Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

  I hate to break it to you, Ethan, but they’re not looking at me.

  I heard Link’s voice. “Hey, girls. We shootin’ hoops this afternoon or what?” He bumped fists with Emory and kept walking. But they weren’t looking at him either.

  Ridley was a step behind the rest of us, letting her long pink nails trail along the locker doors. When she got to Emory’s, she let the door close beneath her fingers.

  “Hey, girls.” The way Ridley rolled out the words, she still sounded like a Siren.

  Emory stammered, and Ridley let her finger trail across his chest as she walked past. In that skirt, she was showing more leg than should have been legal. The entire team turned to watch her go.

  “Who’s your friend?” Emory was talking to Link, but he didn’t take his eyes off Ridley. He’d seen her before—at the Stop & Steal when I first met her, and at the winter formal, when she trashed the gym—but he was looking for an introduction, up close and personal.

  “Who wants to know?” Rid blew a bubble, letting it pop.

  Link looked at her sideways and grabbed Ridley’s hand. “Nobody.”

  The hallway divided in front of them as an ex-Siren and a quarter Incubus conquered Jackson High. I wondered what Amma would have to say about that.

  Sweet baby in a manger. Heaven help us all.

  “Are you kidding? I’m supposed to keep my things in this filthy tin coffin?” Ridley stared into her locker like she thought something was going to pop out of it.

  “Rid, you’ve been to school before, and you had a locker,” Lena said patiently.

  Ridley flipped her pink and blond hair. “I must’ve blocked all that out. Post-traumatic stress.”

  Lena handed Ridley the combination lock. “You don’t have to use it. But you can put your books inside so you don’t have to carry them around all day.”

  “Books?” Ridley looked disgusted. “Carry?”

  Lena sighed. “You’ll get them today, in your classes. And, yes, you have to carry them. You should know how this works.”

  Ridley adjusted her shirt to expose a little more shoulder. “I was a Siren the last time I was in school. I didn’t actually go to any of my classes, and I certainly didn’t carry anything.”

  Link clapped his hand down on her shoulder. “Come on. We have homeroom together. I’ll show you how it’s done, Link-style.”

  “Yeah?” Ridley sounded skeptical. “How is that any better?”

  “Well, for starters, it doesn’t involve any books….” Link seemed more than happy to walk her to class. He wanted to keep an eye on her.

  “Ridley, wait! You need this.” Lena waved a binder in the air.

  Ridley slipped her arm through Link’s and ignored her. “Relax, Cuz. I’ll use Hot Rod’s.”

  I slammed the locker shut. “Your gramma is an optimist.”

  “You think?”

  Like everyone else, I watched Link and Rid disappear down the hall. “I give this whole little experiment three days, max.”

  “Three days? You’re the optimist.” Lena sighed, and we started up the stairs to English.

  The air conditioning was running full blast, a pathetic mechanical hum echoing through the halls. But the outdated system didn’t stand a chance against this heat wave. It was even hotter upstairs in the administration building than it was outside in the parking lot.

  As we walked into English class, I stopped for a minute under the fluorescent light, the one that had burned out when Lena and I had collided on the way into this room the first day I saw her. I stared up at the cardboard squares in the ceiling.

  You know, if you look really close, you can still see the burn mark around the new light.

  How romantic. The scene of our first disaster. Lena followed my eyes up to the ceiling. I think I see it.

  I let my eyes linger on the squares speckled with perforated dots. How many times had I sat in class staring up at those dots, trying to stay awake or counting them to pass time? Counting minutes left in a class period, periods left in the day—days into weeks, weeks into months, until I got out of Gatlin?

  Lena walked by Mrs. English, who was buried in first day of school papers at her desk, and slid into her old seat on the infamous Good-Eye Side.

  I started to follow her, but I sensed someone behind me. It was that feeling you get when you’re in line and the person after you is standing way too close. I turned around, but no one was there.

  Lena was already writing in her notebook when I sat down at the desk next to hers. I wondered if she was writing one of her poems. I was about to sneak a look when I heard it. The voice was faint, and it wasn’t Lena’s. It was a low whisper, coming from over my shoulder.

