The Gardener(7)

    As I’d done with the boy, I waved a hand in front of her face. Nothing. I squatted before her, my eyes starting at the top of her head and running down the length of her. Despite just sitting there, doing nothing, she looked really in shape. Actually, really hot, as Jack would say. On her feet were white flip-flops, and her toenails were painted pink.

    “I did that.”

    Mom’s voice startled me and I stood up. “What?”

    Mom pointed. “Her toes. I painted them.”

    I asked, “Who are they? What’s wrong with them?”

    Mom held up a clipboard and a blood pressure cuff. “Brain injuries.”

    I looked back at them. “Do they ever do anything?”

    Mom shook her head. “This is all I’ve ever seen them do.”

    It was so strange. Four healthy-looking teenagers just sitting there.

    Mom slipped the cuff onto one of the boys. “Traumatic brain injuries can wreak havoc. Especially on the young.” She looked pointedly at my scar. “Sometimes the visible scars are easier to deal with.”

    My hand went briefly to my face before I sat down on a nearby chair. “Why aren’t their parents taking care of them?”

    With one hand, she pumped the rubber bulb. Swsssh, swssh, swssh. “They require more care than you’d expect. They’re also part of a clinical trial.”

    Brain-dead teenage guinea pigs. And I thought my life sucked.

    Mom said, “Get that clipboard and write down what I tell you.”

    I wrote what she dictated as she continued to check the blood pressure of each one. I asked, “How often do you have to do that?”

    She glanced at the clock. “Every half hour.”

    Her attitude seemed so blasé, those kids didn’t seem to faze her. And then I realized why. They were her routine. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this is who you take care of?”

    Mom put a hand on her hip. “Why didn’t you ever ask me who I take care of?”

    She had me there. But it was a nursing home. Weren’t nursing homes for old people? “I just assumed…”

    She smiled. “The geezers are on the lower floors.”

    I grinned.

    The phone rang and she went to answer it. Then she turned back to me. “Sweetie, I have to go up to floor seven for a bit.”

    “Who’s on that floor?”

    “Just offices, no patients.”

    I only had about twenty minutes before I met Jack. “Can you come back so we can talk about this?”

    Mom sighed. “Mason, please. I really want you to get rid of that uniform and go home. Can we just discuss this tomorrow?”

    Now that I was actually getting somewhere, and finding out what she’d been hiding from me, I really didn’t want to put it off. “I’m meeting Jack at nine. We’re still going to the cabin. Oh.” I pulled the keys to the Jeep out of my pocket and gave them to her. “It’s in the back of the parking lot.”

    She tossed them once and caught them in her hand. “Wait for me, I’ll try to get back before you go.”

    I glanced at the four on the couch. “What about them?”

    Mom shrugged. “They’re not going anywhere.” She left.

    As I picked up my backpack, the case with the DVD of my father started to fall out. I grabbed for it but missed as the back of my hand sent the thing flying. The case hit the side of the counter with a clunk and broke open. The DVD rolled out, coming to a stop underneath the couch.

    I went over to the couch and snapped my fingers in front of one of the boys, then waved my entire hand. “Hello?”

    He stared straight ahead at the television.

    “Hey, ugly!”

    His eyes didn’t waver.

    I faked a punch at his face.


    On my hands and knees, I reached under the couch for the DVD and started to put it back in the case. My hands were shaking, as my mind swam with the events of the day. Dealing with Bubba at the bar, my fight with Mom, finding the TroDyn ID. And then, being in a room with catatonic teenagers. It was too much. No wonder my hands were shaking. I needed something to draw me back. Like my father’s voice.

    I checked the time, then slipped the DVD into the player. I grabbed the remote and sat on the floor with my back leaning against the couch nearest the blond girl. I could smell whatever soap she’d last used. Or had been used on her.

    Immediately, I felt myself relax as the DVD started to play, and hoped I would have time to watch the whole thing before my mom got back. My father got to my favorite part. “I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”

    A soft but hoarse voice startled me. “Where am I?”

    I turned.

    The beautiful girl’s brown eyes, unbelievably vibrant, unmistakably awake, locked with mine.

    I couldn’t speak.

    “If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,” said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

    My father was still reading. I hit the pause button. “Crap.”

    The girl’s eyes dulled.

    “Hello?” I snapped my fingers in front of her face. Nothing.

    Then I turned the DVD back on and watched her. Still nothing. My father finished and she was as catatonic as ever. I restarted the DVD and hit play.

    “If you become a mountain climber,” said the little bunny, “I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”

    Again, the girl spoke. “Where am I?”

    This time I got out a few words. “Haven of Peace.”

    “If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,” said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

    Again, she was gone.

    I swore, then went back to the same part.

    “If you become a mountain climber,” said the little bunny, “I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”

    Her voice was becoming familiar and less hoarse. “Where am I?”

    This time, I hit pause, then knelt in front of her. “Haven of Peace.” I held my breath. Please please please stay awake, beautiful girl.

    Her brow furrowed. How strange to see an expression on her previously blank face. The confusion made her look even lovelier. Her eyes stayed on mine, then tracked down the length of my scar and back up. With one hand, she touched the left side of my face. No one but my mother or doctors had ever touched my face, and her touch was warm and soft, sending tingles down that whole side of my body. “This side is perfect.” Then, with a fingertip, she started at the top of my scar and traced around all the edges. “This side is marked.”

    I felt myself getting warm, so I leaned back and put a hand on the floor, just to make a little more space between us.

    She looked around the room, then back to me. “Who areyou?”

    “Mason. I … my mom works here.”

    Then she tilted her head. “Who am I?”

    “I don’t know.” I was confused. “You were in an accident and…” I trailed off because I didn’t really know what had happened to her. I just assumed it had been an accident and realized I shouldn’t be telling her anything.

    She looked at the others and started to say something.

    “If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,” said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

    Her eyes went blank again.

    “No!” The pause feature must have had a timer to automatically start up. I restarted, played the part that woke her up, then hit the off button and pulled out the DVD.

    “What happened?”

    I held up the DVD. “I played this and it woke you up. But it also put you back under. So I just played the wake-up part again.…” Idiot. Shut up.

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