Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

  Her touch was warm. Her fingers were soft. Her kiss was just a kiss now. A kiss that was every bit as big and every bit as small as a kiss can be.

  It wasn’t an electrical storm or a fire. Nothing exploded or burned or even short-circuited. Lena belonged to me, the same way I belonged to her. And now we could be together.

  The Beater honked, and we broke off kissing.

  “Any day now.” Link stuck his head out the window. “I’m gettin’ gray hairs sittin’ here watchin’ you kids.”

  I grinned at him, but I couldn’t pull myself away from her. “I love you, Lena Duchannes. I always have, and I always will.” The words were as true today as the first time I’d said them, on her Sixteenth Moon.

  “And I love you, Ethan Wate. I’ve loved you since the first day we met. Or before.” Lena looked straight in my eyes, smiling.

  “Way before.” I smiled back, deep into hers.

  “But I have something to tell you.” She leaned closer. “Something you should probably know about the girl you love.”

  My stomach flipped a little. “What is it?”

  “My name.”

  “You’re not serious?” I knew Casters learned their real names after they were Claimed, but Lena was never willing to tell me hers, no matter how many times I asked. I figured it was hers to tell when she felt like the time was right. Which, I guess, was now.

  “Do you still want to know?” She grinned because she already knew the answer.

  I nodded.

  “It’s Josephine Duchannes. Josephine, daughter of Sarafine.” The last word was a whisper, but I heard it, as if she had shouted it from the rooftops.

  I squeezed her hand.

  Her name. The last missing piece of her family puzzle, and the one thing you couldn’t find on any family tree.

  I hadn’t told Lena about her mother yet. Part of me wanted to believe that Sarafine had given up her soul so I could be with Lena again—that her sacrifice was about more than just revenge. Someday I would tell Lena what her mother did for me. Lena deserved to know Sarafine wasn’t all bad.

  The Beater honked again.

  “Come on, lovebirds. We gotta get to the Dar-ee Keen. Everyone’s waitin’.”

  I grabbed Lena’s other hand and pulled her down the front lawn to the Beater. “We have to make a quick stop on the way.”

  “Is this gonna involve any Dark Casters? Do I need the shears?”

  “We’re just going to the library.”

  Link leaned his forehead against the steering wheel. “I haven’t renewed my library card since I was ten. I think I’d have better odds with Dark Casters.”

  I stood in front of the car door and looked at Lena. The back door opened by itself, and we both climbed in.

  “Aw, man. Now I’m your cabdriver? You Casters and Mortals have a really screwed-up way a showin’ your appreciation to a guy.” Link turned up the music, as if he didn’t want to hear whatever I had to say.

  “I appreciate you.” I smacked his head from behind, good and hard. He didn’t even seem to feel it. I was talking to Link, but I was looking at Lena. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was more beautiful than I remembered, more beautiful and more real.

  I curled a strand of her hair through my fingers, and she leaned her cheek against my hand. We were together. It was hard to think or see or even talk about anything else. Then I felt bad for feeling so good when I was still carrying The Stars and Stripes in my back pocket.

  “Wait. Check it out.” Link paused. “That’s exactly what I needed to finish my new lyrics. ‘Candy girl. Hurts so sweet she’ll make you want to hurl—’ ”

  Lena put her head on my shoulder. “Did I mention that my cousin’s back in town?”

  “Of course she is.” I smiled.

  Link winked at me in the rearview mirror. I smacked him in the head again as the car pulled down the street.

  “I think you’re gonna be a rock star,” I said.

  “I gotta get back to workin’ on my demo track, you know? ’Cause as soon as we graduate, I’m headin’ straight to New York, the big time….”

  Link was so full of crap, he could pass for a toilet. Just like the old days. Just like it was supposed to be.

  It was all the proof I needed.

  I was really home.


  Eleven Across

  You kids go on in,” Link said, turning up the latest Holy Rollers demo. “I’m gonna wait here. I get enough a books at school.”

