Home > Girl of the Night Garden(9)

Girl of the Night Garden(9)
Author: Lili Valente

At the washbasin, I stand and study myself in the tiny shaving mirror—my midnight hair and gloomy blue eyes—and wonder who I am now. What I am without my magic, without my mission. I watch my skin wrinkle and crease as my frown grows deeper, and I know that something fundamental within me is changing.

But I don’t know why or what to do about it.

I should do something.

I know I should.

But one gray day becomes a starless night and then another gray day and another and another until I find myself more in the chair and less at the mirror. Less at the chess table or on a church pew with Declan. Less on the windswept paths we used to walk, where he would tell me stories of growing up on the coast of England and I would tell him pretty lies about a cottage in a peaceful wood where the birds and rabbits and field mice were my friends.

Those lies didn’t taste sour. Because he loved them. And because I wanted so badly for them to be true.

I’ve started to wish I had a story like that.

An easy story. A human story.

But instead I have gray and a head full of buzzing bees that make it hard to remember what it was like to have magic that kept me lively.

My world narrows.

I eat when Declan or his da bring me food. I use the privy behind the house, something that’s necessary considerably more often than when I spent so much time in other forms. I wash my body and hair in a deep basin I fill with water warmed on the stove; I clean the simple dress the priest gave me and hang it to dry by the fire in my room.

“It was Declan’s mother’s. I’d love for you to have it,” Father Cooper said when he pulled it from the trunk at the foot of his bed and placed it in my hands. “You’ll be all right, dear. I know this is so hard for you, but we’ll take care of you as best we can. I give you my most solemn word.”

He is a kind man, careful in his words and deeds and gentle in every way.

I can only think that I must have touched his mind at some point during my travels, before he led the pilgrimage to this enchanted island. And transformed his son’s mind, as well, though both of them seem to think themselves safe from the “Night Witch.”

But that must be why they are good and decent, why they treat a lost girl with tenderness and compassion while the rest of the boys here watch me with suspicious eyes or slather and drool and circle the house like wolves that will gobble me up should I step outside alone.

Declan is the only boy I can bear to look at.

His eyes remind me of Wig’s and Poke’s. Declan doesn’t want to eat me alive. His gaze doesn’t rove from one piece of me to another without noticing the picture I make.

He is my friend. He is. I believe that, as strange as it is to be friends with a human, especially a boy.

But tonight, when I wake with a start and look out the window to see the sky glittering, but no moon glow softening the diamond sharpness of the stars, I don’t hesitate. My mind suddenly clears, and I know I must go to my friend, though it’s past midnight and the humans frown on boys and girls keeping company at odd hours.

I slip from my bed and into the rough boots—an old pair of Declan’s—that I’ve been given. I button the front of my dress and stuff my arms into the sweater Declan’s da brought when he came to say good night, and I ease carefully out the door to my room.

I creep through the kitchen, past the table wedged in the corner where the priest, Declan, and I have tea some afternoons, and into the sitting room. I spy Declan’s sleeping shadow on the far side of the space, beneath the window. His da and the lizard-eyed professor lie in opposite corners on narrow cots, making the bottomless, sonorous groans of men sleeping deeply.

They won’t awaken. I know sleep sounds. They are beyond easy hearing, but Declan has barely slipped beneath the surface of wakefulness.

I cross the room and kneel beside him, ready to shake him awake, but pause before I lay a hand on his shoulder.

He looks nothing like himself.

The faint light leaking through the window has softened the serious line of his upper lip into a lazy M that dips and swells across his face. His sharp nose is blunted by starlight, his forehead smooth and untroubled. His eyes—the only gray thing I care for on this island—are closed and his thick lashes lie like fuzzy caterpillars on his cheeks.

He looks so much younger than he does when he’s awake.

I can suddenly imagine what he must have been like as a child, the chubby cheeks that would have begged for his father’s good-night kisses, the gap-toothed smiles, the hair a paler shade of brown falling into his eyes.

I think I would have liked to have met that boy. I think I would have tucked him beneath my wing and cuddled him close. I’ve never thought of human children as particularly sweet—at least, not as sweet as my Wig and Poke—but now…

“Declan,” I whisper.

His name sounds like the noise Poke makes when he clears his throat. I told Declan as much one day, early on, before the chair and the gray that has muddied my thoughts so thoroughly that I’ve forgotten that I’m not as alone as I feel.

It made him laugh.

I like his laugh.

“Declan.” I put a hand on his skin beneath the covers, touching the place I touched that evening on the beach.

That day… It seems like so long ago, far more than a month. I was a different creature then, one who could touch a boy and feel nothing but curiosity.

Now, there is a tingle in my fingertips, a rush in my blood, a warmth that floods my face, making my lips so hot I long to press them against the cool glass of the window.

Instead, I let my hand drift up to Declan’s mouth. I trace the lazy M of his top lip, the swoop of the bottom one, and I sigh.

His skin is soft as a flower petal and every bit as hot as mine.


“Clara,” he mutters as his lashes sweep up and his eyes focus on my face. He sucks in a swift breath, but he doesn’t cry out. His lips part beneath my fingers, and he blinks.

And blinks.

And blinks again, as if he’s waiting for one of the blinks to take me away.

“This isn’t a dream.” I pull my hand from his skin, feeling...strange inside. Stranger.

“You’re sure?” he asks, his breath rushing softly out. “I’ve had this dream before.”

“You dream about me?” I’m so intrigued that I forget the peculiar moment. Maybe I’m not as powerless on this island as I’ve thought. If Declan dreams of me… “What sorts of dreams?”

He shoves his hair from his forehead with a drowsy hand. “I’d rather not say.”


“Well, if you’re a dream, then you know why.” His hand drifts my way, catching a lock of hair that’s fallen over my shoulder and twining it around his finger. I glance down, see that part of me wrapped around a part of him, and feel something trip and tumble inside me. “And,” says Declan, “if you’re not a dream, then I’d be embarrassed.”

My tongue slips out to wet my lips, but they’re so hot they burn the moisture away in a beat of my heart. “Why? Are they terrifying? The dreams? The nightmares?”

He smiles and whispers, “They’re not nightmares,” while his hand goes wandering again, this time to my face.

He cups my cheek gently, carefully. Still, I’m keenly aware of every inch of his rough hand pressed against my flesh, from the delicate hollow below my ear, past the stubborn curve of my jaw, down to the trembling point of my chin, the last line of defense between his skin and my mouth.

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