Home > Girl of the Night Garden(8)

Girl of the Night Garden(8)
Author: Lili Valente

“No girls?”

“No. No women, either.”

Her dark brows drew together until she was making that same puzzled face she’d made when we were on the beach, when she’d looked at me like she’d never seen a boy’s chest before.

Like she’d never seen a boy before. At least not up close.

In the minutes we sat there with her hand on my heart and her staring so seriously at me, it seemed as if I was looking into the eyes of something not altogether…human. I’d never felt like such a curious specimen in all my life, even back when I was so skinny you could count my ribs and old ladies would stop me on the street to cluck over my poor self and offer to buy me a meat pie.

Maybe that peculiar feeling was why I wasn’t tempted to drop my eyes from hers and steal another peek at the rest of her.

Or maybe it was…something else.

Something changed in the time it took for me to swim out to where I’d first seen her and fish her from beneath the waves. While I was towing her back to the island, I touched Clara as intimately as I’ve ever touched anyone, but it didn’t feel racy. I’d been too scared that she was going to die, that I would fail, she would drown, and I’d have to watch her corpse wash up on shore with the evening tide.

When we broke surface, and I heard her suck in a breath…

I was so relieved there wasn’t room to feel anything else. I’d saved her life. I’d never saved anything before, let alone something so important. So sacred.

It made sitting there on the beach, watching her blink and shiver and gawk at me with her shadowy blue eyes, one of the best moments of my life.

It made her something more than a pretty girl. It made her my responsibility.

Even before she touched me, I knew I had to take care of her.

And after she had, I swore I’d defend her to the death…

 

 

And now, exactly a month later, I’ve determined that death might be what it comes to.

Because I swear I’m going to kill the next wanker who comes sniffing around my da’s rooms looking for “spiritual guidance” and spends his entire visit stretching his neck for a glimpse of Clara.

None of these fools needed “spiritual guidance” four weeks ago.

But as soon as Da moved Clara into his bedroom and he, Professor Rune, and I took to bunking in the corners of the sitting room—Professor Rune because he’s as pious as a priest and twice as stuffy, and Da didn’t think it was appropriate for Clara to stay in a house with Da and me alone—Da’s counseling calendar has been as full as a debutante’s dance card.

With the constant bustle of gawkers, Clara comes out of her room less and less often. Not that I blame her. Every time she sets foot in the dining hall with me, she’s mobbed. Even Sunday morning services aren’t entirely safe. Being stared at like a zoo exhibit by a bunch of randy schoolboys has to be hellish business, but still…

I miss her.

I miss her stories about her birds—Wig and Poke, fun names that hint at the sense of humor she must have had before she fell into the sea—and I miss the way she says the oddest things, and how she listens so keenly, soaking in your words like a seed after water.

She’s…intense. She never looks away first or lets a matter go once she’s decided to pursue it.

The day I taught her to play chess—mostly to distract her from staring out the window with that sad look on her face—she didn’t let me up from the table for three hours. We sat there until she’d learned the rules and lost to me four times then put me in checkmate the fifth. But when she won, her victory smile was worth my arse going numb.

For a moment, she’d looked like a normal girl.

Or at a least happy one.

There’s something not quite usual about Clara—she doesn’t act anything like the girls I remember from my village or my short time in London—but that’s what makes her special. She’s different. Not just on the outside, though there’s no denying she’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s her insides that are special.

Her spirit. Her mind.

But the other boys don’t know anything about Clara’s insides. All they see is the long, silky hair and the ocean eyes and the skin pale as cream and her lips like the sweetest bow ever tied and painted with strawberry icing. The best of them write bad poetry about her in composition class, the worst make raunchy comments about how much they wish they’d been the one to see her rise from the waves naked as Venus.

I have to bite my lip when I catch wind of those. Bite my lip and dig my fingernails into my palms and think about how starved to the spine I get when I oversleep and miss breakfast and how much worse a day exiled from the dining hall for fighting would be.

Smashing faces isn’t worth that kind of torment. And it’s not worth disappointing Da.

I’m his son. I’m supposed to lead by example.

I think about that a lot.

I also think about other things… Like the fact that Clara didn’t rise from the waves. She fell from the sky.

Or at least, it looked that way. I was watching that big bird fly in, and the next thing I knew, there was Clara tumbling into the ocean. Maybe she was tossed up by a rough wave, or my eyes were just playing tricks. The flash of the wards is blinding; it could have interfered with my perception.

I told Da about the activated ward as soon as I remembered it, and he sent a boat out to explore, but they didn’t find any sign of a witch or any other nightmare creature. He figured whatever set off the ward must have flown away.

Or sunk to the bottom of the sea, dead from his magic.

I asked the search party to keep an eye open for Clara’s birds. They sailed an extra mile or more out to sea as a favor, but they didn’t find anything. When I told Clara, I expected she’d be sad, but she looked more relieved than anything else.

I can tell she hates it here, but surely she’d rather have her birds alive and trapped with the rest of us than adrift and starving to death or drowned.

Then again, who can be sure what Clara wants?

She doesn’t say much lately, even to me. She just sits in the stuffed chair in Da’s room, staring out the window at the place where the waves strike the shore. I catch a glimpse of her through the window on my way to and from class. I see her face getting thinner by the day and her bow lips drooping like a Christmas present nobody bothered to open, and I feel that same urge I felt on the platform when I first laid eyes on her.

I want to help her. I need to help her.

But saving a girl drowning in a chair is even harder than saving a girl drowning in the sea. I don’t know how to make things right, how to bring her back.

I only know that I’d do anything to see her smile again.

Anything.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Foxglove

 

 

Rain.

It seems it’s always raining.

Declan tells me rain comes rarely to the island, but to me the world is one continuous sheet of gray.

I sit in his da’s soft chair—so much softer than any place I’ve ever slept, but not as torturously soft as the bed—and stare out the window at the gray sky above and the gray ocean below and the gray fish the boys in scratchy gray sweaters and coarse gray caps pull from the water and I think gray thoughts.

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