  I turned around. The seat behind me was empty.

  Did you say something, L?

  Lena looked up from the notebook, surprised.


  Were you Kelting? I thought I heard something.

  She shook her head.

  No. Are you okay?

  I nodded, opening my binder. I heard the voice again. This time I recognized the words. The letters appeared on the page, in my handwriting.


  I slammed it shut, clenching my hands to stop them from shaking.

  Lena looked up at me.

  Are you sure you’re okay?

  I’m fine.

  I didn’t look up once for the rest of the period. I didn’t look up while I failed the quiz on The Crucible. Not when Lena participated, straight-faced, in a class discussion about the Salem witch trials. Or when Emily Asher made a less than clever comparison between dear, departed Macon Ravenwood and the possessed townsfolk in the play, and a ceiling tile suddenly came loose and smacked her on the head.

  I didn’t look up again until the bell rang.

  Mrs. English was staring at me, her expression so unnerving and blank that for a second I thought both her eyes could have been glass.

  I tried to tell myself that it was the first day of school, which could make anyone crazy. That she’d probably just had a bad cup of coffee.

  But this was Gatlin, so there was a pretty good chance I was wrong.

  Once English was over, Lena and I didn’t have any other classes together until after lunch. I was in Trig and Lena was in Calculus. Link—and now Ridley—had been bumped down to Consumer Math, the class the teachers enrolled you in when they finally admitted you weren’t going to make it past Algebra II. Everyone called it Burger Math because all you learned was how to make change. Link’s whole schedule read like the teachers had decided he was going to be working at the BP station with Ed after graduation. His schedule was basically one big study hall. I had Bio; he had Rocks for Jocks. I had World History; he had CSS—Cultures of Southern States, or “Checking Out Savannah Snow,” as he called it. Compared to Link, I looked like a rocket scientist. He didn’t seem to care—or if he did, there were too many girls following him around for him to notice.

  To be honest, it didn’t matter, because all I wanted to do was get lost in the familiar blur of the first day of school so I could forget about the crazy message in my binder.

  I guess there’s nothing like a crappy summer filled with near-death experiences to make the first day of school seem great in comparison. Until I got to the cafeteria, where it was sloppy joe day. Of course it was. Nothing said first day of school like sloppy joes.

  I found Lena and Ridley easily enough. They were sitting alone at one of the orange lunch tables, with a steady stream of guys circling like vultures. Everyone had heard about Ridley by now, and all the guys wanted to check her out.

  “Where’s Link?”

  Ridley tilted her head toward the back of the lunchroom, where Link was moving from table to table like he was the MVP at the state championship or something. I noticed her tray, full of chocolate pudding, red Jell-O cubes, and slices of dry-looking angel food cake. “Hungry, Rid?”

  “What can I say, Boyfriend? Girl’s got a sweet tooth.” She picked up a bowl of
pudding and dug in.

  “Don’t tease her. She’s having a bad day,” Lena said.

  “Really? That’s a shocker.” I bit into my first deflated sloppy joe. “What happened?”

  Lena glanced back at one of the tables. “That happened.”

  Link had one foot up on the plastic bench, and he was leaning over the table, talking to the cheer squad. His attention focused on one cheer captain in particular.

  “Aw, that’s nothing. Just Link being Link. You don’t have anything to worry about, Rid.”

  “Like I’m worried,” she snapped. “I could care less what he does.” But I looked down at her tray, and four of the pudding bowls were already empty. “I’m not coming back tomorrow, anyway. This whole school thing is moronic. You move around from room to room like herds or flocks or—”

  “Schools?” I couldn’t resist.

  “That’s what I’m talking about.” Ridley rolled her eyes, annoyed that I couldn’t keep up.

  “I was talking about fish. A group of fish is called a school. If you went to school you’d know that.” I ducked to avoid her spoon.

  “That isn’t the point.” Lena shot me a warning look.

