Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  “But you did it out of love.” So did Lena and Amma.

  “I know. That’s what helps me bear it. I just wish my Ethan didn’t have to bear it, too. The Far Keep is a cruel place.” She looked down at her grave. “What’s done is done. There’s no cheating death any more than you can cheat The Book of Moons. Someone always has to pay the price.” She smiled sadly. “I guess you know that, or you wouldn’t be here.”

  “I guess I do.”

  I knew it better than anyone.

  A twig snapped. Then a voice called out, even louder.

  “Stop following me, Link.”

  Genevieve Duchannes disappeared at the sound of the words. I didn’t know how she did it, but I was so startled that I felt myself start slipping away, too.

  I clung to the voice—because it was familiar, and I would’ve recognized it anywhere. And because it sounded like home, chaos and all.

  It was the voice that anchored me in the Mortal realm now, the same way it had kept my heart bound to Gatlin when I had been alive.

  L.

  I froze. I couldn’t move, even though she couldn’t see me.

  “You tryin’ to give me the slip?” Link was stomping around behind Lena, trying to catch up with her as she made her way through the lemon trees. Lena shook her head like she was trying to shake Link.

  Lena.

  She pushed through the brush, and I caught a glimpse of gold and green eyes. That was it; I couldn’t help myself.

  “Lena!” I shouted as loud as I could, my voice ringing across the white sky.

  I took off running across the stubbly frozen ground, through the weeds and all the way down the rocky path. I flung myself into her arms… and went flying to the ground behind her.

  “I’m not just trying. I’m giving you the slip.” Lena’s voice floated over me.

  I had almost forgotten. I wasn’t really here, not in a way she could feel. I lay back on the ground, trying to catch my breath. Then I propped myself up on my elbows, because Lena was really there, and I didn’t want to miss a second of it.

  The way she moved, the tilt of her head, and the soft lilt of her voice—she was perfect, full of life and beauty and everything I couldn’t have anymore.

  Everything that didn’t belong to me.

  I’m here. Right here. Can you feel me, L?

  “I wanted to check on him. I haven’t been out here all day. I don’t want him to be lonely, or bored, or mad. Whatever he’s feeling.” Lena knelt next to my grave, next to me, grabbing at handfuls of cold grass.

  I’m not lonely. But I miss you.

  Link rubbed his hand through his hair. “You just went to check on his house. Then you checked on the water tower and your bedroom, and now you’re checkin’ on his grave. Maybe you should find somethin’ to do other than checkin’ on Ethan.”

  “Maybe you should find something to do other than bothering me, Link.”

  “I promised Ethan I’d look after you.”

  “You don’t understand,” she said.

  Link looked as annoyed as Lena seemed frustrated. “What are you talkin’ about? You think I don’t understand? He was my best friend since kindergarten.”

  “Don’t say it like that. He’s still your best friend.”

  “Lena.” Link wasn’t getting anywhere.

  “Don’t Lena me. Out of everyone, I thought you would understand how things work around here.” Her face was pale, and her mouth looked funny, like she was about to smile or cry, only she couldn’t decide which.

  Lena, it’ll be okay. I’m right here.

  But even as I thought about it, I knew nobody could fix this. The truth was, the moment I stepped off that water tower everything changed, and nothing was going to change back.

  Not anytime soon.

  I never knew how bad it would feel from this side. At least for me. Because I could see it all, but I couldn’t do a thing to change it.

  I reached for her hand, sliding my fingers around hers. My hands slipped right through, but if I really concentrated, I could still feel them, heavy and solid.

  For the very first time, nothing shocked me. No burning. It wasn’t like sticking my fingers in an electrical outlet.

  I guess being dead will do that for you.

  “Lena, help me out here. I don’t speak chick—you know that—and Rid isn’t here to translate.”

  “Chick?” Lena shot him a withering look.

  “Aw, come on. I barely speak English, unless we’re talkin’ about the Lowcountry kind.”

