Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  That’s what no one tells you. It’s harder to be the one left behind.

  I thought about Aunt Prue stepping through the Last Door so calmly. She was at peace. Where was the peace for the rest of us?

  Marian didn’t say a word. She stared at me like she was trying to memorize my face and freeze this moment so she could never forget it. Marian knew the truth. I think she knew something like this was coming the moment the Council of the Keep let her come back.

  Nothing came without a price.

  And if it had been her, she would have done the same thing to protect the people she loved.

  I was sure Liv would’ve, too. In her own way, that’s exactly what she did for Macon. What John tried to do for her on the water tower. Maybe she felt guilty that it was me instead of him.

  I hoped she knew the truth—that it wasn’t her fault, or my fault, or even his fault. No matter how many times I wanted to believe it was.

  This was my life, and this was how it was ending.

  I was the Wayward. And this was my great and terrible purpose.

  It was always in the cards, the ones Amma was so desperate to change.

  It was always me.

  But they didn’t make me say any of that. Marian gathered me up in her arms, and Liv wrapped her arms around us both. It reminded me of the way my mom always hugged me, like she would never let go if she had a choice. Finally, Marian whispered something softly. It was Winston Churchill. And I hoped I would remember it, wherever I was going.

  “ ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ ”

  12.21

  Remainders

  Lena wasn’t in her bedroom at Ravenwood. I sat down on her bed to wait, staring up at the ceiling. I thought of something and picked up her pillow, rubbing it against my face. I remembered smelling my mom’s pillowcases after she was gone. It was magic to me, a piece of her that still existed in my world. I wanted Lena to at least have that.

  I thought about Lena’s bed, the time we broke it, the time the roof caved in on it, the time we broke up and the plaster had rained down on everything. I looked at the walls, thinking about the words that wrote themselves there the first time Lena told me how she felt.

  You’re not the only one falling.

  Lena’s walls weren’t glass anymore. Her room was the same as it was the day we first met. Maybe that was how she was trying to keep things. The way it was at the beginning, when things were still full of possibility.

  I couldn’t think about it.

  There were bits of words everywhere, I guess because that’s how Lena felt things.

  WHO CAN JUDGE THE JUDGE?

  It didn’t work like that. You couldn’t reset the clock. Not for anyone. Not even for us.

  NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER

  What was done was done.

  I think she must have known, because she left a message for me, written across the walls of her room in black Sharpie. Like the old days.

  DEMON MATH

  what is JUST in a world

  you’ve ripped in two

  as if there could be

  a half for me

  a half for you

  what is FAIR when

  there is nothing

  left to share

  what is YOURS when

  your pain is mine to bear

  this sad math is mine

  this mad path is mine

  subtract they say

  don’t cry

  back to the desk

  try

  forget addition

  multiply

  and i reply

  this is why

  remainders

  hate

  division

  I rested my head against the wall next to the words.

  Lena.

  She didn’t respond.

  L. You’re not a remainder. You’re a survivor.

  Her thoughts came slowly, in a jagged rhythm.

  I won’t be able to survive this. You can’t ask me to.

  I knew she was crying. I imagined her lying in the dry grass at Greenbrier. I would look for her there next.

  You shouldn’t be alone. Wait for me. I’m coming.

  There was so much to say that I stopped trying to say it. Instead, I wiped my eyes with my sleeve, and opened my backpack. I pulled out the spare Sharpie Lena kept there, the way people have a spare tire in the back of their car.

  For the first time, I uncapped it and stood on the girly chair in front of her old white dresser. It groaned under my weight, but it held. And I didn’t have long, anyway. My eyes were stinging, and it was hard to see.

  I wrote on her ceiling, where the plaster had cracked, where so many times other words, better words, more hopeful words had appeared above our heads.

  I wasn’t much of a poet, but I had the truth, and that was enough.

  I will always love you.

  Ethan

  I found Lena lying in the charred grass at Greenbrier, the same place I had found her the day she shattered the windows in our English class. Her arms were flung over her head, the same way they were that day, too. She stared up at the thin stretch of blue.

  I lay down next to her.

  She didn’t try to stop the tears. “It’s different, you know that? The sky looks different now.” She was talking, not Kelting. Suddenly talking was special. All the regular things were.

  “It does?”

  She took an uneven breath. “When I first met you, that’s what I remember. I looked up at the sky and thought, I’m going to love this person because even the sky looks different.” I couldn’t say anything. My breath was caught in my throat.

  But she wasn’t finished. “I remember the exact moment I saw you. I was in my car. You were playing basketball outside with your friends. And the ball rolled off the court and you went to get it. You looked at me.”

  “I remember that. I didn’t know you saw me.”

  She smiled. “See you? I almost crashed the hearse.”

  I looked back up at the sky. “Do you believe in love before first sight, L?”

  Do you believe in love after last sight, Ethan?

  After death—that’s what she meant.

  It wasn’t fair. We should have been complaining about our curfews. Trying to find a place besides the Dar-ee Keen where we could get summer jobs together. Worrying about whether or not we would get into the same college. Not this.

