Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  Our eyes met for a split second, and she smiled—relief spreading across her features in a way that was impossible to describe. It was almost peaceful, a word that I would never use to describe Amma.

  That’s when I realized something was wrong. The kind of wrong you can’t stop or change or fix.

  I reached for her at the exact same moment she stepped off the edge, into the blue-black sky.

  “Amma!” I reached for her, the way I used to reach for Lena in my dreams when she was the one falling. But I couldn’t catch Amma.

  And she didn’t fall.

  The sky split open like the universe was tearing, or like someone had finally picked that hole in it. Amma turned her face toward it, tears running down her cheeks even as she smiled at me.

  The sky held her up, as though Amma was worthy of standing on it, until a hand reached out from the center of the tear and the blinking stars. It was a hand I recognized—the one that had offered me his crow so I could cross from one world to another.

  Now Uncle Abner was offering that hand to Amma.

  His face blurred in the darkness next to Sulla, Ivy, and Delilah. Amma’s other family. Twyla’s face smiled down at me, charms tied into her long braids. Amma’s Caster family was waiting for her.

  But I didn’t care.

  I couldn’t lose her.

  “Amma! Don’t leave me!” I shouted.

  Her lips didn’t move, but I heard her voice, as sure as if she was standing next to me. “I could never leave you, Ethan Wate. I’ll always be watchin’. Make me proud.”

  My heart felt like it was collapsing in on itself, shattering into pieces so small I might never find them. I dropped to my knees and looked up into the heavens, screaming louder than I ever thought possible. “Why?”

  It was Amma who answered. She was farther away now, stepping into the sliver of sky that opened just for her. “A woman’s only as good as her word.” Another one of Amma’s riddles.

  The last one.

  She touched her fingers to her lips and reached them out to me as the universe swallowed her up. Her words echoed across the sky, as if she had spoken them aloud.

  “And everyone said I couldn’t change the cards….”

  The cards.

  She was talking about the spread that predicted my death so many months ago. The spread she had bargained with the bokor to change. The one she swore she’d do anything to change.

  She’d done it.

  Defied the universe and fate and everything she believed in. For me.

  Amma was trading her life for mine, protecting the Order by offering one life for another. That was the deal she had made with the bokor. I understood now.

  I watched the sky knit itself back together one stitch at a time.

  But it didn’t look the same. I could still see the invisible seams where the world had torn itself in half to take her. And I would always know they were there, even if no one else could see them.

  Like torn edges of my heart.

  CHAPTER 36

  Translation

  As I sat on the cold metal in the darkness, part of me wondered if I imagined the whole thing. I knew I didn’t. I could still see those stitches in the sky, no matter how dark it was.

  Still, I didn’t move.

  If I left, it would be real.

  If I left, she would be gone.

  I don’t know how long I sat there trying to make sense of everything, but the sun came up, and I was still sitting in the same spot. No matter how many times I tried to work it out, I kept getting stuck.

  I had this old Bible story in my head, playing over and over, like a bad song from the radio. I’m probably getting it wrong, but I remember it like this: There was this city of people who were so righteous, they got picked right up off the earth and taken to Heaven. Just like that.

  They didn’t even die.

  They got to skip dying, the way you pass Go and head directly to Jail if you pull the wrong card in Monopoly.

  Translated—that’s the name for what happened to them. I remember because Link was in my Sunday school class, and he said teleported, then transported, and finally transportated.

  We were supposed to act real jealous about it, like those people were so lucky to get plucked up and taken into the Lap o’ the Lord.

  Like it was a place or something.

  I remember coming home and asking my mom about it, because that’s how creeped out I was. I don’t remember what she said, but I decided right then and there that the goal wasn’t to be good. It was to be just good enough.

  I didn’t want to risk getting translated, or even teleported.

  I wasn’t looking to go live in the Lap o’ the Lord. I was more excited about Little League.

  But it seemed like that’s what happened to Amma. She was lapped right up, transported, transportated—all of it.

