Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  I wondered whose heart Sarafine had meant.

  Maybe it was her own.

  11.24

  More Wrong Than Right

  It was Thanksgiving Day, which meant two things.

  A visit from my Aunt Caroline.

  And the annual bake-off between Amma’s pecan pie, Amma’s apple pie, and Amma’s pumpkin pie. Amma always won, but the competition was fierce, and the judging the subject of lots of noise around the table.

  I was looking forward to it more than usual this year. It was the first time Amma had baked a pie in months, and part of me suspected the only reason she’d done it today was so no one else would notice. But I didn’t care. Between my dad dressed in his sport coat instead of pajamas like last year, Aunt Caroline and Marian playing Scrabble with the Sisters, and the smell of pies in the oven, I almost forgot about the lubbers and the heat, and my great-aunt missing from the table. The hard part was that it reminded me of all the other things I’d been forgetting lately—the things I hadn’t meant to forget. I wondered how much longer I would be able to remember.

  There was only one person I could think of who might know the answer to that question.

  I stood in front of Amma’s bedroom door for a good minute before I knocked. Getting answers out of Amma was like pulling teeth, if the teeth belonged to a gator. She had always kept secrets. It was as much a part of her as her Red Hots and crossword puzzles, her tool apron and her superstitions. Maybe it was part of being a Seer, too. But this was different.

  I’d never seen her walk away from the stove on Thanksgiving while her pies were still baking, or skip making Uncle Abner’s lemon meringue altogether. It was time to grow those kneecaps.

  I reached up to knock.

  “You gonna come in already or wear a hole in the carpet?” Amma called from inside her room.

  I opened the door, prepared to see the rows of shelves lined with mason jars, full of everything from rock salt to graveyard dirt. Bookshelves crammed with cracked volumes that had been handed down, and notebooks with Amma’s recipes. It wasn’t long ago that I realized those recipes might not have anything to do with cooking. Amma’s room had always reminded me of an apothecary, brimming with mystery and the cure for whatever ailed you, like Amma herself.

  Not today. Her room was torn apart, the way mine was after I’d dumped the contents of twenty shoe boxes all over my floor. Like she was looking for something she couldn’t find.

  The bottles that were usually lined up neatly on the shelves, labels facing out, were pushed together on top of her dresser. Books were stacked on the floor, on her bed, everywhere but on the shelves. Some of them were open—old diaries handwritten in Gullah, the language of her ancestors. There were other things I had never seen in here before—black feathers, branches, and a bucket of rocks.

  Amma was sitting in the middle of the mess.

  I stepped inside. “What happened in here?”

  She held out her hand, and I pulled her up. “Nothin’s what happened. I’m cleanin’ up. Would do you some good to try it in that mess you call a room.” Amma tried to shoo me out, but I didn’t move. “Go on, now. Pies are almost done.”

  She pushed past me. In a second, she’d be out in the hall and on her way to the kitchen.

  “What’s wrong with me?” I blurted it out, and Amma stopped dead in her tracks. For a second, she didn’t say a word.

  “You’re seventeen. I expect there’s more wrong with you than right.” She didn’t turn around.

  “You mean like writing with the wrong hand and hating chocolate milk and your scrambled eggs all of a sudden? Forgetting the names of people I’ve known my whole life? Is that the kind of stuff you’re talking about?”

  Amma turned around slowly, her brown eyes shining. Her hands were shaking, and she pushed them into the pockets of her apron so I wouldn’t notice.

  Whatever was happening to me, Amma knew what it was.

  She took a deep breath. Maybe she was finally going to tell me. “I don’t know about any a that. But I’m—lookin’ into it. Might have something to do with all this heat and these darn bugs, the problems the Casters are havin’.”

  She was lying. It was the first time Amma had ever given what sounded like a straight answer in her life. Which made it even more crooked.

  “Amma, what aren’t you telling me? What do you know?”

