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The Butterfly Garden / (by Dot Hutchison, 2016) -

The Butterfly Garden /   (by Dot Hutchison, 2016) -

The Butterfly Garden / (by Dot Hutchison, 2016) -

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The Butterfly Garden / (by Dot Hutchison, 2016) -
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2016
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Dot Hutchison
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Lauren Ezzo, Mel Foster
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,
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upper-intermediate
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09:13:41
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62 kbps
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m4b, pdf, doc

The Butterfly Garden / :

.doc (Word) hutchison_dot_-_the_butterfly_garden.doc [749 Kb] (c: 13) .
.pdf hutchison_dot_-_the_butterfly_garden.pdf [1.4 Mb] (c: 17) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Butterfly Garden

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To Mom and Deb Because you were halfway through answering the question before you realized how deeply disturbing it was And because everything else. I The techs tell him the girl on the other side of the glass hasnt said a word since they brought her in. It doesnt surprise him at first, not with the traumas shes been through, but watching her now from behind the one-way mirror, he starts to question that assessment. She sits slumped in the hard metal chair, chin resting on one bandaged hand as the other traces nonsense symbols onto the surface of the stainless steel table. Her eyes are half-closed, deep shadows bruising the skin beneath, and her black hair is dull and unwashed, scraped back into a messy knot. Shes exhausted, clearly. But he wouldnt call her traumatized. Sipping his coffee, FBI Special Agent Victor Hanoverian studies the girl and waits for his team members to arrive. At least his partner, anyway. The third core member of their team is at the hospital with the other girls, trying to get updates on their conditions andwhen possibletheir names and fingerprints. Other agents and techs are at the property, and what little hes heard from them makes him want to call home and talk to his own daughters, make sure theyre well. But he has a way with people, especially traumatized children, so its the sensible choice for him to be here, waiting to go in and talk to this particular victim. He can see the faint pink lines around her nose and mouth from an oxygen mask, smudges of dirt and soot across her face and borrowed clothing. Bandages wrap around her hands and her upper left arm, and he can trace the bulky line of others beneath the thin undershirt someone at the hospital gave her to wear. She shivers in the off-green scrub pants, her bare feet pulled away from the cold floor, but doesnt complain. He doesnt even know her name. He doesnt know the names of most of the girls they rescued, or the ones they were far, far too late to save. This one hasnt talked to anyone but the other girls, and even then there were no names, no information. Just . . . well, he cant really call it comfort. Youll die or you wont, now relax for the doctors so they can work wasnt exactly reassuring, but thats exactly how the other girls seemed to take it. She sits up in the chair, her arms extending slowly over her head until her entire back is curved like a bowstring. The mics pick up the painful pop of vertebrae. Shaking her head, she slumps back over the table, her cheek pressed against the metal, her palms flat against the surface. Shes facing away from the glass, away from him and the others she knows must be there, but the angle offers another piece of interest: the lines. The hospital gave him a picture of it; he can see just the edges of those brilliant colors peeking out against the back of her shoulder. The rest of the design is harder to see, but the undershirt isnt thick enough to obscure it completely. He pulls the picture from his pocket and holds it up against the glass, looking between the glossy paper and what he can see of the design on the girls back. It wouldnt be significant except that all but one of the girls have them. Different colors, different designs, but all the same in essentials. You think he did that to them, sir? asks one of the techs, watching the girl on the monitor. That camera is aimed from the other side of the interview room, showing an enlarged view of her face, her eyes closed, her breaths slow and deep. I guess well find out. He doesnt like to make suppositions, especially when they know so little yet. This is one of the very few times in his career where what they found is so much worse than they could have envisioned. Hes accustomed to thinking the worst. When a child goes missing, you work your ass off but dont expect to find the poor thing alive at the end of it. Maybe you hope. You dont expect. Hes seen bodies so small its a wonder there are even coffins to fit them, seen children raped before they know the meaning of the word, but somehow this case is so unexpected he isnt quite sure where his footing is. He doesnt even know how old she is. The doctors guessed sixteen to twenty-two, but that doesnt help him much. As young as sixteen, she should probably have a representative from child services, but theyve already swarmed the hospital and made things difficult. They have valuable and necessary services to providebut that doesnt get them out of his way. He tries to think of his daughters, what they would do if they were locked in a room like this girl, but none of them are this self-contained. Does that mean shes older? Or just that shes had more practice seeming unaffected? Have we heard more from Eddison or Ramirez yet? he asks the techs, not taking his eyes off the girl. Eddisons on his way up; Ramirez is still at the hospital with the parents of the youngest girl, one of the women reports. Yvonne doesnt look at the girl in the room, not even at the monitors. She has an infant daughter at home. Victor wonders if he should pull her offthis is only her first day backbut decides shell say something if she cant handle it. She was the one who triggered the search? Only been gone a couple of days. Disappeared from the mall while shopping with her friends. They said she went out of the dressing room area to switch sizes and never came back. One less person to find. Theyd taken pictures at the hospital of all the girls, even the ones whod died en route or on arrival, and were running them through the missing persons database. It will take time for results to come up, though. When agents or doctors asked the ones in better shape for their names, they turned to look at this girl, clearly a leader among them, and most said nothing. A few seemed to think about it before dissolving into sobs that brought the nurses running. But not this girl in the interview room. When they asked her, she just turned away. As far as anyone can tell, this is one girl with no interest in being found. Which makes some of them wonder if shes a victim at all. Victor sighs and drains the last of his coffee, crushing the cup before tossing it in the trash bucket by the door. Hed prefer to wait for Ramirez; another female in the room is always helpful in circumstances like this. Can he wait for her? Theres no telling how long shell be with the parents, or if other parents will flock to the hospital once the photos are released to the media. If theyre released to the media, he amends with a frown. He hates that part, hates plastering the pictures of victims across television screens and newspapers so theres never a way for them to forget what happened to them. At least they can wait until they get the missing persons data. The door opens and slams shut again behind him. The room is soundproof but the glass rattles slightly and the girl sits up quickly, eyes narrowed at the mirror. And, presumably, the ones she has to know are behind it. Victor doesnt turn around. No one slams a door quite like Brandon Eddison. Anything? Theyve matched a couple of fairly recent reports, and the parents are on their way. So far its all East Coast. Victor pulls the picture from the glass and puts it back into the pocket of his jacket. Anything else on our girl? Some of the others called her Maya after she was brought here. No last name. Real name? Eddison snorts. Doubtful. He struggles to zip his jacket over his Redskins T-shirt. Once the response team found the survivors, Victors team was called in from off duty to handle it. Given Eddisons tastes, Victors mostly grateful there are no naked women on the shirt. Weve got a team going through the main house to see if the bastard kept anything personal. I think we can both agree that he kept some very personal things of theirs. Perhaps remembering what he saw at the property, Eddison doesnt argue. Why this one? he asks. Ramirez says there are others not too badly injured. More frightened, maybe more willing to talk. This one looks like a tough nut. The other girls look to her. I want to know why. They must be desperate to get home, so why do they look at her and choose not to answer questions? You think she might be part of this? Thats what we need to find out. Picking up the bottle of water from the counter, Victor takes a deep breath. All right. Lets go talk to Maya. She sits back in the chair when they walk into the interview room, gauze-covered fingers laced together across her stomach. Its not as defensive a posture as he would expect, and its clear from his partners scowl that hes thrown by it as well. Her eyes flick over them, taking in details and filing away thoughts, none of which show on her face. Thank you for coming with us, he greets her, glossing over the lack of choice shed been given. This is Special Agent Brandon Eddison, and Im Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian. The corner of her mouth ticks upward in a fleeting movement he cant really call a smile. Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian, she repeats, her voice hoarse with smoke. Quite a mouthful. Would you prefer Victor? I dont really have a preference, but thank you. He unscrews the cap and hands her the bottle of water, using the moment to adjust his strategy. Definitely not traumatized, and not shy either. Usually theres another part to the introductions. The helpful tidbits? she says. You like to weave baskets and take long swims, and Eddison likes to walk the streets in heels and a mini? Eddison growls and slams a fist onto the table. What is your name? Dont be rude. Victor bites his lip against the temptation to smile. It wont help the situationcertainly wont help his partners state of mindbut the temptation is there just the same. Would you please tell us your name? Thank you, but no. I dont believe I care to share that. Some of the girls called you Maya. Then why did you bother to ask? He hears Eddisons sharp intake of breath, but ignores it. Wed like to know who you are, how you came here. Wed like to help you get home. And if I said I dont need your help to get home? Id wonder why you didnt get home before this. Theres a not-quite smile, and a flicker of an eyebrow that might be approval. Shes a beautiful girl, with golden-brown skin and pale brown, nearly amber eyes, but shes not soft. A smile will have to be earned. I think we both know the answer to that. But Im not in there anymore, am I? I can get home from here. And where is home? Im not sure if its there anymore. This isnt a game, Eddison snaps. The girl appraises him coolly. No, of course not. People are dead, lives are ruined, and Im sure you were very inconvenienced at having to leave your football game. Eddison flushes, tugging the zipper up higher over his shirt. You dont seem all that nervous, Victor notes. She shrugs and takes a sip of the water, holding the bottle gingerly in her bandaged hands. Should I be? Most people are when talking to the FBI. Its not that different from talking with She bites her chapped lower lip, winces at the beads of blood that seep through the cracked skin. She takes another sip. With? he prompts gently. Him, she answers. The Gardener. The man who held youyou talked with his gardener? She shakes her head. He was the Gardener. You have to understand, I didnt give him that name out of fear or reverence, or some misguided sense of propriety. I didnt give him that name at all. Like anything else in that place, it was made up out of the whole cloth of our ignorance. What wasnt known was created, what wasnt created eventually ceased to matter. Its a form of pragmatism, I suppose. Warm, loving people who desperately need approval from others fall victim to Stockholm syndrome, while the rest of us fall to pragmatism. Having seen both sides in others, Im for pragmatism. I heard the name my first day in the Garden. I came to with a splitting headache, a hundred times worse than any hangover Id ever experienced. I couldnt even open my eyes at first. Pain lanced through my skull with every breath, let alone movement. I must have made a sound because suddenly there was a cool, damp cloth over my forehead and eyes and a voice promising that it was only water. I wasnt sure which unnerved me more: the fact that this was obviously a frequent concern for her, or the fact that it was a her at all. Thered been no woman in the pair that kidnapped me, of that much I was sure. An arm slid behind my shoulders, gently pulling me upright, and a hand pressed a glass against my lips. Just water, I promise, she said again. I drank. It didnt really matter if it was just water or not. Can you swallow pills? Yes, I whispered, and even that much sound drove another nail through my skull. Open up, then. When I obeyed, she placed two flat pills on my tongue and brought the water up again. I swallowed obediently, then tried not to vomit when she gently lowered me back to a cool sheet and a firm mattress. She didnt say anything else for a long time, not until the colored lights stopped dancing across the backs of my eyelids and I started to move of my own volition. Then she pulled away the cloth across my face, shielding my eyes from the overhead light until I could stop blinking. So youve done this a few times before, I croaked. She handed me the glass of water. Even folded over on herself, on a stool beside the bed, it was easy to see that she was tall. Tall and sinewy with long legs and lean muscles like an Amazon. Or a lioness, really, because she slumped bonelessly like a cat. Tawny gold hair was piled atop her head in some fancy nonsense, revealing a face with strong architecture and deep brown eyes with flecks of gold. She wore a silky, black dress that tied high around her neck. She accepted my frank appraisal with something like relief. I suppose it was better than shrieking hysterics, which shed probably gotten before. Im called Lyonette, she said when Id looked my fill and given my attention back to the water. Dont bother telling me your name because I wont be able to use it. Best to forget it, if you can. Where are we? The Garden. The Garden? She shrugged, and even that was a fluid gesture, something graceful rather than inelegant. Its as good a name for it as any. Do you want to see it? I dont suppose you know a shortcut to a way out of here? She just looked at me. Right. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed, planted my fists on the mattress, and realized I could see every bit of me there was to see. Clothing? Here. She handed me a piece of silky, black something that proved to be a slinky, knee-length dress that came high around the neck and low on the back. Really low. If Id had dimples on my ass, shedve been seeing them. She helped me tie the ropy sash around my hips, then gave me a gentle push toward the doorway. The room was plain, severely so, with nothing in it but the bed and a small toilet and sink in one corner. In another corner was what seemed to be a tiny open shower. The walls were made of thick glass, with a doorway in place of a door, and there was a track on either side of the glass. Lyonette saw me looking at the track marks and scowled. Solid walls come down to keep us in our rooms and out of sight, she explained. Often? Sometimes. The doorway opened into a narrow hallway, running along to my right, but only a short way on my left before it hit a corner. Almost directly across from the doorway was another entryway with more of that trackingit led into a cave, damp and cool. An open arch on the far side of the cave brought breezes running through the dark stone space, bits of light catching in the waterfall that babbled and churned just outside. Lyonette led me out from behind the curtain of water into a garden so beautiful it nearly hurt to look at it. Brilliant flowers of every conceivable color bloomed in a riotous profusion of leaves and trees, clouds of butterflies drifting through them. A man-made cliff rose above us, more greenery and trees alive on its flat top, and the trees on the edges just brushed the sides of the glass roof that loomed impossibly far away. I could see tall black walls through the lower-level greenery, too tall to see what was beyond, and little pockets of open space surrounded by vines. I thought they might be doorways to halls like the one wed been in. The atrium was massive, almost overwhelming in its sheer size before you even looked at the riot of color. The waterfall fed into a narrow stream that meandered down to a small pond decked in water lilies, white sand paths tracking through the greenery to those other doors. The light through the ceiling was deep lavender and streaked through with rose and indigoevening. It had been bright afternoon when I was taken, but somehow I didnt think it was the same day. I turned in a slow circle, trying to take it all in, but it was too much. My eyes couldnt see half of what was there, and my brain couldnt process half of what I saw. The fuck? Lyonette actually laughed, a hard sound that abruptly cut short as though she were afraid anyone might hear it. We call him the Gardener, she said dryly. Apt, no? What is this place? Welcome to the Butterfly Garden. I turned to ask her what that meant, but then I saw it. She takes a long sip of water, rolling the bottle across her palms. When she shows no signs of continuing, Victor gently taps the table to get her attention. It? he prompts. She doesnt answer. Victor pulls the photo from his jacket pocket, laying it on the table between them. It? he asks again. See, asking me questions to which you already know the answer doesnt make me inclined to trust you. But her shoulders relax and she leans back into the seat, on familiar footing. Were the FBI; usually people think were the good guys. And Hitler thought he was evil? Eddison lurches to the very edge of his seat. Youre comparing the FBI to Hitler? No, Im engaging in a discussion about perspective and moral relativity. When they got the call, Ramirez went straight to the hospital, and Victor came here to coordinate the deluge of incoming information. Eddison was the one to tour the property. Eddison always reacts to horror with temper. And with that thought, Victor flicks his eyes back to the girl on the other side of the table. Did it hurt? Like hell, she answers, tracing the lines on the photo. The hospital says its a few years old? You make that sound like a question. A statement seeking confirmation, he clarifies, and this time the smile creeps out. Eddison scowls at him. Hospitals are many things, but completely incompetent doesnt tend to be one of them. And what the hell does that mean? snaps Eddison. Yes, its a few years old. He recognizes the patterns now from years of asking his daughters about report cards and tests and boyfriends. He lets the silence hang for a minute, then two, and watches the girl carefully flip the photo over. The shrinks on the larger team would probably have a thing or three to say about that. Who did he have do it? The one person in the world he could trust without reservation. Multi-talented man. Vic Without taking his eyes from the girl, Victor kicks the leg of his partners chair, jarring him. Hes rewarded with that suggestion of a smile. Not the real thing, not even a ghost of it really, but something like it. The girl peeks under the edge of the gauze taped around her fingers, fashioned like gloves rather than mitts. The needles make a hell of a sound, dont they? When its not what you choose? But it is a choice, because there is the alternative. Death, Victor guesses. Worse. Worse than death? But Eddison pales and the girl sees, and rather than mocking him for it, she gives him a solemn nod. He knows. But then, you havent been there, have you? Reading about it isnt the same. Whats worse than death, Maya? She scrapes a nail under one of the fresh scabs on her index finger, peeling it away so dots of blood blossom against the gauze. Youd be amazed at how easy it is to get tattoo equipment. For the first week, there was something slipped into my dinner each night to make me docile. Lyonette stayed with me during the days, but the other girlsof which there were apparently more than a fewstayed away. This was normal, she told me when I remarked on it over lunch. The weeping thing stresses everyone out, she said around a mouthful of salad. Whatever else could be said of the mysterious Gardener, he provided excellent meals. Most prefer to stay out of it until we know how a girls going to settle in. Except for you. Someone has to do it. I can put up with the tears if I have to. Then how grateful you must be that I havent provided you with any. About that. Lyonette stabbed a strip of grilled chicken and twirled her fork. Have you cried at all? Would there be a point to doing so? Im either going to love you or hate you. Let me know, Ill try to behave accordingly. She gave me a fierce smile, all her teeth showing. Keep that attitude, but dont do it with him. Why does he want me sleeping at night? Precautionary measures. Theres a cliff right outside, after all. Which made me wonder how many girls had thrown themselves over before he implemented those precautionary measures. I tried to gauge the height of the man-made monstrosity. Twenty-five, maybe thirty feet? Was that high enough to kill someone on impact? Id grown accustomed to waking up in that empty room when the drugs wore off, Lyonette sitting on a stool beside the bed. But, at the end of the first week, I woke up on my stomach on a bench with hard padding and the astringent smell of antiseptic thick in the air. It was a different room, larger, with metal walls rather than glass. And it had someone else in it. I couldnt see at first, not with the drugged sleep still seaming my eyelids together, but I could feel someone else there. I kept my breathing slow and even, straining to hear, but a hand settled on my bare calf. I know youre awake. It was a mans voice, midrange and cultured with a Mid-Atlantic cast to it. A pleasant voice. The hand smoothed up my leg, over my ass, and along the curve of my back. Goose bumps prickled in its wake, despite the warmth of the room. Id prefer for you to lie very still, otherwise well both have cause to regret it. When I tried to turn my head toward his voice, the hand moved to the back of my skull to keep me still. I would prefer not to bind you for this; it ruins the line of the work. If you feel you cannot remain motionless, I will give you something that will guarantee it. Again, I would prefer not to. Can you be still? For? I asked, almost in a whisper. He tucked a glossy-smooth piece of paper into my hand. I tried to open my eyes but sleep meds always made them gunk up more than usual in the morning. If youre not going to start right now, may I please sit up? The hand stroked my hair, the fingernails scraping lightly against my scalp. You may, he said, sounding startled. He did, however, help me sit up on the bench. I rubbed the crystals from my eyes and looked down at the picture in my hand, aware of how his hand kept caressing my hair. I thought of Lyonette, of the other girls Id seen from a distance, and I couldnt say I was surprised. Creeped out, but not surprised. He stood behind me, the air around him filled with a spicy cologne. Understated, probably pricy. In front of me was a full tattooists setup, the inks arrayed on a standing tray. It wont be the full design today. Why do you mark us? Because a garden must have its butterflies. Any chance we could leave that metaphorical? He laughed, a full, easy sound. This was a man who loved to laugh and didnt find as much cause to do it as hed like, and was therefore always delighted by the opportunity. You learn things over time, and that was one of the biggest things I learned about him. He wanted to find more joy in life than he did. Small wonder my Lyonette likes you. You are a fierce spirit, much like she is. I didnt have an answer to that, nothing that made sense to say. He carefully hooked his fingers through my hair, pulling it back over my shoulders, and picked up a brush. He worked it through my hair until there wasnt a single knot to be found, and even after. I think he enjoyed it as much as anything else, really. Its a simple pleasure, brushing someone elses hair. Being allowed to. Eventually he pulled it into a ponytail and wrapped it with an elastic, then coiled it into a heavy bun and secured it with a scrunchie and rubber-tipped pins. Back onto your stomach now, please. I obeyed, and as he moved away I caught a glimpse of pressed khakis and a button-down shirt. He turned my head to face away from him, my cheek pressed against the black leather, and placed my arms loosely at my sides. It wasnt quite comfortable, but wasnt direly uncomfortable either. When I steeled myself not to jump or flinch, he lightly slapped my rear. Relax, he instructed. If you tense, it will hurt more and take longer to heal. I took a deep breath and forced my muscles to unclench. I curled and uncurled my fists, and with each uncurl I released a bit more tension from my back. Sophia taught us that, mainly to keep Whitney from her periodic breakdowns, and Sophia? Whitney? These are some of the girls? Eddison interrupts. Theyre girls, yes. Well, Sophia probably counts as a woman. The girl takes another sip, eyes the quantity left in the bottle. Actually, Whitney would too, I guess. So theyre women. What do they look like? We can match their names to Theyre not from the Garden. Its hard to interpret the look she gives the younger agent, equal parts pity, amusement, and derision. I had a life before, you know. Life didnt begin at the Garden. Well, not this Garden anyway. Victor turns the photo over, trying to calculate how long such a thing must have taken. So large, so much detail. It wasnt all at once, the girl tells him, following his eyes to the pattern. He started with the outlines. Then he went back in over the course of two weeks to add in all the color and detail. And when it was done, there I was, just another one of the Butterflies in his Garden. God creating his own little world. Tell us about Sophia and Whitney, Victor says, content to leave the tattoo for a time. He has a feeling what happened when it was done, and hes willing to call himself a coward if it means not hearing it yet. I lived with them. Eddison tugs the Moleskine from his pocket. Where? In our apartment. You need Victor cuts him off. Tell us about the apartment. Vic, Eddison protests. Shes not giving us anything! She will, he answers. When shes ready. The girl watches them without comment, sliding the bottle from hand to hand like a hockey puck. Tell us about the apartment, he says again. There were eight of us who lived there, all of us working together at the restaurant. It was a huge loft apartment, all one room, with beds and footlockers laid out like a barracks. Each bed had a hanging rack for clothing on one side, and rods for curtains on the other side and at the foot of the bed. It wasnt much for privacy but it worked well enough. Under normal circumstances rent would have been hellish, but it was a shit neighborhood and there were so many of us that you could make your rent in a night or two and call the rest of the month spending money. Some even did. We were a strange mix, students and hoydens and a retired hooker. Some wanted the freedom to be anyone they wanted, some of us wanted the freedom to be left alone. The only things we had in common were working at the restaurant and living together. And honestly? It was kind of like heaven. Sure, we clashed sometimes, there were arguments and fights and occasional pettiness, but for the most part those things blew over pretty quickly. Someone was always willing to loan you a dress or a pair of shoes or a book. There was work, classes for those who took them, but otherwise we had money and an entire city at our feet. Even for me, who grew up with minimal supervision, that kind of freedom was wonderful. The fridge was kept stocked with bagels, booze, and bottled water, and there were always condoms and aspirin in the cabinets. Sometimes you could find leftover takeout in the fridge, and whenever social services came to visit Sophia, and see how she was improving, we made a grocery run and hid the booze and condoms. Mostly we ate out or had things delivered. Working around food every night, we generally avoided the apartment kitchen like the plague. Oh, and the drunk guy. We were never sure if he actually lived in the building or not, but in the afternoons wed see him drinking in the street and every night hed pass out in front of our door. Not the building doorour door. He was a fucking pervert too, so when we came back after darkwhich was pretty much every nightwe took the stairs all the way up to the roof and then came down one floor on the fire escape to come in through the windows. Our landlord put