  “I thought you went looking for Ridley,” Lena said.

  “I did, all through the Tunnels. Everywhere Macon sent me and a few places he’d never let me go. Holy hell—I haven’t found anyone who’s seen her.”

  Lena sat down and straightened the line of rocks around my grave. “I need her to come back. Ridley knows how it all works. She’ll help me figure out what to do.”

  “What are you talkin’ about?” Link sat down next to her, and next to me.

  Just like old times, when the three of us would sit together on the bleachers at Jackson High. They just didn’t know it.

  “He’s not dead. Just like Uncle Macon wasn’t dead. Ethan will come back—you’ll see. He’s probably trying to find me right now.”

  I squeezed her hand. She was right about that, at least.

  “Don’t you think you’d be able to tell, if he was?” Link sounded a little doubtful. “If he was here, don’t you think he’d give us a shout-out or somethin’ like that?”

  I tried her hand again, but it was no use.

  Will you two pay attention?

  Lena shook her head, oblivious. “It’s not like that. I’m not saying he’s sitting here next to us or something.”

  But I was. Sitting next to them or something.

  Guys? I’m right here?

  Even though I was Kelting, I felt like I was shouting.

  “Yeah? How do you know where he is or isn’t? If you’re so sure and all?” Link’s Sunday school background wasn’t helping him out here. He was probably busy imagining houses made of clouds, and cherubs with wings.

  “Uncle Macon said that new spirits don’t know where they are or what they’re doing. They barely know how they died or what happened to them in real life. It’s upsetting, suddenly finding yourself in the Otherworld. Ethan might not even know who he is yet, or who I am.”

  I knew who she was. How could I forget something like that?

  “Yeah? Well, say you’re right. If that’s the case, you have nothin’ to worry about. Liv told me that she’d find him. She has that watch a hers all tweaked up, like some kind a Ethan Wate–ometer.”

  Lena sighed. “I wish it was that simple.” She reached for the wooden cross. “This thing’s crooked again.”

  Link looked frustrated. “Yeah? Well, there’s no merit badge for grave diggin’. Not in Gatlin’s pack meetin’s.”

  “I’m talking about the cross, not the grave.”

  “You’re the one who wouldn’t let us get a stone,” Link said.

  “He doesn’t need a gravestone when he’s not—”

  Then her hand froze, because she noticed. The silver button wasn’t where she’d left it.

  Of course it wasn’t. It was where I dropped it.

  “Link, look!”

  “It’s a cross. Or two sticks, dependin’ on how you look at it.” Link squinted. He was starting to tune out; I could tell by the glazed look in his eyes, the one I’d seen on every school day.

  “Not that.” Lena pointed. “The button.”

  “Yep. It’s a button, all right. Any way you slice it.” Link was staring at Lena like she was suddenly the dense one. It was probably a terrifying thought.

  “It’s my button. And that’s not where I put it.”

  Link shrugged. “So?”

  “Don’t you get it?” Lena sounded hopeful.

  “Not usually.”

  “Ethan’s been here. He moved it.”

  Hallelujah
, L. It’s about time. We were making some progress here.

  I held my arms out to her, and she threw her arms around Link and hugged him tight. Figures.

  She pulled back from Link, excited.

  “Hey now.” Link looked embarrassed. “It could have been the wind. It could have been—I don’t know—wildlife or somethin’.”

  “It wasn’t.” I knew the mood she was in. There was nothing anyone could say to change her mind, no matter how irrational it seemed.

  “Seem pretty sure a that.”

  “I am.” Lena’s cheeks were pink, and her eyes were bright. She opened her notebook, unclipping the Sharpie from her charm necklace with one hand. I smiled to myself, because I’d given her that Sharpie at the top of the Summerville water tower, not so long ago.

  I winced at the thought now.

  Lena scribbled something and ripped out the page of her notebook. She used a rock to hold the note on top of the cross.

  The paper fluttered in the cool breeze but remained where she’d left it.

