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"I'm sorry for your loss."

He opened her hand and placed a small silver object in it, like the ones everyone had thrown onto Macon's casket. Her fingers closed around it. Before I could move a muscle, the unmistakable ripping sound tore through the air, and he was gone.


I saw her legs begin to buckle under the weight of the morning -- the loss, the storm, even the final rip in the sky. By the time I made it to her side and slid my arm under her, she was gone, too. I carried her down the sloping hill, away from Macon and the cemetery.

She slept curled in my bed, on and off, for a night and a day. She had a few stray twigs matted in her hair, and her face was still flecked with mud, but she wouldn't go home to Ravenwood, and no one asked her to. I had given her my oldest, softest sweatshirt and wrapped her in our thickest patchwork quilt, but she never stopped shivering, even in her sleep. Boo lay at her feet, and Amma appeared in the doorway every now and then. I sat in the chair by the window, the one I never sat in, and stared out at the sky. I couldn't open it, because a storm was still brewing.

As Lena was sleeping, her fingers uncurled. In them was a tiny bird made of silver, a sparrow. A gift from the stranger at Macon's funeral. I tried to take it from her hand just as her fingers tightened around it.

Two months later, and I still couldn't look at a bird without hearing the sound of the sky ripping open.


Burnt Waffles

Four eggs, four strips of bacon, a basket of scratch biscuits (which by Amma's standard meant a spoon had never touched the batter), three kinds of freezer jam, and a slab of butter drizzled with honey. And from the smell of it, across the counter buttermilk batter was separating into squares, turning crisp in the old waffle iron. For the last two months, Amma had been cooking night and day. The counter was piled high with Pyrex dishes -- cheese grits, green bean casserole, fried chicken, and of course, Bing cherry salad, which was really a fancy name for a Jell-O mold with cherries, pineapple, and Coca-Cola in it. Past that, I could make out a coconut cake, orange rolls, and what looked like bourbon bread pudding, but I knew there was more. Since Macon died and my dad left, Amma kept cooking and baking and stacking, as if she could cook her sadness away. We both knew she couldn't.

Amma hadn't gone this dark since my mom died. She'd known Macon Ravenwood a lifetime longer than I had, even longer than Lena. No matter how unlikely or unpredictable their relationship was, it had meant something to both of them. They were friends, though I wasn't sure either of them would've admitted it. But I knew the truth. Amma was wearing it all over her face and stacking it all over our kitchen.

"Got a call from Dr. Summers." My dad's psychiatrist. Amma didn't look up from the waffle iron, and I didn't point out that you didn't actually need to stare at a waffle iron for it to cook the waffles.

"What'd he say?" I studied her back from my seat at the old oak table, her apron strings tied in the middle. I remembered how many times I had tried to sneak up on her and untie those strings. Amma was so short they hung down almost as long as the apron itself, and I thought about that for as long as I could. Anything was better than thinking about my father.

"He thinks your daddy's about ready to come home."

I held up my empty glass and stared through it, where things looked as distorted as they really were. My dad had been at Blue Horizons, in Columbia, for two months. After Amma found out about the nonexistent book he was pretending to write all year, and the "incident," which is how she referred to my dad nearly jumping off a balcony, she called my Aunt Caroline. My aunt drove him to Blue Horizons that same day -- she called it a spa. The kind of spa you sent your crazy relatives to if they needed what folks in Gatlin referred to as "individual attention," or what everyone outside of the South would call therapy.


Great. I couldn't see my dad coming home to Gatlin, walking around town in his duck pajamas. There was enough crazy around here already between Amma and me, wedged in between the cream-of-grief casseroles I'd be dropping off at First Methodist around dinnertime, as I did almost every night. I wasn't an expert on feelings, but Amma's were all stirred up in cake batter, and she wasn't about to share them. She'd rather give away the cake.

I tried to talk to her about it once, the day after the funeral, but she had shut down the conversation before it even started. "Done is done. Gone is gone. Where Macon Ravenwood is now, not likely we'll ever see him again, not in this world or the Other." She sounded like she'd made her peace with it, but here I was, two months later, still delivering cakes and casseroles. She had lost the two men in her life the same night -- my father and Macon. My dad wasn't dead, but our kitchen didn't make those kinds of distinctions. Like Amma said, gone was gone.

"I'm makin' waffles. Hope you're hungry."

That was probably all I'd hear from her this morning. I picked up the carton of chocolate milk next to my glass and poured it full out of habit. Amma used to complain when I drank chocolate milk at breakfast. Now she would have cut me up a whole Tunnel of Fudge cake without a word, which only made me feel worse. Even more telling, the Sunday edition of the New York Times wasn't open to the crossword, and her black, extra-sharp #2 pencils were hidden away in their drawer. Amma was staring out the kitchen window at the clouds choking the sky.

L. A. C. O. N. I. C. Seven across, which means I don't have to say a thing, Ethan Wate. That's what Amma would have said on any other day.

I took a gulp of my chocolate milk and almost choked. Sugar was too sweet, and Amma was too quiet. That's how I knew things had changed.

That, and the burnt waffles smoking in the waffle iron.

I should have been on my way to school, but instead I turned onto Route 9 and headed for Ravenwood. Lena hadn't been back to school since before her birthday. After Macon's death, Principal Harper had generously granted her permission to work at home with a tutor until she felt up to coming back to Jackson. Considering he had helped Mrs. Lincoln in her campaign to get Lena expelled after the winter formal, I'm sure he was hoping that would be the day after never.

I admit, I was a little jealous. Lena didn't have to listen to Mr. Lee drone on about the War of Northern Aggression and the plight of the Confederacy or sit on the Good-Eye Side in English. Abby Porter and I were the only ones sitting there now, so we had to answer all the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde questions in class. What prompts Dr. Jekyll to turn into Mr. Hyde? Were they really any different after all? Nobody had the slightest clue, which was the reason everyone on Mrs. English's glass-eye side was sleeping.

But Jackson wasn't the same without Lena, at least not for me. That's why after two months, I was begging her to come back. Yesterday, when she said she'd think about it, I told her she could think about it on the way to school.

I found myself back at the fork in the road. It was our old road, mine and Lena's. The one that had taken me off Route 9 and up to Ravenwood the night we met. The first time I realized she was the same girl I'd been dreaming about, long before she ever moved to Gatlin.

As soon as I saw the road, I heard the song. It drifted into the Volvo as naturally as if I had turned on the radio. Same song. Same words. Same as it had for the last two months -- when I turned on my iPod, stared at the ceiling, or read a single page of Silver Surfer over and over, without even seeing it.