  Lena and I climbed out of the Beater and stood in front of the Gatlin County Library. The repairs were further along than I remembered. All the major construction was finished on the outside, and the fine ladies of the DAR had already started planting saplings near the door.

  The inside of the building was less finished. Plastic sheets hung across one side, and I could see tools and sawhorses on the other. But Aunt Marian had already set up this particular area, which didn’t surprise me at all. She would rather have half a library than no library, any day.

  “Aunt Marian?” My voice echoed more than usual, and within seconds she appeared at the end of the aisle in her stocking feet. I could see the tears in her eyes as she rushed in for a hug.

  “I still can’t believe it.” She hugged me tighter.

  “Trust me, I know.”

  I heard the sound of dress shoes against the uncarpeted concrete.

  “Mr. Wate, it is a pleasure to see you, son.” Macon had a huge smile plastered across his face. It was the same one he seemed to have every time he saw me now, and it was starting to creep me out a little.

  He gave Lena a squeeze and made his way over to me. I held out my hand to shake his, but he swung his arm around my neck instead.

  “It’s good to see you, too, sir. We kinda wanted to talk to you and Aunt Marian.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

  Lena was twisting her charm necklace, waiting for me to explain. I guess she didn’t want to break the news to her uncle that we could make out all we wanted now without putting my life in danger. So I did the honors. And as intrigued as Macon seemed, I was pretty sure he liked it better when kissing Lena posed the threat of electric shock.

  Marian turned to Macon, at a loss. “Remarkable. What do you think it means?”

  He was pacing in front of the stacks. “I’m not entirely sure.”

  “Whatever it is, do you think it will affect other Casters and Mortals?” Lena was hoping this was some kind of change in the Order of Things. Maybe a cosmic bonus, after everything I’d been through.

  “That’s doubtful, but we will certainly look into it.” He glanced at Marian.

  She nodded. “Of course.”

  Lena tried to hide her disappointment, but her uncle knew her too well. “Even if this isn’t affecting other Casters and Mortals, it is affecting the two of you. Change has to start somewhere, even in the supernatural world.”

  I heard a creak, and the front door slammed. “Dr. Ashcroft?”

  I looked at Lena. I would’ve known that voice anywhere. Apparently, Macon recognized it, too, because he ducked behind the stacks with Lena and me.

  “Hello, Martha.” Marian gave Mrs. Lincoln her friendliest librarian voice.

  “Was that Wesley’s car I saw out front? Is he in here?”

  “I’m sorry. He’s not.”

  Link was probably scrunched down on the floor of the Beater, hiding from his mother.

  “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Marian asked politely.

  “What you can do,” Mrs. Lincoln fussed, “is try to read this book a witchcraft and explain to me how we can allow our children to check this out a the public library.”

  I didn’t have to look to know what series she was referring to, but I just couldn’t help myself. I poked my head around the corner to see Link’s mom waving a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the air.

  I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. It was good to know some things in Gatlin
would never change.

  I didn’t take The Stars and Stripes out during lunch. They say that when someone you love dies, you can’t eat. But today I had a cheeseburger with extra pickles, a double order of fries, a raspberry Oreo shake, and a banana split with hot fudge, caramel, and extra whip.

  I felt like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I guess I hadn’t actually eaten anything in the Otherworld, and my body seemed to know it.

  As Lena and I ate, Link and Ridley were joking around together, which sounded more like fighting to anyone who didn’t know better.

  Ridley shook her head. “Seriously? The Beater? Didn’t we go over this on the way here?”

  “I wasn’t listenin’. I only pay attention to about ten percent a what you say.” He glanced at her over his shoulder. “I’m ninety percent too busy lookin’ at you sayin’ it.”

  “Yeah, well, maybe I’m a hundred percent too busy looking the other way.” She acted annoyed, but I knew Ridley better than that.

  Link only grinned. “And they say you don’t use math in real life.”