  Did the universe, or the Lord and his lap, or the Greats expect me to feel happy about it? I had just been through hell to get back to the regular world of Gatlin—back to Amma, and Lena, and Link, and Marian.

  How long did we have together?

  Was I supposed to be okay with that?

  One minute she was there, and then it was over. Now the sky was the sky again, flat and blue and calm, as if it really was just painted plaster, like my bedroom ceiling. Even if someone I loved was trapped somewhere behind it.

  That’s how I felt now. Trapped on the wrong side of the sky.

  Alone on the top of the Summerville water tower, looking out over the world I had known my entire life, a world of dirt roads and paved routes, of gas stations and grocery stores and strip malls. And everything was the same, and nothing was the same.

  I wasn’t the same.

  I guess that’s the thing about a hero’s journey. You might not start out a hero, and you might not even come back that way. But you change, which is the same as everything changing. The journey changes you, whether or not you know it, and whether or not you want it to. I had changed.

  I had come back from the dead, and Amma was gone, even if she was one of the Greats now.

  You couldn’t get more changed than that.

  I heard a clanging on the ladder beneath me, and I knew who it was before I felt her curling around my heart. The warmth exploded across me, across the water tower, across Summerville. The sky was striped with gold and red, as if the sunrise was reversing itself, lighting up the sky all over again.

  There was only one person who could do that to a sky or my heart.

  Ethan, is that you?

  I smiled even as my eyes turned wet and blurry.

  It’s me, L. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be okay now.

  I reached my hand down and wrapped it around hers, pulling her up onto the platform at the top of the water tower.

  She slid into my arms, falling into sobs that beat against my chest. I don’t know which one of us was crying harder. I’m not even sure we remembered to kiss. What we had went so much deeper than a kiss.

  When we were together, she turned me completely inside out.

  It didn’t matter if we were dead or alive. We could never be kept apart. There were some things more powerful than worlds or universes. She was my world, as much as I was hers. What we had, we knew.

  The poems are all wrong. It’s a bang, a really big bang. Not a whimper.

  And sometimes gold can stay.

  Anybody who’s ever been in love can tell you that.

  CHAPTER 37

  What the Words Never Say

  Amma Treadeau has been declared legally dead, following her disappearance from Wate’s Landing, the home of Mitchell and Ethan Wate, on Cotton Bend, in Central Gatlin’—” I stopped reading out loud.

  I was sitting at her kitchen table, where her One-Eyed Menace waited sadly in the mason jar on her counter, and it didn’t seem possible that I was reading Amma’s obituary. Not when I could still smell the Red Hots and the pencil lead.

  “Keep readin’.” Aunt Grace was l
eaning over my shoulder, trying to read the print that her bifocals were ten strengths too weak to read.

  Aunt Mercy was sitting in her wheelchair, on the other side of the table, next to my dad. “They best say somethin’ about Amma’s pie. Or the Good Lord as my witness, I’ll go down there ta The Stars ’n’ Bars and give them a piece a my mind.” Aunt Mercy still thought our town newspaper was named after the Confederate flag.

  “It’s The Stars and Stripes,” my father corrected gently. “And I’m sure they worked hard to assure Amma is remembered for all her talents.”

  “Hmm.” Aunt Grace sniffed. “Folks ’round here don’t know a lick about talent. Prudence Jane’s singin’ was looked over by the choir for years.”

  Aunt Mercy crossed her arms. “She had the voice of an angel if I ever heard one.”

  I was surprised Aunt Mercy could hear anything without her hearing aid. She was still carrying on when Lena began to Kelt with me.

  Ethan? Are you okay?

  I’m okay, L.

  You don’t sound okay.

  I’m dealing.

  Hold on. I’m coming.

  Amma’s face stared out at me from the newspaper, printed in black and white. Wearing her best Sunday dress, the one with the white collar. I wondered if someone had taken that photo at my mom’s funeral or Aunt Prue’s. It could’ve been Macon’s.

