Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Beautiful Redemption - Epilogue

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.
I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how hard I jammed my fists into my eyes. I guess I never
realized people could die before.
First my dad came outside and tried to talk me down out of that stupid tree. Then my mom
tried. Nothing they said could make me feel any better. I asked if my grandpa was in Heaven, like
they said in Sunday school. My mom said she wasn’t sure. It was the historian in her. She said no
one really knew what happened when we died.
Maybe we became butterflies. Maybe we became people all over again. Maybe we just died and
nothing happened.
I only cried harder. A historian isn’t really what you’re looking for in that kind of situation.
That’s when I told her I didn’t want Poppi to die, but more than that, I didn’t want her to die, and
even more than that, I didn’t want to die either. Then she broke down.
It was her dad.
I came down from the tree on my own afterward, and we cried together. She pulled me into
her arms, right there on the back steps of Wate’s Landing, and said I wouldn’t die.
I wouldn’t.
She promised.
I wasn’t going to die, and neither would she.
After that, the only thing I remember was going inside and eating three pieces of raspberrycherry
pie, the kind with the crisscross sugar crust. Someone had to die before Amma would make
that pie.
Eventually, I grew up and grew older and stopped looking for my mom’s lap every time I felt
like crying. I even stopped going in that old tree. But it was years before I realized my mom had lied
to me. It wasn’t until she left me that I even remembered what she’d said.
I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I don’t know what any of this is really about.
Why we bother.
Why we’re here.
Why we love.
I had a family, and they were everything to me, and I didn’t even know it when I had them. I
had a girl, and she was everything to me, and I knew it every second I had her.
I lost them all. Everything a guy could ever want.
I found my way home again, but don’t be fooled. Nothing’s the same as before. I’m not sure
I’d want it to be.
Either way, I’m still one of the luckiest guys around.
I’m not a church kind of a person, not when it comes to praying. To be honest, for me it never
gets much past hoping. But I know this, and I want to say it. And I really hope someone will listen.
There is a point. I don’t know what it is, but everything I’ve had, and everything I’ve lost, and
everything I felt—it meant something.
Maybe there isn’t a meaning to life. Maybe there’s only a meaning to living.
That’s what I’ve learned. That’s what I’m going to be doing from now on.
And loving, sappy as it sounds.
Lena Duchannes. Her name rhymes with rain.
I’m not falling anymore. That’s what L says, and she’s right.
I guess you could say I’m flying.
We both are.
And I’m pretty sure somewhere up there in the real blue sky and carpenter bee greatness,
Amma’s flying, too.
We all are, depending on how you look at it. Flying or falling, it’s up to us.
Because the sky isn’t really made of blue paint, and there aren’t just two kinds of people in this
world, the stupid and the stuck. We only think there are. Don’t waste your time with either—with
anything. It’s not worth it.
You can ask my mom, if it’s the right kind of starry night. The kind with two Caster moons
and a Northern and a Southern Star.
At least I know I can.
I get up in the night and make my way across the creaking floorboards. They feel astonishingly real,
and there isn’t a moment I think I’m dreaming. In the kitchen, I take an armful of spotless glasses
out of the cupboard that hangs over the counter.
One by one, I set them on the table in a row.
Empty except for moonlight.
The refrigerator light is so bright, it surprises me. On the bottom shelf, tucked behind a rotting
head of unchopped cabbage, I find it.
Chocolate milk.
Just as I suspected.
I might not have wanted it anymore, and I might not have been here to drink it, but I knew
there was no way Amma had stopped buying it.
I rip open the cardboard and fold out the spout—something I could do in my sleep, which is
practically the state I’m in. I couldn’t make Uncle Abner a pie if my life depended on it, and I don’t
even know where Amma keeps the recipe for Tunnel of Fudge.
But this I know.
One by one, I fill the glasses.
One for Aunt Prue, who saw everything without blinking.
One for Twyla, who gave up everything without hesitating.
One for my mom, who let me go not once but twice.
One for Amma, who took her place with the Greats so I could take mine in Gatlin again.
A glass of chocolate milk doesn’t seem like enough, but it isn’t really the milk, and we all know
that—all of us here, anyway.
Because the moonlight shimmers in the empty wooden chairs around me, and I know, as
always, that I am not alone.
I’m never alone.
I push the last glass through the patch of moonlight across the scarred kitchen table. The light
flutters like the twinkling of a Sheer’s eye.
“Drink up,” I say, but it’s not what I mean.
Especially not to Amma and my mom.
I love you, and I always will.
I need you, and I keep you with me.
The good and the bad, the sugar and the salt, the kicks and the kisses—what’s come before and
what will come after, you and me—
We are all mixed up in this together, under one warm piecrust.
Everything about me remembers everything about you.
Then I take a fifth glass down from the shelf, the last of our clean glasses. I fill it to the brim
with milk, so close that I have to slurp the top to keep it from overflowing.
Lena laughs at the way I always fill my cup as full as it can go. I feel her smiling in her sleep.
I raise my glass to the moon and drink it myself.
Life has never tasted sweeter.