  “ ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’ ” She looked at me, defiant. It was a line from a hymn I grew up hearing in church, while making spitballs and trying not to fall asleep.

  “Amma.”

  “ ‘What comfort this sweet sentence gives.’ ” She clapped her hand on my back.

  “Please.”

  Now she was all-out singing, which sounded kind of crazy. The way you sound when you think something terrible is about to happen, but you’re trying to convince yourself that it isn’t. The terrible shows up in your voice, even when you think you can hide it.

  You can’t.

  “ ‘He lives, he lives who once was dead.’ ” She shoved me out of the room. “ ‘He lives, my ever-living Head.’ ”

  The door slammed behind me.

  “Now.” She was already halfway down the hall, still humming the rest of the hymn. “Let’s go eat before your aunts get into the kitchen and burn the house down.”

  I watched her scurry down the hall, shouting before she was halfway to the kitchen. “Everybody get on into the dinin’ room, before my food gets cold.”

  I was starting to think I might have more luck asking my ever-living Head.

  When I ducked under the doorframe and walked into the dining room, everyone else was already taking their seats. Lena and Macon must have just arrived; they stood at one end of the dining room while Marian was deep in conversation with my Aunt Caroline at the other. Amma was still shouting orders from the kitchen, where the bird was “resting.” Aunt Grace shuffled toward the table, waving her handkerchief. “Don’t y’all keep this fine bird waitin’ any longer. He died a noble death, and it’s downright disrespectable.” Thelma and Aunt Mercy were right behind her.

  “If you call a noble death a buckshot in the bee-hind, then I reckon you’re right.” Aunt Mercy pushed past her sister so she could sit in front of the biscuits.

  “Don’t you start, Mercy Lynne. You know vegetablism is one step closer ta a world without panties an’ preachers. That there is a documentated fact.”

  Lena took the seat next to Marian, trying not to laugh. Even Macon was having trouble keeping a straight face. My dad was standing behind Amma’s chair, waiting to push it in for her when she finally came in from the kitchen. Listening to Aunt Mercy and Aunt Grace peck away at each other made me miss Aunt Prue even more. But as I slid into my seat, I realized someone else was missing.

  “Where’s Liv?”

  Marian glanced at Macon before she answered. “She decided to stay in tonight.”

  Aunt Grace caught enough to add her two cents. “Well, that just ain’t American. Did you invite her, Ethan?”

  “Liv isn’t American. And yeah. I mean, yes, ma’am. I invited her.”

  It was nearly true. I had asked Marian to bring her. That was an invitation, right? Marian unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap. “I’m not certain she felt comfortable coming.”

  Lena bit her lip, like she felt bad.

  It’s because of me.

  Or me, L. I didn’t exactly invite her myself.

  I feel like a jerk.

  Me, too.

  But there was nothing more to say, because right then Amma came in, carrying the green bean casserole. “All right. It’s time to thank the Good Lord and eat.” She sat down, and my dad pushed in her chair and took his own seat. We all joined hands around the table, and my Aunt Caroline bowed her head to say the Thanksgiving prayer, the way she always did.

  I could feel the power of my family. I felt it the same way I did when I joined a Caster Circle. Even though Lena and Macon were the only actual Casters here, I still
felt it. The buzz of our own kind of power, instead of lubbers chewing up the town or Incubuses ripping up the sky.

  Then I heard it, too. Instead of the prayer, all I could hear was the song, thundering into my mind so loud I thought my head would split.

  Eighteen Moons, eighteen dead

  Eighteen turned upon their head,

  The Earth above, the sky below

  The End of Days, the Reaper’s Row…

  Eighteen dead? Reaper’s Row?

  By the time Aunt Caroline stopped praying, I was ready to start.

  Six pies later, pecan—and, as usual, Amma—had been declared the winners. My dad was falling into his customary post-turkey nap on the couch, wedged in between the Sisters. Dinner was cut short when we were all too full to sit upright in our hard wooden chairs.