  “The point is, you’re sort of a solo act,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic. Ridley went back to her pudding with a serious level of sugar dedication I respected. She didn’t take her eyes off Link.

  “Actually trying to make someone like you is totally demeaning. It’s pathetic. It’s…”


  “Exactly.” She shuddered, moving on to the Jell-O.

  A few minutes later, Link worked his way over to our table. He dropped down next to Ridley, and the side of the table where Lena and I were sitting lifted right off the ground. At 6′2″, I was one of the tallest guys at Jackson, but I only had an inch or so on Link now.

  “Hey, man. Take it easy.”

  Link eased up a little, and our side of the table smacked down against the linoleum. People were staring. “Sorry. I keep forgettin’. I’m Transitioning. Mr. Ravenwood said this would be a rough time, when you’re the new kid on the block.”

  Lena kicked me under the table, trying not to laugh.

  Ridley was less subtle. “I think all this sugar is making me sick. Oh wait, did I say sugar? I meant sap.” She looked at Link. “And when I said sap, I meant you.”

  Link smiled. This was the Ridley he liked best. “Your uncle said no one would understand.”

  “Yeah, I bet it’s really tough being the Hulk.” I was kidding, but I wasn’t far off.

  “Dude, it’s no joke. I can’t sit down for more than five minutes or people start throwing their food at me, like they expect me to eat it.”

  “Well, you did have a reputation for being a human garbage disposal.”

  “I could still eat if I wanted to.” He looked disgusted. “But food doesn’t taste like anything. It’s like chewin’ on cardboard. I’m on the Macon Ravenwood diet. You know, snackin’ on a few dreams here and there.”

  “Whose dreams?” If Link was feeding off my dreams, I was going to kick his ass. They were confusing enough without him.

  “No way. Your head’s too full a crazy for me. But you wouldn’t believe what Savannah dreams about. Let’s just say she’s not thinking about the state finals.”

  No one wanted to hear the details—especially not Ridley, who was stabbing at her Jell-O. I tried to spare her. “That’s a visual I can live without, thanks.”

  “It’s cool. But you’ll never guess what I saw.” If he said Savannah in her underwear, he was a dead man.

  Lena was thinking the same thing. “Link, I don’t think—”


  “What?” It wasn’t the answer Lena was expecting.

  “Barbies, but not the ones girls had in elementary school. These puppies are all dressed up. She’s got a bride, Miss America, Snow White. And they’re in this big glass case.”

  “I knew she reminded me of a Barbie.” Ridley stabbed another cube.

  Link slid closer to her. “You still ignorin’ me?”

  “You’re not worth the time it takes to ignore.” Ridley stared through the jiggling red cube. “I don’t think Kitchen makes this. What’s it called again?”

  “Jell-O Surprise.” Link grinned.

  “What’s the surprise?” Ridley examined the red gelatin more closely.

  “What they put in it.” He flicked the cube with his finger, and she pulled it away.

  “Which is?”

  “Ground-up hooves, hides, and bones. Surprise.”

  Ridley looked at him, shrugged, and put the spoon in her mouth. She wasn’t going to give him an inch. Not as long as he was creeping around Savannah Snow’s bedroom at night and flirting with her all day.

  Link looked over at me. “So, you wanna shoot some hoops after school?”

  “No.” I shoved the rest of the sloppy joe into my mouth.

  “I can’t believe you’re eating that. You hate those things.”

  “I know. But they’re pretty good today.” A Jackson first. When Amma’s cooking was off and the cafeteria’s was on, maybe it really was the End of Days.

  You know, you can play basketball if you want to.

  Lena was offering me something, the same thing Link was. A chance to make peace with my former friends, to be less of an outcast, if that was possible. But it was too late. Your friends were supposed to stand by you, and now I knew who my friends really were. And who they weren’t.

  I don’t want to.

  “Come on. It’s cool. All that crazy stuff with the guys is history.” Link believed what he was saying. But history was hard to forget when it included tormenting your girlfriend all year.

  “Yeah. People around here aren’t into history.”