a special lock on there for us because Sophia felt bad for the drunk pervert and didnt want to turn him over to the cops. Given her situationretired hookerdrug addict cleaning up to try to get her kids backthe rest of us didnt push. The girls were my first friends. I suppose Id met people like them before but it was different. I could stay away from people and usually did. But I worked with the girls and then I lived with them, and it was just . . . different. There was Sophia, who mothered everyone and had managed to be completely clean for over a year when I met her, and that was after two years of trying and slipping. She had the two most beautiful daughters, and theyd actually been kept together in the same foster home. Even better, the foster parents fully supported Sophias goal of earning them back. They let her come see the girls pretty much whenever she wanted. Whenever things got rough, whenever the addiction started screaming again, one of us would stuff her in a taxi to see her girls and remind her what she was working so hard for. There was Hope, and her little stooge Jessica. Hope was the one with the ideas, with the vivacity, and Jessica went along with everything she said and did. Hope filled the apartment with laughter and sex, and if Jessica used sex as a way to feel better about herself, at least Hope showed her how to have some fun with it. They were the babies, only sixteen and seventeen when I moved in. Amber was also seventeen, but unlike the other two, she had a bit of a plan. She got herself declared an emancipated minor so she could get out of the foster system, took her GED, and was taking classes at a community college to get her AA until she could figure out a major. There was Kathryn, a couple of years older, who never, ever talked about life before the apartment. Or about much of anything, really. Kathryn could sometimes be prevailed upon to go with the rest of us to do something, but she never did anything on her own. If someone lined all eight of us against a wall and asked who was running from something or someone, a person would point to Kathryn every time. We didnt ask her, though. One of the basic rules of the apartment was that we didnt push on personal history. We all had baggage. Whitney I mentioned, she of the periodic breakdowns. She was a grad student in psychology, but was so fucking high-strung. Not in a bad way, just in an I dont react to stress well kind of way. Between semesters she was fantastic. During semesters we all took turns getting her to chill the fuck out. No?mie was also a student, getting one of the most useless degrees known to man. Really, I think the only reason she was going to college was because she had scholarships and getting an English degree gave her an excuse to read a lot. Luckily, she was very generous in sharing her books. No?mie was the one who mentioned the apartment to me my second week at the restaurant. It was my third week in the city and I was still living at a hostel, bringing all my worldly possessions to work with me every day. We were in the tiny staff room, changing out of our uniforms. I kept mine at the restaurant just in case my stuff got stolen while I was sleeping, so at least Id still be able to work. Everyone else changed there because the uniforma long dress and heelsjust wasnt the sort of thing they pranced around in on their way home. So, um . . . youre pretty trustworthy, right? she said with no preamble. I mean, you dont stiff the busboys or hostess, you dont steal anyones stuff from the staff room. You never smell of drugs or anything. Does this have a point? I pulled on my bra and fastened the hooks behind me, rearranging my breasts to fit. Living in a hostel gave you a certain lack of modesty, one reinforced by the tiny staff room and the number of female employees who had to change there. Rebekah said youre just a step up from the street. You know a bunch of us live together, right? Well, weve got an extra bed. Shes serious, called Whitney, fluffing her red-gold hair out of its braided bun. Its a bed. And a footlocker, giggled Hope. But weve been talking about it and wondered if youd like to move in. Rent would be three hundred a month, includes utilities. I hadnt been in the city that long but even I knew that was impossible. Three hundred? The hell you get for three hundred? Rent is two thousand, Sophia corrected. Share of rent would be three hundred. The extra is what covers the utilities. That sounded about right, except . . . How many of you live there? You would make eight. Which wouldnt make it that different from living in the hostel, really. Can I stay with you tonight and see it, and decide tomorrow? Sounds great! Hope handed me a denim skirt that looked barely long enough to cover my underwear. Thats not mine. I know, but I think it would look really cute on you. She was already one leg into my overlarge corduroys, so rather than argue, I shimmied into the skirt and decided to be very careful in bending over. Hope was curvy as hell, running a little to plump, so I could pull the skirt low on my hips for a little extra length. The owners eyes lit up when he saw me leaving with the girls. You live with them now, yes? You be safe? The customers are gone, Guilian. He dropped the Italian accent and clapped me on the shoulder. Theyre good girls. Im glad youll be with them. His opinion went a long way toward convincing me even before I saw the apartment. My first impression of Guilian had been hard but fair, and he proved me right when he offered a trial week to a girl with a duffel bag and a suitcase beside her at the interview. He pretended to be native Italian because it made the customers somehow think the food was better, but he was a tall, heavyset ginger with thinning hair and a moustache that had eaten his upper lip and was now seeking to devour the rest of his face. He believed a persons work was a better judge than their words, and he appraised people accordingly. At the end of my first week, he simply handed me the schedule for the next week with my name inked in. It was three in the morning when we left. I memorized the streets and the trains, and wasnt nearly as nervous as I should have been when we walked into their neighborhood. On feet aching from hours of high heels, we trudged up the many flights of stairs to the top floor and then to the roof, weaving through various patio furniture, covered grills, and what looked to be a flourishing marijuana garden in one corner, and down one flight on the fire escape to the large bank of windows. Sophia worked the key into the lock as Hope giggled her way through an explanation of the drunk pervert in the hallway. We had a few of those at the hostel. It was a huge space, open and clean, with four beds lining each sidewall and a group of couches clustered together in a square in the center. The kitchen had an island counter to separate it from the rest of the room and a door led off to the bathroom, which had a huge open shower with ten different heads facing different directions. We dont ask questions about the people who lived here before, No?mie said delicately when she showed it to me. Its just a shower though, not an orgy. You convince maintenance of this? Oh, no, we fuck with them all the time. Thats half the fun. I smiled in spite of myself. The girls were fun to work with, always tossing jokes and insults and compliments around the kitchen, venting about irritating customers or flirting with the cooks and dishwashers. Id smiled more in the past two weeks than I could ever remember doing before. Everyone dropped purses and bags on their footlockers and many of them changed into pajamas or what passed for them, but sleep was a long way off yet. Whitney pulled out her psychology textbook while Amber pulled out twenty shot glasses and filled them with tequila. I reached for one but No?mie handed me a tumbler of vodka instead. The tequila is for studying. So I sat on one of the couches and watched Kathryn read through Ambers practice test, one shot glass for each question. If Amber got the question wrong, she had to drink the shot. If she got it right, she could make someone else drink it. She handed the first one to me, and I tried not to choke on the nasty-as-shit mix of tequila and vodka. We were still awake when daylight came, and No?mie, Amber, and Whitney all trundled off to class while the rest of us finally crashed. When we woke up early in the afternoon, I signed the agreement they had in place of a lease and paid my first month from the past two nights tips. Just like that, I wasnt homeless anymore. You said this was your third week in the city? Victor asks, running through a list of cities she might mean. Her voice is clean of larger dialect markers, no regionalisms that could help identify her origin. Hes fairly sure thats on purpose. Thats right. Where were you before that? She finishes off the water rather than answer. Carefully standing the empty bottle on one corner of the table, she sits back in the chair and slowly rubs her bandaged hands up and down her arms. Victor stands and shrugs out of his jacket, walking around the table to drape it over her shoulders. She tenses as he walks near, but he takes care not to let his skin brush hers. When he returns to his side of the table, she relaxes enough to slide her arms through. Its large on her, draping in baggy folds, but her hands emerge comfortably from the cuffs. New York City, he decides. Warehouse-style apartments, restaurants open extremely late. Plus she said trains instead of metro or subwaythat meant something, didnt it? He makes a mental note to contact the New York office and see if they can find anything on the girl. Were you in school? No. Just work. A tap on the window sends Eddison out of the room. The girl watches him leave with some satisfaction, then turns a neutral expression back on Victor. What made you decide to go to the city? he asks. It doesnt sound like you knew anyone there, didnt have a plan for when you got there. Why go? Why not? Its something new, right? Something different. Something distant? She arches an eyebrow. What is your name? The Gardener called me Maya. But that wasnt what you were before. Sometimes it was easier to forget, you know? She fidgets with the edge of the cuffs, rolling and unrolling them with quick motions. Probably not much different than rolling silverware sets when it came to it. You were in there, no chance of escape, no way of going back to the life you knew, so why cling to it? Why cause yourself more pain by remembering what you dont get to have anymore? Are you saying you forgot? Im saying he called me Maya. I was mostly isolated from the other girls until my tattoo was finished, with the exception of Lyonette, who still came every day to talk with me, to rub ointment over my raw back. She let me study her mark with no sign of shame or disgust. It was a part of her now, like breathing, like the unconscious grace of her movements. The level of detail was stunning and I wondered how much the intricacy suffered when it came time to refresh the brightness of the ink. Something kept me from asking, though. A good tattoo took years to fade enough that it needed to be touched up; I didnt want to think about what it would mean to be in the Garden for that long. Or worse, what it could mean if I wasnt. The drugs still appeared in my dinner, which Lyonette brought to me on a tray along with her own. Every few days I woke up, not in the bed, but on the hard leather bench, with the Gardener running his hands along the previously inked areas to test how they were healing, how sensitive they were. He never let me see him, and unlike my room with its semi-reflective glass everywhere, the dull metal walls gave me no hope of catching a glimpse. He hummed as he worked, a sound that was somewhat lovely on its own but clashed horribly with the mechanical hum of the needles. Golden oldies, mostly: Elvis, Sinatra, Martin, Crosby, even some Andrews Sisters. It was a strange kind of pain, choosing to lie there under the needles and let him write his ownership into my skin. I didnt see that I had many options, though. Lyonette said she stayed with each girl until the wings were done. I couldnt explore the Garden yet, couldnt look for a way out. I wasnt sure yet if Lyonette knew there was no way out or if she just didnt care anymore. So I let him put those damn wings on me. I never asked what would happen if I fought, if I refused. I almost did, but Lyonette paled so I changed the question to something else. I thought it had something to do with the way she never took me through the halls, only out into the Garden itself, through the cave behind the waterfall. Whatever she didnt want me to seeor didnt want to show me, which isnt the same thing at allI could wait. Cowardly, I guess. Or pragmatic. It was near the end of the third week in the Garden that he finished. All morning hed been more intense, more focused, had taken fewer and shorter breaks. The first day hed inked along my spine and worked in the outline for the wings and the veins and the blocks of the larger patterns. After that, hed started at the wing tips and worked his way back in toward my spine, rotating between the four quadrants of my back to keep any one area from getting unworkably raw. He was nothing if not meticulous. Then the hum stopped and his breaths were short and fast as he wiped away the blood and excess ink. His hands trembled at their work where before theyd been nothing but steady. Cold, slick ointment came next, rubbed carefully into every inch of skin. Youre exquisite, he said hoarsely. Absolutely flawless. Truly a worthy addition to my garden. And now . . . now you must have a name. His thumbs stroked along my spine, where the first ink was done and the most healed, traveling up to the nape of my neck to tangle in my pulled-up hair. Greasy ointment clung to his hands, leaving my hair matted and heavy in his wake. Without warning, he pulled me down the bench until my feet were on the floor, my upper half still on the leather. I could hear him fumbling with his belt and zipper and I screwed my eyes tightly shut. Maya, he groaned, running his hands along my sides. You are Maya now. Mine. A hard knock on the door stops her from describing what came next, and she looks both startled and grateful. Victor swears under his breath and lurches out of his chair to the door, jerking it open. Eddison motions him into the hallway. What the hell is wrong with you? he hisses. She was actually talking. The team going through the suspects office found something. He holds up a large evidence bag filled with drivers licenses and identification cards. Looks like he kept all of them. All of them that had one, anyway. He takes the bagChrist, thats a lot of cardsand shakes it a little to see past the first layer of names and pictures. Did you find hers? Eddison hands him a different bag, a small one holding a sole piece of plastic. Its a New York ID and he recognizes her immediately. A little younger, her face softer even if her expression isnt. Inara Morrissey, he reads, but Eddison shakes his head. Theyve scanned the rest and are starting to run them, but they put this one first. Inara Morrissey didnt exist until four years ago. The Social Security number matches a two-year-olds who died in the seventies. New York office is sending someone to the last listed place of employment, a restaurant named Evening Star. The address on the ID is a condemned building, but we called the restaurant and got the apartment address. The agent I talked to whistled when he gave it to me; apparently its a rough neighborhood. She told us that, Victor says absently. Yes, shes so trustworthy and forthcoming. He doesnt answer right away, absorbed in studying the ID. He believes his partner that its a fake, but damn, what a fake. Under ordinary circumstances, he has to admit hed be fooled by it. When did she stop showing up for work? Two years ago, according to her boss. Taxes support it. Two years . . . He hands the larger bag back and folds the plastic bag around the single ID until he can tuck it into his back pocket. Have them run these as quickly as possible; borrow techs from other teams if they can get away with it. Identifying the girls in the hospital has to be a priority. Then get us a couple of earbuds so the techs can pass along updates from the New York office. Got it. He scowls at the closed door. Was she actually talking? Talking hasnt exactly been her problem. He chuckles. Get married, Eddison, or better yet have teenage daughters. Shes better than most, but the patterns are there. You just have to parse through the information for whats significant. Listen to what isnt being said. Theres a reason I prefer to talk to suspects rather than victims. He stalks into the tech room without waiting for a response. As long as hes out of the room, he might as well make use of the break. Victor walks briskly down the hall and out into the teams main room, weaving through desks and partial cubes to the corner that serves as a kitchen or break room. He pulls the coffeepot from the machine and gives it a judicious sniff. Its not hot, but it doesnt smell completely stale either. He pours it into two mugs that look clean and pops them in the microwave. While they nuke, he digs through the fridge for anything that might be open season. Birthday cake isnt quite what hes looking for, but itll serve, and soon he has paper plates loaded with two thick slices and several packets of sugar and creamer. He hooks his fingers through the handles of the mugs and returns to the tech room. Eddison scowls but holds the plates for him so he can insert the earbud. Victor doesnt try to hide the wire; the girls too smart for that. When hes got it settled comfortably, he takes the plates back and enters the room. He startles her with the cake, and he carefully hides a smile as he slides one of the plates and a mug across the stainless steel surface. I thought you might be hungry. I dont know how you like your coffee. I dont, but thank you. She sips the coffee black, makes a face, but swallows and takes another mouthful. He waits until her mouth is full of a red frosting rose. Tell me about the Evening Star, Inara. She doesnt choke, doesnt flinch, but theres the slightest pause, a moment of absolute stillness thats gone so fast he wouldnt have seen it if he werent looking for it. She swallows and licks the frosting from her lips, leaving streaks of brilliant red across them. Its a restaurant, but then you know that. He pulls the ID from his pocket and places it and the bag on the table. She taps a fingernail against the ID, intermittently obscuring her face. He kept them? she asks incredulously. That seems . . . Foolish? Sure. Her face pulls into a thoughtful frown, and her fingers flatten to hide the plastic card from view. All of them? As far as we can tell. She swirls the coffee in the mug, staring at the tiny maelstrom. But Inara is as much a construction as Maya, isnt it? he asks gently. Your name, your age, none of its real. Its real enough, she corrects softly. Real for what it needs to be. Real enough to get a job and a place to live. But what came before? One of the nice things about New York was that no one ever asked questions. Its just one of those places people go to, you know? Its a dream, its a goal, its a place you can disappear amidst millions of other people doing the same thing. No one cares where you came from or why you left because theyre too focused on themselves and what they want and where theyre going. New York has so much history, but everyone in it just wants to know about the future. Even when youre from New York City, you can still go to ground somewhere else and they may never find you. I took the bus to New York with everything I owned in a duffel bag and a suitcase. I found a soup kitchen that didnt care if I slept in the clinic upstairs as long as I helped serve food, and one of the other volunteers told me about a guy who had just made him papers for his wife, who was an illegal from Venezuela. I called the number he gave me and the next day I was at the library, sitting under a statue of a lion and waiting for a complete stranger to approach me. He didnt inspire much confidence when he finally appeared, an hour and a half after wed agreed. He was average height and skinny, his clothes stiff with salt and other stains I didnt want to identify. His lank hair was in the process of matting into dreads and he sniffled constantly, his eyes darting around each time before he lifted a sleeve to rub at his cherry red nose. Maybe he was a genius at forgery, but it wasnt hard to guess where the money went. He didnt ask me my name, or rather, he only asked the name I wanted. Birth date, address, license or ID, did I want to be an organ donor? As we talked, we walked into the library to give us an excuse to be quiet, and when he reached a banner with a swath of clean white, he stood me up against it and took my picture. Id taken extra care before coming to the library to meet him, even bought some makeup, so I knew I could pull off nineteen. Its about the eyes, really. If youve seen enough, you just look older, no matter what the rest of your face looks like. He told me to meet him at a particular hot dog cart that evening and hed have what I needed. When we reconvenedhe was late againhe held up an envelope. Such a little thing, really, but its enough to change a life. He told me it would be a grand, but hed knock it down to five hundred if I slept with him. I paid him the grand. He walked away in one direction and I in another, and when I got back to the hostel where I planned to spend the nighta good ways from the soup kitchen and anyone who might remember a girl being told about illegal papersI opened the envelope and got my first good look at Inara Morrissey. Why didnt you want to be found? he asks, using a pen to stir the creamer into his coffee. I wasnt worried about being found; to be found, someone has to be looking for you. Why wouldnt anyone be looking for you? I miss New York. No one asked these kinds of questions there. Static crackles in his ear as one of the techs opens a line. New York says she got her GED three years ago. Passed with flying colors but never registered for the SAT or asked for the scores to be passed on to a college or employer. Did you drop out of high school? he asks. Or did you get your GED so you wouldnt have to produce a diploma? Now that you have a name, its much easier to dig into my life, isnt it? She finishes off the cake and sets the plastic fork at a neat angle across the plate, the tines down. Paper crinkles as she tears open one of the sugar packets and empties it into a pile on the plate. Licking the only fingertip not covered in gauze and tape, she presses it against the sugar and sticks it into her mouth. That only tells you about New York, though. I know, so I need you to tell me about what came before. I liked being Inara. But that isnt who you are, he says gently, and anger flashes through her eyes. Gone just as fast as her almost-smiles or her surprise, but there just the same. So a rose by any other name isnt still a rose? Thats language, not identity. Who you are isnt a name but it is a history, and I need to know yours. Why? My history doesnt tell you about the Gardener, and isnt that what its really about? The Gardener and his Garden? All his Butterflies? And if he survives to come to trial, we need to provide the jury with credible witnesses. A young woman who wont even tell the truth about her name doesnt cut it. Its just a name. Not if its yours. That not-quite-smile twists her lips briefly. Bliss said that. Bliss? Lyonette stood outside the tattoo room as ever, her eyes politely averted from me until I could put on the slinky black dress that had become my only piece of clothing. Close your eyes, she told me. Lets take this in stages. Id kept my eyes closed so long in that room that the thought of being voluntarily blind again made my skin crawl. But Lyonette had done well by me so far, and shed clearly done this before for other girls. I made the choice to trust her a bit further. Once I closed my eyes, she took my hand and led me down the hall in the opposite direction than we usually went. It was a long hallway, and we turned left at the end of it. I kept my right hand out against the glass walls, my arm flopping free whenever we passed one of the open doorways. Then she directed me through one of the doorways and positioned me where she wanted with gentle hands on my upper arms. I felt her step back. Open your eyes. She stood in front of me, off-center in a room nearly identical to mine. This one had small personal touches: origami creatures on a shelf above the bed, sheets and blankets and pillows, pumpkin-colored curtains hiding the toilet, sink, and shower from sight. The edge of a book stuck out from under the largest pillow and drawers lined the space under the bed. What name did he give you? Maya. I staved off the shudder that came from saying it aloud for the first time, from the memory of him saying it over and over while he Maya, she repeated, and gave me another sound to hold on to. Take a look at yourself now, Maya. She held up a mirror, positioning it so I could use it to look into another mirror behind me. Large portions of my back were still pink and raw and swollen around the fresh ink, which I knew was darker than it would become once the scabs flaked off. Fingerprints were visible on my sides where the fabric gapped, but there was nothing to obscure the design. It was ugly, and terrible. And lovely. The upper wings were golden-brown, tawny like Lyonettes hair and eyes, flecked through with bits of black, white, and deep bronze. The lower wings were shades of rose and purple, also marked through with patterns of black and white. The detail was astonishing, slight color variations giving the impressions of individual scales. The colors were rich, almost saturated, and they filled almost my entire back, from the very tips of my shoulders to a little below the curve of my hips. The wings were tall and narrow, the outer edges just barely curving onto my sides. The artistry couldnt be denied. Whatever else he was, the Gardener was talented. I hated it, but it was lovely. A head popped through the doorway, quickly followed by the rest of a tiny girl. She couldnt have topped five feet with her shoulders back, but no one could see those curves and think her a child. She had flawless, frosty-white skin and huge blue-violet eyes, framed by a haphazardly pinned profusion of tight black curls. She was all striking contrasts, with a button nose that leaned toward cute rather than beautiful, but like all the girls Id glimpsed in the Garden, she was nothing less than stunning. Beauty loses its meaning when youre surrounded by too much of it. So, this is the new girl. She flopped down on the bed, hugging a small pillow to her chest. Whatd the bastard name you? He might hear you, Lyonette chided, but the girl on the bed just shrugged. Let him. Hes never asked us to love him. So whats he call you? Maya, I said in time with Lyonette, and the word got a little less hard to hear. I wondered if it would continue to be that way, if in time the word wouldnt hurt at all, or if it was a tiny shard that always would, like the piece of a splinter you cant reach with tweezers. Huh, thats not too bad then. Fucker named me Bliss. She rolled her eyes and snorted. Bliss! Do I look like a blissful person? Ooh, lets see. Her fingers made a twirling motion, and in that moment, she reminded me a little of Hope. With that in mind, I slowly spun to show her my back. Not too bad. The colors flatter you, anyway. Well have to look up what kind that is. Its a Western Pine Elfin, Lyonette sighed. She shrugged at my sideways look. Its something to do. Maybe it makes it a little less awful. Im a Lustrous Copper. Im a Mexican Bluewing, added Bliss. Its pretty enough. Awful, of course, but its not like I have to look at it. Anyway, the name thing? He could call us A, B, or Three and it wouldnt matter. Answer to it but dont pretend its somehow yours. Less confusing that way. Less confusing? Well sure! Remember who you are and then its just playing a part. If you start to think of it as you, thats when the identity crisis hits. Identity crisis usually leads to a breakdown, and a breakdown around here leads to Bliss. What? She seems like she can handle it. She isnt crying yet, and we all know what he does when the ink is finished. Like Hope, but much smarter. So what does a breakdown lead to? Check the hallways, just dont do it after you eat. Youd just walked through the hallways, Victor reminds her. With my eyes closed. Then what was in the hallway? She swirls the remainder of the coffee in her mug rather than answer, giving him a look that suggests he should already know. Static crackles in his ear again. Ramirez just called from the hospital, Eddison says. Shes sending pictures of those the doctors expect to make it. Missing Persons has had some luck. Between them and the ones fresh in the morgue, theyve got about half the girls identified. And we have a problem. What kind of problem? The girl looks at him sharply. One of the girls they identified has some important family. Shes still calling herself Ravenna, but her fingerprints matched to Patrice Kingsley. As in Senator Kingsleys missing daughter? Inara settles back in her chair, her expression clearly amused. Victor isnt sure what she finds funny about what promises to be a hell of a complication. Has the senator been informed yet? he asks. Not yet, answers Eddison. Ramirez wanted to give us a heads-up first. Senator Kingsley has been desperate to find her daughter, Vic; there isnt a chance in hell she wont push into the investigation. And when that happens, any privacy they may be able to offer these