  Ridley unwrapped a red lollipop and made a show of it, like always. “If you think I’m going to New York with you in that rust bucket, you’re crazier than I thought, Hot Rod.”

  Link nuzzled her neck, and Rid swatted him. “Come on, Babe. It was awesome last time. And this time we won’t have to sleep in the Beater.”

  Lena raised an eyebrow at her cousin. “You slept in a car?”

  Rid tossed her blond and pink hair. “I couldn’t leave Shrinky Dink alone. It’s not like he was a hybrid back then.”

  Link wiped his greasy hands on his Iron Maiden T-shirt. “You know you love me, Rid. Admit it.”

  Ridley pretended to scoot away from him, but she barely moved an inch. “I’m a Siren, in case you’ve forgotten. I don’t love anything.”

  Link kissed her on the cheek. “Except me.”

  “You got room for two more?” John was balancing a tray of freezes and french fries in one hand, his other hand locked around Liv’s.

  Lena smiled at Liv and moved over. “Always.”

  There was a time when I couldn’t get the two of them to stand in the same room. But that felt like a lifetime ago. Technically, for me, I guess it was.

  Liv tucked herself under John’s arm. She was wearing her periodic table shirt and her trademark blond braids. “I hope you don’t think we’re sharing those.” She slid the paper boat full of chili fries in front of her.

  “I would never get between you and your fries, Olivia.” John leaned over and gave her a quick kiss.

  “Smart boy.” Liv looked happy—not make-the-best-of-it happy but the real kind of happy. And I was happy for both of them.

  Charlotte Chase called out from behind the counter; looked like her summer job had turned into a year-round after-school job. “Anybody wanna slice a pecan pie? Fresh outta the oven?” She held up the sad-looking boxed pie. It wasn’t fresh out of anybody’s oven, not even Sara Lee’s.

  “No, thanks,” Lena said.

  Link was still staring at the pie. “Bet it’s not good enough to be Amma’s worst pecan pie.” He missed Amma, too. I could tell. She had always been on him about one thing or another, but she loved Link. And he knew it. Amma let him get away with things I never could, which reminded me of something.

  “Link, what did you do in my basement when you were nine years old?” To this day, Link had never told me what Amma had on him. I had always wanted to know, but it was the one secret I’d never been able to get out of him.

  Link squirmed in his seat. “Come on, man. Some things are private.”

  Ridley looked at him suspiciously. “Is that when you got into the schnapps and puked everywhere?”

  He shook his head. “Naw. That was someone else’s basement.” He shrugged. “Hey, there’s a whole lotta basements around here.”

  We were all staring at him.

  “Fine.” He ran his hand over his spiky hair nervously. “She caught me…” He hesitated. “She caught me dressed up—”

  “Dressed up?” I didn’t even want to think about what that meant.

  Link rubbed his face, embarrassed. “It was awful, dude. And if my mom ever found out, she’d kill you for sayin’ it and me for doin’ it.”

  “What were you wearing?” Lena asked. “A dress? High heels?”

  He shook his head. His face was turning red with shame. “Worse.”

  Ridley whacked him on the arm, looking pretty nervous herself. “Spill. What the hell did you have on?”

  Link hung his head. “A Union soldier’s uniform. I stole it from Jimmy Weeks’ garage.”

  I burst out laughing, and within seconds so did Link. No one else at the table understood the sin in a Southern boy—with a father who led the Confederate Cavalry in the Reenactment of the Battle of Honey Hill, and a mother who was a proud member of the Sisters of the Confederacy—trying on a Civil War uniform for the opposing side. You had to be from Gatlin.

  It was one of those unspoken truths, like you don’t make a pie for the Wates because it won’t be better than Amma’s; you don’t sit in front of Sissy Honeycutt in church because she talks the whole time right along with the preacher; and you don’t choose the paint color for your house without consulting Mrs. Lincoln, not unless your name happens to be Lila Evers Wate.

  Gatlin was like that.

