Home > Girl of the Night Garden(7)

Girl of the Night Garden(7)
Author: Lili Valente

No, not the middle. The growth is uneven. There’s a little more on the left than on the right, so that the development is thicker over his heart. It’s strange. In nature, there is so often symmetry—or at least balance—but that isn’t the case with humans.

They are so curious.

Curious, but compelling. Especially this boy who pulled me from the sea.

Before I’ve consciously decided to indulge my fascination, I find myself touching him, just above his heart. His fur is softer than I thought it would be and his skin warmer. He’s still breathing fast from his swim, but when I touch him, his breath stops for a long second before resuming with a shudder.

I look up to find him staring at my face. I can’t guess what he’s thinking—I have little experience with human eyes—but whatever it is, it makes it hard to look away.

So, I don’t. I keep looking into his gray eyes with their stormy shards until they take on an almost mystical feel, until I imagine they are two tiny oceans with power and mystery concealed beneath the surface.

I would like to touch them, I think, though I know that’s ridiculous.

“A finger in the eye would hurt,” I whisper.

The boy nods and says, “Yeah. It would.” He cocks his head, his lips parting in a way that draws my attention to that blue-tinged part of him. “What’s your name?”

Foxglove, I start to say.

But human girls are not named after poisonous plants. Human girls have normal names like Sarah and Elizabeth and— “Clara,” I say. Something about the name has always appealed to me. It’s simple, but lovely.

“Clara,” he repeats before clearing his throat. “Here, Clara. Let me help you.” His voice is gruff, but his hands are gentle as he drapes his shirt around my shoulders.

The fabric is ice cold and sopping wet and smells of fish and salt. Wearing it is far worse than being naked, but I’d hate to refuse something so nicely offered. I force my arms through the sleeves and close a button or two before the shivering of my hands becomes a shake and I cross my arms to put a stop to it.

As soon as my skin is covered, the boy’s breath rushes out with a sound of relief.

“Come on, then,” he says, helping me to my feet. The tails of his shirt fall to my thighs; the arms swallow my hands so that I must push them up to find my fingers. “Let’s get you out of the cold and find you some real clothes before anyone sees you like this.”

Ah. Right.

Humans are strange about nakedness. Especially the nakedness of women and girls. I don’t know how I could have forgotten, even for a moment, but there was something…

Something about my hand on his soft heart hair and his eyes.

My face feels different after his steady inspection, my lips hotter, my nose colder, my cheeks soft and more mortal than they felt before.

I’m beginning to suspect some kind of witchcraft. And then I gather my sodden hair in my hands—intending to tie it up in a knot to draw attention away from the color—and cry out in surprise when I glimpse the ends.

“Careful!” The boy catches me as I stumble, keeps me from falling to my knees on the rocky path. “Here, let me help.” He cradles my elbow in his hands.

I hobble along beside him on feet with all the cunning gone out of them, wincing as the stones bite at my toes. “Ouch,” I whisper, shocked by how unpleasant it feels.

“I lost my shoes, too,” he says with a laugh. “Fine pair we are.”

No. There’s nothing fine about this. Or me.

I tip my head down for another look at my hair, but the change was no trick of the light. The wine-kissed lavender has vanished. The wringing wet lock lying on my shoulder is as black and humorless as a witch’s shadow. Black as the night beginning to spread inky wings over this island.

Dark as the place in my heart where I lock away my worry for Wig and Poke, tuck this new concern beside it, and close the door tight.

There is no time for fretting.

I have fallen into human hands. If I hope to live to solve these mysteries and find my way back to my friends, I have to keep my wits about me.

And your hands to yourself, a soft voice in my head warns.

Yes, that seems like a good idea.

Gently, I pull my elbow from the boy’s grip.

Best if we don’t touch. Touching this boy is nice enough to be distracting.

And confusing enough to be dangerous.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

Declan

 

 

I thought nothing could be as bad as no girls.

But just one girl—especially one like Clara—is worse.

Much. Much. Worse.

Clara is a red flag waved in front of a herd of angry bulls, a piece of meat thrown into a pit of rabid dogs.

Clara is a bringer of chaos and insanity and…trouble.

 

It started before I could get her over the hill and down to the sheltered beach where the student dorms and the priests’ and professors’ private rooms are carved into the rocky face of the cliffs.

Fritz Simmons, professional face-stuffer, and his pimply friend, Hamish, were the last students leaving the dining hall. They were ahead of us on the path and had no reason to look back—neither Clara nor I made a sound walking barefoot through the patchy grass—but they did turn.

It was as if they could sense her. Smell her.

Or something.

One minute they were walking along, Fritz picking his knickers out of his arse, Hamish squeezing at his putrid face, when suddenly they froze and spun around like I’d called out their names.

When they saw what I’d fished from the ocean, their eyes got big, their jaws dropped, and their tongues slobbered out of their mouths—I should have guessed Fritz would have a tongue as fat and sweaty as the rest of him—and Hamish launched into a fit of the vapors. His cheeks went puffy and his face turned red and his eyes got bulgy like a lobster’s.

I think he would have fainted if I hadn’t screamed for them both to—

“Find my da! This girl needs a healer’s help. She fell off her ship and was in the water for hours.” I had no idea if that was true, but it made things sound more urgent, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I also wanted Hamish and Fritz—and their hungry looks at Clara’s bare legs—gone as soon as possible. “Run! Hurry! Tell him we’ll meet him at the infirmary.”

After backing away a step or two, Fritz finally tugged Hamish’s sleeve and the pair of them turned and hurried down the hill.

“Fastest I’ve ever seen those two move,” I muttered, wondering if I ought to take off my pants and give those to Clara, too.

Better me in the buff than her.

In the buff.

I’d seen her naked, sat with her in the sand without her wearing a stitch and felt her hand resting on my bare chest. I knew it had really happened, but still…it felt like a dream, something impossible, an interaction too earth-shaking to assimilate without copious hours of intense reflection.

“I don’t need a doctor,” she whispered, tugging at a lock of her long, black hair.

“I…I only thought it would be a good idea. Just in case. And, well…” I sighed, figuring I’d better warn her what to expect on our island full of creepers and spooks. “You’re going to cause a stir. We don’t have any other girls here.”

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