girls will be out the window. Their faces will be plastered on every news network from here to the West Coast. And Inara . . . Victor rubs wearily at his eyes. If the senator learns they have any suspicions about this overly contained young woman, she wont rest until charges are filed. Tell Ramirez to hold off as long as she can, he says finally. We need time. Roger. Remind me how long shes been missing? Four and a half years. Four and a half years? Ravenna, Inara murmurs, and Victor stares at her. No one ever forgets how long theyve been there. Why not? It changes things, doesnt it? Having a senator involved. It changes things for you, as well. Of course it does. How could it not? She knows, he realizes uneasily. Maybe she doesnt know specifics, but she knows they suspect her of some kind of involvement. He measures the amusement in her eyes, the cynical twist to her mouth. Shes a little too comfortable with this new information. Time to change the subject, then, before he loses the power in the room. You said the girls in the apartment were your first friends. She shifts slightly in her seat. Thats right, she answers warily. Why is that? Because I hadnt had any before. Inara. She responds to that tone of voice the same way his daughters doinstinctively, grudgingly when she realizes it a moment too late, and just a bit sulky. Youre good at that. You have kids? Three girls. And yet you make a career in broken children. In trying to rescue broken children, he corrects. In trying to get justice for broken children. You really think broken children care about justice? Wouldnt you? Never really did, no. Justice is a faulty thing at the best of times, and it doesnt actually fix anything. Would you say that if youd gotten justice as a child? That not-quite-smile, bitter and gone too fast. And what would I have needed justice for? My lifes work, and you think I wont recognize a broken child when she sits in front of me? She inclines her head to concede the point, then bites her lip and winces. Not entirely accurate. Lets call me a shadow child, overlooked rather than broken. Im the teddy bear gathering dust bunnies under the bed, not the one-legged soldier. He smiles slightly and sips his rapidly cooling coffee. Shes back to dancing. However disconcerting Eddison might find it, Victors on familiar ground. In what way? Sometimes you can look at a wedding and realize with a certain sense of resignation that any children produced in that marriage will inevitably be fucked up and fucked over. Its a fact, not a sense of foreboding so much as a grim acceptance that these two people should notbut definitely willreproduce. Like my parents. My mother was twenty-two when she married my father; he was her third marriage. The first was when she was seventeen and married the brother of her mothers then-current husband. He died in less than a year from a heart attack during sex. He left her pretty well off, so a few months later, she married a man only fifteen years older than her, and when they divorced a year later, she came off even a little better. Then came my dad, and if he hadnt knocked her up, I doubt the wedding would have happened. He was good-looking, but he wasnt wealthy and he didnt have prospects and he was only two years older, which to my mother was an insurmountable series of obstacles. For that we can thank her mother, who had nine husbands before early menopause made her decide she was too dried up to remarry. And every single one of them died, each faster than the one before. No foul play about it, either. Just . . . died. Most of them were ancient, of course, and all of them left her with a tidy sum of money, but my mother was raised with certain expectations and her third husband met none of them. I will say this for them, though: they gave it a try. For the first couple of years we lived near his family and there were cousins and aunts and uncles and I can almost remember playing with other children. Then we moved, and the ties were cut from one end or the other, and it was just me and my parents and their various affairs. They were always either visiting their latest lovers or holing up in their bedrooms, so I became a pretty self-sufficient kid. I learned how to use the microwave, I memorized the bus schedule so I could get to the grocery store, I staked out the days of the week when either of my parents were likely to have cash in their wallets so I could actually buy things at the market. And youd think that would look strange, right? But whenever anyone at the store askeda concerned woman, a cashierId say my mom was out in the car with the baby, keeping the air running. Even in winter they believed that, and theyd smile and tell me what a wonderful daughter and sister I was. So not only was I self-sufficient, I came to have a pretty low opinion of most peoples intelligence. I was six when they decided to give marriage counseling a go. Not a try, a go. Someone at my dads office told him insurance would cover counseling, and counseling looked better with a judge and helped speed up a divorce. One of the things the counselor told them to do was take a family trip, just the three of us, somewhere fun and special. A theme park maybe. We got to the park around ten, and for the first couple of hours things went okay. Then the carousel. I fucking hate carousels. My dad stood at the exit to wait for me to come off, my mom stood at the entrance to help me get on, and they just stood there on opposite sides of the thing and watched me go round and round in circles. I was too small to reach for the iron rings and the horse I was on was so wide it made my hips hurt, but round and round and round I went, and I watched my father walk away with a petite Latina. Another time around and I saw my mother leave with a tall, laughing ginger in a Utilikilt. A nice older kid helped me down off the horse after he lifted his little sister down, and held my hand as we walked to the exit. I wanted to stay with that family, to be the little sister of someone who went on rides with you and held your hand while walking, someone who smiled down and asked if you had fun. But we got outside the carousel and I thanked him, waving at a woman paying attention to nothing but her cell phone so the boy thought Id found my mom, and I watched him and his sister walk back to parents who were delighted to see them. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the park, trying not to get noticed by security, but sunset came and the park closed and I still hadnt found either of my parents. Security noticed and hauled me off to the Hall of Shame. Well, they called it the Lost Parents Place. They cycled a list of calls over the PA system, asking parents missing their children to come claim them. There were others there, too, other kids whod been forgotten or just wandered away or had been hiding. Then I heard one of the adults mention child services. Specifically she mentioned calling child services for anyone who wasnt claimed before ten oclock. My next-door neighbors were a foster home and the thought of living with people like them was horrific. Fortunately, one of the younger kids pissed himself and sent up such a squall that all the adults started fussing over him, trying to calm him, and I managed to sneak out the door and back into the park. It took some searching, but I finally found the main gate and got out without being seen, attaching myself to the rear of a school group that had gotten stuck for a while on one of the rides, and out into the parking lot. From there it took over an hour for me to walk through all the parking lots to a gas station that was still brightly lit for all the folks heading home. I still had most of the snack money my dad had shoved in my pocket before the carousel so I called their cell phones, and then I called the house phone, and then because I couldnt think of anything else to do, I called my next-door neighbor. It was almost ten oclock at night, but he hopped in the car and drove two hours to come pick me up, and another two hours home, and there were no lights on at all in my house. Was this the neighbor who was a foster father? Victor asks when she pauses to lick her chapped lips. He reaches for the empty bottle of water and holds it up toward the one-way mirror, not putting it down until one of the techs says Eddison is on his way. Yes. But he got you safely home, so why was the thought of living with him so horrific? When we pulled up in front of his house, he told me I needed to thank him for the ride by licking his lollipop. The plastic bottle shrieks a protest as it crumples in his fist. Christ. When he pulled my head toward his lap, I stuck a finger down my throat, and made myself throw up all over him. Made sure to hit the horn, too, so his wife would come out. She opens another sugar packet and tips half of it into her mouth. He got arrested for molestation a month or so later, and she moved away. The door slams open and Eddison tosses a new bottle of water at the girl. Protocol says theyre supposed to remove the cap for themchoking hazardbut his other hand is occupied with a sheaf of photo papers that he drops onto the table, along with the bag of IDs in the crook of his elbow. By not telling us the truth, he snarls, youre protecting the man who did this. Inara was right; it is different seeing it than just reading about it. Victor lets out a slow breath, using it to push down the instinctive revulsion. He shifts the first picture off the pile, then the second, the third, the fourth, all depicting portions of the hallways in the ruined garden complex. She stops him at the seventh one, easing the paper away so she can look at it more closely. When she sets it back down on top, her finger pets a tawny curve near the center of the image. Thats Lyonette. Your friend? Her bandaged finger gently moves along the line of glass in the picture. Yeah, she whispers. She was. Birthdays, like names, were best forgotten in the Garden. As I got to know the other girls, I knew they were all fairly young, but ages werent something you asked about. It just didnt seem necessary. At some point wed die, and the hallways provided daily reminders of what that would mean, so why compound the tragedy? Until Lyonette. Id been in the Garden for six months, and while Id become friendly with most of the other girls, I was closest to Lyonette and Bliss. They were the most like me, the ones who really didnt feel up to the high drama of weeping or bemoaning our inevitably tragic fates. We didnt cower before the Gardener, we didnt suck up to him like becoming favorites would somehow change our fortunes. We were the ones who put up with what we had to and otherwise did our own thing. The Gardener adored us. Except for meals, which were served at specific times, there was never a place we had to be, so most of the girls room-hopped for comfort. If the Gardener wanted you, hed simply check the cameras and come find you. When Lyonette asked Bliss and me to spend the night in her room, I didnt think anything of it. It was something we did all the time. I should have recognized the desperation in her voice, the edge to her words, but that was something else the Garden numbed you to. Like beauty, desperation and fear were as common as breathing. We were provided with clothing for the daytimealways in black, always things that left our backs bare so the wings could be seenbut were given nothing for sleeping. Most of us just slept in our underwear and wished for bras. The hostel and the apartment had been good practice for me; I had far less modesty than most of the other girls had had coming into the Garden, one less humiliation that might break me. The three of us curled together atop the mattress, waiting for the lights to go out, and gradually we became aware that Lyonette was shaking. Not like a seizure or anything, just a tremor that ran under her skin and electrified every part of her with movement. I sat up, reaching for her hand to lace our fingers together. Whats wrong? Tears gleamed in her gold-flecked eyes, making me suddenly nauseated. Id never seen Lyonette cry before; she hated tears in anyone, especially herself. Tomorrows my twenty-first birthday, she whispered. Bliss squeaked and threw her arms around our friend, burying her face in Lyonettes shoulder. Fuck, Lyon, Im so sorry! We have an expiration date then? I asked quietly. Twenty-one? Lyonette clutched Bliss and me with desperate strength. I . . . I cant decide if I should fight or not. Im going to die anyway, and I kind of want to make him earn it, but what if fighting makes it more painful? Shit, I feel like such a coward, but if I have to die, I dont want it to hurt! She started sobbing and I wished this was one of the times the solid walls came down around the glass, so we could be trapped in this little space and her weeping wouldnt be heard by everyone down the hall. Lyonette had a reputation for strength among the girls, and I didnt want them to think her weak once she was gone. But for the most part, the walls only came down two mornings a weekwhat wed taken to calling the weekend, whether it was or notso the actual gardeners could do maintenance around our beautiful prison. The hired help never saw us, and the multiple sets of closed doors between us and them guaranteed they never heard us either. No, wait. The walls came down when a new girl was brought in too. Or when one died. We didnt like it when the walls came down. Wishing they would was kind of extraordinary. We stayed with Lyonette the entire night, long after shed wept herself into an exhausted sleep and had woken only to weep again. Around four, she roused enough to stumble into the shower, and we helped her wash her hair, brushed it out and arranged it in a regal braided crown. There was a new dress in her closet, an amber silk fancy with glimmering gold threads that was bright as a flame against all the black. The color made her wings glow against her light brown skin, brilliant pumpkin-orange flecked with gold and yellow closest to the black spots and the white fringed bands of black on the very tips. The open wings of a Lustrous Copper. The Gardener came for her just before daylight. He was an elegant figure of a man, maybe a little above average height, well built. The type of man who always looked at least ten to fifteen years younger than he really was. Dark blond hair, always perfectly in place and well-trimmed, pale green eyes like the sea. He was handsome, that couldnt be argued, even if my stomach still turned at the sight of him. Id never seen him dressed all in black before. He stood in the doorway, thumbs hooked in his pockets, and just looked at us. Taking a deep breath, Lyonette hugged Bliss tightly, whispered something in her ear, before kissing her goodbye. Then she turned to me, her arms painfully tight around my ribs. My name is Cassidy Lawrence, she whispered, so quietly I could barely hear it. Please dont forget me. Dont let him be the only one to remember me. She kissed me, closed her eyes, and allowed the Gardener to lead her away. Bliss and I spent the rest of the morning in Lyonettes room going through the small personal items shed managed to accumulate over the past five years. Five years shed been there. We took down the privacy curtains, folded them together with the bedding into a neat stack on the edge of the naked mattress. The book she kept under her pillows turned out to be the Bible, with five years of rage and despair and hope scrawled around the verses. There were enough origami animals for all the girls in the Garden and then some, so we spent the afternoon giving them away, along with the black clothing. When we sat down to dinner, there was nothing left of Lyonette in the room. That night, the walls came down. Bliss and I curled together in my bed, which actually had more bedding than a sewn-on sheet now. Personal touches were things we earned by not being troublesome, by not trying to kill ourselves, so I had sheets and blankets now, the same rich rose and purple as the lower wings on my back. Bliss cried and swore when the walls came down and trapped us in the room. They rose after a few hours, and before theyd come higher than a foot off the floor, she grabbed my hand and squeezed us through so we could search the hallways. But we only had to go a few feet. The Gardener stood there, leaning back against the garden-side wall as he studied the girl in the glass. Her head was bowed nearly against her chest, small stirrups under her armpits keeping her upright. Clear resin filled the rest of the space, the gown caught in the liquid like she was underwater. We could see almost every detail of the bright wings on her back, nearly pressed against the glass. Everything that was Lyonetteher fierce smile, her eyeswas hidden away, so the wings were the only focus. He turned to us and ran a hand through my sleep-tangled hair, gently tugging through the knots he encountered. You forgot to put your hair up, Maya. I cant see your wings. I started to gather it to twist into a rough knot but he caught my wrist and pulled me after him. Into my room. Bliss swore and ran down the hall, but not before I saw her tears. The Gardener sat on my bed and brushed my hair until it gleamed like silk, running his fingers through it again and again. Then his hands moved elsewhere, and his mouth, and I closed my eyes and silently recited The Valley of Unrest. Wait, what? Eddison interrupts, a sickened expression on his face. She looks away from the picture, giving him a bemused look. The Valley of Unrest, she repeats. Its a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. They had gone unto the wars, trusting to the mild-eyed stars, nightly, from their azure towers, to keep watch above the flowers . . . I like Poe. Theres something refreshing about a man whos so unabashedly morose. But what Its what I did whenever the Gardener came to my room, she says baldly. I wasnt going to fight him, because I didnt want to die, but I wasnt going to participate either. So I let him do his thing, and to keep my mind occupied, I recited Poes poems. The day he finished your tattoo, was that the first time, uh . . . the first time I recited Poe? she finishes for him, one eyebrow arched mockingly. Victor flushes but nods. No, thank God. Id gotten curious about sex a few months before, so Hope loaned me one of her boys. Sort of. Eddison makes a choking sound and Victor cant help but be grateful that his wife has these kinds of discussions with their daughters. In any other setting, we probably would have called Hope a whore, except that Sophiawho actually had been a prostitute until her daughters were taken away by the copswas a little sensitive about words like that. Plus, Hope was in it for the fun, not the money. She could have made a fortune, though. Male, female, pairs, trios, or groups, Hope was up for anything. And there really wasnt any such thing as privacy in the apartment. Except for the bathroom, it was all one room, after all, and the curtains between the beds werent thick enough to conceal much. No canopies, anyway. They certainly didnt make anything soundproof. Hope and Jessica werent the only girls to bring people home, but they did it with the most frequency, sometimes more than once in a day. Early exposureno pun intendedto pedophiles had left me mostly uninterested in sex. That, plus my parents. It seemed a horrific business, not one I wanted any part of, but living with the girls gradually changed that. When they werent doing it, they were frequently talking about it, and even when they laughed at me, they answered silly questions about itor in Hopes case, decided to demonstrate how to masturbateso eventually curiosity won out over the distaste and I decided to give it a try. Well, I decided to think about giving it a try. I backed away from a lot of opportunities at first because I still wasnt sure. Then one afternoon when I didnt have to go into work in the evening, Hope came home trailing two boys. Jason we worked with, one of the few males on the overwhelmingly female waitstaff, and his friend Topher was a pretty standard fixture in the apartment. They frequently dropped by whether Hope was there or not; we thought they were fun to hang out with. Sometimes they brought food. The three were barely in the door before Hope was busy pulling off Jasons clothing, and the two of them were completely naked by the time they tumbled laughing through the curtains onto her bed. Topher at least had the grace to blush and kick the trail of clothing closer to the bed. I was on one of the couches with a book. One of the first things I did once I had a real address was to get a library card, and I made a couple trips a week. Reading had been an escape when I was younger, and even though I didnt have anything I particularly needed to escape from anymore, it was still something I loved. When the clothing was more or less contained, Topher poured two glasses of orange juicesocial services had swung by a couple of days ago, so the fridge was actually stockedand handed one of them to me as he flopped next to me on the couch. What, not joining them? I teased, and his blush deepened. Its no mystery that being with Hope is a little like having a time-share, but I dont share at the same time, he mumbled, and I snickered. Hope was exactly like a time-share, and proud of it. Topher was a model, maybe nineteen, who sometimes helped Guilian with the deliveries to make a few extra bucks. He was good-looking in that bland model wayyou know, the kind of good-looking that seems really ordinary because its shoved in your face all the time? He was a decent guy, though. We talked about the matinee a whole slew of us had gone to see the week before, about a gig he had for a few days as a living dummy for a temporary museum exhibit, about one of our mutual acquaintances getting married, and whether or not it would last, all while Hope and Jason went at it screaming and giggling. So, pretty much a normal afternoon. Eventually, though, their fun had to end. Its almost four oclock! I yelled over the groaning. You two need to get to work! Okay, Ill finish him off! True to her word, she had Jason grunting in less than thirty seconds, and ten minutes later, theyd both had a quick rinse in the shower and were off to work. Most of the girls were working that night, except for No?mie and Amber, who both had a night class on Wednesdays and wouldnt be back until almost ten. Topher left for a little while but came back with takeout from Takis on the corner. I knew Hopes usual invitation to sex was to kiss someone and shove her hand down his or her pants, but I wasnt Hope. Hey, Topher? Yeah? Do you want to teach me about sex? I was a different kind of straightforward. Anyone else probably would have blanched, but Topher was a friend of Hopes. Plus, hed been there for some of the conversations. All he did was smile, and I was reassured by the fact that it wasnt a smirk. Sure, if you think youre ready for it. I think so. I mean, we can always stop. Yes, we can. Just tell me if you get uncomfortable, okay? Okay. He took the remains of our dinner and shoved them into the overflowing trash can by the door; Hope was supposed to take it out when she left for work. When he came back to the couches, he dropped down onto the cushion and gently pulled me to lean against him. Well start slow, he said. And he kissed me. We didnt actually have sex that night; he called it Everything But. It was comfortable, though, and fun, and we laughed as much as anything, which in itself would have been strange just a year before when Id first moved in. We kept the clothes on after No?mie and Amber came home from class, but he stayed with me that night in my narrow bed and we played more under the sheets until No?miein the next bed overlaughed and said if we didnt shut up she was going to join us. It was a few days later that we had the privacy to go all the way, and the first time, I didnt really understand what the big deal was. Then we did it again, and that time I did. We spent the next few weeks fooling around, until he met a girl at church he wanted to be serious with, but as easily as wed become friends with benefits we went back to being friends, without any awkwardness or hurt feelings at all. Neither of us had fallen for the other, neither of us was putting more into it than the other. I loved when he came by the apartment, but not because I expected sex after he started dating his church girl. Topher was just a good guy, someone we all adored. It did not, however, make me understand my parents fascination with sex to the exclusion of all else. She unscrews the cap and takes a long drink of water, rubbing at her sore throat as she swallows. Victor is grateful for the silence and thinks Eddison must be as well, both men staring at the table. Trauma being what it is, Victor cant recall a victim interview where sex was such a frank topic. He clears his throat, turning the photos over so he doesnt have to see the hallways lined with dead girls in glass and resin. Your next-door neighbor when you were a child was a pedophile, you said, but when did you see the others? Grans lawn guy. She stops, blinks, and glowers at the bottle of water, and Victor cant help but think she didnt mean to say it. Perhaps the exhaustion is setting in with a stronger grip. He files that thought away for now, but hell watch for other opportunities. You saw your Gran often? She sighs and picks at a scab on one of her fingers. I lived with her, she answers reluctantly. When was this? My parents finally got divorced when I was eight. All the questions about money, about the house and cars and all the things were taken care of in one meeting. The next eight months were spent with each arguing that the other should be stuck with me. Isnt that fantastic? Every kid should be forced to sit through eight months of listening to their parents actively not want them. Eventually it was decided that Id be sent to live with Gran, my mothers mother, and both my parents would pay her child support. When the day came for me to leave, I sat on my front step with three suitcases, two boxes, and a teddy bear, the grand total of everything I owned. Neither of my parents was home. A year before, wed gotten new neighbors across the street, a youngish couple whod just had their first child. I used to love going over to see the baby, a beautiful little boy who wasnt broken or fucked up yet. With parents like his, maybe he never would be. Shed always give me a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, and he taught me how to play poker and blackjack. They were the ones who took me to the bus station, who helped me buy my ticket with the money my parents had left on my nightstand the day before, the ones who helped me load everything under the bus and introduce me to the driver and help me find a seat. She even gave me a lunch for the trip, complete with oatmeal raisin cookies still warm from the oven. They were another family I wished I could be a part of, but I wasnt theirs. Still, I waved goodbye to them as the bus pulled away, and they stood together on the curb, their baby held between them, and waved until we couldnt see each other anymore. When I got to the city where Gran lived, I had to take a taxi from the bus station to the house. The driver swore all the way there about people who had no business having kids, and when I asked him what some of the words meant, he even taught me how to use them in sentences. My Gran lived in a big, dilapidated house in a neighborhood that was moneyed sixty years ago but quickly went to shit, and when the driver had helped me unload everything onto her tiny front porch, I paid him and told him to have a great fucking day. He laughed and tugged my braid, told me to take care of myself. Menopause did strange things to Gran. She was a serial brideand widowwhen she was younger, but That Time convinced her she was dried up and halfway into the grave, so she holed up in her house and started filling all the rooms and halls with dead things. No, seriously, with dead things. Even the taxidermists thought she was creepy, and you have to be really fucking bad to win that award. She had things shed purchased premade, like wild game or exotics, things like bears and mountain lions that werent something you saw in a city. She had birds and armadillos, and my personal most hated, the collection of neighborhood cats and dogs that had been killed in various ways over the years that shed taken in to be stuffed. They were everywhere, even in the bathrooms and kitchen, and they filled every single room. When I walked in, dragging my things behind me into the entryway, she was nowhere to be seen. I heard her, though. If youre a rapist, Im all dried up, dont waste your time! If youre a thief, I have nothing worth stealing, and if youre a murderer, shame on you! I followed the sound of her voice and finally found her in a small family room with narrow walkways between all the stacks of stuffed animals. She was in an easy chair wearing a full-body tiger-print unitard and a dark brown fur coat, chain-smoking as she watched The Price Is Right on a seven-inch television whose picture wavered and frequently fell to discoloration. She didnt even look at me until the commercials. Oh, youre here. Upstairs, third door on the right. Be a good girl and bring me the bottle of whiskey on the counter before you go. I got it for herwhy notand watched in amazement as she poured the entire bottle into small dishes and bowls in front of the dead cats and dogs lined up on a couch that would have been hideous under the best of circumstances. Drink up, my beauties, being dead is no treat, youve earned it. Whiskey fumes quickly filled the room, joining with the musty scent of fur and stale cigarettes. Upstairs, third door on the right led into a room full of