Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  Still, it made me smile just looking at it.

  Before I even had the chance to knock, I heard the sound of dogs yipping, and the heavy front door swung open. Aunt Prue was standing in the doorway, her hair still in pink plastic curlers, one hand on her hip. There were three Yorkshire terriers weaving around her legs—the first three Harlon Jameses.

  “Well, it’s ’bout time.” Aunt Prue grabbed me by the ear quicker than I had ever seen her move when she was alive, and yanked me into the house. “You were always stubborn, Ethan. But what you did this time ain’t right. I don’t know what in the Good Lord’s Myst’ry got inta you, but I’ve got a mind ta send you out front ta get me a switch.” It was a charming custom from Aunt Prue’s day, to let a kid pick the switch you planned to whip them with. But I knew as well as Aunt Prue did that she would never hit me. If she was going to, she would have already done it years ago.

  She was still twisting my ear, and I had to bend down because she was only half my height. The whole posse of Harlon Jameses were still yipping, trailing after us as she dragged me toward the kitchen. “I didn’t have a choice, Aunt Prue. Everyone I loved was going to die.”

  “You don’t have ta tell me. I watched the whole thing, and I was wearin’ my good spectacles!” She sniffed. “And ta think, folks used ta say I was the mell-o-dramatic one!”

  I tried not to laugh. “You need your glasses here?”

  “Just used ta them, I guess. Feel nekkid without ’em now. Hadn’t figured on that.” She stopped walking and pointed a bony finger at me. “Don’t you try changin’ the subject. This time you’ve made a bigger mess than a blind housepainter.”

  “Prudence Jane, why don’t you stop hollerin’ at that boy?” An old man’s voice called from the other room. “What’s done is done.”

  Aunt Prue pulled me back into the hall, without loosening her grip on my ear. “Don’t you tell me what ta do, Harlon Turner!”

  “Turner? Wasn’t that—” As she yanked me into the living room, I found myself face to face with not one but all five of Aunt Prue’s husbands.

  Sure enough, the three younger ones—most likely her first three husbands—were eating corn nuts and playing cards, the sleeves of their white button-down shirts rolled up to the elbows. The fourth one was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper. He looked up and acknowledged me with a nod, shoving the little white bowl toward me. “Car nut?”

  I shook my head.

  I actually remembered Aunt Prue’s fifth husband, Harlon—the one Aunt Prue had named all her dogs after. When I was a kid, he used to carry around sour lemon hard candy in his pocket, and he’d sneak me a couple during church. I ate them, too, lint and all. There was no telling what you’d eat in church, bored out of your skull. Link once drank a whole mini-bottle of Binaca breath spray during a talk on the atonement. Then he spent the whole afternoon and part of the evening atoning for that, too.

  Harlon looked exactly the way I remembered. He threw his hands up, a sure sign of surrender. “Prudence, you’re near ’bout the most ornery woman I’ve ever met in my en-tire life!”

  It was true, and we all knew it. The other four husbands looked up, a mixture of sympathy and amusement on their faces.

  Aunt Prue let go of my ear and turned to face her latest late husband. “Well, I don’t recollect askin’ you ta marry me, Harlon James Turner. So I reckon that makes you the most foolish man I’ve ever met in my en-tire life!” The ears of the three tiny dogs perked up at the sound of their name.

  The man reading the paper stood up and patted poor old Harlon on the shoulder. “I think you ought ta let our little firecracker have some time ta herself.” He dropped his voice. “Or you may end up passin’ on a second time.”

  Aunt Prue seemed satisfied and marched back to the kitchen with the three Harlon Jameses and me following dutifully. When we reached the kitchen, she pointed to a chair at the table and busied herself pouring two tall glasses of sweet tea. “If I had known I’d have ta live with the five a those men, I’d have thought twice ’bout gettin’ married at all.”

  And here they were. I wondered why—until I figured out it was better not to. Whatever unfinished business she had with her five husbands and about as many dogs, I sure didn’t want to know.

  “Drink up, son,” Harlon said.