  There had been so many.

  I laid the paper down on the scarred wood. I hated that obituary. Someone from the paper must have written it, not someone who knew Amma. They’d gotten everything wrong. I guess I had a new reason to hate The Stars and Stripes as much as Aunt Grace did.

  I closed my eyes, listening to the Sisters fuss about everything from Amma’s obituary to the fact that Thelma couldn’t make grits the right way. I knew it was their way of paying their respects to the woman who had raised my dad and me. The woman who had made them pitcher after pitcher of sweet tea and made sure they didn’t leave the house with their skirts hitched up in their pantyhose when they left for church.

  After a while, I couldn’t hear them at all. Just the quiet sound of Wate’s Landing mourning, too. The floorboards creaked, but this time I knew it wasn’t Amma in the next room. None of her pots were banging. No cleavers were attacking the cutting board. No warm food would be coming my way.

  Not unless my dad and I taught ourselves how to cook.

  There were no casseroles piled up on our porch either. Not this time. There wasn’t a soul in Gatlin who would have dared bring their sorry excuse for a pot roast to mark Miss Amma Treadeau’s passing. And if they did, we wouldn’t have eaten it.

  Not that anyone around here really believed she was gone. At least that’s what they said. “She’ll come back, Ethan. ’Member the way she just showed up without sayin’ a word, the day you were born?” It was true. Amma had raised my father and moved out to Wader’s Creek with her family. But as the story goes, the day my parents brought me home from the hospital, she showed up with her quilting bag and moved back in.

  Now Amma was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. More than anyone, I knew how that worked. I looked at the worn spot on the floorboards over by the stove, in front of the oven door.

  I miss her, L.

  I miss her, too.

  I miss both of them.

  I know.

  I heard Thelma walk into the room, a hunk of tobacco tucked under her lip. “All right, girls. I think y’all have had enough excitement for one mornin’. Let’s go on in the other room and see what we can win on The Price Is Right.”

  Thelma winked at me and wheeled Aunt Mercy out of the room. Aunt Grace was right behind them, with Harlon James at her feet. “I hope they’re givin’ away one a those iceboxes that makes water all on its own.”

  My dad reached for the newspaper and started reading where I left off. “ ‘Memorial services will be held at the Chapel at Wader’s Creek.’ ” My mind flashed on Amma and Macon, standing face to face in the middle of the foggy swamp on the wrong side of midnight.

  “Aw, hell, I tried to tell anyone who would listen. Amma doesn’t want a service.” He sighed.

  “Nope.”

  “She’s fussing around somewhere right now, saying, ‘I don’t see why you’re wastin’ good time mournin’ me. Sure as my Sweet Redeemer, I’m not wastin’ my time mournin’ you.’ ”

  I smiled. He cocked his head to the left, just like Amma did when she was on the rampage. “T. O. M. F. O. O. L. E. R. Y. Ten down. As in, this whole thing’s nothin’ but hodgepodge and nonsense, Mitchell Wate.”

  This time I laughed, because my dad was right. I could hear her saying it. She hated being the center of attention, especially when it involved the infamous Gatlin Funerary Pity Parade.

  My dad read the next paragraph. “ ‘Miss Amma Treadeau was born in Unincorporated Gatlin County, South Carolina, the sixth of seven children born to the late Treadeau family.’ ” The sixth of seven children? Had Amma ever mentioned her sisters and brothers? I only remembered her talking about the Greats.

  He skimmed the length of the obituary. “ ‘By some count, her career as a baker of local renown spanned at least five decades and as many county fairs.’ ” He shook his head again. “But no mention of her Carolina Gold? Good Lord, I hope Amma’s not reading this from some cloud up on high. She’ll be sending lightning bolts down, left and right.”

  She’s not, I thought. Amma doesn’t care what they say about her now. Not the folks in Gatlin. She’s sitting on a porch somewhere with the Greats.