so many dead animals they tumbled out when I opened the door. I spent the rest of that day and all that night hauling them out and finding places to stick them so I could bring up my things. I slept curled up on top of the biggest suitcase because the sheets were so gross. I spent the next day cleaning the room top to bottom, beating the dust and mouse droppingsand mouse corpsesout of the mattress, and putting my own sheets from home on the bed. When I had everything arranged as close to home as I could manage, I went back downstairs. The only indication Gran had moved was her unitard, now a bright, shiny purple. I waited until the commercials and then cleared my throat. Ive cleaned out the room, I told her. If you put any more dead things in there while Im living here, Ill burn the house down. She laughed and slapped me. Good girl. I like your gumption. And that was moving in with my Gran. The setting changed, but life didnt. She had her groceries delivered once a week by a nervous-looking boy who got a tip almost as big as the grocery bill purely because that was the only way hed come to our neighborhood. It was pretty simple to call the grocery store and have new things added to the staples. I was enrolled in a school that taught absolutely nothing, where the teachers wouldnt even take attendance because they didnt want truancy to stick them with these kids for another year. There were supposed to be some really good teachers in the school, but they were few and far between and I never got any of them. The rest were burned out and just didnt care anymore as long as they got a paycheck. The students certainly encouraged that. Drug deals went down right there in the classrooms, even in the elementary school, on behalf of older siblings. When I went up into the middle school, there were metal detectors on every outer door but no one gave a shit or investigated when they went off, which was frequently. No one noticed if you werent in class, no one called home to check up on students whod been gone for several days in a row. I tested that once, stayed home for a full week. I didnt even get makeup work when I went back. I only returned because I was bored. Sad, really. I left everyone else alone so they left me alone too. I didnt leave the house after dark, and every night I fell asleep to a lullaby of gunshots and sirens. And when Grans lawn guy came twice a month, I hid under my bed in case he came into the house. He was probably in his late twenties, maybe a little older, and always wore jeans that were too tight and too low, trying to make the best of a package that even at that age I didnt think was very impressive. He liked to call me pretty girlie, and if he was there when I came home from school, hed try to touch me and ask me to bring him things. I kicked him once, right in the balls, and he cursed and chased me into the house, but he tripped over the stag in the entryway and Gran ripped him a new one for making too much noise during her soaps. After that, I hung out at the gas station a few blocks over until I saw his truck drive past. And your parents never questioned your well-being? He knows its a stupid question, but its already out of his mouth, and he nods even as her mouth twists. My parents never came to see me, never called, never sent cards or gifts or anything. Mom sent checks for the first three months, Dad for the first five, but then those stopped too. I never saw my parents or heard from them again after I went to Grans. I honestly dont even know if theyre still alive. Theyve been at this all day, the birthday cake the first thing hed had since last nights dinner. He can feel his stomach complaining, knows she must be at least as hungry. Its been almost twenty-four hours since the FBI arrived at the Garden. Theyve both been awake longer than that. Inara, Im willing to let you tell things in your own way, but I need you to give me a straightforward answer to one question: should we have child services in here? No, she says immediately. And thats the truth. How close is that truth to a lie? Its actually a smile this time, crooked and wry, but even so small a smile as that softens her entire face. I turned eighteen yesterday. Happy birthday to me. You were fourteen when you got to New York? Eddison demands. Yep. What the hell? Gran died. She shrugs, reaching for the water bottle. I came home from school and she was dead in the chair with burns on her fingers where the cigarette burned all the way down. Im kind of amazed the whole damn place wasnt on fire from the whiskey fumes. I think her heart gave out or something. Did you report it? No. The lawn guy or the grocery boy would find her when they went to get paid, and I didnt want anyone arguing about what to do with me. Maybe they would have tracked down one of my parents and Id be forced to go with them, or theyd just dump me into the system. Or maybe they would have tracked down one of those uncles or aunts on my dads side and shoved me off onto yet another relative who didnt want me. I didnt like those options. So what did you do? I packed a suitcase and a duffel, then raided Grans stash. Victors not sure if hes going to regret the answer, but he has to ask. Stash? Of cash. Gran only sort of trusted banks, so any time she got a check, she cashed it and hid half of it up the German shepherds ass. The tail was on a hinge, so you could reach under and pull out the money. She takes a sip, then purses her lips and presses them against the mouth of the bottle, letting the water soak against the chapped cracks. There was almost ten grand in there, she continues when she pulls the bottle away. I hid it away in my suitcase and duffel, spent the night at the house, and in the morning I woke up and walked down to the bus station rather than school, and bought a ticket to New York. You spent the night in the house with your dead grandmother. She wasnt stuffed yet, but otherwise what was the difference than any other night? Hes grateful for the static in his ear. We ordered food for the three of you, Yvonne reports from the observation room. Couple more minutes on it. And Ramirez called. A few of the girls have started talking. Not much yet; they seem more concerned with the dead ones than themselves. Senator Kingsley is on her way from Massachusetts. Well, it started out as good news. Its probably too much to hope that the senator will be forced to make an early landing somewhere due to bad weather. Victor shakes his head and leans back in his chair. The senator isnt here yet; theyll deal with her once she is. Were going to take a break soon so we can all eat, but one more question before that. Only one? Tell us about how you came to the Garden. That isnt a question. Eddison slaps his thigh impatiently, but its still Victor who speaks. How did you come to the Garden? I was kidnapped. Three teenage daughters and he can practically hear the unspoken duh at the end of it. Inara. Youre really good at that. Please. She sighs and brings her feet up onto the edge of the chair, wrapping her bandaged hands around her ankles. Evening Star was a pretty nice restaurant. Reservation only, unless it was a slow night, but the prices were high enough that most people wouldnt just walk off the street for a meal. On normal nights, the waiters wore tuxedos and the waitresses black strapless gowns with stand-alone collars and cuffs like the tuxes. We even had black bow ties that were a bitch and a half to get rightwe werent allowed clip-ons. Guilian knew how to cater to the stupidly rich, though, so you could actually rent out the entire restaurant for special occasions and put the waitstaff in costumes. There were a few basic ruleshe drew the line at indecencybut within a fairly broad range of options, you could provide the costumes and we would wear them for the event, and then got to keep them. He always gave us warnings about the costumes so we could trade shifts if we didnt think we could deal with it. Two weeks before my sixteenth birthdayor as far as the girls knew, my twenty-firstthe restaurant got rented out by someone doing a fundraiser for one of the theatres. Their first show was going to be a production of Madame Butterfly, so we were dressed accordingly. Only girls were allowed to work this one, by request of the client, and we were all given black dresses that came high around a pair of huge wire and silk wings that stayed on with spirit gum and latexfuck, what a process that wasand we all had to wear our hair completely up. We all agreed it was better than the shepherdess fetish costumes or the Civil Warthemed wedding rehearsal dinner that stuck us all with hoopskirts that wed finally converted to Christmas light chandeliers when we got sick of them taking up an entire corner of the apartment. Even if it meant getting to work hours early so we could put the damn wings on, the rest of it wasnt that bad, and we could all use the dresses again. Trying to wait tables with large wings behind you was a clusterfuck, though, and by the time the main course had been served, and we could retreat to the kitchen during the fundraising presentation, most of us didnt know whether to swear or laugh. A number of us were doing both. Rebekah, our lead hostess, sighed and sank down on a stool, propping her feet up on a sideways crate. Her pregnancy had finally made high heels impossible, and had also spared her from having to bear the indignity of wings. This thing needs to come out of me now, she groaned. I squeezed behind the stool as best I could with the wings and started massaging her tight shoulders and back. Hope peeked out through a gap in the swinging doorway. Anyone else think the guy in charge is totally fuckable for an old man? Hes not that old, and watch your mouth, Whitney retorted. There were certain words Guilian preferred we didnt use at work, even in the kitchens, and fuck was one of them. Well, his son looks older than me, so he is an old man. Then ogle the son. No, thanks. Hes hot, but theres something wrong with him. He isnt looking at you? Hes looking a lot, at a bunch of us. Hes just wrong. Id rather eye-fuck the old man. We stayed in the kitchen, chatting and making up gossip about the guests, until the presentations intermission, when we circulated with refills and bottles of wine and dessert trays. At the hosts table, I got a good look at Hopes old man and his son. Right away I knew what she meant about the son. He was handsome, well-muscled and good-featured, with dark brown eyes and his fathers dark blond hair, which looked good against his tanned skin. Even if the tan looked a little fake. It was something deeper than that, though, a cruelty that showed through in his otherwise charming smile, the way he watched all of us as we moved through the room. Next to him, his father was simply charming, with an easy smile that thanked us all wordlessly for our efforts. He stopped me with two fingers against my wrist, not too familiar, not threatening. Thats a lovely tattoo, my dear. I glanced down to the slit in my skirt. All of us in the apartment, even Kathryn, had gone out together and gotten matching tattoos a few months before, something we still found absurd and couldnt quite figure out why wed done it, except that most of us had been a bit tipsy and Hope nagged us until we gave in. It was on the outside of my right ankle, just above the bone, and it was an elegant thing of sweeping black lines. Hope had picked it out. Sophia, the other sober one, argued against the butterfly, because it was overdone and so damn typical, but Hope didnt budge. She was a freaking honey badger when she wanted to be; she called it a tribal butterfly. Normally we had to keep tattoos covered up with clothing or make-up for work, but because of the event theme, Guilian had said we could leave them uncovered. Thank you. I poured the sparkling wine into his glass. Are you fond of butterflies? Not particularly, but that didnt seem a bright thing to mention given the theme of his party. Theyre beautiful. Yes, but like most beautiful creatures, very short-lived. His pale green eyes traveled from the tattoo on my ankle up my body until he could smile into my eyes. It is not just your tattoo thats lovely. I made a note to tell Hope that the old man was as creepy as his son. Thank you, sir. You seem young to be working in a restaurant like this. One thing no one had ever said to me was that I seemed too young for something. I stared at him a moment too long, saw some kind of satisfaction flicker in his pale eyes. Some of us are older than our years, I said finally, and promptly cursed myself. The last thing I needed was a wealthy customer convincing Guilian I was lying about my age. He didnt say anything when I moved on to the next glass, but I felt his eyes on me all the way back to the kitchen. During the second half of the presentation, I snuck back to the locker room to dig a tampon out of my purse, but when I turned to leave for the bathroom, the son was standing in the doorway. He was maybe in his mid-twenties, but alone in a small room with him, he definitely gave off a more experienced vibe of menace. I didnt generally credit Hope with being too perceptive, but she was right, there was something really wrong with this guy. Im sorry, but this is a staff-only area. He ignored me, still blocking the doorway as one hand reached out to flick the edge of one of the wings. My father has exquisite taste, dont you think? Sir, you need to leave. This is not a customer area. I know youre supposed to say that. And I say it too. Kegs, one of the busboys, shouldered him roughly out of the way. I know the owner would be sorry to make you leave the restaurant, but hell do it without regret if you dont rejoin your party. The stranger looked him over, but Kegs was tall and burly and perfectly capable of slinging people around like beer kegs, hence the name. With a scowl, the stranger nodded and stalked away. Kegs watched him until he turned the corner into the main dining room. You okay, lovely? I am, thanks. We called him our busboy, mainly because Guilian always assigned him to our sections and he considered us his girls. Whether he was working that night or not, Kegs always walked the closing girls to the subway and saw us safely onto the train. He was the one person who inexplicably ignored Guilians rules about tattoos and piercings. True, he was a busboy, not a waiter, so he wasnt interacting with the customers, but he was still visible. Guilian never commented on the gauged ears, the pierced eyebrow, lip, and tongue, or the heavy black tribal tattoos that marched all the way down both arms and nearly glowed through his white dress shirt. They peeked out from the cuffs onto the backs of his hands and up on the back of his neck when it wasnt obscured by his long hair. Sometimes he knotted the hair up and you could see the tattoos climb onto the shaved lower half of his skull. He kissed my cheek and walked me to the bathroom, standing outside while I took care of things, and then walked me back to the kitchen. Be careful around the hosts son, he announced to all the girls. I told you, giggled Hope. That night Kegs escorted us all the way to the apartment. The next day, Guilian listened to what had happened with a concerned frown, then told us not to worry too much about it, because the clients had returned to Maryland. Or so we thought. A couple of weeks later, when No?mie and I left the library one afternoon and bumped into two of her classmates, I waved her on with them and told her I could get the rest of the way home by myself. I managed three blocks before something stabbed me, and before I could even cry out, my legs fell out from under me, and the world turned black. In the afternoon on the streets of New York? Eddison asks skeptically. Like I said, most people in New York dont ask too many questions, and both father and son can be very charming when they want to be. Im sure they said something that made sense to the people around us. And you woke up in the Garden? Yes. The door opens to show the female tech analyst with her hip still on the handle, her hands full of drinks and food sacks. She nearly drops them on the table, thanking Victor as he helps her steady the cardboard drink caddy. There are hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries, Yvonne announces. I wasnt sure what your tastes are, so I had them put some condiments in on the side. It takes the girl a moment to realize that shes the one being addressed, and then all she says is thank you. Anything new from Ramirez? Eddison asks. She shrugs. Nothing big. Theyve got another girl identified, and a couple of them have given their names and addresses, or partial addresses. One girls family relocated to Paris, poor thing. As he portions out food, Victor watches Inara study the tech. There are questions in her expression, but he cant make them out. After a moment, she shakes her head and reaches for a packet of ketchup. The senator? asks Eddison. Still in the air; they had to detour around a storm front. Well, Victor almost got his wish. Thanks, Yvonne. The analyst taps her ear. Anything interesting, Ill keep you updated. She nods to Inara and leaves the room. A few seconds later, the mirror rattles slightly as the door to the observation room closes. Victor eyes Inara as he squeezes mustard and relish onto his hot dog. He isnt sure if he should ask the question. Hes never felt uncertain about the power dynamic in a room, not with a victim, but then, shes not exactly a typical victim, is she? Thats at least half the problem. He frowns at his meal, unwilling to let the girl think the scowl is aimed at her. Eddison has that covered. He has to know, though. You werent surprised to hear about Senator Kingsley. Should I have been? So you all know each others real names. No. She squeezes ketchup over the patty and fries, then pops a fry in her mouth. Then how Some cant stop talking about their families. Afraid theyll forget, I guess. No names, though. Ravenna said her mother was a senator. That was all we knew. Her real name is Patrice, Eddison says. Inara just shrugs. What do you call a Butterfly halfway between the Garden and Outside? Well? What do you call them? I suppose it depends on whether or not her mother is a senator. How much damage will it cause if shes forced to become Patrice before shes ready to let go of Ravenna? She takes a large bite of hamburger and chews slowly, closing her eyes. A soft sound like a groan escapes and her face softens with pleasure. Been a while since you had junk food? Eddison asks with an unwilling smile. She nods. Lorraine had strict instructions to make healthy food. Lorraine? Eddison grabs for his notebook and flips through several pages. The paramedics took in a woman named Lorraine. She said she was an employee. You mean she knew about the Garden? She lives there. Victor stares at her, vaguely aware of the relish dripping off his hot dog onto the foil. Inara takes her time with the food and doesnt continue until the last fry is gone. I believe I mentioned that some girls tried to suck up? Lorraine was one of those once upon a time, someone so desperate to please the Gardener that she was perfectly willing to help him do whatever he wanted to other people if he would just love her. She may have been broken before he took her. Normally the girls like her were given another mark, another set of wings but this time on their faces, to show everyone that they loved being one of his Butterflies. But the Gardener came up with another plan for Lorraine and actually let her out of the Garden. He sent her to nursing school and to cooking classes on the side, and she was so broken by submission to his interests, so absolutely in love with him, that she never tried to run away, never tried to tell anyone about the Garden or the dead Butterflies or the living ones who still could have had some hope. She went to her classes, and when she came back into the Garden she studied and practiced, and on her twenty-first birthday, he took away all those backless, pretty black dresses and gave her a plain grey uniform that covered her entirely, and she became the cook and nurse for the Garden. He never touched her again, never spoke to her except about her duties, and thats when she finally started to hate him. Not enough, I guess, because she still didnt tell. On kinder daysof which there werent manyI could almost feel sorry for her. Shes what, forty-something now? She was one of the first Butterflies; shes known the Garden twice as long as shes known anything else. At some point, maybe you have to break. Her way kept her out of the glass, at least, however much she came to regret that. Our cook-nurse, and we loathed her. Even the suck-ups despised her, because even the suck-ups would have escaped if they could, would have tried to call the police for the sake of the rest of us. Or at least thats what they told themselves. If the opportunity had presented itself, though . . . I dont know. There were stories about a girl who escaped. Someone escaped? demands Eddison. She smiles crookedly. There were rumors, but no one knew for sure. Not in our generation, or in Lyonettes. It seemed more apocryphal than anything, something most of us believed simply because we needed to believe escape was possible, not because we thought it was real. It was hard to believe in escape when you had Lorraine choosing to stay, despite everything. Would you have tried? asks Victor. To escape? She gives him a thoughtful look. Maybe we were a different breed of girl than thirty years ago. Bliss especially enjoyed tormenting Lorraine, mainly because she couldnt do anything in return. The Gardener got pissed if she screwed with our food or medical needs. She was incapable of insulting us, because the words have to have meaning to hurt. We didnt think the maintenance guys knew about the Butterflies. We were always hidden when they were in the greenhouse, never allowed to be out where we could be seen or heard. The walls came down, opaque and soundproof. We couldnt hear them, just as they couldnt hear us. Lorraine was the only one we knew who knew about us, but it was useless trying to ask her to do anything or send a message to anyone. Not only would she not do it, but shed take it straight to the Gardener. And then another girl would end up in glass and resin in the hallway. Sometimes Lorraine looked at those girls on display with such naked envy it was painful to see. Pathetic, of course, and infuriating, because for fucks sake, shes jealous of murdered girls, but the Gardener loved those girls in glass. He greeted them when he passed, he visited just to look at them, he remembered their names, he called them his. Sometimes I think Lorraine looked forward to joining them someday. She missed when the Gardener loved her the way he did the rest of us. I dont think she realized it would never happen. The girls in the glass were all preserved at the peak of their beauty, the wings on their backs brilliant and bright against young, flawless skin. The Gardener would never bother preserving a woman in her fortiesor however old she would be when she diedwhose beauty faded decades ago. Beautiful things are short-lived, he told me the first time we met. He made sure of that, and then he strove to give his Butterflies a strange breed of immortality. Neither Victor nor Eddison has a response. No one asks to be assigned to crimes against children because theyre bored. Theres always a reason. Victor has always made sure to know the reasons of those who work for him. Eddison stares at his clenched fists on the table, and Victor knows hes thinking of the little sister that went missing when she was eight years old and was never found. Cold cases always hit him hard, anything where families have to wait for answers that may never come. Victor thinks of his girls. Not because anythings ever happened, but because he knows hed lose it if anything ever did. But because its personal, because theyre passionate, agents in crimes against children are often the first to break and burn out. After three decades with the bureau, Victors seen it happen to a lot of agents, good and bad alike. It nearly happened to him after a particularly bad case, after one too many funerals with too-small caskets for the children theyd been unable to save. His daughters convinced him to stay. They called him their superhero. This girl has never had a superhero. He wonders if she ever even wanted one. She watches them both, her face revealing nothing of her thoughts, and he has the uneasy feeling she understands them a lot better than they understand her. When the Gardener came to you, did he ever bring his son? he asks, trying to regain some control of the room. Bring his son? No. But Avery came and went mostly as he wanted to. Did he ever . . . with you? I recited Poe a few times under his attentions, she answers with a shrug. Avery didnt like me, though. I couldnt give him what he wanted. Which was? Fear. The Gardener only ever killed girls for three reasons. First, they were too old. The shelf date counted down to twenty-one, and after that, well, beauty is ephemeral and fleeting, and he had to capture it while he could. Second reason was connected to health. If they were too sick, or too injured, or too pregnant. Well, pregnant, I guess. Being too pregnant is a bit like being too dead; its not really a flexible state. He was always a little disgruntled about the pregnancies; Lorraine gave us shots four times a year that were supposed to prevent that sort of inconvenience, but no birth control is completely foolproof. Third reason was if a girl was completely incapable of settling into the Garden. If after the first few weeks she couldnt stop crying, if she tried to starve herself or kill herself past a certain allowable number of times. The girls who fought too hard, the girls who broke. Avery killed girls for fun, and sometimes by accident. Whenever that happened, his father would ban him from the Garden for a time, but then hed be back. Id been there almost two months before he came looking for me. Lyonette was with a new girl who hadnt been named yet, and Bliss was putting up with the Gardener, so I was on the little cliff above the waterfall with Poe, trying to memorize Fairy-land. Most of the other girls couldnt go up on the cliff without wanting to throw themselves off, so I usually had it to myself. It was peaceful up there. Quiet, but then, the Garden was always quiet. Even when some of the better-adjusted girls would play tag or hide-and-seek, they were never loud. Everything was subdued, and none of us knew if that was how the Gardener preferred it or if it was just instinct. As a group, all our behaviors were learned from other Butterflies, who had learned it from other Butterflies, because the Gardener had been taking girls for over thirty fucking years. He didnt kidnap under the age of sixteen, erring on the side of older if he wasnt sure, so the maximum lifespan of a Butterfly was five years. Not counting the overlaps, that was still more than six generations of Butterflies. When I met Avery at the restaurant, he was in a tuxedo like his father. Sitting with my back against a rock, the book across my knees as I basked in the warmth of sunlight through the glass roof, I looked up when his shadow fell over me and found him in jeans and an open button-down dress shirt. There were scratches on his chest and what looked like a bite mark on his neck. My father wants to keep you all to himself, he said. He hasnt talked about you at all, not even your name. He doesnt want me to remember you. I turned the page and looked back at the book. His hand grabbed my hair to pull my face up and his other hand cracked painfully across my face. Theres no busboy here to save you this time. This time youll get what youre asking for. I kept hold of the book and didnt say anything. He hit me again and blood splashed onto my tongue from a split lip, colored lights dancing in front of my eyes. He yanked the book from my hand and threw it into the stream; I watched it disappear over the edge of the waterfall so I wouldnt have to look at him. Youre coming with me. He led me by my hair, which Bliss had put up into an elegant French twist that soon came unraveled in his grip. Whenever I didnt move quickly enough for him, he turned and cracked me again. Other girls looked away as we passed them, and one even started crying, though the girls nearest her quickly shushed her in case Avery decided a weeper would be more entertaining. He hurled me into a room I hadnt been in before, one near the tattoo room at the very front of the Garden. This was a room that was closed and locked unless he was playing. There was a girl in there already, her wrists bound to the wall with heavy rings. Blood thickly coated her thighs and parts of her face, trailed down from a nasty bite on one breast, and her head lolled forward at an awkward angle. She didnt look up even though I landed on the floor with a loud smack. She wasnt breathing. Avery stroked the girls flaming hair, curling his fingers into it to pull her head back. Handprints wrapped around her throat and bone protruded against the skin on one side. She wasnt as strong as you are. He dove at me, clearly expecting me to fight, but I didnt. I didnt do anything. No, not entirely true. I recited Poe, and when I ran out of lines I knew, I thought them again and again and again until he threw me against the wall with a disgusted snarl and stalked from the room with his jeans undone. I guess you could say I won. At the moment it didnt feel like much of a victory. When the room finally stopped spinning, I stood up and looked for a key or a latch, whatever would let the poor girl out of those wide cuffs. Nothing. I found a locked cabinet that, when I pulled the door as far as the lock would allow, showed whips and flails; I