  I didn’t eat as much as usual. I felt too guilty. All I could think about was Liv, sitting alone in the Tunnels on Thanksgiving. Whether it was a holiday to her or not.

  I know.

  Lena was standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at me.

  L. It’s not what you think.

  Lena walked over to the counter, where the leftovers were piled up. “What I think is that you should pack up some of Amma’s pie and take it down to the Tunnels.”

  “Why would you want me to do that?”

  Lena looked embarrassed. “I didn’t understand how she felt until the night Ridley Cast the Furor. I know what it’s like not to have friends. It must be worse to have them and lose them.”

  “Are you saying you want me to be friends with Liv?” I didn’t buy it.

  She shook her head. I could see how hard this was for her. “No. What I’m saying is I trust you.”

  “Is this one of those tests guys don’t understand and always fail?”

  She smiled, covering the leftover pecan pie with tinfoil. “Not today.”

  Lena and I hadn’t even opened the front door when Amma caught us. “Where do you think you’re goin’?”

  “We’re going to Ravenwood. I’m going to take Liv some of your pecan pie.”

  Amma tried to give me the Look, but somehow it was just a look to me. “What you mean is you’re goin’ down into those Tunnels.”

  “Only to see Liv, I promise.”

  Amma rubbed her gold charm. “Straight there and back. I don’t want to hear about any Casts or fires, Vexes or any other Demons. Not a one. You hear me?”

  I always heard her, even when she wasn’t talking.

  Lena lifted the Outer Door cut into the floorboards in Ridley’s room. I still couldn’t believe she was letting me go down alone. But, then again, if you could sense it when your boyfriend was thinking about kissing another girl, it wasn’t that big a leap.

  Lena handed me the pie. “I’ll be in here when you’re finished. I’ve been meaning to look around.” I wondered if she had been in here since the night we found John. I knew Lena was worried about Ridley, especially now that she was powerless.

  “I won’t be long.” I kissed her and stepped down onto the stairs I couldn’t see.

  I heard their voices before I saw their faces.

  “I’m not sure this is a proper Southern Thanksgiving, since I’ve never had Thanksgiving dinner anywhere. But it’s quite posh, what with the frozen dinner and all.” Liv. She sounded suspiciously happy.

  I didn’t have to hear the next voice to know who it was.

  “You’re in luck. I’ve never had one either. Abraham and Silas weren’t big on holidays. Then there’s the whole not-needing-to-eat thing. So I have nothing to compare it to.”

  John.

  “What, no Halloween? No Christmas? No Boxing Day?” Liv was laughing, but I could tell it was a real question.

  “None of the above.”

  “That’s a bit grim. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s no big deal.”

  “So this is our first Thanksgiving, then.” I heard her laugh.

  “Together,” he added. The way he said it made me feel sick, like I had eaten too many pieces of pie and then gone back for a turkey and stuffing sandwich.

  I stuck my head around the corner. Sure enough, John and Liv were leaning over the table in the study Macon had set up for her. It was set with two candles and one TV dinner in a lopsided aluminum tray. Turkey. I felt terrible, especially after the dinner Amma made.

  Liv was holding what had to be John’s lighter, trying to light the candles on the table between them.

  “Your hand is shaking.”

  “No, it’s not.” She looked down at her hand. “Well. It is a bit drafty down here.”

  “Do I make you nervous?” John smiled. “It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you.”

  “Nervous? Please.” Liv’s cheeks turned a familiar shade of pink. “I’m not afraid of you, if that’s what you think.” They stared at each other for a second.

  “Ouch!” Liv dropped the lighter, shaking her hand. She must have burned her finger.

  “Are you okay? Let me see.” John grabbed her hand, opening it so he could see her fingers. He put his hand on top of Liv’s, his huge palm covering her small one.

  Liv bit her lip. “I think I need to run it under cold water.”

  “Hold on.”

  “What—” Liv stared down at their hands. John moved his, and Liv lifted hers, wiggling her fingers. “It doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not even red. How did you do that?”