  She wiped a stray tear and smiled.

  The paper had only one word on it, but we both knew what it meant. It was a reference to one of the first conversations we’d ever had, when she told me what it said on the poet Bukowski’s grave. Only two words: Don’t try.

  But the torn piece of paper on my grave was christened with only one word, in all caps. Still damp and still smelling like Sharpie.

  Sharpie and lemons and rosemary.

  All the things that were Lena.

  TRY.

  I will, L.

  I promise.

  CHAPTER 7

  Crosswords

  As I watched Link and Lena disappear toward Ravenwood, I knew there was one more place I needed to go, one person I had to see before I went back. She owned Wate’s Landing more than any Wate ever would. She haunted that place even in full flesh and blood.

  Part of me was dreading it, imagining how torn up she must be. But I needed to see her, all the same.

  Bad things had happened.

  I couldn’t change that, no matter how much I wanted to.

  Everything felt wrong, and even seeing Lena didn’t make it feel right.

  As Aunt Prue would say, things had gone cattywampus.

  Whether in this realm or any other, Amma was always the one person who could set me straight.

  I sat on the curb across the street, waiting for the sun to go down. I couldn’t get myself to move. I didn’t want to. I wanted to watch the sun dip behind the house, behind the clotheslines and the old trees and the hedge. I wanted to watch the sunlight fade and the lights in the house go on. I watched for the familiar glow in my dad’s study, but it was still dark. He must be teaching at the university, as if nothing had happened. That was probably good, better even. I wondered if he was still working on his book about the Eighteenth Moon, unless restoring the Order had brought an end to that, too.

  There was a light in the kitchen bay window, though.

  Amma.

  A second light flickered through the small square window next to it. The Sisters were watching one of their shows.

  Then, in the dwindling light, I noticed something strange. There were no bottles on our old crepe myrtle. The one where Amma hung empty, cracked glass bottles to trap any evil spirits that happened to float our way and to keep them from getting in our house.

  Where could the bottles have gone? Why wouldn’t she need them now?

  I stood up and walked a little closer. I could see through the kitchen window to where Amma sat at our old wooden table, probably doing a crossword. I could imagine the #2 pencils scratching, could almost hear them.

  I crossed the lawn and stood in the driveway, just outside the window. For once I figured it was a good thing no one could see me, because peeping in windows at night in Gatlin is what made even decent folks want to get out their shotguns. Then again, there were lots of things that made folks around here want to get out their shotguns.

  Amma looked up and out into the darkness, like a deer in the headlights. I could have sworn she saw me. Then real headlights flashed behind me, and I realized it wasn’t me Amma was looking at.

  It was my dad, driving my mom’s old Volvo. Pulling right through me and into the driveway. As if I wasn’t there.

  Which, in a whole lot of ways, I wasn’t.

  I stood in front of the house that I had spent so many summers repainting, and reached out to touch the brushstrokes next to the door. My hand slipped partway through the wall.

  It disappeared inside, kind of like when I shoved it through the Charmed door of the Lunae Libri, the one that only looked like a regular old grating.

  I pulled my hand out and stared at it.

  Looked fine to me.

  I stepped closer, into the side wall of the house, and found myself trapped. It kind of burned, like walking into a lit fireplace. I guess slipping my hand through was one thing, but getting my body into the house was another.

  I went around to the front door. Nothing. I couldn’t even kick a foot partway through. I tried the window above the kitchen table, and the one over the sink. I tried the back windows and the side windows and even the cat door that Amma had installed for Lucille.

  No luck.

  Then I figured out what was going on, because I went back to the kitchen window and saw what Amma was doing. It wasn’t the New York Times crossword puzzle, or even The Stars and Stripes one. She had a needle, not a pencil, in one hand, and a square of cloth instead of paper in the other. She was doing something I’d seen her do a thousand times, and it wasn’t going to improve anyone’s vocabulary or keep anyone’s mind New York City sharp.

  It had to do with keeping people’s souls safe—Gatlin County safe.