found bars and clamps and things my mind shuddered away from; I found any number of things, in fact, except a way to give her any shred of dignity. So I found the remnants of my dress and found a way to drape it around her until the most important bits were covered, and I kissed her cheek and apologized with everything in me, as Id never apologized to anyone before. He cant hurt you again, Giselle, I whispered against her bloody skin. And I walked naked into the hallway. Everything hurt, and each girl I passed hissed in sympathy. None of them offered to help. We were supposed to go to Lorraine for that, so she could catalogue every injury and report it to the Gardener, but I didnt feel like looking at her stony face or feeling her press harder than she had to against forming bruises. Retrieving the ruins of the poetry book from where it had fetched up in the pond, I returned to my room and sat in my narrow shower stall. The water wouldnt come on until eveningwe each had an assigned time, unless wed just been with the Gardener. The girls whod been there longer could turn their water on themselves, another earned privilege, but that wasnt me yet. Not for another few months. I wanted so badly to cry. Id seen most of the other girls do it time and again, and some of them always seemed to feel better afterward. I hadnt cried since that fucking carousel when I was six years old, when I sat trapped on that beautifully painted horse and went round and round as both of my parents walked away and forgot all about me. And, as it turned out, sitting in the shower stall waiting for water that wouldnt come for hours wasnt going to flip that switch back on. Bliss found me, water still trickling down her skin from her own shower, her hair wrapped in a brilliant blue towel, the color of the wings inked on her back. Maya, what She stopped short, staring at me. Fucking hell, what happened? It even hurt to talk, my lip swollen and my jaw aching from so many slaps, among other things. Avery. Wait here. Because there were so many places I was likely to go. But when she came back, it was with the Gardener, who was unwontedly disheveled. She didnt say a word, just led him into the room, dropped his hand, and walked away. His hands were shaking. He stepped slowly across the room, the horror on his face growing as he catalogued each visible injury, each bite mark or scratch, each deepening bruise or handprint. Because the sickest thing wasand there were so many to choose fromhe genuinely did care about us, or at least what he thought of as us. He knelt down in front of me and inspected me with concerned eyes and gentle fingers. Maya, I am . . . I am so sorry. Truly I am. Giselle is dead, I whispered. I couldnt get her down. He closed his eyes with a look of genuine pain. She can wait. Lets get you taken care of. Until then, I hadnt realized he actually kept a suite in the Garden. As we passed through the tattoo room, he bellowed out Lorraines name. I could hear her scrambling from the infirmary in the next room, her grey and brown hair fluffing around her face as it escaped her updo. Get me bandages, antiseptic. Something to help with the swelling. What hap Just get it, he snapped. He glared at her until she disappeared, returning moments later with a small mesh bag bulging with haphazardly packed supplies. He punched a code into the pad on the wall and a section slid back and away, revealing a room done in burgundy and deep gold and mahogany. There was a comfortable-looking couch, a recliner positioned under a tall reading lamp, a television mounted on the wall, and that was all I got a chance to see before he led me through another doorway into a bathroom with a floor-set whirlpool tub bigger than my bed. He helped me sit down on the edge and started running the water, then wet a cloth to wipe away the worst of the blood. I wont let him do this to you again, he whispered. My son is . . . my son lacks control. Among other things. And just as I let him do other things, I let him fuss over me, and take care of me, and tuck me into his bed while he went to get a tray from Lorraine. I wouldnt have thought I could sleep, but I did, all night with his breath against the back of my neck as he stroked my hair and sides. The next afternoon, as I relaxed in my own bed with Bliss keeping me company, Lorraine threw a package at me. While Bliss muttered something about foul-tempered bitches who needed to stick their heads in an oven, I unwrapped the plain brown paper and started to laugh. It was a book of Poe. So the Gardener didnt approve of what his son did? The Gardener cherished us, and genuinely regretted killing us. Avery was just . . . She shakes her head, folding her legs beneath her on the chair. She winces and presses a hand against her stomach. Im sorry, but I really need to use the bathroom. The tech analyst opens the door a minute later. Inara gets up and joins her there, then glances back at Victor as if asking for permission. At his nod, they leave and close the door behind them. Victor shuffles through the photos of the hallways, trying to count the individual sets of wings. Do you think thats all the girls he took? Eddison asks. No, Victor sighs. I wish I could say yes, but what if a girl was injured in such a way that it damaged her wings or back? I doubt he displayed them then, because these are all in perfect condition. Theyre dead. But perfectly preserved. He lifts one of the close-ups. She said glass and resin; have the scene techs confirmed that? Ill find out. He shoves back from the table and pulls his cell phone from his pocket. As long as theyve been partners, Victors never seen him able to stand still while hes on the phone, and as soon as the numbers dialed, he starts pacing back and forth across the narrow room like a caged tiger. Finding the pen attached to Eddisons notebook, Victor scrawls his initials across the bag with the collection of IDs and slits it open, letting the plastic cards spill out over the table. It gets a curious look from Eddison that he largely ignores as he sifts through them until he finds the name hes looking for. Cassidy Lawrence. Lyonette. Her drivers license was only three days old when she was taken, and the pretty girl in the picture beams with excitement. Its a face meant for smiles, for joy, and he tries to age that into the fierce-eyed girl who welcomed Inara into the Garden. He cant quite manage it. Even when he places the ID against the picture of those pumpkin wings caught in glass, he cant make himself accept the connection. Which one do you suppose is Giselle? Eddison asks, shoving the phone back in his pocket. Too many redheads to guess, unless Inara can tell us which butterfly she had. How can he have been doing this for thirty years without us ever noticing? If the police hadnt gotten that call and noticed our flags on some of those names, how much longer do you think he would have gone unnoticed? Thats a fucking terrible question. What did the techs say? Theyre closing up the scene for today, giving a tour to the guards for tonight. They said theyd try to open the cases tomorrow. Closing up? He twists his wrist to check his watch. Almost ten oclock. Christ. Vic . . . we cant release her. She could just disappear again. Im not convinced shes not part of this. I know that. Then why arent you pushing harder? Because she is more than smart enough to turn it back on us, andhe laughs sharplymore than enough of a smart-ass to enjoy doing it. Let her tell it in her own way; all it costs us is time, and this is one of the few cases where we have the time. He leans forward, clasping his hands against the table. The suspects are not in good condition; they may or may not survive the night. Shes our best chance of learning the larger picture of the Garden. If shes telling the truth. She hasnt actually lied to us. That we know of. People with fake IDs arent usually innocent, Vic. She may be telling the truth about why she has it. Its still illegal, and I still dont trust her. Give her time. That will also give us time for the other girls to recover enough to talk to us. The longer we keep her here, the better our chances of getting the other girls talking. Eddison scowls but nods. Shes irritating. Some people stay broken. Some pick up the pieces and put them back together with all the sharp edges showing. Rolling his eyes, Eddison scoops the IDs back into the evidence bag. He stacks each photo neatly into a pile and lines the edges with the corner of the table. Weve been up more than thirty-six hours. We need to sleep. Yes . . . So what do we do about her? We cant let her disappear. If we take her back to the hospital and the senator hears about her . . . Shell stay here. Well get some blankets, see if we can find a cot, and in the morning well resume. You really think thats a good idea? A better idea than letting her go. If we keep her here, rather than moving her to a holding cell, its still an active interrogation session. Even Senator Kingsley isnt going to butt in during an active interrogation. Are we holding our breath on that? He gathers the trash from dinner, stuffing everything into one of the bags until the paper splits and bursts around the strain, and heads to the door. Ill hunt down a cot. He yanks open the door, scowls at the returning Inara and Yvonne, and stalks away. Yvonne nods to Victor and returns to the observation room. What a pleasant man, Inara notes dryly, and slides into her seat on the far side of the table. The soot streaks and dirt are gone from her face, her hair neatened into a heavy twisted bun. He has his uses. Please tell me talking to damaged children isnt one of them. Hes better with suspects, he allows, and wins a hint of a smile. He looks for something to occupy his hands, but Eddisons compulsiveness straightened everything on the table. Tell us about being in the Garden. Meaning? Day to day, when nothing out of the ordinary was happening. What was it like? Boring as all fuck, she answers succinctly. Victor pinches the bridge of his nose. No, but seriously, it was boring. There were usually twenty to twenty-five of us in the Garden at any given point, not counting Lorraine, because really, why would she have counted for anything? Unless he was out of town, the Gardener visited at least one of us a day, sometimes two or three if he didnt have to work or spend time with his family or friends, which meant he still didnt spend time with all of us within a single week. After what Avery did to me and Giselle, he was only allowed in the Garden once a week, and only under his fathers supervision, though he defied that as often as he thought he could get away with. It didnt last long, anyway. Breakfast was served in the kitchen at seven-thirty, and we had until eight oclock to eat so Lorraine could get everything cleaned up. You couldnt get away with skipping mealsshe watched us eat and reported it to the Gardenerbut one meal in a day you were allowed to be not as hungry. If you did it twice, shed show up in your room to do a checkup. After breakfastexcept those two mornings of maintenance, when we were stuck behind wallswe were free until twelve, when lunch was served in another half-hour window. Half the girls went back to bed, like they thought sleeping through the days would make them go faster. I usually followed Lyonettes example, even after she was in the glass, and made my mornings available for any girls who needed to talk. The cave under the waterfall became an office of sorts. There were cameras everywhere, and mics, but the crash of even such a small waterfall made it too difficult for conversation to come across clearly. And he allowed this? Victor asks incredulously. Once I explained it to him, sure. Explained it to him? Yes. He sat me down to dinner one evening in his suite to ask about it, I suppose to make sure we werent fomenting rebellion or something. And how did you explain it? That girls needed some semblance of privacy for mental well-being, and as long as those conversations kept the Butterflies healthy and whole, why the fuck did it matter? Well, I expressed it a little more eloquently than that. The Gardener liked elegance. Those conversations with the girlswhat were they like? With some of them it was just venting. They were restless and scared and pissed off and needed someone to talk all that feeling from them. Theyd pace and rage and pound the walls, but at the end, if their hands and hearts were sore, they were at least a little further from breaking. These were the girls like Bliss, only they lacked her courage. Bliss said whatever she wanted, wherever and whenever she wanted. Like she said the first time I met her, the Gardener never asked us to love him. He wanted us to, I think, but he never asked us to. I think he valued her honesty, just as he came to value my straightforwardness. Some of the girls needed comfort, something I was not especially good at. I could have patience with the occasional tears, or the tears that came of that first month in the Garden, but when it went on and on and on, for weeks and months and even years . . . well, that was generally when I lost patience and told them to get over it. Or, if I was feeling magnanimous that day, I sent them on to Evita. Evita was an American Lady, her back inked in faded oranges and dull yellows before the wingtips spread to intricate black patterns. Evita was sweet, but not quite bright. I dont say that to be mean, but because its true. She had the understanding of a six-year-old, so the Garden was a daily source of wonder for her. The Gardener only came to her once or twice a month because she always got so confused and scared by what he wanted from her, and Avery wasnt allowed to go near her at all. Every time the Gardener came, we all worried that shed end up in glass, but that simple sweetness was something he seemed to treasure. That simple sweetness meant you could go to her, bawling your eyes out, and shed hug and stroke and make silly sounds until you stopped crying; and shed listen to you pour your heart out, without saying a word. For those girls, being around Evitas sunny smile always made them feel better. For my part, being around Evita just made me sad, but when the Gardener came to her, she came to me, and she was the one person whose tears I could always forgive. Do we need to get a special needs advocate to the hospital? The girl shakes her head. She died about six months ago. An accident. Around eleven-fifteen, the office closed and a group of us ran laps through the hallways. Lorraine would glare at us if she was present but never said anything against it, because it was really the only exercise we got. The Gardener wouldnt give us weights or treadmills or anything because he was worried wed use them to injure ourselves. Then, after lunch, the afternoon was ours until dinner at eight oclock. That was when the boredom set in. The cliff top became my place even more than the waterfall cave, because I was one of the few who enjoyed climbing up and sprawling close to the glass that marked the edge of our prison. Most of the girls did better pretending the sky wasnt so close, pretending that our world was bigger than it was and that nothing waited Outside. If it helped them, I wasnt going to argue with them. But I loved it up there. Some days Id even climb the trees and stretch out and press my hand against the glass. I liked reminding myself that there was a world beyond my cage, even if Id never see it again. Early on, sometimes Lyonette, Bliss, and I would sprawl in the afternoon sun and talk, or read. Lyonette would fold her origami creations, Bliss would play with the polymer clay the Gardener bought for her, and Id read aloud from plays and novels and poetry. But sometimes wed go down to the main level, where the stream bisected the almost jungle-like growth, and wed spend time with the other girls. Sometimes wed just read together, or talk of less sensitive things, but there were games too, when we got bored enough. Those were the days that seemed to make the Gardener happiest. We knew there were cameras everywhere because at night you could see the winking red eyes, but on days when we played, hed come into the Garden and watch us from the rocks by the waterfall, a soft smile on his face like this was everything he could have dreamed of. I think its a tribute to just how bored we got that we didnt all scatter to our rooms and solitary activities the minute we saw him. Six months ago, about ten of us were playing hide-and-seek, and Danelle was It. She had to count off to a hundred while standing near the Gardener, because it was the one place none of us were likely to hide, and so the only place she wouldnt easily hear us hiding. Im not sure if he was aware of the logic or not, but he seemed charmed to be part of the game, even peripherally. I nearly always climbed the tree during these games, mainly because practicing for two years on the fire escape of the apartment meant I could climb higher and faster than anyone else. They might find me pretty easily, but they couldnt actually reach me to tag. Evita was scared of heights, just like she was scared of enclosed spaces. Someone always stayed with her at night in case the walls came down so she wouldnt be alone and terrified. Evita never climbed. Except that day. I dont know why she wanted to, especially not when we could see how scared she was once she got about six feet off the ground, but even when we called across that it was okay, she could still hide somewhere else, she was determined. I can be brave, she said. I can be brave like Maya. From beside Danelle, the Gardener watched us with worried eyes, like he did whenever one of us went against our habits. Danelle reached ninety-nine and just stopped, giving Evita more time to hide. We all did that sometimes, if we could hear her. Danelle kept her back turned and her hands over her tattooed face, waiting for silence. It took Evita almost ten minutes, but she pulled herself up the tree inch by inch until she was fifteen feet up and sitting on one of the branches. Tears tracked down her face, but she looked at me in a nearby tree and gave me a wavering smile. I can be brave, she said. Youre very brave, Evita, I told her. Braver than all the rest of us. She nodded and looked down between her feet at the ground that seemed so far away. I dont like it up here. Do you want me to help you down? She nodded again. I stood carefully on my branch and turned so I could start down my tree, only to hear Ravenna cry out behind me. Evita, no! Wait for Maya! I looked back over my shoulder in time to see Evita windmilling wildly and teetering down the branch until it was too narrow to support her weight. The branch snapped and Evita shrieked as she dropped. Everyone rushed from their hiding places to try to help, but then her head struck a lower branch with a sickening crack and her screams abruptly stopped. She fell into the pond with a great splash, and was still. I shimmied down the tree as quickly as I could, scraping my legs and arms on the bark, but no one else moved, not even the Gardener. They all stared at the girl in the pond, at the blood floating away from her pale blonde hair. Wading into the stream, I grabbed her ankle and pulled her closer to me. Finally the Gardener came running, and heedless of his fine clothing, he helped me get her out of the water onto dry land. Evitas lovely blue eyes were frozen open, but there wasnt any sense in trying to make her breathe. Part of that crack had been her neck breaking. Death was a strange thing in the Garden, an omnipresent threat but not something we actually saw. Girls were simply taken away and a pair of wings in a display case in the halls took their place. For most of the girls, this was their first time seeing death firsthand. The Gardeners hands shook as he smoothed Evitas wet hair back from her face and cradled the wet mess on the back of her skull where shed hit the branch. Then we were all staring at him rather than Evita because he was weeping. His entire body moved with the strength of his sobs, his eyes screwing shut against this unexpected pain, and he rocked back and forth with Evitas body clasped to his chest, blood staining his sleeve and water soaking through his shirt and trousers. It was like hed taken even our tears from us, then. Alerted by the screams, the other girls had come running from their rooms or elsewhere in the Garden, and together all twenty-two of us stood in dry-eyed silence as our captor wept for the death of the one girl he hadnt killed. She takes the stack of hallway photos and flicks through them until she finds the one she wants. He arranged her hair so the damage wouldnt show, she tells Victor, laying it out for him to see. He spent the rest of that day and night doing something, off where we couldnt see him, and the walls came down, and the next day she was up in the glass and he was asleep in front of her, his eyes red and swollen. He stayed there the rest of the day, right in front of her. Right up until a couple of days ago, he touched the glass every time he passed it, until he didnt even seem to realize he was doing it. Even when the glass was covered, he touched the wall. She wasnt the only accidental death though, was she? She shakes her head. No, not by a long shot. But Evita was . . . well, she was sweet. Utterly innocent, incapable of comprehending the bad things. When they happened to her, they touched her lightly and then let her go. In a way, I think she was the happiest of us, purely because she didnt know any other way to be. Eddison bursts in with a groan of cheap metal, dragging a cot behind him with the other arm full of blankets and thin pillows. He drops them in the far corner and, panting, turns to his partner. Just got a call from Ramirez; the son is dead. Which one? The words are said so softly, so full of air and some indefinable emotion, Victor isnt entirely sure he even heard it. He looks at the girl, but her eyes are fixed on Eddison, one fingernail digging under the gauze until scarlet blooms along her finger. Eddison is equally taken aback. He glances at Victor, who shrugs. Avery, Eddison answers, nonplussed. She folds in on herself, hiding her face in her arms. Victor wonders if shes crying, but when she lifts her head a minute or so later, shes dry-eyed. Haunted, in some new and inexplicable way, but dry-eyed. Eddison gives Victor a significant look, but Victor cant begin to guess whats running through this girls head. Shouldnt she be happy her tormentor is dead? Or, at the least, relieved? And maybe that is there, buried in her complexity, but she seems more resigned than anything else. Inara? Her pale brown eyes flick over to the cot, her fingers digging under the gauze on both hands now. Does this mean I can sleep? she asks dully. Victor stands and motions for Eddison to give him the room. He does so without comment, taking the pictures and evidence bags, and in less than a minute, Victor is alone with the broken child he may never understand. Without speaking, he unfolds the squeaking legs of the cot and stands it up in the farthest corner from the door, where the table can be between the girl and anyone entering, and wraps one of the blankets around it like a sheet. The other he drapes at the foot, with the pillows piled near the head. When hes done, he takes a knee next to her chair and gently lays a hand against her back. Inara, I know youre tired, so well let you sleep now. Well be back in the morning with breakfast and more questions, and hopefully an update for you on the other girls. But. Before I go Does it have to be tonight? Did the younger son already know about the Garden? She bites her lip until blood dribbles down her chin. With a deep sigh, he hands her a tissue from his pocket and walks to the door. Des. He looks back at her, still with one hand on the door, but her eyes are closed and her face is written over with a pain he cant begin to name. Im sorry? His name is Des. Desmond. And yes, he knew about the Garden. About us. Her voice breaks and even though he knows a good agent should take advantage of this crack, this vulnerability, he sees his daughters sitting there with that pain and he just cant do it. Therell be someone watching from the tech room, he says softly. If you need anything, theyll help you. Sleep well. That fractured sound might be a laugh, but its not one he wants to hear again. He pulls the door closed with a quiet click behind him. II The girlstrange to call her Inara, when he knows it isnt her real nameis still asleep, her face buried in the collar of his jacket, when Victor arrives and checks in with the yawning night-shift tech analysts. One of the techs hands him a stack of messages: reports from the hospital throughout the night, from the agents out at the property, background on as many of the players as possible. He sorts through them as he drinks his cafeteria coffeemarginally better than the questionable swill left standing in the pot in the team kitchentrying to match the pictures to the names in the girls stories. Its barely six oclock when Yvonne enters, her eyes puffy from lack of sleep. Good morning, Agent Hanoverian. Your shift doesnt start till eight; why arent you sleeping? The tech analyst just shakes her head. Couldnt sleep. I sat up all night in my daughters room, rocking in the chair and staring at her. If someone ever . . . She shakes her head again, more sharply this time, as if sloughing off the bad thoughts. I left as soon as my mother-in-law was awake enough to deal with the baby. He considers telling her to find an office and take a nap, but then, he doubts anyone on the team slept well last night. He certainly didnt, plagued by the hallway photos and the distant memories of his daughters running around the yard wearing costume butterfly wings. Its easier for the horrors to catch up once you have nothing to do. Victor hefts the canvas bag at his feet. I have a fresh-made cinnamon roll for you if you do me a favor, he says, and watches her stand straight with sudden energy. Holly gave me clothes for Inara; think you could walk her down to the lockers and let her shower? Your daughter is an angel. She glances through the glass at the sleeping girl. I hate to wake her up, though. Better you than Eddison. She walks out of the tech room without another word, and a moment later the door to the interview room opens with the slightest squeak. Its enough; the girl sits up in a tangle of hair and blanket, her back against the wall until she identifies Yvonne, standing in the doorway with her hands out and open. They stare at each other until Yvonne tries a small smile. Good reflexes. He used to stand in the doorways sometimes; he always seemed disappointed if you didnt realize he was there. She yawns and stretches, joints popping and cracking from the uncomfortable cot. We thought you might appreciate a shower, says Yvonne, holding out the canvas bag. Weve got some clothing that should fit well enough, and some soaps. I could kiss you if I were into that sort of thing. On her way to the door, she taps against the glass. Thank you, FBI Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian. He laughs but doesnt try to answer. While shes gone, he moves into the interview room to continue parsing through the new information. Another of the girls has died in the night, but the rest are expected to live. Counting Inara, that makes for a total of thirteen. Thirteen survivors. Perhaps fourteen, depending on what she can tell them of the boy. If hes the Gardeners son, is he part of what his father and brother did? Shes still in the locker room when Eddison comes in, cleanly shaven and wearing a suit this time. He drops a box of Danishes on the table. Where is she? Yvonne has her down at the showers. Think shell tell us anything today? In her own way. A snort tells him what his partner thinks of that idea. Yes, well. He hands him the stack of papers hes already gone through, and for a time the only sounds are the shuffling of pages and the occasional slurp of coffee. Ramirez says Senator Kingsley has set up camp in the hospital lobby, Eddison says a few minutes later. Saw that. She says the daughter didnt want to see the senator; claimed she wasnt ready. Saw that too. Victor drops his papers to the table and rubs his eyes. Can you blame her? She grew up on camera, with everything she did reflecting on her mother. She knowsprobably better than any of the othersthe media blitz waiting for them. Seeing her mother is the start of that. Ever wonder if were really the good guys? Dont let her get to you. He grins at his partners startled look. Do we have a perfect job? No. Do we do a perfect job? No. It isnt possible. But we do our job, and at the end of the day, we do a hell of a lot more good than harm. Inaras good at deflecting; you cant let her get under your skin. Eddison reads another report before saying anything. Patrice KingsleyRavennatold Ramirez she wants to talk to Maya before making a decision about her mother. Wanting advice? Or someone to make the decision for her? Didnt say. Vic . . . Victor waits him out. How do we know she isnt like Lorraine? She took care of these girls. How do we know it wasnt to please the Gardener? We dont, admits Vic. Yet. One way or the other, well find out. Before we die of old age? The senior agent rolls his eyes and turns back to his papers. Its a different girl who finally reenters with Yvonne, her hair combed in a straight fall to her hips. The jeans dont quite fit, tight across her hips with the buttons undone to give a little more space, but the layered edges of the tank tops mostly cover that, and the mossy green sweater hugs soft curves. Thin flip-flops slap quietly against the floor as she walks. The bandages are off and Victor winces at the purple-red burns that wrap around her hands, marked through with gashes