Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

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  For our fathers, Robert Marin and Burton Stohl, who taught us to believe we could do anything, and our husbands, Alex Garcia and Lewis Peterson, who made us do the one thing we never thought we could.

  Death is the beginning of Immortality.



  Beginning Again

  Other people had flying dreams. I had falling nightmares. I couldn’t talk about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it either.

  About him.

  Ethan falling.

  Ethan’s shoe dropping to the ground, seconds before.

  It must have come off when he fell.

  I wondered if he knew.

  If he’d known.

  I saw that muddy black sneaker dropping from the top of the water tower every time I closed my eyes. Sometimes I hoped it was a dream. I hoped I’d wake up, and he’d be waiting out in the driveway, in front of Ravenwood, to take me to school.

  Wake up, sleepyhead. I’m almost there. That’s what he would’ve Kelted.

  I’d hear Link’s bad music coming through the open window, before I even saw Ethan behind the wheel.

  That’s how I imagined it.

  I’d had nightmares about him a thousand times before. Before I knew him, or at least knew he was going to be Ethan. But this wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen in any nightmare.

  It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t how his life was supposed to be. And it couldn’t be how my life was supposed to be.

  That muddy black sneaker wasn’t supposed to drop.

  Life without Ethan was something worse than a nightmare.

  It was real.

  So real that I refused to believe it.

  February 2nd

  Nightmares end.

  That’s how you know they’re nightmares. This—Ethan—everything—it isn’t ending, has no sign of ending.

  I felt—I feel—like I’m stuck.

  Like it’s my life that shattered when he—when everything else ended.

  It broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

  When he hit the ground.

  I couldn’t stand to look at my journal anymore. I couldn’t write poetry; it hurt to even read it.

  It was all too true.

  The most important person in my life died jumping off the Summerville water tower. I knew why he did it. Knowing why didn’t make me feel any better.

  Knowing he did it for me only made me feel worse.

  Sometimes I didn’t think the world was worth it.


  Sometimes I didn’t think I was worth it either.

  Ethan thought he was doing the right thing. He knew it was crazy. And he didn’t want to go, but he had to anyway.

  Ethan was like that.

  Even if he was dead.

  He saved the world, but he shattered mine.

  What now?





  A blur of blue sky over my head.



  Just like the sky in real life, only a little more blue and a little less sun in my eyes.

  I guess the sky in real life isn’t actually perfect. Maybe that’s what makes it so perfect.

  Made it.

  I squeezed my eyes shut again.

  I was stalling.

  I wasn’t sure I was ready to see whatever was out there to see. Of course the sky looked better—Heaven being what it was and all.

  Not to assume that’s where I was. I’d been a decent guy, as far as I could tell. But I had seen enough to know that everything I thought about everything had pretty much been wrong so far.

  I had an open mind, at least by Gatlin’s standards. I mean, I’d heard all the theories. I had sat through more than my share of Sunday school classes. And after my mom’s accident, Marian told me about a Buddhism class she took at Duke taught by a guy named Buddha Bob, who said paradise was a teardrop inside a teardrop inside a teardrop, or something like that. The year before that, my mom tried to get me to read Dante’s Inferno, which Link told me was about an office building that caught fire, but actually turned out to be about a guy’s voyage into the nine circles of Hell. I only remember the part my mom told me about monsters or devils trapped in a pit of ice. I think it was the ninth circle of Hell, but there were so many circles down there that after a while they all sort of ran together.

  After what I’d learned about underworlds and otherworlds and sideways worlds, and whatever else came in the whole triple-layer cake of universes that was the Caster world, that first glimpse of blue sky was fine by me. I was relieved to see there was something that looked like a cheesy Hallmark card waiting for me. I wasn’t expecting pearly gates or naked cherub babies. But the blue sky, that was a nice touch.

  I opened my eyes again. Still blue.

  Carolina blue.

  A fat bee buzzed over my head, climbing high into the sky—until he banged into it, just as he had a thousand times before.

  Because it wasn’t the sky.

  It was the ceiling.

  And this wasn’t Heaven.

  I was lying in my old mahogany bed in my even older bedroom at Wate’s Landing.

  I was home.

  Which was impossible.

  I blinked.

  Still home.

  Had it been a dream? I desperately hoped so. Maybe it was, just like it had been every single morning for the first six months after my mom died.

  Please let it have been a dream.

  I reached down and searched the dust under my bed frame. I felt the familiar pile of books and pulled one out.

  The Odyssey. One of my favorite graphic novels, though I was pretty sure Mad Comix had taken a few liberties with the version Homer wrote.