  John looked embarrassed. “Like I said, if I touch a Caster, I get some of their power. I don’t steal it or anything. It just happens.”

  “You’re a Thaumaturge. A healer. Like Lena’s cousin Ryan. You didn’t—”

  “Don’t worry, it wasn’t her. Picked it up from a girl I bumped into.” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not.

  Relief flooded Liv’s face. “It’s remarkable. You do know that, don’t you?” She examined her finger again.

  “I don’t know anything. Except that I’m a freak of nature.”

  “I’m not so sure nature had much to do with it, since there isn’t another person like you in the entire universe, as far as I know. But you are special.” She said so it matter-of-factly, I almost would’ve believed it. If she wasn’t talking to John Breed.

  “I’m so special, no one wants me around.” He laughed, but it sounded bitter. “So special, I do stuff I can’t even remember.”

  “Back home we call that a pub crawl.”

  “I’ve lost whole weeks, Olivia.” I hated the way he said her name.

  O-li-vi-a. Like he wanted to stretch out every syllable and take as long as he could.

  “Does it happen all the time?” Now Liv sounded curious, but it seemed like it was more than the wheels in her scientific mind turning. Because she also sounded sad.

  He nodded. “Except when I was in the Arclight. Nothing to remember in there.”

  I cleared my throat and stepped into the room. “Yeah? Then maybe we should stick you back in that thing.” They were startled. I could tell, because John’s face went dark, and the guy who had been talking to Liv disappeared.

  “Ethan. What are you doing here?” Liv looked flustered.

  “I brought you some of Amma’s famous pecan pie. We missed you at dinner. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Except I did.

  Liv tossed her napkin down on the table. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not interrupting anything. We were just sitting down to a supper of somewhat questionable hen parts.”

  “Hey. That’s our first Thanksgiving you’re talking about, sweetheart.” John grinned at her—and stared at me.

  I ignored him. “Liv, do you think you can help me with something for a minute?”

  She pushed her chair away from the table. “Lead on, Wayward.”

  I could feel John’s eyes on me as we left the room.

  Sweetheart.

  I grabbed Liv by the arm as soon as we were out of Incubus earshot. “What are you doing?”

  “Trying to eat my Thanksgiving dinner.” Her cheeks went pink,
but she didn’t slow down.

  “I meant, what are you doing with him?”

  She pulled her arm free. “Are you looking for something in particular? Was there a reason you needed me?” We had made our way to the Lunae Libri and disappeared into the stacks, and I watched the torches light along the wall, marking the way we had come. She took one from the wall.

  “Last I heard, he doesn’t eat anything but Doritos.”

  “He doesn’t. He was keeping me company. Being… a friend.”

  I stepped in front of her, and she stopped walking. “Liv. He’s not your friend.”

  She was annoyed. “Then what is he? If you’re such an expert?”

  “I don’t know what he is or what he’s doing, but I know he’s not your friend.”

  “What do you care?”

  “Liv, you could’ve come over today. You were invited. Macon and Marian were there. They wanted you to come.”

  “That’s quite an invitation. I can’t imagine how I missed it.”

  I knew her feelings were hurt, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I should’ve invited her myself. “I mean, we all wanted you to come.”

  “I’m sure you did. Just as I’m sure I still have the bruises to show from the last time I saw Lena.”

  “The Furor was a spell. And believe me, you gave as good as you got.”

  She softened. “I know I could have come to your house today. But I didn’t belong there. I don’t belong anywhere. And, I suppose, neither does John. Maybe Mortals and Incubuses aren’t so different after all.”

  “You do belong, Liv. And you don’t have to stay down here with him. You’re not a monster.”

  Like he is.

  Ethan? Is everything okay?

  Lena was reaching out to me.

  Yeah, L. Be there in a minute.

  No rush.

  It was Lena’s way of saying she didn’t mind me talking to Liv, whether or not I would ever get Liv to believe that. I wasn’t sure I believed it myself.

 
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