  Even Link caught my sarcasm. “Well, I’m gonna hit the court.” He didn’t look at me. “I might even go back on the team. I mean, it’s not like I was really off.”

  Not like you. That’s the part he didn’t say.

  “It’s really hot in here.” Sweat was dripping down my back. So many people, crammed into one room.

  You okay?

  No. Yeah. I just need to get some air.

  I stood up to go, but the door looked like it was a mile away.

  This school had a way of making you feel small. As small as it was, maybe even smaller. I guess some things never change.

  Turns out, Ridley wasn’t interested in studying the cultures of the Southern states any more than she was interested in Link studying Savannah Snow, and five minutes into the period she convinced him they should switch to World History. Which wouldn’t have surprised me except switching classes usually involved taking your schedule to Miss Hester—then lying and begging and, if you were really stuck, crying. So when Link and Ridley showed up in World History and he told me that his schedule had miraculously changed, I was more than suspicious.

  “What do you mean, your schedule changed?”

  Link dropped his notebook onto the desk next to me and shrugged. “I don’t know. One minute Savannah sits down next to me, then Ridley comes in and sits on the other side, and the next thing I know, World History’s printed on my schedule. Rid’s, too. She shows the teacher, and we get kicked right outta class.”

  “How did you manage that?” I asked as Ridley settled into her seat.

  “Manage what?” She looked at me innocently, clicking and un-clicking her creepy scorpion belt buckle.

  Lena wasn’t letting her off that easy. “You know what he’s talking about. Did you take a book from Uncle Macon’s study?”

  “Are you actually accusing me of reading?”

  Lena lowered her voice. “Were you trying to Cast? It’s not safe, Ridley.”

  “You mean not safe for me. Because I’m a stupid Mortal.”

  “Casting is dangerous for Mortals, unless you’ve had years of training, like Marian. Which you haven’t.” Lena wasn’t trying to rub it in, but every time she said the word “Mortal,”
Ridley cringed. It was like pouring gasoline on a fire.

  Maybe it was too hard to hear from a Caster. I jumped in. “Lena’s right. Who knows what could happen if something went wrong?”

  Ridley didn’t say a word, and for a second it seemed like I had single-handedly put out the flames. But as she turned to face me, her blue eyes blazing as bright as her yellow ones ever had, I realized how wrong I was.

  “I don’t remember anyone complaining when you and your little British Marian-in-training were Casting at the Great Barrier.”

  Lena blushed and looked away.

  Ridley was right. Liv and I had Cast at the Great Barrier. It was how we freed Macon from the Arclight, and why Liv would never be a Keeper. And it was a painful reminder of a time when Lena and I were as far away from each other as two people could be.

  I didn’t say anything. Instead I stumbled over my thoughts, crashing and burning in the silence while Mr. Littleton tried to convince us how fascinating World History was going to be. He failed. I tried to come up with something to say that would rescue me from the awkwardness of the next ten seconds. I failed.

  Because even though Liv wasn’t at Jackson, and she spent all her days in the Tunnels with Macon, she was still the elephant in the room. The thing Lena and I didn’t talk about. I had only seen Liv once since the night of the Seventeenth Moon, and I missed her. Not like I could tell anyone that.

  I missed her crazy British accent, and the way she mispronounced Carolina so it sounded like Carolin-er. I missed her selenometer that looked like a giant plastic watch from thirty years ago, and the way she was always writing in her tiny red notebook. I missed the way we joked around and the way she made fun of me. I missed my friend.

  The sad part was, she probably would have understood.

  I just couldn’t tell her.


  Off Route 9

  After school, Link stayed to play basketball with the guys. Ridley wouldn’t leave without him as long as the cheer squad was in the gym, even though she wouldn’t admit it.

  I stood inside the gym doors and watched Link dribble down the court without breaking a sweat. I watched him sink the ball from the paint, from the top of the key, from the three-point mark, from center court. I watched the other guys stand there with their mouths hanging open. I watched Coach sit back on the bleachers with his whistle still stuck in his mouth. I enjoyed every minute, almost as much as Link.

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