  He kept going. “ ‘Miss Amma leaves behind her extended family, a host of cousins, and a circle of close family friends.’ ” He folded up the paper and tossed it back onto the table. “Where’s the part where Miss Amma leaves behind two of the sorriest, hungriest, saddest boys ever to inhabit Wate’s Landing?” He tapped his fingers restlessly on the wood tabletop between us.

  I didn’t know what to say at first. “Dad?”

  “Yeah?”

  “We’re going to be okay, you know?”

  It was true. That’s what she’d been doing all this time, if you thought about it. Getting us ready for a time when she wouldn’t be there to get us ready for all the times after that.

  For now.

  My dad must have understood, because he let his hand fall heavily on my shoulder. “Yes, sir. Don’t I know it.”

  I didn’t say anything else.

  We sat there together, staring out the kitchen window. “Anything else would be downright disrespectful.” His voice sounded wobbly, and I knew he was crying. “She raised us pretty well, Ethan.”

  “She sure did.” I fought back the tears myself. Out of respect, I guess, like my dad said. This was how it had to be now.

  This was real.

  It hurt—it almost killed me—but it was real, the same way losing my mom was real. I had to accept it. Maybe this was the way the universe was meant to unravel, at least this part of it.

  The right thing and the easy thing are never the same.

  Amma had taught me that, better than anyone.

  “Maybe she and Lila Jane are taking care of each other now. Maybe they’re sitting together, talking over fried tomatoes and sweet tea.” My dad laughed, even though he was crying.

  He had no idea how close to the truth he was, and I didn’t tell him.

  “Cherries.” That was all I said.

  “What?” My dad looked at me funny.

  “Mom likes cherries. Straight out of the colander, remember?” I turned my head his way. “But I’m not sure Aunt Prue is letting either one of them get a word in edgewise.”

  He nodded and stretched out his hand until it brushed against my arm. “Your mom doesn’t care. She just wants to be left in peace with her books for a while, don’t you think? At least until we get there?”

  “At least,” I said, though I couldn’t look at him now. My heart was pulled so many different ways at once, I didn’t know what I was feeling. Part of me wished I could tell him that I’d see
n my mom. That she was okay.

  We sat like that, not moving or talking, until I felt my heart start to pound.

  L? Is that you?

  Come out, Ethan. I’m waiting.

  I heard the music before I saw the Beater roll into view through the windowpanes. I stood up and nodded at my dad. “I’m going up to Lena’s for a while.”

  “You take all the time you need.”

  “Thanks, Dad.”

  As I turned to leave the kitchen, I caught one last sight of my dad, sitting alone at the table with the newspaper. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave him like that.

  I reached back for the paper.

  I don’t know why I took it. Maybe I just wanted to keep her with me a little while longer. Maybe I didn’t want my dad to sit alone with all those feelings, wrapped in a stupid paper with a bad crossword puzzle and a worse obituary.

  Then it came to me.

  I pulled open Amma’s drawer and grabbed a #2 pencil. I held it up to show my dad.

  He grinned. “Started out sharp, and then she sharpened it.”

  “It’s what she would have wanted. One last time.”

  He leaned back in his chair until he could reach the drawer and tossed me a box of Red Hots. “One last time.”

  I gave him a hug. “I love you, Dad.”

  Then I swept my hand across the length of the kitchen windows, sending salt spraying all over the kitchen floor.

  “It’s time to let the ghosts in.”

  I only made it halfway down the porch steps before Lena found me. She jumped up into my arms, circling her skinny legs around mine. She clung to me and I held on to her, like neither one of us was ever letting go.

  There was electricity, plenty of electricity. But as her lips found mine, there was nothing but sweetness and peace. Kind of like coming home, when a home’s still a shelter and not the storm itself.

  Everything was different between us. There was nothing keeping us apart anymore. I didn’t know if it was because of the New Order, or because I’d journeyed to the end of the Otherworld and back. Either way, I could hold Lena’s hand without burning a hole in my palm.

 
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