  It was family, all of it and all of them—the good parts and the bad.

  Mrs. Asher even told Mrs. Snow to tell Mrs. Lincoln to tell Link to tell me that she was glad to have me home from Aunt Caroline’s in one piece. I told Link to thank her, and I meant it. Maybe Mrs. Lincoln would even make me some of her famous brownies again one day.

  If she did, I bet I would clean the plate.

  When Link dropped us off, Lena and I headed straight for Greenbrier. It was our place, and no matter how many terrible things happened here, it would always be the place where we found the locket. Where I saw Lena move the clouds for the first time, even if I didn’t realize it. Where we’d practically taught ourselves Latin, trying to translate from The Book of Moons.

  The secret garden at Greenbrier held our secrets from the beginning. And in a way, we were beginning again.

  Lena gave me a funny look when I finally unrolled the paper I had been carrying around all afternoon.

  “What’s that?” She closed her spiral notebook, the one she spent all her time writing in, like she couldn’t get everything on the page fast enough.

  “The crossword puzzle.” We lay on our stomachs in the grass, curled up against each other in our old spot by the tree near the lemon groves, near the hearthstone. True to its name, Greenbrier was the greenest I’d ever seen it. Not a lubber or a bunch of dead brown grass in sight. Gatlin really was back to the best version of its old self.

  We did this, L. We didn’t know how powerful we were.

  She leaned her head on my shoulder.

  We do now.

  I didn’t know how long it would last, but I swore to myself that I wouldn’t take it for granted ever again. Not one minute of what we had.

  “I thought we could do it. You know, for Amma.”

  “The crossword?”

  I nodded, and she laughed. “You know, I never even looked at those crossword puzzles? Not once. Not until you were gone and started using them to talk to me.”

  “Pretty clever, right?” I nudged her.

  “Better than you trying to write songs. Though your puzzles weren’t that great either.” She smiled, biting her lower lip. I couldn’t resist kissing it over and over and over, until she finally pulled away, laughing.

  “Okay. They were much better.” She touched her forehead to mine.

  I smiled. “Admit it, L. You loved my crosswords.”

  “Are you kidding? Of course I did. You came back to me every time I looked at those stupid puzzles.”

  “I was desperate.”

  We unrolled the paper between us, and I got out the #2 pencil. I should have known w
hat we’d see.

  Amma had left me a message, like the ones I left for Lena.

  Two across. As in, to be or not to.

  B. E.

  Four down. As in, the opposite of evil.

  G. O. O. D.

  Five down. As in, the victim of a sledding injury, from an Edith Wharton novel.

  E. T. H. A. N.

  Ten across. As in, an expression of joy.

  H. A. L. L. E. L. U. J. A. H.

  I crumpled up the paper and pulled Lena toward me.

  Amma was home.

  Amma was with me.

  And Amma was gone.

  I pretty much wept until the sun fell out of the sky and the meadow around me was as dark and as light as I felt.


  A Hymn for Amma

  order is not orderly

  no more than things are things


  no sense to be made of water towers

  or christmas towns

  when you can’t tell up from down


  graves are always grave

  from inside or out

  and love breaks what can’t be broken


  one I loved I loved, one I loved I lost

  now she is strong though she is gone

  found and paid her way

  she flew away


  light the dark—sing the greats

  a new day




  That night, I lay in my ancient mahogany bed in my room, like generations of Wates before me. Books beneath me. Broken cell phone next to me. Old iPod hanging around my neck. Even my road map was back on the wall again. Lena had taped it up herself. It didn’t matter how comfortable everything was. I couldn’t sleep—that’s how much thinking I had to do.

  At least, remembering.

  When I was little, my grandfather died. I loved my grandfather, for a thousand reasons I couldn’t tell you, and a thousand stories I could barely remember.

  After it happened, I hid out back, up in the tree that grew halfway out of our fence, where the neighbors used to throw green peaches at my friends and me, and where we used to throw them at the neighbors.

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