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 38

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
“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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“I was desperate.”
We unrolled the paper between us, and I got out the #2 pencil. I should have known what we’d
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.

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 39

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

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 35

The toes of my Chucks hung over the white metal edge, a town sleeping hundreds of feet below
me. The tiny houses and tiny cars looked like toys, and it was easy to imagine them dusted with
glitter under the tree with the rest of my mother’s Christmas town.
But they weren’t toys.
I knew this view.
You don’t forget the last thing you see before you die. Trust me.
I was standing on top of the Summerville water tower, veins of cracked white paint spreading
out from under my sneakers. The curve of a black heart drawn in Sharpie caught my eye.
Was it possible? Could I really be home?
I didn’t know until I saw her.
The fronts of her black orthopedic shoes were lined up perfectly with my Chucks.
Amma was wearing her black Sunday dress with the tiny violets scattered all over it, and a
wide-brimmed black hat. Her white gloves gripped the handles of her patent-leather pocketbook.
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
That’s when I realized something was wrong. The kind of wrong you can’t stop or change or
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
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.

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 36

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
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
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.

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 37

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
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 leaning 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.
“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?”
“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,
“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 seen 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.
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
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.

Beautiful Redemption - Chapter 33

I took a deep breath and tried to let the power of the Temporis Porta flow into me. I needed to feel
something other than shock. But they felt like two regular wooden doors, even if they were about a
thousand years old and framed with Niadic script, an even older lost language.
I pressed my fingers against the wood. It felt like Sarafine’s blood was on my hands in this
world, as my blood had been on hers in the last. It didn’t matter if I had tried to stop her.
She had sacrificed herself so I would have a chance to make it to the Great Keep, even if hate
was her only motivation. Sarafine had still given me a shot at getting back home to the people I
I had to keep going. Like the officer at the Gates said, there was only one way into the one
place I needed to go—the Way of the Warrior. Maybe this was how it felt.
I tried not to think about the other thing. The fact that Sarafine’s soul was trapped in Eternal
Darkness. It was hard to imagine.
I took a step back from the broad wooden doors of the Temporis Porta. It was identical to the
doorway I found in the Caster Tunnels beneath Gatlin. The one that took me to the Far Keep for the
first time. Rowan wood, carved into Caster circles.
I placed my palms against the rough exterior of the paneling.
Just like always, they gave way beneath me. I was the Wayward, and they were the Way.
These doors would open for me in this world as they had in the other. They would show their
pathway to me.
I pushed harder.
The doors swung open, and I stepped inside.
There were so many things I didn’t realize when I was alive. So many things I took for granted. My
life didn’t seem precious when I had one.
But here, I’d fought through a mountain of bones, crossed a river, tunneled through a
mountain, begged and bargained and bartered from one world to another, to get myself this close to
these doors and this room.
Now I just had to find the library.
One page in one book.
One page in The Caster Chronicles, and I can go home.
The nearness of it swirled in the air around me. I had experienced this feeling only once before,
at the Great Barrier—another seam between worlds. Then, just like now, I had felt the power
crackling in the air, too, the magic. I was in a place where great things could happen and did
There were some rooms that could change the world.
This was one of them, with its heavy drapes and dusty portraits and dark wood and rowan
doors. A place where all things were judged and punished.
Sarafine had promised that Angelus would come for me—that he had practically led me here
himself. There was no use trying to hide. He was probably the reason I was sentenced to die in the
first place.
If there was a way around him, a way to get to the library and The Caster Chronicles, I hadn’t
figured it out yet. I just hoped it would come to me, the way so many ideas had in the past when
my future was at stake.
The only question was, would he come first?
I decided to take my chances and try to find the library before Angelus found me. It would