from glass and debris from their escape. She follows his gaze to her hands and holds them up for further inspection as she drops into her seat at the far side of the table. They feel worse than they look, but the doctors said as long as Im not stupid, I shouldnt see any loss of function. How is the rest of you? There are some lovely bruises and the stitches are a little pink and tender around the edges, but not really swollen. A doctor should probably give them a look-see at some point. But, you know, Im alive, which is more than I can say about a lot of people I know. Shes expecting him to start out with the boy. He can see it in her face, in the tension in her shoulders, in the way her fingertips press over the scabs on the opposite hand. Shes prepared for that. So instead, he pushes across the remaining cuphot chocolate rather than coffee, given her distaste for it yesterdayand opens the tinfoil wrapping on the rolls. He hands one to Yvonne, who murmurs a thank-you and retreats to the observation room. Inaras brows pull together at the sight, her head tilting like a birds as she studies the contents. What kind of bakery wraps things in aluminum? The bakery known as my mother. Your mother made your breakfast? Her mouth moves in something that might be a smile with less shock. Did she make your lunch in a little brown sack, too? Even wrote a note, telling me to make good choices today, he lies with a straight face, and she rolls her lips in to stop the smile from growing. But you never had that, did you? he continues more softly. Once, she corrects, and theres no trace of the humor now. The couple across the street took me to the bus station, right? She made me a lunch, and inside there was this note, saying how glad they were to know me, how much theyd miss me. Their phone number was there, and they asked me to call them when I got to Grans to let them know that I was safe. To call them whenever I wanted, just to talk. Theyd signed it with hugs, both of them, and even the baby had a crayon scribble on the bottom. You didnt call, did you? Once, she says again, almost a whisper. Her fingertips trace the lines of each cut and gash. When I got to the station near Grans, I called them to tell them Id gotten there. They asked to speak to Gran, but I said she was arranging for the taxi. They told me to call back as often as I wanted. I stood at the curb of the station, waiting for a taxi, and kept staring at that silly piece of paper. Then I threw it away. Why? Because keeping it felt too much like hurting myself. She sits up in the chair, crossing her legs at the knee, and leans her elbows against the table. You seem to have this strange image of me as a lost child, like Ive just been thrown on the side of the road like garbage, or roadkill, but kids like me? Were not lost. We may be the only ones who never are. We always know exactly where we are and where we can go. And where we cant. Victor shakes his head, unwilling to argue the point but equally incapable of agreeing with it. Why didnt the girls in New York report you missing? She rolls her eyes. We didnt have that kind of relationship. But you were friends. Yes. Friends who were all running from other things. Before I moved in, the bed was vacant because the last girl suddenly picked up and left. Hard on her heels was a pissed-off uncle who wanted to know what shed done with the baby hed raped into her three years before. No matter how carefully you hide, theres always someone who can find you. Only if theyre looking. Or if youre really just that unlucky. What do you mean? asks Eddison. What, you think I wanted the Gardener to kidnap me? The whole city to disappear in, but he found me. That doesnt explain It does, she says simply. If youre a certain kind of person. Victor sips his coffee, trying to decide if he should push the conversation in a necessary direction or let it go in what may or may not prove to be a useful one. What kind of person, Inara? he prompts eventually. If you expect to be overlooked or forgotten, youre always at least a little surprised when someone remembers you. Youre always outside understanding those strange creatures who actually expect people to remember and come back. She takes her time then, eating her cinnamon roll, but Victor can tell she isnt finished with the thought yet. Maybe it isnt fully formed yethis youngest daughter will do that sometimes, just trail off until she knows the rest of the words. He isnt sure if thats Inaras reason, but its still a pattern he knows, so he kicks Eddison under the table to keep him silent when his partners mouth opens. Eddison glares at him and scoots his chair several inches away, but says nothing. Sophias girls expect her to come back, she continues softly. She licks the icing off her injured fingers and winces. Theyve been with their foster family for . . . well, theyd been there nearly four years when I was taken. Anyone could have understood if theyd given up hope. They didnt, though. No matter what happened, no matter how bad things got, they knew she was fighting for them. They know she will always, always come back for them. I dont get it. I dont think I ever will. But then, I never had a Sophia. But you have Sophia. Had, she corrects. And its not the same. Im not her daughter. Her family, though. Yes? Friends. Its not the same. Hes not sure he believes that. Hes not sure she does either. Maybe its easier for her to pretend she does. Your girls always believe youll come home, dont they, Agent Hanoverian? She smooths a hand along the soft sleeve of the sweater. Theyre afraid that one day you might die in the line of duty, but they dont believe anything could keep you away if you were still alive. Keep your mouth off his girls, snaps Eddison, and she smirks. You can see his girls in his eyes every time he looks at me or one of those pictures. Theyre why he does what he does. Yes, they are, Victor says, finishing his coffee. And one of them sent along something else for you. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tube of deep berry lip gloss. This is from my eldest, who also gave the clothing. It startles a smile from her, a real one that makes her whole face shine for a few seconds, her amber-flecked eyes crinkling at the corners. Lip gloss. She said its a girl thing. Id hope so; this would be a very unflattering shade on you. Gingerly unscrewing the cap, she squeezes the tube until a bead of shimmering color oozes from the end. She rolls it along her lower lip, managing the upper with no mess or missed places despite her eyes never going to the one-way mirror. We used to do our makeup on the train on the way to work. Most of us could put our whole face on without ever looking in a mirror. I have to admit, its not something Ive ever tried, he says dryly. Eddison straightens the stack of papers, lining their edges precisely with the edge of the table. Victor watches him, used to his partners compulsions but still amused by them. Eddison sees him watching and frowns. Inara, Victor says finally, and she reluctantly opens her eyes. We need to start. Des, she sighs. He nods. Tell me about Desmond. I was the only one who liked to find the high places in the Garden, so I was the one to find the other garden. Up on the little cliff, there was this small stand of treesand by stand, I mean fivethat grew right up against the glass. At least a couple times a week, I climbed one of the trees, settled into the highest curve of branches that could support me, and pressed my cheek against the glass. Sometimes if I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was out on our fire escape, against our bank of windows, hearing Sophia talk about her girls, or listening to a boy in another building play violin, as Kathryn sat beside me. To my front and left, I could see almost the entire Garden, except for the hallways that wrapped around us and what was hidden by the edge of the cliff. In the afternoon, I could see the girls playing tag or hide-and-seek along the stream, one or two floating in the small pond, or sitting among the rocks or bushes, with books and crosswords and various things. But I could also see out of the Garden, just a little. As far as I could tell, the greenhouse we called the Garden was actually one of two, one inside the other like nesting dolls. Ours was the one in the center, impossibly tall, with our hallways wrapped around it in a square. The ceilings in our rooms werent especially high, but the walls rose all the way up to the trees on the cliff, black and flat-topped, and on the other side, another glass roof, sloping down over another greenhouse. It was more of a border than a proper square on its own, broad path linedat least on the side I could seewith plant life. It was hard to see, even from the tops of the trees. Just a sliver here or there, where the angle was just right. In that greenhouse was the real world, with gardeners no one hid from and doors that led Outside, where the seasons changed and life didnt count down to twenty-one. The real world had not the Gardener, but the man non-Butterflies knew him to be, a man who was involved with arts and philanthropy, and some kind of business ventureor rather, many kinds of business ventures, from what he sometimes hinted. That man had a house somewhere on the property, not visible even from the trees. That man had a wife and family. Well, he had Avery, and clearly the asshole had to come from somewhere, but still. There was a wife. And she and the Gardener walked through that outer greenhouse together almost every afternoon from two to three, her hand tucked through his elbow for support. She was slender almost to the point of sickliness, with dark hair and impeccable style. From so far away, that was all I could see. Theyd walk slowly down the leg of the square, stopping from time to time to inspect a flower or plant more closely, and then slowly walk on until they passed from my limited range of sight. Theyd be back once or twice more before their walk was done. She was the one who determined their pace, and whenever she lagged, he turned to her solicitously. It was the same tenderness he showed to his Butterflies, soft and sincere in a way that sent spiders crawling under my skin. It was the same tenderness with which he touched the glass of the display cases, with which he wept over Evita. It was in the way his hands trembled when he saw what Avery had done to me. It was love, as he knew it. Two or three times a week, Avery accompanied them, trailing along behind and rarely staying for the full hour. He usually did a single revolution and then walked into the Garden, where he looked for someone who was sweet and innocent and so easily gave him the fear he craved. And twice a week, on consecutive days that were the same as our maintenance mornings, there was a younger son, with his mothers dark hair and slim build. As with his mother, the detail was lost to distance, but it was clear she doted on him. When he joined them, she moved between her husband and younger son. For months, I watched them unobserved, until one day, the Gardener looked up. Right at me. I kept my cheek pressed against the glass, curled within the leaves high in my tree, and didnt move. It was another three days before we spoke of it, and even then only over the bed of a stranger, not even a Butterfly. Victor takes a deep breath, pushing away that bizarre image of normalcy. Most of the sickos he arrests seem normal on the surface. Hed kidnapped another girl? He took several a year, but never until the previous one was fully marked and more or less settled in. Why? Why he took several a year? Or why he waited between them? Yes, Victor tells her, and she smirks. For the firstattrition. He never took more than the Garden could support, so generally he only went shopping when one of the Butterflies died. That wasnt always the case, but usually. For the second . . . She shrugs and presses her palms flat against the table, studying the stippling of burned tissue across the backs. A new girl was a stressful time in the Garden. Everyone got on edge, remembering their own kidnapping and how it was when they woke up the first time, and then the inevitable tears just made it all worse. Once a new girl settled, things were quiet for a while, until the next death, the next wings on display, the next new girl. The Gardener was alwaysmostlyexquisitely sensitive to the prevailing mood in the Garden. Is that why he allowed Lyonette to act as a guide? Because it helped, yes. Then how did you end up doing it? Because someone had to, and Bliss was too angry, the rest too skittish. It wasnt the girl after me but the next one that I first helped with, because Avery had brought the flu into the Garden and it was cutting a hell of a swath through the girls. Lyonette was a train wreck. She was pale and sweating, her tawny hair plastered to her neck and face, and the toilet bowl was a much truer friend than I could ever be. Bliss and I told her to stay in bed, to let the Gardener deal with his own mess for once, but as soon as the walls lifted to let us out of our rooms, she pulled on clothes and staggered out into the hallway. Swearing, I tied on a dress and jogged after her until I could loop one of her arms around my shoulders. She was so dizzy she couldnt walk without keeping a hand to the wall. She didnt flinch away from the display cases like she usually did even after almost five years. Why does it have to be you? Because it has to be someone, she whispered, and stopped to swallow back her need to vomit. Again. Even though shed been kneeling in front of the toilet for most of the past eighteen hours. I didnt agree, not at that point. Maybe not ever. The Gardener was very, very good at guessing ages, better than any carnival whack Id ever heard of. A few girls came in at seventeen, but most were sixteen. He wouldnt kidnap youngerand if he thought there was a chance of fifteen or less, he said he chose someone elsebut he tried not to go any older. I guess he wanted the full five years whenever possible. The things that man felt comfortable talking about with his captives . . . or maybe just with me. The new girl was in a room that was every bit as naked as the one Id woken up in. Mine was slowly starting to accumulate personal touches, but for now she had a plain grey fitted sheet and nothing else. Her skin tone was dark and, combined with the cast of her features, suggested mixed race: Mexican and African, Id find out later. She wasnt much taller than Bliss, and except for a rather astonishing set of tits that looked like theyd been a quincea?era gift, she was reed-slender. Small holes marched all the way up one ear and most of the other. Another hole on the edge of her nostril and yet another around her navel suggested theyd been pierced as well. Whyd he take them all out? Maybe he thought they were tacky, groaned Lyonette, sinking to the floor beside the unshielded toilet. My ears were double pierced when I came. Still are. Maybe he thinks yours are classy. Plus the cartilage cuff on the right. Maya, dont be a bitch. This is rough enough, all right? Surprisingly, that actually was enough to make me stop. It wasnt just that she was clearly pathetic at the moment. It was also the undercurrent. Trying to make sense of why the Gardener did what he did was an exercise in futility, and completely unnecessary besides. We didnt need to know why. We just needed to know what. Not that youre actually capable of going anywhere, but wait here. She flapped her hand and closed her eyes. There were two refrigerators in the kitchen attached to our dining room. One held our meal ingredients and was always kept locked, Lorraine having the only key. The other held drinks and what snacks we were allowed to have between meals. I grabbed a couple bottles of water for Lyonette and a juice for myself, then pillaged a book from the library to read aloud to her while we waited for the new girl to wake up. There was a library? Eddison asks incredulously. Well, yeah. He wanted us to be happy there. That meant keeping us occupied. What kinds of books did he give you? Whatever we asked for, really. She shrugs and settles back into her chair, arms crossed loosely over her chest. It was mostly classics at first, but those of us who genuinely enjoyed reading started a wish list by the doorway, and every now and then hed add a few dozen or so volumes. And some of us had personal books, direct gifts from him, that stayed in our rooms. And you were one of the readers. She starts to give him a disgusted look, then reconsiders. Oh, right, you werent here for that part. What part? The part where I explained that being in the Garden was usually boring as fuck. If thats boring, youre clearly not doing it right, he mutters, and it startles a laugh out of her. It wasnt boring when it was my choice, she admits. But that was before the Garden. Victor knows he should drag the conversation back to the original question, but the sight of the two of them in agreement about something is far too entertaining, so he lets it go, even ignores the slight trace of a lie in the girls face. And I suppose your favorite was Poe? Oh, no, Poe had a purpose: to distract. I liked the fairy tales. Not the watered-down Disney shit, or the sanitized Perrault versions. I liked the real ones, where horrible things happened to everyone and you really understood it wasnt intended for children. No illusions? Victor asks, and she nods. Exactly. New Girl took a long time to regain consciousness, long enough that Lyonette even debated sending for Lorraine. I talked her out of it. If the girl was going to die from it, there was little enough our nurse could do to prevent it, and that pinch-faced bitch wasnt the first thing I would want to see. Lyonette used that to insist I be the first thing New Girl saw. Given that Lyonette looked like death warmed over, I didnt even argue . . . much. It was late in the afternoon before the girl finally stirred, and I closed Oliver Twist on a finger to see if she was actually waking up. We got another two hours of reading in before you could call her any sort of coherent. Under Lyonettes instructions, I poured a glass of water to have ready and wet down a few cloths to help against the headache. When I folded one of them under the girls neck, she batted at my hand and swore at me in Spanish. Good enough. Eventually she gathered enough of her wits to pull the washcloths away from her face and try to sit up, her entire body swaying with the force of her nausea. Careful there, I said quietly. Heres some water, itll help. Get away from me, you sick fuck! Im not the one who kidnapped you, so save it. Either you want the water and aspirin or you can eat shit and die, your choice. Lyonette groaned. Maya. The girl blinked at me, but meekly took the pills and the cup. Better. Youre being held by a man known as the Gardener. He gives us new names, so dont bother telling us yours. Remember it, but dont say it. Im called Maya, and the lovely one with the flu over there is Lyonette. Im No one, I reminded her sharply. Not until he gives you a name. Dont make it harder than it has to be. Maya! I glanced over at Lyonette, who was giving me the pathetic, exasperated, incredulous, what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-to-me look she usually reserved for Evita. You do it, then. You werent the first face she saw, hooray! Now you can take over if you dont like how Im doing it. Id had Sophia as a maternal example for young children. New Girl wasnt that young, and I wasnt Sophia. Lyonette closed her eyes and whispered a prayer for patience. Before she could finish, though, she had to fold herself over the toilet bowl again. The new girls hands started to shake, so I took them between my own. It was always warm in the Garden, except sometimes in the cave behind the waterfall, but I knew the shivers were from shock more than anything. Heres the thing, and its terrifying and bewildering and fuck-all unfair, but its still the thing: we are here as the unwilling guests of a man who will come to you for company and, as often as not, sex. Sometimes his son will come to you. You belong to them now, and they will do what they want to you, including mark you as theirs. There are quite a few of us here, and we support each other as we can, but the only way youre getting out of here is to die, so youre going to have to decide if this life of ours is better or worse than death. Suicide is a mortal sin, she whispered. Good, that means youre not too likely to want to off yourself. Jesus, Maya, why not just hand her some rope? The girl swallowed hard butGod love her for itsqueezed my hands. How long have you been here? About four months. She looked over at Lyonette. Almost five years, she murmured. If Id known then . . . but it didnt matter. It never did. Knowing it didnt change anything. And youre still alive, and Mama always says, where theres life theres hope. Ill hope. Just be careful with the hope, I cautioned her. A little is fine. Too much is crippling. Maya . . . So, New Girl, want to take a tour? Im naked. Not so much a thing here. Youll get used to it. Maya! Did you bring a dress? I asked pointedly, and Lyonette flushed beneath her sickly pallor. And Im not letting her borrow yours; youve probably puked all down the front. She hadnt, but her black dress went all the way to the floor. No way tiny little New Girl was going to manage in that. I wouldve loaned her mine if it would be any better. Wait here, I sighed. Ill get something from Bliss. Our friend wasnt in her room when I got there, so I just grabbed something and returned to the new girls room, which was, as ever, studiously avoided by the other Butterflies. She made a face at the black fabriceven I had to admit it wasnt a flattering color on herbut you learned to fear colored clothing in the Garden. When you were given something other than black, it was because that was the gown the Gardener wanted you to die in. She obeyed when I told her not to look in the hallwayeven I wasnt so much of a bitch as to show her that right off. She was at the far end of the Garden from my room, just down the hall from Lyonettes, and bordering one side of the no-mans-land that held the rooms we werent supposed to go in, the door to Outside that we were supposed to pretend didnt exist. From that position, she was able to see the full breadth of the Garden in one look: all the rich, growing things, the vibrant flowers and white sand paths, the waterfall and stream and pond, the cliff, all the tiny stands of trees, the actual butterflies hovering over plants, and the clear glass roof that seemed so impossibly far away. She burst into tears. Lyonette lurched forward but pulled back immediately in a violent shivering fit. The flu probably wasnt the best way to welcome someone to our verdant cage. I . . . well, I just wasnt that maternal. As amply evidenced. I watched the new girl as she crumpled to the ground, curled into a tiny ball, as she clutched her arms across her stomach like this was a physical blow she could ward off. Eventually, when the heaving, soul-shattering sobs had trailed off into whimpers and gasps for breath, I sank down onto my knees beside her, one hand on her yet-unmarked back. This isnt the worst pain, I told her as gently as I could. But I think its the worst shock. From here on out, you can expect it a little. At first I wasnt sure if shed heard me, because the whimpers continued unabated. Then she threw herself to the side, wrapping her arms around my waist and burying her face in my lap as her shock and grief deepened into full-throated sobs once more. I didnt pet or stroke her, didnt move my handshed learn to hate that gesture from the Gardenerbut I kept my hand against her warm skin so she knew I was there. Do you still have the hallway pictures in here? she asks abruptly, and the agents shake themselves from the spell of her words. Its Eddison who hands her the stack, his fists clenched against his thighs as he watches her riffle through them. She pulls out a photo, stares at it for a moment, then places it face-up on the table where the men can see. A Chiricahua White. She traces a finger over the sharp delineation of white and black on the wings. He named her Johanna. Victor blinks. Johanna? I dont know that there was a system to how he named us. I think he just looked through names until he found one he liked. I mean, she sure as hell didnt look like a Johanna, but whatever. Victor forces himself to examine the wings in the glass. Shes right, the girl was tiny, though her exact height is difficult to gauge from her position. What happened to her? She was . . . mercurial. For the most part she seemed to settle in okay, but then suddenly shed get these mood swings that sent a storm through the whole Garden. And then Lyonette died, and then the Gardener brought in a new new girl. He clears his throat when she doesnt go on. What happened to her? he asks again, and Inara sighs. The walls came down so the Gardener could get the new girl for a tattoo session, but Johanna managed to stay out in the Garden. When the walls went up, we found her in the pond. In one fluid motion, she grabs the photo and slams it face-down on the metal. So much for mortal sin. Sliding another stack of photos and papers before him, Victor silently sifts through them until he finds the one hes looking for. Its a young man, probably a little older than he looks, with artistically disheveled hair so dark brown its nearly black. Pale green eyes stand out sharply in a slender, pale face. Hes a good-looking boy, even in this over-pixelated likeness, someone whoat least by appearancehe wouldnt mind Holly bringing home for him to meet. He should bring the conversation back to this boy. Not yet. Just a little longer. He isnt sure if its for her benefit or his own. When the Gardener noticed you in the trees. What of it? You said he came to talk to you over a strangers bed; was this the girl after Johanna? Its not a smile, more like a grimace to acknowledge his statement. No. The one after that. A little longer. What did her name end up being? She closes her eyes. She never got one. Why wouldnt Timing. Sometimes thats all it came down to. She had skin like ebony, almost blue-black against the dove-grey fitted sheet, with a smoothly shaven head and features that wouldnt have been out of place on the walls of an Egyptian tomb. In the days following Lyonettes death, I desperately needed somethinganythingto do, but unlike Bliss and Lyonette, I had neither talent nor interest in creating things. I read, and read a lot, but I didnt make anything of my own. Bliss buried herself in polymer clay, filling the oven with figurines, half of which she later destroyed in fits of temper, but I didnt have that outlet, either the making or the destroying. Three days later, though, the Gardener brought in the new girl, and there was no more Lyonette to give her a graceful introduction. None of the other girls wanted to go near her until she was settled and I wondered just how long Lyonette had been doing her job that no one else even seemed to think about it. In the days following Johannas death, Id wondered how muchif at allI was to blame for her choice. If Id given her a more graceful introduction to her situation, if Id been more sympathetic or more comforting, maybe she would have been able to cling to that hope her mama told her to have. Or maybe not. Maybe that first view of the Garden, that first moment where it was real, was what made the difference. It wasnt like I could ask her. So I stuck with the new girl, as patient with her as I could be, and tucked the more acerbic comments away. Considering how frequently she burst into tears, it took more patience than I knew I had. Bliss rescued me sometimes. Not by coming herselfthat would have been a very bad ideabut by sending Evita to be sweet and sincere and in many ways such a better person than I could ever hope to be. The day after the third of her tattoo sessions, I stayed with her through the evening until her drugged dinner took effect. Normally thats when I left, but Id seen something I wanted to investigate without alarming her, which meant she needed to be fully asleep. Even after her deep, steady breathing, and the way all the tension left her body told me she was asleep, I let the drug work even further. Maybe an hour after she fell asleep, I set aside my book and rolled her over onto her stomach. She usually slept on her back, but the process of the tattoo made her sleep on her side to keep pressure off the tender areas. The butterfly book in the librarywith Lyonettes handwriting scrawled in the margins, listing names and locations in the hallstold me the Gardener had chosen a Falcate Orangetip for her, mostly white with a splash of orange on the edge of each upper wing. He liked to choose white and the palest yellows for the darker-skinned girls, for some reason. I guess he was afraid the darker colors wouldnt show with the same clarity. For this one, hed finished the orange and moved into the white sections, and something about them just looked wrong. Now that I could actually bend close to see it without giving her alarm, I could see the added puffiness, the scale-like swellings under the ink, the way the white bubbled grotesquely in huge blisters. The orange wingtips were nearly as bad. Tracing in closer to her spine, even the black outlines and veins pearled. I pulled out one of my earringsthe Gardener never had taken themand used the post to carefully pierce one of the smaller blisters. Mostly clear fluid leaked out from the tiny puncture, but when I pressed down gently, a milky white spilled out as well. I washed the earring off in the sink and replaced it in my ear as I tried to think of a solution. I couldnt be sure if she was reacting to the inks or to the needles, but there was definitely