  She rolled away from me, sobbing and pulling at the grass with her hands. I wrapped my arms around her, holding her close. I brushed her hair aside carefully and whispered in her ear. “Yes.”

  What?

  I believe in love after death.

  She took a ragged breath.

  Maybe that’s how I’ll remember, L. Maybe remembering you is life after death for me.

  She turned to look at me. “You mean, the way your mom remembers you?”

  I nodded. “I don’t know exactly what I believe in. But because of you and my mom, I know I believe.”

  I believe, too. But I want you here. I don’t care if it’s a hundred degrees and every blade of grass dies. Without you, none of that matters to me.

  I knew how hard this was for her, because all I could think about was how much I didn’t want to leave her. But I couldn’t say that. It would only make it worse.

  We’re not talking about dead grass. You know that. The world will destroy itself, and the people we love.

  Lena was shaking her head. “I don’t care. I can’t imagine a world without you in it.”

  “Maybe you can imagine the world I always wanted to see.” I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the folded, beat-up map, the one that had been on my wall for so many years now. “Maybe you can see it for me. I marked the routes in green. You don’t have to use it. But I wish someone would. It’s kind of something I was planning for a while—my whole life, actually. They’re places from my favorite books.”

 
“I remember.” Her voice was muffled. “Jack Kerouac.”

  “Or you can make your own.” I felt her breath catch. “Funny thing is, until I met you all I wanted to do was to get as far away from here as I could. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Can’t get much farther away than where I’m going, and now I’d give anything to stay.”

  Lena put her hands on my chest, pushing herself away from me. The map dropped on the ground between us. “Don’t say that! You aren’t doing it!”

  I bent down and picked up the map that marked all the places I’d dreamed of going, before I finally figured out where I belonged. “Just hold on to it for me, then.”

  Lena stared at the folded paper like it was the most dangerous thing in the world. Then she reached up and unhooked her charm necklace from around her neck. “If you hold this for me.”

  “L, no.” But it was hanging in the air between us, and her eyes were begging me to take it. I opened my hand, and she dropped the necklace—the silver button, the red string, the Christmas tree star, all of her memories—into my hand.

  I reached out and lifted her chin so she was looking at me. “I know this is hard, but we can’t pretend it isn’t happening. I need you to promise me something.”

  “What?” Her eyes were red and swollen as she stared back at me.

  “You have to stay here and Bind the New Order, or whatever your part is in all this. Otherwise, everything I’m about to do will be for nothing.”

  “You can’t ask me to do that. I went through this when I thought Uncle Macon was dead, and you saw how well I handled that.” Her voice cracked. “I won’t make it without you.”

  Promise you’ll try.

  “No!” Lena was shaking her head, her eyes wild. “You can’t give up. There has to be another way. There’s still time.” She was hysterical. “Please, Ethan.”

  I grabbed her and wrapped my arms around her, ignoring the way her skin burned mine. I would miss these burns. I would miss everything about her. “Shh. It’s okay, L.”

  It wasn’t.

  I swore to myself that I’d find a way back to her somehow, like my mom found her way back to me. That was the promise I made, even if I couldn’t keep it.

  I closed my eyes and buried my face in her hair. I wanted to remember this. The feeling of her heart beating against mine as I held her. The smell of lemons and rosemary, which had led me to her before I even met her. When it was time, I wanted this to be the last thing I remembered. My last thought.

  Lemons and rosemary. Black hair and green and gold eyes.

  She didn’t say a word, and I gave up trying, because you couldn’t hear either one of us over the shattering noise of hearts breaking and the looming shadow of the last word, the one we refused to say.

  The one that would come anyway, whether or not we said it.

  Good-bye.

  12.21

  Broken Bottles

  Amma was sitting at the kitchen table when I got home. The cards and the crosswords and the Red Hots and the Sisters were nowhere in sight. Only an old, cracked Coke bottle sat on the table. It was from our bottle tree, the one that never caught the spirit Amma was looking for. Mine.

  I’d been rehearsing this conversation in my mind from the moment I realized the Crucible was me, not John. Thinking of a hundred different ways to tell the person who loved me as much as my mom had that I was going to die.

  What do you say?

  I still hadn’t figured it out, and now that I was standing in Amma’s kitchen, looking her in the eye, it seemed impossible. But I had a feeling she already knew.

  I slid into the seat across from her. “Amma, I need to talk to you.”

  She nodded, rolling the bottle between her fingers. “Did everything wrong this time, I reckon. Thought you were the one pickin’ a hole in the universe. Turns out it was me.”

  “This isn’t your fault.”

  “When a hurricane hits, it’s not the weatherman’s fault any more than God’s—no matter what Wesley’s mamma says. Either way, doesn’t matter to those folks left without a roof over their heads, now, does it?” She looked up at me, defeated. “But I think we both know this was all my doin’. And this hole is too big for me to stitch up.”

  I put my big hands over her small ones. “That’s what I needed to tell you. I can fix it.”

  Amma jerked back in her chair, the worry lines in her forehead deepening. “What are you talkin’ about, Ethan Wate?”