have been a good plan if it had actually worked out. I had barely crossed the room when I saw
them.The Council Keepers—the man with the hourglass, the albino woman, and Angelus—appeared
in front of me.
Their robes fell around them, pooling at their feet, and they barely moved. I couldn’t even tell if
they were breathing.
“Puer Mortalis. Is qui, unus, duplex est. Is qui mundo, qui fuit, finem attulit.” When one
spoke, all their mouths moved like they were the same person, or at least governed by the same
brain. I had almost forgotten.
I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t move.
They looked at one another and spoke again. “Mortal Boy. The One Who Is Two. He Who
Endeth the World That Was.”
“When you say it that way, it sounds kind of creepy.” It wasn’t Latin, but it was the best I
could come up with. They didn’t respond.
I heard the murmuring of foreign voices around me and turned to see the room suddenly
crowded with unfamiliar people. I looked for the telltale tattoos and gold eyes of the Dark Casters,
but I was too disoriented to register anything beyond the three robed figures who stood in front of
“Child of Lila Evers Wate, deceased Keeper of Gatlin.” The choral voices filled the great hall
like some kind of trumpet. It reminded me of Beginning Band with Miss Spider back at Jackson
High, only less off-key.
“In the flesh.” I shrugged. “Or not.”
“You have taken the labyrinth and defeated the Cataclyst. Many have tried. Only you have been
—” There was a hitch, a pause, like the Keepers didn’t know what to say. I took a breath, half
expecting them to say something like exterminated. “Victorious.”
It was almost like they couldn’t bring themselves to say the word.
“Not really. She kind of defeated herself.” I scowled at Angelus, who was standing in the
center. I wanted him to look at me. I wanted him to know that I knew what he’d done to Sarafine.
How he’d chained the Caster, like a dog, to a throne of bones. What kind of sick game was that?
But Angelus didn’t flinch.
I took a step closer. “Or I guess you defeated her, Angelus. At least, that’s what Sarafine said.
That you enjoyed torturing her.” I looked around the room. “Is that what Keepers do around here?
Because it’s not what Keepers do where I come from. Back home they’re good people, who care
about things like right and wrong and good and evil and all that. Like my mom.”
I looked at the crowd behind me. “Seems like you guys are pretty messed up.”
The three spoke again, in unison. “That is not our concern. Victori spolia sunt. To the victor
go the spoils. The debt has been paid.”
“About that—” If this was my way back to Gatlin, I wanted to know.
Angelus raised his hand, silencing me. “In return, you have gained entry to this Keep, the
Warrior’s Way. You are to be commended.”
The crowd fell silent, which didn’t exactly make me feel all that commended. More than
anything, it felt like I was about to be sentenced. Or maybe that was how I was used to things
going down in here.
I looked around. “It doesn’t really sound like you mean it.”
The crowd began to whisper again. The three Council Keepers stared at me. At least I think
they did. It was impossible to see their eyes behind the strangely cut prism glasses, with the
twisting strands of gold, silver, and copper holding them in place.
I tried again. “In terms of spoils, I was thinking more about going home to Gatlin. Wasn’t that
the deal? One of us goes to Eternal Darkness, and one of us gets to leave?”
The crowd burst into chaos.
Angelus stepped forward. “Enough!” The room fell silent again. This time he spoke alone. The
other Keepers looked at me but said nothing. “The bargain was for the Cataclyst alone. We have
made no such pact with a Mortal. Never would we return a Mortal to existence.”
I remembered Amma’s past, revealed through the black stone I still had in my pocket. Sulla had
warned her that Angelus hated Mortals. He was never going to let me walk away. “What if the
Mortal was never meant to be here?”
Angelus’ eyes widened.
“I want my page back.”
This time the crowd gasped.
“What is written in the Chronicles is law. The pages cannot be removed,” Angelus hissed.
“But you can rewrite them however you want?” I couldn’t hide the rage in my voice. He had
taken everything from me. How many other lives had he destroyed?
And why? Because he couldn’t be a Caster?
“You were the One Who Is Two. Your fate was to be punished. You should not have brought
the Lilum into matters that were not hers to resolve.”
“Wait. What does Lilian English—I mean, the Lilum—have to do with any of this?” My English
teacher, whose body had been inhabited by the most powerful creature in the Demon world, had
been the one who showed me what I had to do to fix the Order of Things.
Was that why he was punishing me? Did I get in the way of whatever he was planning with
Abraham? Destroying the Mortal race? Using Casters as lab rats?
I always believed that when Lena and Amma brought me back from the dead with The Book of
Moons, they had set something in motion that couldn’t be undone. It started the unraveling that
ripped the hole in the universe, which was the reason I had to right it at the water tower.
What if I had it backward?
What if the thing that was supposed to happen was the unraveling?
What if fixing it was the crime?
It was all so clear now. Like everything had been lost in darkness, and then the sun came out.
Some moments are like that. But now I knew the truth.
I was supposed to fail.
The world as we knew it was supposed to end.
The Mortals weren’t the point. They were the problem.