  I glanced at the tea, which looked pretty appealing even though I wasn’t the least bit thirsty. It was one thing when my mom was cutting me up a fried tomato. I hadn’t thought twice about eating anything she handed me. Now that I had passed through the graveyard to visit my dead aunt, it occurred to me that I didn’t know the rules, or anything about the way things worked over here—wherever here was. Aunt Prue noticed me staring at the glass. “You can drink it, not that you need ta. But it’s different on the other side.”

  “How?” I had so many questions that I didn’t know where to start.

  “Can’t eat or drink over there, back in the Mortal realm, but you can move things. Just yesterday, I hid Grace’s dentures. Dropped ’em right down in the Postum jar.” It was just like Aunt Prue to find a way to drive her sisters crazy from the grave.

  “Wait—you were over there? In Gatlin?” If she could go see the Sisters, then I could get back to Lena. Couldn’t I?

  “Did I say that?” I knew she’d have the answer. I also knew she wouldn’t tell me a thing if she didn’t want me to know.

  “Yeah, actually. You did.”

  Tell me how I can find my way back to Lena.

  “Well now, just for the teeniest minute. Nothin’ ta get all hopped up ’bout. Then I skee-daddled back ta the Garden here, lickety-split.”

  “Aunt Prue, come on.” But she shook her head, and I gave up. My aunt was every bit as stubborn in this life as she’d been in the last. I tried a new subject. “The Garden? Are we really in His Garden of Perpetual Peace?”

  “Darn tootin’. Every time they bury someone, a new house shows up on the block.” Aunt Prue sniffed again. “Can’t do a thing ta stop ’em from comin’ either, even if they ain’t your kind a folks.”

  I thought about the headstones instead of doors, all the cemetery plot houses. I’d always thought the layout of His Garden of Perpetual Peace was kind of like our town, what with the good plots all lined up one way and the questionable graves pushed out near the edges. Turns out the Otherworld wasn’t any different.

  “Then why don’t I have one, Aunt Prue? A house, I mean.”

  “Young ’uns don’t get houses a their own unless their parents outlive ’em. And after seein’ that room a yours, I don’t see as how you could keep a whole house clean anyway.” I couldn’t really argue with her on that.

  “Is that why I don’t have a gravestone?”

  Aunt Prue looked away. There was something she didn’t want to tell me. “Maybe you should ask your mamma ’bout that.”

  “I’m asking you.”

  She sighed heavily. “You aren’t buried at Perpetual Peace, Ethan Wate.”

  “What?” Maybe it was too soon. I didn’t even know how much time had passed since that night on the water tower. “I guess they haven’t buried me yet.”

  Aunt Prue was wringing her hands, which was only making me more nervous.

  “Aunt Prue?”

  She took a sip of her sweet tea, stalling. At least it gave her hands something to do. “Amma isn’t takin’ your leavin’ well, and Lena’s no better. Don’t think I don’t keep an eye on them two. Didn’t I give Lena my good old rose necklace, so I can get a feel for her every now and again?”

  The image of Lena sobbing, of Amma screaming my name right before I jumped, flashed through my mind. My chest tightened.

  Aunt Prue kept on talking. “None a this was supposed ta happen. Amma knows it, and she and Lena and Macon are havin’ a heap a trouble with your passin’.”

  My passing. The words sounded strange to me.

  A horrible thought surfaced in my mind. “Wait. Are you saying they didn’t bury me?”

  Au
nt Prue put her hand to her heart. “Of course they buried you! They did it straightaway. They just didn’t bury you in the Gatlin cemetery.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Didn’t even have a proper memorial, I’m ’fraid. No ushers, no sermons. No Psalms or Lamentations.”

  “No Lamentations? You sure know how to hurt a guy, Aunt Prue.” I was kidding, but she only nodded, grim as the grave.

  “No program. No funeral potatoes. Nothin’ so much as a supermarket biscuit. Not even a book a remembrances. Might as well a stuck you in one a them shoe boxes in your bedroom.”

  “Then, where did they bury me?” I was starting to get a bad feeling.