  Because Amma was sewing a little bundle of ingredients into one of her infamous charm bags, the kind I had found in my drawers and beneath my mattress and sometimes even in my own pockets. Considering that I couldn’t step foot in the house, she must have been sewing them nonstop since I jumped off the water tower.

  As usual, she was using her charms to protect Wate’s Landing, and there was no getting past any one of them. The salt snaking its way across the windowsill was even thicker than usual. For the first time, there was no doubt that her crazy protections kept our house haint-free. For the first time, I noticed the strange glow of the salt, as if whatever powered it leaked into the air around the windowsills.

  Great.

  I was rattling the screen out back, when I caught a glimpse of the stairwell leading down to Amma’s canning pantry. I thought about the secret door at the back of that little room of storage shelves, the one that had probably been used for the Underground Railroad. I tried to remember where the tunnel came out—the one where we’d found the Temporis Porta, the magical door that opened into the Far Keep. Then I remembered the tunnel’s trapdoor opening to the field across Route 9. It had gotten me out of the house before; maybe it could get me in this time.

  I closed my eyes and thought about that spot, as hard as I could. It didn’t work before, when I’d tried to imagine myself somewhere. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t try again. My mom said that’s how it worked for her. Maybe all I had to do was picture myself somewhere hard enough, and I’d find my way there. Kind of like the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz—only without the actual slippers.

  I thought about the fairgrounds.

  I thought about the cigarette butts and the old weeds and the hard dirt with the imprints of long-gone carnival booths and trailer hitches.

  Nothing happened.

  I tried again. Still nothing.

  I wasn’t sure how your average Sheer did it. Which left me ten kinds of stuck. I almost gave up and walked, figuring if I could make it out to Route 9, I could hitch a ride on the back of an unsuspecting pickup truck.

  Just when it seemed impossible, I thought about Amma. I thought about wanting to get inside my house so badly I could taste it, like a whole plate of Amma’s pot roast. I thou
ght about how much I missed her, how I wanted to hug her, take a good scolding, and untie her apron strings, like I had my entire life.

  The minute those thoughts formed clearly in my mind, my feet started to buzz. I looked down, but I couldn’t see them. I felt like a seltzer tablet someone had dropped into a glass of water, like everything around me was starting to bubble and fizz.

  Then I was gone.

  I found myself standing in the tunnel, right across from the Temporis Porta. The ancient door looked as forbidding to me in death as it had in life, and I was happy to leave it behind as I made my way through the tunnel and toward Wate’s Landing. I knew where I was going, even in the dark.

  I ran the whole way home.

  I kept running until I shoved my way through the pantry door, up the stairs, and into the kitchen. Once I got past the problem of the salt and the charms, the walls didn’t seem like a big deal—or feel like much of one either.

  It was like walking in front of one of the Sisters’ endless slide shows, where you step in front of the projector during the hundredth photo of the cruise ship, and suddenly you look down and the ship is cruising right over you. That’s what a wall felt like. Just a projection, as unreal as a photograph from someone else’s trip to the Bahamas.

  Amma didn’t look up as I approached. The floorboards didn’t squeak for the first time ever, and I thought about all the times I would’ve appreciated that—when I was trying to sneak out of that kitchen or my house, out from beneath Amma’s watchful eye. It required a miracle, and even then it usually didn’t work.

  I could have used a few Sheer skills back when I was alive. Now I would give anything for someone to know I was actually here. Funny how things work out like that. Like they say, I guess you really do have to be careful what you wish for.

  Then I stopped in my tracks. Actually, the smells coming from the oven stopped me.

  Because the kitchen smelled like Heaven, or the way Heaven should smell—since I was thinking about it a lot more these days. The two greatest smells on earth. Pulled pork with Carolina Gold, that was one of them. I’d know Amma’s famous golden mustard barbeque sauce anywhere, not to mention the slow-cooked pork that gave up and fell to pieces at the first touch of a fork.

 
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