The Lilum wasn’t supposed to help me, and I wasn’t supposed to jump.
She was supposed to condemn me, and I was supposed to give up. Angelus had bet on the
wrong team.
A sound echoed through the hall as the great doors on the far side pushed open, revealing a
small figure standing between them. Talk about betting on the wrong team—I wouldn’t have made
this bet, not in a thousand lifetimes.
It was more unexpected than Angelus or any of the Keepers.
He smiled broadly; at least I think it was a smile. It was hard to tell with Xavier.
“He-hello.” Xavier glanced around the intimidating room, clearing his throat. He tried again.
“Hello, friend.”
It was so quiet, you could’ve heard one of his precious buttons drop.
The only thing that wasn’t quiet was Angelus. “How dare you show your defiled face here
again, Xavier. If there is anything of Xavier left, beast.”
Xavier’s leathery wings shrugged.
Angelus only looked angrier. “Why have you involved yourself in this? Your fate is not
intertwined with the Wayward. You are serving your sentence. You don’t need to take a dead
Mortal’s battles on as your own.”
“It is too late for that, Angelus,” he said.
“Because he paid his way, and I accepted the price. Because”—Xavier slowed his words, as if
he was letting them fall into place in his mind—“he is my friend, and I have no other.”
“He’s not your friend,” Angelus hissed. “You’re too brainless to have a friend. Brainless and
heartless. All you care about are your worthless trinkets, your lost baubles.” Angelus sounded
frustrated. I wondered why he cared what Xavier thought or did.
What is Xavier to him?
There had to be a story there. But I didn’t want to know about anything that involved Angelus
and his minions, or the crimes they must have committed. The Far Keep was the closest thing I’d
ever found to Hell in real life—at least in my real afterlife.
“What you know of me,” said Xavier slowly, “is nothing.” His twisted face was even more
expressionless than usual. “Less than I know of myself.”
“You are a fool,” Angelus answered. “That I know.”
“I am a friend. I have in my possession two thousand assorted buttons, eight hundred keys,
and only one friend. Perhaps it is not something you can understand. I have not often been one
before.” He looked proud of himself. “I will be one now.”
I was proud of him, too.
Angelus scoffed. “You will sacrifice your soul for a friend?”
“Is a friend different from a soul, Angelus?” The Council Keeper said nothing. Xavier cocked
his head again. “Would you know if it were?”
Angelus didn’t respond, but he didn’t need to. We all knew the answer.
“What are you doing here, then? Mortali Comes.” Angelus took a step toward Xavier, and
Xavier took a step back. “Friend of the Mortal,” Angelus snarled.
I resisted the urge to insert myself between them, hoping that Xavier, for both our sakes, didn’t
try to run away.
“You seek to destroy the Mortal, do you not?” Xavier swallowed.
“I do,” Angelus answered.
“You seek to end the Mortal race.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course. Like any infestation, the ultimate goal is annihilation.”
Even though I was expecting it, Angelus’ answer caught me off guard. “You—what?”
Xavier looked at me like he was trying to shut me down. “It is no secret. The Mortals are an
irritant to the supernatural races. This is not a new concept.”
“I wish it was.” I knew Abraham wanted to wipe out the Mortal race. If Angelus was working
with him, their goals were aligned.
“You seek entertainment?” Xavier watched Angelus.
Angelus looked at Xavier’s leathery wings, disgusted. “I seek solutions.”
“To the Mortal condition?”
Angelus smiled, dark and joyless. “As I said. The Mortal infestation.”
I felt sick, but Xavier only sighed. “As you wish to call it. I propose a challenge.”
“A what?” I didn’t like the sound of it.
“A challenge.”
Angelus looked suspicious. “The Mortal defeated the Dark Queen and won. That was the only
challenge he will face today.”
I was annoyed. “I told you. I didn’t kill Sarafine. She defeated herself.”
“Semantics,” Angelus said.
Xavier silenced us both. “So you are unwilling to face the Mortal in a challenge?”
There was an uproar in the crowd, and Angelus looked like he wanted to tear Xavier’s wings
off. “Silence!”
The chatter stopped immediately.
“I do not fear any Mortal!”
“Then this is my proposition.” Xavier tried to keep his voice steady, but he was obviously
terrified. “The Mortal will face you in the Great Keep and attempt to regain his page. You will
attempt to stop him. If he succeeds, you will allow him to do with it as he likes. If you stop him
from reaching his page, he will allow you to do with it as you like.”
“What?” Xavier was suggesting that I face off against Angelus. My odds were not good in this
Angelus was aware that all eyes were on him as the crowd and the other Council Keepers
waited for his response. “Interesting.”
I wanted to bolt out of the room. “Not interesting. I don’t even know what you’re talking
Angelus leaned toward me, his eyes sparking. “Let me explain it to you. A lifetime of servitude
or the simple destruction of your soul. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll decide on a whim, as I
like. When I like.”
“I’m not sure about this.” It sounded like a lose-lose proposition to me.
Xavier let one hand fall on my shoulder. “You don’t have a choice. It’s the only chance you
have to get home to the girl with the curls.” He turned to Angelus, holding out his hand. “Is it a
deal?” Angelus stared at Xavier’s hand as if it was infected. “I accept.”