Emily nodded to Savannah, and the two of them walked slowly and sadly away, as if they hadn't started the Guardian Angels, Jackson's version of a neighborhood watch, a few months ago with the sole purpose of getting Lena kicked out of school. In a way, this was worse. Emory ran to catch up with them, but he saw us and slowed to a somber walk, rapping on the hood of my car as he walked by. He hadn't said a word to me in months, but now he was showing his support. They were all so full of crap.
"Don't say it." Lena had rolled herself down into a ball in the passenger's seat.
"Can't believe he didn't take off his cap. His mamma's gonna kick the tar outta him when he gets home." I turned off the engine. "Play this right and you might make the cheer squad after all, sweet Lena Du-channes."
"They're ... they're such --" She was so angry for a minute I regretted saying it. But it was going to be happening all day, and I wanted her to be prepared before she set foot in the halls of Jackson. I had spent too much time being Poor Ethan Wate Whose Mamma Died Just Last Year not to know that.
"Hypocrites?" That was an understatement.
"Sheep." That, too. "I don't want to be in their squad, and I don't want a seat at their table. I don't want them to even look at me. I know Ridley was manipulating them with her powers, but if they hadn't thrown that party on my birthday -- if I had stayed inside Ravenwood like Uncle Macon had wanted ..." I didn't need her to finish. He might still be alive.
"You can't know that, L. Sarafine would have found another way to get to you."
"They hate me, and that's how it should be." Her hair was beginning to curl, and for a second I thought there was going to be a downpour. She put her head in her hands, ignoring the tears that were losing themselves in her crazy hair. "Something has to stay the same. I'm nothing like them."
"I hate to break it to you, but you never were, and you never will be."
"I know, but something's changed. Everything's changed."
I looked out my window. "Not everything."
Boo Radley stared back at me. He was sitting on the faded white line of the parking space next to ours, as if he had been waiting for this moment. Boo still followed Lena everywhere, like a good Caster dog. I thought about how many times I had considered giving that dog a ride. Saving him some time. I opened the door, but Boo didn't move.
"Fine. Be that way." I started to pull the door closed, knowing Boo would never get in. As I did, he leaped up into my lap, across the gearshift, and into Lena's arms.
She buried her face in his fur, breathing deeply, as if the mangy dog created some kind of air that was different from the air outside.
They were one quivering mass of black hair and black fur. For a minute, the whole universe seemed fragile, like it could fall apart if I so much as blew in the wrong direction or pulled the wrong thread.
I knew what I needed to do. I couldn't explain the feeling, but it came over me as powerfully as the dreams had, when I saw Lena for the first time. The dreams we had always shared, so real they left mud in my sheets, or river water dripping onto my floor. This feeling was no different.
I needed to know what thread to pull. I needed to be the one who knew the right direction. She couldn't see her way clear of where she was right now, so it had to be me.
Lost. That's what she was, and it was the one thing I couldn't let her be.
I turned on the car and shifted into reverse. We had only made it as far as the parking lot, and I knew without a word that it was time to drive Lena home. Boo kept his eyes closed the whole way.
We took an old blanket back to Greenbrier and curled up near Genevieve's grave, on a tiny patch of grass next to the hearthstone and the crumbling rock wall. The blackened trees and meadows surrounded us on every side, tufts of green only beginning to push through the hard dirt. Even now it was still our spot, the place where we had first talked after Lena shattered the window in English class with a look -- and her Caster powers. Aunt Del couldn't stand to see the burnt cemetery and ruined gardens anymore, but Lena didn't mind. This was the last place she had seen Macon, and that made it safe. Somehow, looking at the wreckage from the fire was familiar, even reassuring. It had come and taken everything in its path, and then it was gone. You didn't have to wonder what else was coming or when it would get here.
The grass was wet and green, and I wrapped the blanket around us. "Come closer, you're freezing." She smiled without looking at me.
"Since when do I need a reason to come closer?" She settled back into my shoulder and we sat in silence, our bodies warming each other and our fingers braided together, the shock moving up my arm. It was always that way when we touched -- a gentle jolt of electricity that intensified with our every touch. A reminder Casters and Mortals couldn't be together. Not without the Mortal ending up dead.
I looked up at the twisted black branches and the bleak sky. I thought about the first day I followed Lena to this garden, the way I'd found her crying in the tall grass. We had watched the gray clouds disappear from an otherwise blue sky, clouds she moved just by thinking about them. The blue sky -- that's what I was to her. She was Hurricane Lena, and I was regular old Ethan Wate. I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without her.
"Look." Lena climbed over me and reached up into the crumbling black branches.
A perfect yellow lemon, the only one in the garden, surrounded by ash. Lena pulled it loose, and black flakes flew into the air. The yellow peel gleamed in her hand, and she let herself fall back into my arms. "Look at that. Not everything burned."
"It'll all grow back, L."
"I know." She didn't sound convinced, turning the lemon over and over in her hands.
"This time next year, none of this will be black." She looked up at the branches and the sky above our heads, and I kissed her on her forehead, her nose, the perfect crescent-shaped birthmark on her cheekbone, as she tilted up toward me. "Everything will be green. Even these trees will grow again." As we pushed our feet against each other, kicking off our shoes, I could feel a familiar prick of electricity every time our bare skin met. We were so close, her curls were falling into my face. I blew, and they scattered.
I was caught in her drag, struck by the current that bound us together and kept us apart. I leaned in to kiss her mouth, and she held the lemon in front of my nose, teasing. "Smell."
"Smells like you." Like lemons and rosemary, the scent that had drawn me to Lena when we first met.
She sniffed it, making a face. "Sour, like me."
"You don't taste sour to me." I pulled her closer, until our hair was full of ash and grass, and the bitter lemon was lost somewhere beneath our feet at the bottom of the blanket. The heat was on my skin, like fire. Even though all I could feel was a biting cold whenever I held her hand lately, when we kissed -- really kissed -- there was nothing but heat. I loved her, atom by atom, one burning cell at a time. We kissed until my heart began skipping beats, and the edges of what I could see and feel and hear began to fade into darkness....
Lena pushed me away, for my own good, and we lay in the grass as I tried to catch my breath.
Are you okay?
I'm -- I'm good.
I wasn't, but I didn't say anything. I thought I smelled something burning and realized it was the blanket. It was smoldering from underneath, where it was touching the ground.
Lena pushed herself up and pulled back the blanket. The grass beneath us was charred and trampled. "Ethan. Look at the grass."
"What about it?" I was still trying to catch my breath, but I was trying not to show it. Since Lena's birthday, things had only gotten worse, physically. I couldn't stop touching her, though sometimes I couldn't stand the pain of that touch.