  “Over at Greenbrier, by the old Duchannes graves. Stuck you in the mud like a possum-bitten house cat.”

  “Why?” I looked at her, but Aunt Prue glanced away. She was definitely hiding something. “Aunt Prue, answer me. Why did they bury me at Greenbrier?”

  She looked right at me, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly. “Now, don’t get yerself all bowed up. It was jus’ the tiniest excuse for a service. Nothin’ ta write home ’bout.” She sniffed. “On account a none a the folks in town knowin’ you passed.”

  “What are you talking about?” There was nothing folks in Gatlin came out for like a funeral.

  “Amma told everyone there was an E-mergency with your aunt in Savannah, and you went on down there to help her.”

  “The whole town? They’re pretending I’m still alive?” It was one thing for Amma to try to convince my grieving dad I was still around. For her to try to convince the whole town was more than crazy, even for Amma. “What about my dad? Won’t he figure out something’s going on, when I never come home? He can’t think I’m down in Savannah forever.”

  Aunt Prue stood up and walked over to the counter, where a Whitman’s Sampler was already opened. She turned the lid over, inspecting the diagram that listed the type of chocolate nestled in each brown wrapper. Finally, she chose one and took a bite.

  I looked at her. “Cherry Cordial?”

  She shook her head, showing me. “Messenger Boy.” The rectangular chocolate boy was missing his head now. “I’ll never know why folks waste their money on fancy candy. If you ask me, these are the best durned chocolates on this side or the other.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  Sugared up on drugstore candy, she laid the truth on me. “The Casters put a Charm on your daddy. He doesn’t know you’re a bit dead either. Every time it looks like he might be sniffin’ ’round ta the truth, the Casters double up that Charm till he doesn’t know up from down. It ain’t natural, if ya ask me, but not much ’round Gatlin is. Whole place’s gone downright cattywampus.” She held out the half-eaten box of candy. “Now have yourself somethin’ sweet. Chocolate makes everything better. Molasses Chew?”

  I was buried at Greenbrier so Lena and Amma and my friends could keep it a secret from everyone, including my father—who was under the influence of a Cast so powerful that he didn’t know his own son was gone, just like my mom said.

  There wasn’t enough chocolate in the world to make this better.

  CHAPTER 4

  Catfish Crossin’

  Getting Aunt Prue to say the one thing you wanted her to say, right when you wanted her to say it, was like thinking you could ask the sun to shine. At some point, and probably sooner than later, you had to admit you were at her mercy. I had to, anyway.

  Because I was.

  I couldn’t stomach one more waxy chocolate, washed down with one more glass of sweet tea, while one more little dog stared at me, to get at the one thing I needed to know. All I could do was start begging.

  “I have to go to Ravenwood, Aunt Prue. You have to help me. I have to see Lena.”

  My aunt sniffed and tossed the box of chocolates back down on the counter. “Oh, I see, now I have ta have ta have ta? Someone died and made you the Gen’ral? Next you’ll be thinkin’ you need a statue and a green all your own.” She sniffed again.

  “Aunt Prue—” I gave up. “I’m sorry.”

  “I reckon you are.”

  “I just need to know how to get to Ravenwood.” I knew I sounded desperate, but it didn’t matter, because I was. I hadn’t been able to walk there or imagine myself there. There had to be another way.

  “You know you get more bees with honey, sugar. Crossin’ over from one side ta the next hasn’t done much ta improve your manners, Ethan Wate. Bossin’ an old woman like that.”

  I was losing patience with my aunt. “I said I’m sorry. I’m kind of new at this, remember? Can you please help me? Do you know anything about how to get from here to Ravenwood?”

  “Do you know I’m bone tired a this conversation?”

  “Aunt Prue!”

  She clamped her teeth shut and stuck out her chin, the way Harlon James did when he got a lock on a bone.

  “There has to be a way I can see her. My mom came to visit me twice. Once in a fire Amma and Twyla made in a graveyard, and once in my own room.”

  “Pretty powerful stuff, crossin’ like that. Then again, your mamma’s always been stronger than most folks. Why don’tcha ask her?” She looked irritated.