  I hesitated, then pulled out another. On the Road. The first sight of the Kerouac was undeniable proof, and I rolled to one side until I could see the pale square on my wall where, until a few days ago—was that all it had been?—the tattered map had hung, with the green marker lines circling all the places from my favorite books I wanted to visit.

  It was my room, all right.

  The old clock on the table next to my bed didn’t seem to be working anymore, but everything else looked about the same. It must be a warm day, for January. The light that came flooding in from the window was almost unnatural—sort of like I was in one of Link’s bad storyboards for a Holy Rollers music video. But aside from the movie lighting, my room was exactly the way I’d left it. Just like the books under my bed, the shoe boxes holding my whole life story were still there lining my walls. Everything that was supposed to be there was there, at least as far as I was concerned.

  Except Lena.

  L? You there?

  I couldn’t feel her. I couldn’t feel anything.

  I looked at my hands. They seemed all right. No bruises. I looked at my plain white T-shirt. No blood.

  No holes in my jeans or my body.

  I went to my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror above my sink. There I was. Same old Ethan Wate.

  I was still staring at my reflection when I heard a sound from downstairs.

/>   “Amma?”

  My heart felt like it was pounding, which was pretty funny, since when I woke up, I wasn’t even sure it was beating. Either way, I could hear the familiar sounds of my house, coming from down in the kitchen. Floorboards creaked as someone moved back and forth in front of the cupboards and the burners and the old kitchen table. Same old footsteps, going about the same old business as usual in the morning.

  If it was morning.

  The smell of our old frying pan on the burner came wafting up from downstairs.

  “Amma? That’s not bacon, is it?”

  The voice was clear and calm. “Sweetheart, I think you know what I’m cooking. There’s only one thing I know how to cook. If you can call it that.”

  That voice.

  It was so familiar.

  “Ethan? How much longer are you going to make me wait to give you a hug? Been down here a long time, darling.”

  I couldn’t understand the words. I couldn’t hear anything except the voice. I’d heard it before, not that long ago, but never like this. As loud and clear and full of life as if she was downstairs.

  Which she was.

  The words were like music. They chased all the misery and confusion away.

  “Mom? Mom!”

  I raced down the stairs, three at a time, before she could answer.


  Fried Green Tomatoes

  There she was, standing in the kitchen in her bare feet, her hair the same as I remembered—half up, half down. A crisp white button-down shirt—what my dad used to call her “uniform”—was still covered with paint or ink from her last project. Her jeans were rolled at her ankles like always, whether or not it was in style. My mom never cared about stuff like that. She was holding our old, black iron frying pan filled with green tomatoes in one hand and a book in the other. She had probably been cooking while she read, without looking up. Humming some part of a song she didn’t even realize she was humming and probably couldn’t hear.

  That was my mom. She seemed exactly the same.

  Maybe I was the only one who had changed.

  I took a step closer, and she turned toward me, dropping the book. “There you are, my sweet boy.”

  I felt my heart turning inside out. Nobody else called me that; they wouldn’t want to and I wouldn’t let them. Just my mom. Then her arms caught me, and the world folded around us as I buried my face in her hug. I breathed in the warm smell and the warm feeling and the warm everything that was my mom to me.

  “Mom. You’re back.”

  “One of us is.” She sighed.

  That’s when it hit me. She was standing in my kitchen, and I was standing in my kitchen, which meant one of two things: Either she had come back to life, or…

  I hadn’t.

  Her eyes filled with something—tears, love, sympathy—and before I knew it, her arms were around me again.

  My mom always understood everything.

  “I know, sweet boy. I know.”

  My face found its old hiding place in the crook of her shoulder.

  She kissed the top of my head. “What happened to you? It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” She pulled back so she could see me. “None of it was supposed to end this way.”

  “I know.”

  “Then again, it’s not like there’s a right way to end a person’s life, is there?” She pinched my chin, smiling down into my eyes.

  I had memorized it. The smile, her face. Everything. It was all I had left during the time she was gone.

  I’d always known she was alive somewhere, in some way. She had saved Macon and sent me the songs that shepherded me through every strange chapter of my life with the Casters. She’d been there the whole time, just like she had when she was alive.

  It was only one moment, but I wanted to keep it that way as long as I could.

  I don’t know how we got to the kitchen table. I don’t remember anything except the solid warmth of her arms. But there I sat, in my regular chair, as if the past few years had never even happened. There were books everywhere—and from the looks of it, my mom was partway through most of them, as usual. A sock, probably fresh from the laundry, was stuck in The Divine Comedy. A napkin poked halfway out of The Iliad, and on top of that a fork marked her place in a volume of Greek mythology. The kitchen table was full of her beloved books, one pile of paperbacks higher than the next. I felt like I was back in the library with Marian.