an allergic reaction of some sort. Not immediately life-threatening like a peanut allergy can be, but it wasnt letting the ink heal. Infection could kill just as much as a histamine response, or so Lorraine had told us on one of her rare friendly days. Of course, shed been causing Bliss all sorts of pain by digging around in her feet for splinters, so that probably contributed to the good mood. For lack of a better idea, I returned to the girls side and tried to measure how bad the reaction was in each area. Id gotten through the orange and half the white when I felt the change. The Gardener was there. He leaned against the doorway, thumbs hooked through the pockets of his pressed khakis. Lights were going out all over the Garden as girls went to bed, waiting to see if this would be the night theyd be required to entertain their captor. Hed never called for Lyonette when she was settling a new girl, but then, I wasnt Lyonette. You look worried, he said instead of a greeting. I gestured to the girls back. Shes not going to heal. As he stepped into the room, he unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled the sleeves of his dark green shirt up to his elbows. The color made his pale eyes glow against his face. He pressed against her back with gentle hands, finding the same things I did, and gradually the concern changed to a look of deep sorrow. Everyone reacts differently to tattoos. I should have felt sorrow, or rage, or confusion. All I felt was numb. What do you do with the girls who never get their full wings? I asked quietly. He gave me a swift, thoughtful look, and I wondered if I was the first girl to ever ask that. I see them properly buried on the estate. Eddison growls and reaches for his notebook. Did he say where on the estate? No, but I think it overlooked a river. Sometimes hed come to the Garden with mud on his shoes and this wistful look on his face, and on those days, hed give Bliss river stones to use as a base for some of her figures. Nothing I could see from the trees. He balls up the aluminum foil and tosses it at the one-way mirror. Get a team out to the riverbank, look for graves. You could say please. Im giving them an assignment, not asking for a favor, he retorts through gritted teeth. She shrugs. Guilian always said please. Rebekah, too, even when she was just assigning sections. But then, I guess thats why I loved working for Guilian. He made it a very pleasant and respectful place. She might as well have slapped him in the face. Victor sees the angry flush climb up from his partners collar and looks away so he wont smile. Or at least so Eddison wont see it. Was it just the girls who died before the wings were finished? he asks quickly. No. If they died in such a way that it ruined the wings, he didnt display them. Avery put several girls into the ground instead of the glass, when he whipped them hard enough to scar across the ink. She lightly touches her neck. Giselle. That wasnt where the conversation ended, was it? No, but you already know that. Yes, but Id like to hear the rest, he replies, just as he would to his daughters. She quirks an eyebrow at him. Like Lyonette had, I usually borrowed a stool from the infirmary to keep beside the girls bed. Sitting on the bed probably would have been fine, but this gave her a little space. Gave her a territory that was hers. The Gardener didnt really recognize territory in that way. He sat with his back against the headboard, placing the girls head in his lap so he could run his hand over her shaven skull. So far as I knew, he never visited the girls in their rooms until after they were fully marked, until after hed raped them for the first time. After all, that was what made them his. But then, he wasnt there to see the new girl. He was there to talk to me. And he didnt seem in any big hurry to do it. I pulled my ankles up onto the seat, sitting cross-legged on the narrow stool, and spread my book across my lap, reading to fill the empty space until he reached over and gently closed it. Then I gave him my attention. How long have you been watching my family? Nearly since my wings were done. But you havent said anything. Not to you or anyone. Not even to Lyonette or Bliss, though Id been tempted. I wasnt sure why. Maybe it was easier to think of him as just our captor. Putting a family in there made it . . . well, more wrong somehow. Just the fact that it could be more wrong was disturbing enough. And what do you think when you see us? I think your wife is sick. I rarely lied to the Gardener; the truth was the one thing that could always be mine. I think shes scared of Avery and doesnt want to show it, and I think she dotes on your younger boy. I think she treasures those walks with you as the only time she has your undivided attention. All that from a stand of trees? Thank God, he looked more amused than anything. He settled his back more comfortably against the headboard, one arm bent behind him to act as a cushion for his head. Am I wrong? No. He looked down at the girl in his lap, then back at me. Shes been struggling for years against a heart condition. It isnt severe enough that she qualifies for a transplant, but it causes a significant drop in quality of life. So his wife was a kind of butterfly too. Thats one. And she does dote on our younger son. Shes quite proud of him. He keeps perfect grades, is always polite, and is a treat to hear on the piano and violin. Thats two. Between the Garden and my business, and her own charitable functions and planning, our schedules are often in conflict. We both make time for our afternoon walks unless were out of town. Its good for her heart. Thats three. And all that was left was the hard one, the one no parent wants to admit. So he didnt. He left it unsaid, and in the silence there was truth. You pay a great deal of attention to things, dont you, Maya? To people, to patterns, to events. You find more meaning than others. I pay attention, I agreed. I dont know that I find more meaning. You observed a walk in a greenhouse and made it mean all that. I didnt make it mean anything. I just noticed body language. Body language was one of the things that told me my next-door neighbor was a pedophile long before the first time he exposed himself, long before the first time he touched me or asked me to touch him. It was in the way he watched me and the other kids in the neighborhood, in the bruised looks of the foster kids who lived with him. I was prepared for his advances because I knew theyd be coming. Body language warned me about Grans lawn guy, about the kids in school who would try to beat you up just because they could. Body language was better than a flashing light for warnings. And body language told me that as much as he wanted to seem perfectly relaxed right now, he couldnt. I dont intend to tell anyone, you know. There it was. Not all of the tension left his body, but most of it. Except when his lust got the better of him, he was a remarkably self-contained man. We dont know about them . . . and they dont know about us, do they? No, he whispered. Some things . . . He never did finish that thought, not out loud at least. I would never willingly hurt Eleanor. I didnt know his name, but now I knew his wifes. And your son? Desmond? He actually seemed surprised for a moment, then shook his head. Desmond is very different from Avery. Even then, all I could think was Thank God. He lifted the girls head from his lap and eased off the bed, extending his hand to me. Id like to ask you something, if I may. I wasnt sure why asking me something would involve moving, but I obediently stood and took his hand, leaving the book on the stool. The girl wouldnt be awake until morning, so I wasnt strictly needed at her bedside. He walked us through the hallways, absently touching each occupied display case as he passed. If Id had a mind to, I could have asked him to name them, and he could have. Every single name, every single Butterfly, he knew and remembered them all. I never wanted to know. I thought he was taking me to my room, but he turned aside at the last moment and led us into the cave behind the waterfall. Except for the moonlight that filtered through the glass roof of the greenhouse and fractured through the falling water, the cave was completely dark. Oh, and the blinking red eye of the camera. We stood in silence in the darkness, listening to the waterfall hit the stream and the decorative rocks. Pia, whod been there about a year longer than I had, had a theory that there were pipes in the bottom of the pond that kept the water at a certain level by draining it and funneling it through another pipe way up to the tiny pond atop the cliff that fed into the waterfall. She was probably right. Given that I couldnt swim, I never tried to go down to the bottom of the pond to see for sure. Pia liked to poke at things and figure out how they worked. When the walls came up to reveal Johanna in glass, Pia went to the pond, and said there were sensors along the edge now. Ive wondered about what draws you to this place, he said after a time. The cliff top I can almost understand. Its open, its free, the height gives you a sense of safety. But this place . . . what can this cave offer you? The ability to say whatever the fuck I want to without worrying about reprisals, because the roaring of the waterfall was strong enough to obscure whatever the mics might pick up. But he was looking for something more personal than that, something with the meaning he thought I gave everything. It took me a minute or two to come up with that answer for him, something close enough to truth. Theres no illusion in here, I said finally. Its not lush and green and growing and waiting for death and the possibility of decay. Its just rock and water. Here the girls and I sat face-to-face and knee to knee, and it was usually easy to pretend there were no Butterflies. The suck-ups had the wings marked around their eyes like Carnevale masks, but even then, in the misty dimness of the cave, it was easy to think it a trick of the shadows. Wed take our hair down, put our backs against the rocks, and there were no fucking Butterflies. Just for a few moments. So perhaps there was illusion in here after all, but it was our illusion, not one hed manufactured for us. He dropped my hand and then he was pulling out all the pins that kept my hair up in its braided crown, until it fell in a crimped mass to my hips. Hiding the wings. It was the one thing he never did, unless he was brushing it out. But he just left it down around me, tucking the pins into the breast pocket of his shirt. You are quite unlike any of the others, he said eventually. Not entirely true. I had a temper like Bliss, only I didnt let it go. I had impatience like Lyonette, which I did my best to spread out. I read like Zara, ran like Glenys, danced like Ravenna, and braided hair like Hailee. I had bits and pieces of most of the others in me, save for Evitas sweet simplicity. The only thing that made me truly different was that I was the only one who never cried. Who never could. Fucking carousel. You put requests for books on the lists but never overtly ask for anything. You assist the other girls, you listen to them, calm them. You keep their secrets, and apparently mine as well, but you give no one else secrets to keep for you. My secrets are old friends; I would feel like a poor friend if I abandoned them now. His low chuckle echoed around the chamber before the waterfall swallowed the sound. Im not asking you to share them, Maya; your life before is your own. She gives Eddison a pointed look, and Victor cant help but laugh. Im not going to apologize, Eddison tells her bluntly. This is my job, and we have to know the truth to put together a strong case against him. The doctors are fairly confident hell survive to stand trial. Pity. A trial means justice, he snaps. In a sense, sure. In a sense? It Does justice change any of what he did? Any of what we went through? Does it bring the girls in glass back to life? Well, no, but it keeps him from doing it again. So would his death, and without the sensationalism and tax money. Back to the waterfall, Victor announces over the beginning of Eddisons protest. Spoilsport, mutters the girl. Ask me for one thing, Maya. There was a challenge in his eyes, layered through his voice. He expected me to ask for something impossible, like freedom. Or maybe he expected me to be like Lorraine, to ask for something that could have gotten me out of the Garden but wasnt freedom at all. I knew better than that. Like throwing away well-intentioned phone numbers, I knew better than to ask for things I clearly couldnt have. Can this one camera be disabled without another one going up in its place? I asked promptly, and watched shock pass across his shadowed face. No cameras, no mics? Thats it? It would be nice to have one place thats genuinely private, I explained with a shrug. It almost felt strange to have my hair shifting across my back and shoulders with the gesture. You can see us everywhere else we go, even watch us on the toilet if you had a wish to. Having just a single place devoid of cameras would be beneficial. A mental-health exercise, in a way. He watched me for a long time before answering. Something that benefits all of you. Yes. I tell you to ask for anything, and you ask for something that benefits all of you. It benefits me too. He laughed again and reached for me, pulling me against his chest so he could kiss me. His hands moved over the fastenings of my dress, and as he lowered me to the mist-damp stone, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift off to Annabel Lee and her grave in the kingdom by the sea. I didnt think angels would ever be jealous of me. Its astonishing how much of a question she can answer without ever actually answering the question. Theres a small, inappropriate part of Victor that would love to put her on the stand right now and watch both sets of lawyers tear their hair out in frustration. Even when she seems forthcoming, her answers almost always veer sideways, providing something like substance without giving away the heart. Ask about the boy and she starts there, or seems to, and somehow it ends in a completely different conversation, and the boy is barely glimpsed. Yes, the lawyers will hate her come trial. He shoves the impulse aside and takes the picture of the boy from its stack, setting it on the table so she can see it right-side up. She looks away at first, eyes flicking to the mirror, to the floor, to her burned and cut-up hands, before a sigh shudders through her body and she turns her face to the photo. She lifts it gently by the edges, studying the unenhanced blowup from his drivers license. The glossy paper trembles in her grasp, but no one mentions that. You get used to things in the Garden, she says pensively. Even the new girls coming in are something you just get used to, something you expect when another one dies. And then, suddenly, everything changes. When? Just shy of six months ago. A few days after Evita died. Maybe it was that Evita was one of those people you couldnt help but love. Maybe it was that her death was an accident, nothing we could have prepared for. Maybe it was the Gardeners reaction, the openness of it. Whatever it was, the Garden stank of despair in the days following Evitas accident. Most of the girls kept to their rooms, and Lorraine had to put all the meals on trays and bring them to us, and God, didnt that piss her off to no end. Of course, she was in a mood same as the rest of us, though for a different reason. We mourned Evita. She mourned another filled display case that didnt include her. Sick fuck. I left my room at night, unable to bear the four walls and silence. We werent coming into a weekend, so I didnt have to worry about maintenance or the solid walls coming down. There wasnt a reason in the world I couldnt spend the night wandering around. Sometimes the illusion of freedom, of choice, was more painful than captivity. Its not like the Gardener couldnt find me if he wanted me, though he was with someone else. At night the Garden was mostly silent. There was the waterfall, of course, and the babble of the stream, the hum of machinery and moving air, and the muffled sound of girls crying from scattered points on the perimeter, but compared to the day, it was close enough to silent. I took my book and book light up the cliff to sit on one of the large rocks. I called it the sunbathing rock. Bliss called it Pride Rock, and laughed when I dared her to find a lion to dangle off the edge. She made one from polymer clay, and when Id managed to start breathing again from laughing so hard, she gave him to me. He lived on the shelf above my bed, along with the other things most precious to me. I guess hes there still, or was, until . . . Bliss joined me up on the cliff around midnight, tossing me a figurine. I held it under the book light to discover a dragon curled around itself. It was dark blue, his head hunched into his shoulders, and somehow the shape of the brow ridge over huge black eyes gave him the most pathetic look a clay figure could possibly have. Why is he so sad? She glared at me. Right. The dragons home was next to Simba, and where the lion was just a joke, the dragon actually came to mean something. But that day he was new and sad, and Bliss was angry and sad, so I rested him on my knee and went back to reading Antigone until she felt up to saying something. If my room is intact, do you think theres a chance of my getting the figures back? And the origami menagerie? And the . . . well, all of it, really. We can ask, Victor hedges, and she sighs. Why Antigone? Eddison asks. I always thought she was pretty cool. Shes strong and brave and resourceful, not above a certain level of emotional manipulation, and she dies, but on her own terms. Shes sentenced to live out the rest of her days in a tomb and she says fuck that, Im going to hang myself. And then theres her betrothed, who loves her so much that he flips his shit at her death and tries to kill his own father. And then, of course, he dies too, because come on, its a Greek tragedy, and the Greeks and Shakespeare really love killing people off. Its a great lesson, really. Everyone dies. She lays the photo down and covers the boys face with her hands. Victor cant be sure she even realizes shes done it. But I might have picked something else if Id known Bliss was going to join me. Oh? It seemed to inspire her. She paced around me as I read, snatching leaves off plants and shredding them as she walked until you could follow her progress by the slaughter of green bits on the rock. She snarled and swore with every step, so I didnt bother to look up until she fell silent. She stood on the very edge of the false cliff, her toes curled over the rock, with her arms spread wide beside her. Her pale skin glowed in the moonlight where it showed through the gaps in her knee-length black dress. I could jump, she whispered. But you wont. I could, she insisted, and I shook my head. But you wont. I will! No, you wont. And why the fuck not? she demanded, spinning to face me with her fists planted on her hips. Because you cant guarantee that you would die, and if you were injured, it might not be badly enough for him to kill you. Its not that high a fall. Evita fell from lower. Evita broke her neck on a tree branch. You have luck like mine; if you tried, youd fuck it up and be fine except for a few bruises. Godfuckingdammit! She flopped beside me on the stone, her face buried in her arms as she wept. Bliss had been there three months longer than I had. Twenty-one months, for her. Why isnt there a better option? Johanna drowned herself. Think thats less painful than an uncertain fall? Pia says it wont work. He added sensors in the bank; if the water rises, it sends him an alarm and he can check the cameras. She said you can see the nearest cameras move to focus on whoevers swimming. If you waited till he was out of the house, or even out of town, it would probably give you enough time to drown if you really wanted to. I dont want to drown, she sighed, sitting up to mop at her tears with her dress. I dont want to die. Everyone dies. Then I dont want to die now, she snarled. Then why jump? You have absolutely no sense of sympathy. Not entirely true, and she knew it, but true enough. I closed the book and turned off the book light, setting them both on the ground with the sad little dragon on top of them so I could twist onto my stomach to lie alongside her. I get so sick of this place, she whispered, and even though we werent in the cavethe one place we were truly privateI thought shed probably said it softly enough to avoid getting picked up. None of us knew if he went back through the recordings, never knew if it was safe to talk even when we knew for a fact he wasnt sitting at a monitor. We all do. Then why cant I make the best of it, like you do? You had a happy home, right? Right. Thats why you cant make the best of it. Id been happy in the apartment, which had eventually become home, but Id lived through bad things before getting there, so Id lived through bad things before coming here. Bliss never had, or at least, not nearly to the same extent. She had too much good to compare this to. Tell me something from before. You know I wont. Not something personal. Just . . . something. One of my neighbors had a weed garden on the roof, I said after a moment. When I moved there it was just a corner, but as time went by and no one reported it, it expanded until it covered half the roof. Some of the children from the lower floors used to play hide-and-seek in it. Eventually, though, someone tipped off the police, and he saw them coming, panicked, and set the whole damn crop on fire. We were all a little bit high for a week, and we had to wash everything we owned multiple times to get the smell out. Bliss shook her head. I cant even imagine. Thats not a bad thing. Im forgetting things from home, she confessed. I was trying to remember my street address earlier and I couldnt remember if it was a road or an avenue or a street or what. I still cant. One-oh-nine-two-nine Northwest Fifty-Eighth . . . something. Which was really what all the fuss came down to. I shifted to lay one of my hands over hers, because there was nothing I could say. Every morning when I wake up and every night before I fall asleep, I tell myself my name, my familys names. I remind myself what they looked like. Id seen Blisss family, a collection of clay figures. She made so many figures that there was no reason to give this set any special significance, unless you noticed the glossy parts where her fingers had worn the clay smooth, or that they were positioned in such a way that they were the first and last things she saw in a day. Maybe the Gardener was right, and I do give everything a meaning. What happens when that isnt enough? Keep reminding yourself, I told her. Just keep doing it, and itll have to be enough. Does it work for you? I never memorized my address in New York. When I had to put it down on a form, I asked one of the other girls, and they laughed at me every time but never actually made me learn it. I never changed my license from the fake one because I didnt know how well it would stand up to real scrutiny, or if the DMV would do more than a cursory check of the information. But I remembered Sophia, the faded plumpness she grew into after she kicked the addictions, and Whitneys red-gold hair, and Hopes laugh, and Jessicas nervous giggle. I remembered No?mies gorgeous bone structure, from a Blackfoot father and a Cherokee mother, remembered the way Kathryns smile could light up a room on the rare occasions she gave it. I remembered Ambers bright, flashy clothing, the patterns never working together and yet always working, because she loved them so much. I didnt remind myself of them, didnt strain to keep them in my memory, because they were indelibly written there. Just like I could have gladly forgotten my mothers and fathers faces, my Grans stretchy unitards, almost all the people from before New York. But I remembered them too, and in a misty way I even remembered aunts and uncles and cousins, and running around in convoluted games I never understood, and posing for pictures I never saw. I just remembered things, remembered people. Even when I would rather not. We sat up at the same time, propping ourselves on our elbows, as a door opened and a flashlight beam swept into the far end of the Garden. The fuck? Bliss whispered, and I nodded in silent agreement. The Gardener was in Danelles room, seeking comfort and ostensibly giving her comfort as well for being the one to count in Evitas final game of hide-and-seek. Even if he was leaving, he never needed a flashlight. Neither did Avery, who was banned from the Garden for another two weeks for breaking Pias arm, or Lorraine, who was either asleep or crying herself to sleep at this time of night. There was a button in the infirmary that buzzed in her room and the kitchen if she was needed in her capacity as nurse. The figure was dressed all in black, which might have seemed like a good idea until he stepped onto one of those white sand paths. He moved cautiously, the cone of light sweeping before every step, but we could tell from his posture that he was gawking at everything. I never questioned that I immediately labeled the intruder as male. Something about the way he walked, maybe. Or the idiocy of bringing a flashlight if youre trying to sneak around. Which do you think would get us in more trouble? Bliss breathed against my ear. Finding out who he is, or ignoring him? I realized I had a pretty good idea of who the intruder was, but Id told the Gardener I wouldnt tell anyone. Not that a promise to a serial killer holds a great deal of weight, but still. I pretty much never made promises, simply because then I felt bound to keep them. But what the fuck was the Gardeners younger son doing breaking into the inner greenhouse complex? And what did itcould itmean for us? The first question answered itself almost as soon as it crossed my mind, because it was the same reason I climbed those trees almost every afternoon to catch those glimpses of a real world Outside the glass. Curiosity, among other things, for me. Probably just curiosity for him. The second question . . . There were girls who could die if we chose the wrong thing to do. If he was just in the Garden itself that would be fineit was a private garden space, who cared?but if he explored the hallways at all . . . Maybe hed see the dead girls and call the police. But maybe he wouldnt, and then Bliss and I would be left explaining why we saw an intruder and did nothing. Swearing under my breath, I slipped off the rock, crouching low to the ground. Stay here, and keep an eye on him. And do what if he does something? Scream? And you are Giving this to the Gardener to deal with. She shook her head but didnt try to stop me. In her eyes, I could see the same awareness of being stuck. We couldnt risk everyones lives on hoping this boy would be better than the rest of his family. And it wasnt like seeing the Gardener with someone would be a first for me. He usually went for the privacy of a room, but every now and then . . . well. Like I said, he was a remarkably self-contained man, until he wasnt. I nearly crawled down the path on the far side of the cliff, where there was actually a slope rather than a mostly sheer face. The sand muffled my steps when I reached the ground, and by moving slowly I was able to step into the stream without a splash. I ducked behind the waterfall and moved quickly down the back hall to Danelles room. The Gardener had pulled his trousers on but not his shirt or shoes, and he sat on the edge of the bed working a brush through Danelles auburn curls until they fluffed into a mane all around her. More than any of the rest of us, Danelle loathed his fascination with our hair because it always made hers unmanageable. They both looked up when I slipped into the room, Danelles confusion echoed but edged in anger in the Gardeners face. Im sorry, I whispered, but its important. Danelle cocked an eyebrow at me. When shed first come to the Garden four years ago, shed thought sucking up to the Gardener would get her home and had the inked wings on her face to show for it, a mask of red and purple. Shed mellowed through the years, though, and graduated to the let him do whatever, just dont participate way of thinking. I knew what she was asking, but I only shrugged. Whether or not I told her would largely depend on what actually happened. Stuffing his feet into his shoes and grabbing his shirt, the Gardener followed me out into the hall. That Theres someone in the Garden, I interrupted as quietly as I could. I think its your younger son. His eyes widened. Where is he? Near the pond when I came to get you. He shrugged into his shirt and gestured for me to button it while he ran his hands through his hair to get rid of the dishevelment. He was kind of screwed on the funky smell, though. When he set off down the hallway, I followed. After all, he didnt tell me not to. Well, at least not until we got to one of the doorways and he could see the boy for himself, still waving around the silly flashlight. The man watched his son for a long time in silence, and I couldnt read the expression on his face. With a hand on my shoulder, he pointed down, which could have meant either sit or stay. I was the wrong kind of bitch for sit, so I chose stay, and he didnt argue with me. From the hallway, I watched him walk out into the Garden, openly and without apparent hesitation. His voice broke the near silence like a gunshot. Desmond! The boys head whipped around and he dropped the flashlight. It bounced off a rock with the sound of cracking plastic, and when it fell to the sand the light