  “I can stop it. The heat and the drought, the earthquakes, and the Casters losing control of their powers—all of it. But you already knew that, didn’t you? That’s why you went to the bokor.”

  The color drained from her face. “Don’t you talk about that devil in this house! You don’t know—”

  “I know you went to see him, Amma. I followed you.” There was no time left to play games. I couldn’t walk away without saying good-bye to her. Even if she didn’t want to hear it. “I’m guessing this is what you saw in the cards, wasn’t it? I know you were trying to change things, but the Wheel of Fate crushes us all, doesn’t it?”

  The room was so still that it felt like someone had sucked the air right out of it.

  “That’s what you said, isn’t it?”

  Neither one of us moved, or breathed. For a second, Amma looked so spooked that I was sure she was going to bolt or douse the whole house in salt.

  But her face crumpled and she rushed at me, clutching my arms like she wanted to shake me. “Not you! You’re my boy. The Wheel doesn’t have any business with you. This is my fault. I’m goin’ to set it right.”

  I put my hands on her thin shoulders, watching as the tears ran down her cheeks. “You can’t, Amma. I’m the only one who can. It has to be me. I’m going before the sun comes up tomorrow—”

  “Don’t you say it! Not another word!” she shrieked, digging her fingers into my arms like she was trying to keep from drowning.

  “Amma, listen to me—”

  “No! You listen to me!” she pleaded, her expression frantic. “I’ve got it all worked out. There’s a way to change the cards, you’ll see. Made a deal a my own. You just have to wait.” She was muttering to herself like a madwoman. “I’ve got it all worked out. You’ll see.”

  Amma was wrong. I wasn’t sure if she knew it, but I did. “This is something I have to do. If I don’t—you and dad, this whole town, will be gone.”

  “I don’t care about this town!” She hissed. “It can burn to the ground! Nothin’s gonna happen to my boy! You hear me?” Amma whipped her head around the room, from one side to the other, like she was looking for someone hiding in the shadows.

  When she looked back at me, her knees buckled, and her body swayed dangerously to one side. She was going to pass out. I grabbed Amma’s arms and pulled her up, as her eyes locked on mine. “Already lost your mamma. Can’t lose you, too.”

  I lowered her into one of the chairs and knelt next to it, watching as she slowly came back to herself. “Take deep breaths.” I remembered hearing Thelma say that to Aunt Mercy when she had one of her fainting spells. But we were way past deep breaths.

  Amma tried to wave me off. “I’m all right. Long as you promise me you won’t do anything stupid. I’m gonna stitch this mess back together. I’m just waitin’ on the right thread.” One dipped in the bokor’s brand of black magic, I was willing to bet.

  I didn’t want the last thing I said to Amma to be a lie. But she was beyond reason. There was no way I’d be able to convince her that I was doing the right thing. She was sure there was some kind of loophole, like Lena. “All right, Amma. Let’s get you to your room.”

  She held on to my arm as she stood up. “You have to promise me, Ethan Wate.”

  I looked her right in the eye. “I won’t do anything stupid. I promise.” It was only half a lie. Because saving the people you love isn’t stupid. It isn’t even a choice.

  But I still wanted the last thing I said to Amma to be as true as the sun rising. So after I helped her into
her favorite chair, I hugged her tight and whispered one last thing. “I love you, Amma.”

  There was nothing truer.

  The front door slammed as I pulled Amma’s bedroom door shut.

  “Hey everybody. I’m home,” my dad’s voice called from the hall. I was about to answer, when I heard the familiar sound of another door opening. “I’ll be in the study. I have lots of reading to do.” It was ironic. My dad spent all his time researching the Eighteenth Moon, and I knew more about it than I wanted to.

  As I walked back through the kitchen, I saw the old Coke bottle sitting on the table, exactly where Amma left it. It was too late to catch anything in that bottle, but I picked it up anyway.

  I wondered if there were bottle trees where I was going.

  On my way to my room I passed the study, where my dad was working. He was sitting at my mom’s old desk, the light filling up the room, his work, and the caffeinated coffee he’d smuggled into the house. I opened my mouth to say something. I didn’t know what—just as he rummaged in the drawer for his earplugs, twisting them into his ears.

  Good-bye, Dad.

  I rested my forehead on the doorway in silence. I let things be what they were. He would know the rest, soon enough.

  It was after midnight when Lena finally cried herself to sleep. I was sitting on my bed reading Of Mice and Men one last time. Over the last few months, my memories had faded so much that I couldn’t remember a lot of it, anyway. I still remembered one part, though. The end. It bothered me every time I read it—the way George shot Lennie while he was telling Lennie about the farm they were going to buy one day. The one Lennie would never see.

  When we read the novel in English class, everyone agreed that George was making this big sacrifice by killing his best friend. It was ultimately a mercy kill, because George knew Lennie was going to be hanged for accidentally killing the girl at the ranch. But I never bought it. Shooting your best friend in the head, instead of making a run for it, doesn’t seem like a sacrifice to me. Lennie made the sacrifice, whether he knew it or not. Which was the worst part—I think Lennie would’ve knowingly sacrificed himself for George in a minute. He wanted George to get that farm, to be happy.

 
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