  The tomatoes sizzled in the pan, and I breathed in the scent of my mother—yellowing paper and burnt oil, new tomatoes and old cardboard, all laced through with cayenne pepper.

  No wonder libraries made me so hungry.

  My mom slid a blue and white china platter onto the table between us. Dragonware. I smiled because it had been her favorite. She dropped hot tomatoes onto a paper towel, sprinkling pepper across the plate.

  “There you go. Dig in.”

  I tucked my fork into the nearest slice. “You know, I haven’t eaten one of these since you—since the accident.” The tomato was so hot it burned my tongue.

  I looked at my mom. “Are we—is this—?”

  She returned the look blankly.

  I tried again. “You know. Heaven?”

  She laughed, pouring sweet tea into two tall glasses—tea being the only other thing my mom knew how to make. “No, not Heaven, EW. Not exactly.”

  I must have looked worried, like I thought we had somehow ended up in the other place. But that couldn’t be right either, because—as cheesy as it sounded—being with my mom again was Heaven, whether or not the universe thought of it that way. Then again, the universe and I hadn’t agreed on much lately.

  My mom pressed her hand against my cheek and smiled as she shook her head. “No, this isn’t any kind of final resting place, if that’s what you mean.”

  “Then why are we here?”

  “I’m not sure. You don’t get a user’s manual when you check in.” She took my hand. “I always knew I was here because of you—some unfinished business, something I needed to teach you or tell you or show you. That’s why I sent you the songs.”

  “The Shadowing Songs.”

  “Exactly. You kept me plenty busy. And now that you’re here, I feel like we were never apart.” Her face clouded over. “I always hoped I would get to see you again. But I hoped I would be waiting a lot longer. I’m so sorry. I know it must be terrible for you right now, leaving Amma and your father. And Lena.”

  I nodded. “It sucks.”

  “I know. I felt the same way,” she said.

  “About Macon?” The words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them.

  Her cheeks went red. “I guess I deserved that. But not everything that happens in a mother’s life is something she needs to discuss with her seventeen-year-old son.”


  She squeezed my hand. “You were the person I didn’t want to leave, most of all. And you were the person I worried about leaving, most of all. You and your father.

  “Your father, thankfully, is in the exceptional care of the Ravenwoods. Lena and Macon have him under some powerful Casts, and Amma’s spinning stories of her own. Mitchell has no idea what’s happened to you.”


  She nodded. “Amma tells him you’re in Savannah with your aunt, and he believes it.” Her smile wavered, and she looked past me into the shadows. I knew she must be worried about my dad, despite whatever Casts he was under. My sudden departure from Gatlin was probably hurting her as much as it was me—standing by and watching it all happen, without being able to do anything about it.

  “But it’s not a long-term solution, Ethan. Right now everyone is just doing the best that they can. That’s usually how it is.”

  “I remember.” I’d been through it once before.

  We both knew when.

  She didn’t say anything after that, just picked up a fork of her own. We ate together in silence for the rest of the afternoon, or for a moment. I couldn’t t
ell which was which anymore, and I wasn’t sure it mattered.

  We sat out on the back porch picking shiny-wet cherries out of the colander and watching the stars come out. The sky had faded to a darkish blue, and the stars appeared in crazy bright clusters. I saw stars from the Caster sky and the Mortal sky. The split moon hung between the North Star and the Southern Star. I didn’t know how it was possible to see two skies at once, two sets of constellations, but it was. I could see everything now, like I was two different people at the same time. Finally, an end to the whole Fractured Soul thing. I guess one of the perks of dying was having both halves of my soul back together.

  Yeah, right.

  Everything had come together now that it was over, or maybe because it was over. I guess life was like that sometimes. It all looked so simple, so easy from here. So unbelievably bright.

  Why was this the only solution? Why did it have to end like this?

  I leaned my head against my mom’s shoulder. “Mom?”


  “I need to talk to Lena.” There it was. I’d finally said it. The one thing that had kept me from being able to exhale all day. The thing that had made me feel like I couldn’t sit down, like I couldn’t stay. Like I had to get up and go somewhere, even if I had nowhere to go.

  As Amma used to say, the good thing about the truth is it’s true, and there’s no arguing with the truth. You may not like it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. That’s all I had to hold on to right about now.

  “You can’t talk to her.” My mom frowned. “At least, it’s not easy.”

  “I need to tell her I’m okay. I know her. She’s waiting for a sign from me. Just like I was waiting for a sign from you.”

  “There’s no Carlton Eaton to run your letter over to her, Ethan. You can’t send a letter from this world, and you can’t get to hers. And even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to write one. You don’t know how many times I wished it was possible.”

  There had to be a way. “I know. If it was, I would’ve heard from you more.”

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