,” Victor reminds her.
“I don’t think that was because of anything I did,” she confesses. “I think that was mostly Avery.”
“Wait, what now?”
“They couldn’t co-exist in the Garden. Maybe not ever, but especially not there, and not with their father’s pride at stake. They were competing for his love. Avery did something drastic, and Desmond did something drastic in response. They both lost.”
“But you won.”
“I don’t think anyone won,” she says. “Two days ago, there were twenty-three of us, including Keely. Now there are thirteen. How many do you think can actually adjust to Outside?”
“You think there will be suicides?”
“I think a trauma doesn’t stop just because you’ve been rescued.”
Eddison stands and takes the scrapbook from Victor. “I need to get this back to the scene techs,” he tells him. “Need anything while I’m out there?”
“Check and see if anyone has gotten in touch with the MacIntosh family lawyer. Geoffrey and Desmond aren’t in any condition to need one yet, but Eleanor should have counsel. Check on Lorraine, too. See if the psychologists have made a preliminary determination.”
“Roger.” He nods to Inara and leaves the room.
Inara quirks an eyebrow. “You know, a few more days of being trapped in a tiny room with him, I might even start to think of him as a friend.” She smiles at Victor, sweet and somewhat insincere but still real. It quickly fades. “So what happens next?”
“There’ll be more interviews. Many more interviews. You’ll be included in those, Ms. Madsen.”
“I figured. I brought a suitcase for each of us.”
“Suitcase?” echoes Inara.
“It’s in the trunk; I borrowed Guilian’s car.” She smiles and gives Inara a small shake. “Did you think I was going to give up on you? We kept all your things and your bed is still there. I told you Whitney and I started an account with the ridiculous amount of money you had lying around. It should have some decent interest in it. And Guilian says you’re welcome back at the restaurant.”
“You . . . you kept my stuff?” she asks weakly.
Sophia gently tweaks Inara’s nose. “You’re one of my girls too.”
Inara blinks rapidly, her eyes bright, but then tears spill over her lashes and down her cheeks. She touches a fingertip to the damp skin with astonishment.
Victor clears his throat. “The carousel’s over now,” he tells her quietly. “This time your family is waiting for you.”
Inara sucks in a deep, shuddering breath, trying to collect herself, but Sophia’s arms wrap around her, carefully easing her down to her lap. She dissolves into silent weeping. Only the tremors wracking her body and her uneven breathing give her away. Sophia doesn’t stroke the dark, glossy hair. That’s too much like the Gardener, Victor imagines. Instead, she runs one finger along the curve of Inara’s ear, over and over again, until Inara gives a watery laugh and pushes herself back to sitting.
Victor holds his handkerchief across the space between the beds. She takes it and mops at her face. “People come back?” he suggests.
Her voice is soft with wonder. “And other people expect them to.”
“You know there’s one more thing.”
Her thumb rubs against the sad, little blue dragon. “You have to understand, she isn’t real. She never was. I wasn’t a real person until I became Inara.”
“And Inara can be the real person. You’re eighteen now, if you were telling the truth.”
She gives him a wry look.
He smiles, then continues. “You can legally change your name to Inara Morrissey, but only if we have your current legal name.”
“You survived the Gardener and his sons,” Sophia points out. “Even if your parents do come calling, you don’t owe them anything. Your family is here in the hospital, and in New York. Your parents are nothing.”
The girl takes a slow breath, lets it out even more slowly, then does it again. “Samira,” she says eventually, her voice shaking. “The name on my birth certificate was Samira Grantaire.”
He extends his hand. She looks at it for a moment, then rests the clay dragon on her thigh so she can lean out and accept the grip. Sophia has her other hand. “Thank you, Samira Grantaire. Thank you for telling us the truth. Thank you for taking care of those girls. Thank you for being so incredibly brave.”
“And so incredibly stubborn,” adds Sophia.
The girl laughs, her face bright and open and tear-streaked, and Victor decides this is a good day. He’s not na?ve enough to think that all is well. There will still be pain and trauma, all the wounds of the investigation and trial. There are dead girls to mourn, and living girls who will struggle for years to adjust to life outside the Garden, if they even can.
He still counts this as a good day.