  “Crossing?”

  “Crossin’ over. Not for the faint a heart. For most a us, you just can’t get there from here.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “It means you can’t make preserves till you learn how ta boil water, Ethan Wate. Gotta put in the time. Get used ta the water ’fore you jump in.” Not that Aunt Prue could ever bottle anything that wouldn’t burn a hole in your bread, according to Amma.

  I crossed my arms, annoyed. “Why would I jump into boiling water?”

  She glared at me, fanning herself with a folded piece of paper the way she had on the thousand Sundays when I drove her to church.

  The rocker stopped. Bad sign.

  “I mean, ma’am.” I held my breath until the rocker started to squeak again. This time I lowered my voice. “If you know something, please help me. You said you went to see Aunt Grace and Aunt Mercy. And I know I saw you when I was at your funeral.”

  Aunt Prue twisted her mouth like her dentures were hurting. Or like she was trying to keep her thoughts to herself. “You had your whole mess a split-up souls back then. You could see all sorts a things a Mortal ain’t supposed ta see. I ain’t seen Twyla since that day either, and she’s the one who crossed me over in the first place.”

  “I can’t figure this out on my own.”

  “ ’Course you can. You can’t just show up ’round here and ’spect ta do whatcha like, easy as bad pie in a box. That’s all part a crossin’. It’s like fishin’. Why would I just hand you the catfish when I should be teachin’ you how ta fish?”

  I put my head in my hands. At that particular moment, I would have been plenty fine with bad pie in a box. “And where can a guy learn to catch a catfish around here?”

  There was no answer.

  I looked up to see Aunt Prue dozing in her rocking chair, the folded paper she’d been fanning herself with resting in her lap. There was no waking Aunt Prue from one of her naps. Not before, and probably not now.

  I sighed, gently taking the makeshift fan out of her hand. It unfolded partway, revealing the edge of a drawing. It looked like one of her maps, only half-drawn, more of a doodle than anything else. Aunt Prue couldn’t sit still long without starting to sketch out her whereabouts, even in the Otherworld.

  Then I realized it wasn’t a map of His Garden of Perpetual Peace—or if it was, the graveyard world was bigger than I thought.

  This wasn’t just any map.

  It was a map of the Lunae Libri.

  “How can there be a Lunae Libri in the Otherworld? It’s not a grave, right? Nobody died there?”

  My mom didn’t look up from her copy of Dante. She hadn’t looked up when I swung open the front door either. She couldn’t hear a word anyone said when she was lost in those pages. Reading was her own version of Traveling.

  I stuck my
hand between her face and the yellowed pages, wiggling my fingers. “Mom.”

  “What?” My mom looked as startled as a person could look when you hadn’t actually snuck up on them.

  “Let me save you some time. I saw the movie. The office building catches fire.” I closed the book and held out Aunt Prue’s folded paper. My mom took it, smoothing it out in her hands.

  “I knew Dante was ahead of his time.” She smiled, turning over the paper.

  “Why was Aunt Prue drawing this?” I asked, but she didn’t answer. She just kept staring at the paper.

  “If you’re going to start asking yourself why your aunt does anything, you’ll be busy for the rest of eternity.”

  “Why did she need a map?” I asked.

  “What your aunt needs is to find someone else to talk to besides you.”

  That was all she said. Then she gave up, standing and slipping her arm around my shoulders. “Come on. I’ll show you.”

  I followed my mom right down the street that wasn’t a street, until we came to a plot that wasn’t just a plot, and a familiar grave that wasn’t even a grave. I stopped walking as soon as I saw where we were.

  My mom laid her hand on Macon’s gravestone, a wistful smile creeping across her face. She pushed on the stone, and it swung open. Ravenwood’s front hall stood there, ghostly and deserted, as if nothing had changed except that Lena’s family had gone to Barbados or something.

  “So?” I couldn’t bring myself to step inside. What use was Ravenwood without Lena or her family? It almost made me feel worse to be here in her home and still so far away.

  My mom sighed. “So. You’re the one who wanted to go to the Lunae Libri.”

 
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