flickered and died. Father! The Gardeners hand went into his pocket, and a moment later the walls came down around me, locking the other girls into their rooms and hiding the display cases. And left Bliss and me somewhat stranded, her up on the rock and me in the hall. And I hadnt exactly told the Gardener she was up there. Shit. I leaned against the wall and waited. What the hell are you doing here? I told you the inner greenhouse was off limits. I . . . I heard Avery talking about it, and I just . . . I just wanted to see it. Im sorry I disobeyed you, Father. It was hard to put an age to his voice. It was a light tenor, which had the effect of making him sound young. He was uncomfortable and embarrassed, clearly, but he didnt actually seem scared. How did you even get in here? And could a Butterfly use it to get out? The boyDesmond, I supposedhesitated. A few weeks ago, I saw Avery pull aside a panel by one of the maintenance doors, he said finally. He closed it again when he saw I was there, but not before I saw a punch pad. Which has a security code, so how did you get in? Avery uses the same three passwords for everything. I just tried those. I had the feeling Avery was going to have to create a fourth password pretty soon. We werent supposed to loiter near the main entrance. That stretch, a little to either side of that locked door, had Lorraines room, Averys playroom before it had been dismantled, the infirmary and kitchen/dining room, the tattoo room that led into the Gardeners suite, and a couple of rooms we didnt know the purpose of, but could guess. Whatever he did in those rooms, that was where we died. All things we werent supposed to pay excessive attention to, minus the kitchen, and neither the Gardener nor Avery left while there was a Butterfly who could see them do it. Just what did you think you were going to find? asked the Gardener. A . . . a garden . . . the boy answered slowly. I just wanted to see why it was so special. Because it was private, his father sighed, and I wondered if that was the reason hed actually removed the camera and mic from the cave behind the waterfall. Because he valued his privacy enough to let us pretend we had ours. If you truly wish to become a psychologist, Desmond, you will have to respect peoples privacy. Except when that privacy forms a block to their mental well-being, in which case Id be professionally obligated to urge them to talk through those secrets. Funny, Whitney had never mentioned that kind of ethical jiggering when she talked about her psych seminars. You will then be professionally obligated to keep those secrets to yourself, the Gardener reminded him. Now, lets go. Do you sleep here? Occasionally. Lets go, Desmond. Why? I bit my lip against a laugh. It was a rare treat to hear the Gardener truly flummoxed. Because I find it peaceful, he eventually answered. Pick up your flashlight. Ill walk you back to the house. But But what? he snapped. Why do you keep this place such a secret? Its just a garden. The Gardener didnt answer right away, and I knew he had to be thinking through his options. Tell his son the truth, and hope he buys into it, keeps it secret? Lie to him and risk the truth being found out anyway, because a son disobedient once might prove disobedient again? Or was he thinking something worse, that somehow a son could be just as disposable as a Butterfly? If I tell you, you must keep it an absolute secret, he said finally. You cannot breathe a word about it outside these walls. Dont even speak about it to your brother. Not a word, do you understand me? Y-yes, sir. It still wasnt fear, but there was something there, something a little hard-edged and desperate. He wanted to make his father proud. A year ago, the Gardener had told me that his wife was proud of their younger son, not necessarily that he was. He hadnt sounded disappointed, but maybe against his mothers easy-shown pride, his fathers was harder to detect. Or perhaps his father simply withheld praise until he felt it had been earned. There were any number of possible explanations, but this boy wanted to make his father proud, wanted to feel a part of something greater. Stupid, stupid boy. There were footsteps then, growing softer, moving away. I stayed where I was, stuck until the walls lifted. A minute or two later, the Gardener stepped into the far end of the hall and beckoned to me. I obeyed, like I always did, and he absently ran a hand over my hair, now back in a messy knot. He was seeking comfort, I guess. Come with me, please. He actually waited for me to nod before putting his hand on my back and giving me a gentle shove down the hall. The tattoo room was open, the machines shrouded in plastic dustcovers until there was a new girl again; once inside, he pulled a small black remote from his pocket, hit a button, and the door came down behind us. Through the room, the door to his private suite was also open. The punch pad beeped when the door closed. His son stood in front of the bookshelves, turning at the sound of the lock engaging. He stared at me in openmouthed shock. Up close, it was easy to see that hed inherited his fathers eyes, but most of him belonged to his mother. He had a slender build and long, elegant fingers. Musicians hands, I thought, when I recalled what his father had said of him. It was still hard to guess his age. He could have been my age, maybe a little older. I wasnt as good at that game as the Gardener. His father pointed to the armchair under the lamp. Sit down, please. For himself, he chose a seat on the couch and tugged me down next to him, all while keeping my back from sight. I curled my legs beside me and leaned back against the well-padded cushions, my hands folded in my lap. His son was still on his feet, still staring at me. Desmond, sit down. His legs fell out from under him and he collapsed into the recliner. If I spilled horror stories to this shocked boy, could he get the police here faster than his father could kill me? Or would his father simply kill him to silence him? The trouble with sociopaths, really, is that you never know where they draw their boundaries. I couldnt quite decide if it was worth the risk, and in the end, what stopped me was the thought of all the other girls. All the air for the Garden came from a centralized system. All the Gardener had to do to take out the entire flock was put a pesticide or something into the air. After all, he had to keep all sorts of chemicals stocked for the care of the greenhouses. Maya, this is Desmond. Hes a junior this year at Washington College. Which would explain why he only walked with his parents on weekends. Desmond, this is Maya. She lives here in the inner garden. Lives . . . lives here? Lives here, he affirmed. As do others. The Gardener sat forward on the edge of the couch, his hands clasped loosely between his knees. Your brother and I rescue them from the streets and bring them back here for a better life. We feed them, clothe them, and take care of them. Very few of us were from the streets, and in no sense were we rescued from anything, but the rest of it could be true from a certain skewed perspective. The Gardener never seemed to think of himself as villainous, anyway. Your mother does not know about this, nor can she. The strain of caring for so many people would put too much work on her heart. He sounded so earnest, so sincere. And I could actually see his son believing him. Relief worked over his face, chasing away the momentary flash of horror that his father had been keeping a harem for his own pleasure. Stupid, stupid boy. Hed learn better. The first time he heard a girl crying, the first time he saw someones wings, the first time the walls came up and showed all those girls in resin and glass, hed know better. For now, he swallowed it all. By the time he learned better, would he be in too deep to do the right thing? We sat together in that room for almost an hour as the Gardener explained his version of things, occasionally looking to me to nod and smile along. I did so, my stomach churning, but much like Bliss, I didnt want to die yet. I didnt quite have the hope that Johannas mother had espoused, but if I had a few years left, I wanted them, even like this. Id had too many opportunities to give up, give in, and Id kept going. If I hadnt fallen to suicide, I wasnt going to go meekly to my death. Finally the Gardener checked his watch. Its almost two oclock in the morning, he sighed, and you have class at nine. Come, Ill walk you back to the house. And remember, not a word, not even to Avery unless youre here. Well put in a code for you when Im sure you can be trusted with it. I would have stood as well, but when I swung my feet to the floor, he made a subtle gesture that had me sinking back into the couch. I guess I was the right kind of bitch after all. He called us Butterflies, but really we were well-trained dogs. I stayed on the couch exactly as he left me, not even getting up to wander around the rest of the suite. There wasnt a window or another door, so there wasnt a point. Id seen it all already, of course, but this time there wasnt the blur of pain and shock. This was something private for him, something even more so than the Garden. Even Butterflies didnt belong here. So why the fuck was I here? Especially without him being present? He returned maybe half an hour later. Turn around, he ordered hoarsely, tugging at his clothing and dropping it into careless piles on the carpet. I obeyed before he could see my face, twisting to sit back on my ankles with open air behind me. He dropped to his knees, tracing every line on my back with trembling fingers and lips, and somehow I knew this was him coming apart from the stress of telling his son, the excitement that perhaps this younger son might share his interests in a gentler way than the elder. He fumbled with the hooks on my dress and when he couldnt get them on the first or second try, he simply tore the fabric away from the fastenings, leaving me in shreds of black silk. Yet if hope has flown away in a night, or in a day, or in none, is it therefore the less gone? All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. But then, by that point Id been in the Garden for a year and a half, and even Poe was more a habit than a true distraction. I was more aware than I would have liked of what he was doing, of the sweat that splashed from his chest onto my spine, of his groans every time he pulled me back even closer against him. Too aware of all the ways he worked to pull responses from me, and all the ways my body betrayed me by obeying, because there was never enough fear from me or brutality from him to shut things off completely. Even when it seemed like he was finished, he stayed where he was, and he blew little puffs of air against the outlines of the wings, and after a full circuit he did it again with kisses, soft as prayers, and then he did the whole thing over again, and I thought how fucking unfair it was that he made us butterflies, of all things. Real butterflies could fly away, out of reach. The Gardeners Butterflies could only ever fall, and that but rarely. She pulls the lip gloss from her pocket and reapplies it with shaking hands. Watching her, seeing the tattered shreds of dignity the gesture helps her wrap around herself, Victor makes a note to thank his daughter for her thoughtfulness. Such a simple thing, but more than he could have guessed. And that was meeting Desmond, she says after a minute. Eddison scowls at the stacks of photos and other papers. How could he Those who want to believe something badly enough generally do, she says simply. He wanted his father to have a good, reasonable explanation, and when he was provided with one, he wanted to believe, so he did. For a while, he did. You said youd been there a year and a half at that point, murmurs Victor. You kept track? Not at first. Then I got an unexpected present on my anniversary. From Bliss? From Avery. After that first time, when his father raked him over the coals for what hed done to me and Giselle, Avery had only touched me twice, and only with his fathers specific consent and the threat that anything untoward that happened to me would also be happening to Avery. He didnt slap me or choke me, didnt bind me past tying my wrists together at the small of my back, but Avery knew other ways to make things painful. After each of those two times with Avery, I spent most of the following week dehydrated, because if it was going to hurt to piss anyway, at least I was going to make sure it didnt happen more often. He still watched me all the time, though, much as Desmond probably looked at those hints of the inner garden until he found a way in. I was something that wasnt supposed to be touched, therefore I was fascinating and desirable. The fourth time I had to put up with him started out like the recent ones, with the Gardener coming to me and explaining that Avery had asked permission for some time with me, but that he had his limits, just like the last two times. It was the Gardeners way of being comforting. We still couldnt say no, because that displeased him, but he thought it was reassuring to know that Avery couldnt hurt us without repercussion. The fact that the repercussions could only happen after wed been maimed or killed was less than reassuring, but he never seemed to connect those dots. Or maybe he did and just dismissed the concern out of hand. After all, this was the man who genuinely seemed to believe that he was giving us a better life than what wed had Outside, that he was taking care of us. So, not particularly comforted, I obediently followed Avery to his playroom and watched him close the door, took off my clothes when he ordered me to, and let him lock me into the restraints on the wall, let him tie a blindfold too tightly around my head. Id moved on to Poes prose by that point, because it was more challenging to memorize when it didnt rhyme, and I dusted off as much as I could recall of The Tell-Tale Heart and prepared to silently recite it. Unlike the Gardener, Avery didnt believe in preparation or foreplay, didnt care about making us ready or at the very least lubing us up, because he enjoyed causing us pain. It didnt surprise me that he went right to it. A quarter of the way through the story, it did surprise me when he pulled out without finishing. I could hear him at the far end of the room, where he stored most of his toys, but even as time passed he didnt come back to me. Gradually, though, I became aware of a light smell. I couldnt identify it, something like stale coffee or a pot on the burner after all the waters boiled away. Finally I could hear his heavy footsteps against the cold metal floor as he came back, then oh fucking God the pain as he pressed something into my hip that burned and tore. It was unlike anything Id ever felt before, the agony so tight it pulled everything in me to a single point and tried to shatter it. I screamed, my throat clenching around the sound that tore through it. Avery laughed. Happy anniversary, you arrogant bitch. The door slammed open and he spun away, but even after the tool was drawn away the agony remained, stealing all the breath from me as my scream finally choked and died. There were sounds in the room, but I couldnt make sense of them. I gasped and tried to suck in air, but it felt like my lungs had forgotten how to work. Then hands fumbled at the cuffs at my wrists and ankles, and I flinched. Its me, Maya, just me. I recognized the Gardeners voice, felt familiar hands tearing away my blindfold so I could see him. On the floor behind him, Avery sprawled inelegantly, a hypodermic quivering in his neck. Im so very sorry, I never thought . . . hed been so . . . Im sorry. He will never, ever touch you again. The tool was on the floor next to Avery. When I saw it, I bit my tongue to keep the nausea from overwhelming me. The Gardener got the last of the bonds unfastened and I nearly screamed again when I tried to take a step. He swept my feet out from under me and hefted me into a cradle carry, staggering out of Averys playroom and partway down the hall to the infirmary. He nearly dropped me on the narrow cot so he could punch Lorraines call button. Then he knelt beside me, clasping my hand in both of his and telling me over and over again how sorry he was, even after Lorraine came rushing and panting into the room and set to work. On the plus side, I didnt have to deal with Avery for a long time after that, and his playroom was completely dismantled. But. His father couldnt deny him completelythe Garden was nearly the only leash he had on Averyso he still had his other ways to hurt the other girls. Silver lining and all that bullshit. He doesnt want to know. He really, truly doesnt want to know, and he can see that same wish mirrored in Eddison. But they have to know. The hospital didnt say anything. You all dragged me here before the hospital could do the rape kit theyd intended. He takes a deep, shaky breath and lets it out on almost a whistle. Inara. Without a word, she stands and folds the sweater and tank tops halfway up her stomach, exposing other burns, cuts, and the bottom edge of a line of stitches on her side. The button on her jeans is already undone, so she tugs down the zipper, then reaches to her left side and hooks a thumb through the denim and her green striped cotton underwear, pulling them down just enough for the agents to see. The scar tissue is bright pink and thickly ridged along her hip bone. Only the edges of the wings are faded to pale pink and white. She gives them a crooked almost-smile. They say everything comes in threes. Three butterflies for a broken girl: one for personality, one for possession, and one for pettiness. She fixes her clothing and sits down, pulling a cheese Danish from the box that got forgotten in favor of the homemade cinnamon rolls. Any chance I could get some water, please? Theres a tap from the other side of the glass in answer. Victor thinks its probably Yvonne. Because its easier when you have something to do. The door opens, but its a male analyst who sticks his head in, tossing three bottles of water to Eddison before closing the door again. Eddison hands one to Victor, then unscrews the cap on another and puts it in front of Inara. She looks at her damaged hands, at the ridges on the plastic cap, and nods, taking a long drink. Victor reaches for the picture of the boy and lays it prominently on the table. Tell us about Desmond and the Garden, Inara. She presses the heels of her hands against her eyes. For a moment, the spread of pinks, reds, and purples across her face looks like a mask. Almost like a butterfly. Victor shudders, but he reaches across the table to gently pull her arms down. He keeps his hands over hers, careful not to put too much pressure on the burns, and waits for her to find the words. After several minutes of silence, she turns her hands under his until she can lightly clasp his wrists, and he returns the grip. Desmond didnt know the true nature of the Garden for a while, she tells his hands. Maybe a long while, by the way of things. His father made sure of that. The Gardener didnt give an access code to his younger son right away. For the first couple of weeks, he escorted Desmond through the Garden, controlling what he saw and who he spoke to. Bliss, for example, was one of the later introductions, after the Gardener had a chance for several long conversations with her about what was and was not appropriate to show or tell his son. Desmond wasnt shown the criers or the suck-ups, and those of us he was allowed to interact with received a dress with a back. Bliss hurt herself laughing when she found hers neatly folded outside her room. Lorraine was the one to deliver them, and for a moment she seemed so satisfied. She didnt know that Desmond had discovered the Garden, didnt know that this was temporary. She thought we were sharing her punishment, her exile. The dresses were simple but elegant, like everything else in our wardrobes. He knew all our sizes and had probably sent Lorraine out to get themregardless of her panic attacks at the thought of leaving the safety of the Gardenbut we had them so fast there couldnt have been another way. Still black, of course. Mine was almost a shirt, sleeveless and collared with buttons to the waist where it disappeared under a wide black stretch belt and became a swishy skirt to my knees. I secretly loved it. Our wings were hidden, but much to the Gardeners delight, I still had some wings showing. The black tribal butterfly Id gotten with the girls in the apartment was still stark and fresh on my right ankle. As long as our wings were hidden anyway, we were even allowed to wear our hair however we liked. Bliss left hers down in a riot of curls that got tangled in everything, while I wore mine back in a simple braid. It felt remarkably self-indulgent. The Desmond of the first two weeks was his fathers shadow, polite and respectful, mindful of his questions so as not to strain his fathers patience. We were all carefully coached in our responses. If he asked anything about our lives before, we were to cast our eyes down and murmur something about painful things being best forgotten. It wasnt until the fifth or sixth time he heard this that something struck him as odd. That it struck him at all made me revise my initial estimation of his intelligence. Only a little, though. After all, he was still buying into his fathers story. He came in the evenings for a few hours, not every evening but most of them. After classes were done, and if he didnt have too much homework. During that introduction, Avery was banned from the Garden completely and the Gardener didnt touch any of us while Desmond was there. He touched us later, of course, or before, but not where his son could see. The walls stayed down over the girls in glass, not just from the outside but the sidewalls in the rooms as well. We went weeks without seeing any dead girls, and though there was guilt at wanting to forget or ignore them, it was glorious to not have that constant reminder of our impending mortality and immortality. Desmonds introduction was like the way Lyonette brought girls into the Garden. First you make them feel better. Then you show them, tell them, a piece at a time. You dont bring the markings up right away, you dont bring up the sex right away. You acclimate them to one aspect and then, when they didnt balk at that anymore, you introduced another. One of the many reasons my introductions werent nearly as graceful as Lyonettes. I mostly kept to my routine whether Desmond was in the Garden or not. I spent the mornings talking to girls in the cave, ran my laps before lunch, and spent my afternoons either reading up on the cliff or playing games down on the ground. Wherever he and his father started in the afternoon, they usually ended conversing with me up on the cliff. Bliss was sometimes there for that. More often, she saw them coming up the path and climbed down the face to avoid them. As much as he liked Blisss temper and spirit, the Gardener was all right with that. It meant less of a risk that his son would discover the truth before his father had adequately prepared him. That last evening of direct supervision, the Gardener started the conversation with me and Desmond, then left it in our hands as he made his way down the path and into the hallways. The display cases had been covered, after all, and I think he missed them. But the conversation petered out not long after he left, and when Desmond couldnt find a way to continue itbecause it was certainly not my responsibility to do soI turned back to my book. Antigone? Eddison asks. Lysistrata, she corrects with a small smile. I needed something a little lighter. Cant say Ive read that one. Doesnt surprise me; its the kind of thing you appreciate more when youve got a steady woman in your life. How Really? The way you snap and snarl, the graceless way you interact, and you want to try to tell me you have a wife or girlfriend? An ugly flush stains his cheeks buthes learning. He doesnt rise to the bait. She flashes him a grin. Spoilsport. Some of us have jobs to do, he retorts. You try dating when your job can call you in at any time. Hanoverian is married. He got married in college. Eddison was too busy getting arrested in college, Victor remarks. A flush mottles the back of his partners neck. Inara perks up. Drunk and disorderly? Lewd and lascivious? Assault. Vic But Victor cuts him off. Campus and local cops bungled the investigation into a series of rapes across campus. Possibly on purposethe suspect was the police chiefs son. No charges were filed. The school imposed no discipline. And Eddison went after the boy. Both men nod. A vigilante. She settles back in her chair, a thoughtful expression on her face. When you dont receive justice, you make it. That was a long time ago, mutters Eddison. Was it? I uphold the law. It isnt perfect but its the law, and its what we have. Without justice, we have no order and no hope. Victor watches the girl absorb that, turn it over. I like your idea of justice, she says finally. Im just not sure it really exists. This, Eddison says, and taps the table, this is part of justice too. This is where we start to find truth. She smiles slightly. And shrugs. We sat in silence for long enough that he grew uncomfortable, fidgeting on the rock and tugging off his sweater in the reflected heat from the glass roof. I mostly ignored him, until his cleared throat indicated his desire to finally speak. I closed the book on a finger and gave him my attention. He shrank back. Youre, uh . . . a very direct person, arent you? Is that a bad thing? No . . . he said slowly, like he wasnt entirely sure. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. How much of what my father is telling me is complete shit? That was worth finding the bookmark. I slid it between the pages and set the book carefully on the rock behind me. What makes you think any of it is? Hes trying too hard. And . . . well, that whole thing with it being private. When I was little, he took me into his office, showed me around, and explained that he worked very hard there and needed me to never come in there to interrupt him. He showed me. He never did with this place, so I knew it had to be different. I turned to face him more fully, cross-legged on the sun-warmed rock as I arranged my skirt to cover everything important. Different in what way? He followed my example, so close that our knees touched. Is he really rescuing you? Dont you think thats a question you should put to your father? Id rather put it to someone who might tell me the truth. And you think thats me? Why not? Youre a very direct sort of person. I smiled in spite of myself. Direct doesnt mean honest. It could just mean that Im very direct and straightforward with my lies. So you plan to lie to me? I plan to tell you to ask your father. Maya, what is my father really doing here? Desmond, if you thought your father was doing anything inappropriate, what would you do? Did he have any idea how important his answer could be? I would . . . well, I would . . . He shakes his head, scratching at his slightly overgrown hair. I guess it would depend on what that inappropriate thing was. Then what do you think hes doing? Besides cheating on my mother? Point. He takes another deep breath. I think he comes to you all for sex. And if he is? Hes cheating on my mother. Which would be your mothers concern, not yours. Hes my father. Not your spouse. Why arent you giving me a direct answer? Why are you asking me, instead of him? Because Im not sure I can trust what he says. He blushed, like questioning the word of his father was somehow shameful. And you think you can trust me? All the others do. His gesture took in the whole of the Garden, the handful of girls allowed out of their rooms when Desmond was there. But all the walls were down on the girls who used to suck up in hopes of release, their second sets of wings displayed on their faces. They were down on the weepers and the listless andexcept for Blissthe chronically bitchy. They were down over all those dozens of girls in glass, and the scattering of empty cases that werent enough to hold the current generations, and no one knew what he was going to do when he ran out. Youre not one of us, I said flatly. Because of who you are, what you are, you never will be. Because Im privileged? More than you can ever fathom. They trust me because Ive proven to them they can. I have no interest in proving that to you. What do you think his reaction would be if I asked him? I dont know, but hes coming up the path, and Ill thank you not to ask him in front of me. It isnt easy to ask him for anything, he murmured. I knew why that was true for us. I thought it cowardice that it was apparently true for him. His father rejoined us then, standing over us with a smile. Getting along well enough, Desmond? Yes, sir. Mayas very pleasant to talk with. Im glad to hear it. His hand twitched as if to touch my hair, but at the last second he brought it up to rub at his jaw. Its time for us to join your mother for dinner. Ill check in on you later, Maya. Of course. Desmond stood and brought my knuckles to his lips. Seriously? Thank you for your company. Of course, I repeated. I watched them make their way back through the Garden. Soon theyd be sitting down in a dining room with Eleanor and Avery, a perfectly normal family conversing over a meal, never mind the lies that hovered over the table like fog. A few minutes later I heard Bliss come up beside me. What a tool. She snorted. Maybe. Will he go to the police? No, I said reluctantly. I dont think he will. Then hes a tool. Sometimes it was hard to argue with Blisss logic, such as it was. But sometimes, tools could be used.

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