Music is called the universal language for a reason. When there is no other way to communicate, music can move, connect, and bring people together. In Ashley Woodfolk's YA debut The Beauty That Remains, it's music that brought Autumn, Shay and Logan together. But it's death that wants to tear them apart.
Autumn always knew exactly who she was — a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect. But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough.
Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered. Each of them wonders: How different would my life be if this hadn’t happened? And now that it has... what’s next?
The Beauty That Remains is an emotional, must-read story of the way music connects us, the way tragedy threatens to break us apart, and the way life can change, for better or worse, in an instant. Though we're sorry to tell you that you'll have to wait until 2018 for this one to hit the shelves, there's good news. Bustle's got the absolutely gorgeous cover reveal below, and and exclusive excerpt to tide you over. Keep reading!
My swing set will always remind me of you. I can’t even count how many secrets we whispered to each other out here; how many times you braided long blades of grass into my hair. How often we fought and then apologized to each other while pumping our legs, hurtling ourselves through space, like wind itself could solve all of our problems.
My mom finds me out there with my earbuds in and my sketchbook open. I’m sitting on the ground by the swing set, and it’s freezing, but she sits down in the grass with me anyway.
I pull my earbuds out, but I can still hear Unraveling Lovely’s song blaring through them from where they land in my lap. My mom eyeballs my phone, like she’s about to lecture me on ruining my hearing, but I guess she decides not to. Instead, she threads her fingers through mine and presses on each of my knuckles, like she’s playing the piano—something she’s done since I was small.
She brings the back of my cold hand to her warm cheek and looks away when she starts crying, but I still notice her using her shoulder to awkwardly wipe her face.
“What are you drawing?” she asks. I aim the blank page I’ve been staring at toward her.
“Am I still getting the silent treatment?”
I shake my head. “I was going to draw the swings, but I just started thinking...” I don’t finish. I can’t stop thinking, mostly about you. I poke holes in the blank page with the hand that isn’t holding hers, the one that still holds the pencil.
“You know it’s okay to be mad, right?” my mom asks. “To scream into a pillow or scribble all over a page in your sketchbook. To even break something if you need to?”
I roll my eyes a little because she is so dramatic. I shrug.
“Well, I’ll just have to be pissed enough for the both of us,” she says, and her voice sounds like someone has just hit her in the stomach.
I look at the rest of her face. Her tears are angry ones. I can tell because when my mom sad-cries, her mouth is turned down and her light eyebrows crowd together in the center of her forehead. When she angry-cries, her nostrils flare, and she turns a little red, and she presses her lips into a tight, thin line.
She stands up and kicks at the base of the swing set, where it meets the frozen ground. She kicks it again and again.
“Jesus, Mom,” I say, crab-walking backward a little. But she keeps kicking.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” she says between the solid sounds of her sneaker hitting the wood. “Not. Like. That.”
She’s breathing hard when she sits back down a minute or so later. Tears are all over her face, and her thin, blond hair is falling out of its ponytail.
“And it should never have happened to our Tavia.”
She says it as if you dying broke a law of physics. Like it should have been impossible.
I nod and pull my sleeves over my hands, wishing I could be more like her. Wishing I could get what I’m feeling inside, out. For some reason, I pick that moment to tell her the story of the day I explained to you what adopted meant, right here by the swings. We were both seven when my family moved in, and you asked me why Willow and I didn’t look like our parents a week later.
“By then we’d already decided to be best friends,” I tell her, and she laughs. “And Tavia cried when she found out someone gave us up. She couldn’t understand how someone wouldn’t want to keep me,” I say. “She didn’t know someone could decide not to keep a kid.”
I still remember how you looked, like it didn’t make sense. That made me feel...I don’t know. Special. Like I was extraordinary. I’d never felt like that before. But being friends with you always made me feel that way.
“She cried?” my mom asks, and I smile a little and nod.
“That’s just like our girl, isn’t it?” she says, looking up at the cloudy sky. Without looking at me, she adds, “What I really came out here to tell you is that we’re having kimchi jjigae for dinner.”
My mom’s been watching cooking shows and videos online and making more Korean food lately. I think she feels like the big flavors, harsh spices, and strong scents will fortify me with the kind of resilience I need to get through this—losing you. Maybe she fears I’m missing some kind of strength I would have had if I’d grown up in Korea instead of in a big house on Long Island.
“Also,” she continues, “Dante’s here. I told him to let me check on you first. Do you want to see him?”
I always want to see him, but something about that feels like the wrong thing to say.
So I just nod. She stares, like she’s trying to see inside me. You know the look: Raised eyebrows. A jutted-out chin. I smile so she’ll believe me, wondering how I got so lucky. I was born into a family that couldn’t keep me. But then I got her.
“I promise. It’s okay.”
“Ask him if he wants to eat with us because I’ll make the soup a little less spicy if he’s staying.”
She squeezes my shoulder, then walks back to the house. A minute later, Dante steps through my back doorway.
His cheeks are pink, and his breath puffs in front of his face like smoke, but I try not to look at him for too long once he gets up close. He looks more like you now that he’s the only person walking around with that hair and those eyes and a strange, thicker version of your lips.
There’s more to it than that, though. Since I don’t look much like Willow, and I obviously don’t look at all like my parents, I’m jealous. There’s no reason for me to feel this way, but I kind of hate that you belong to him in a way you’ll never belong to me. In a way my own family even doesn’t. You and Dante were a matching set, with barely a year between your birthdays.
But we were a pair too.
He sits on one of the swings and hangs his hands between his knees. His text said he wanted to talk, but it’s ages before either of us says anything. I’m the one who breaks the silence.
“I’m worried about your parents,” I tell him because your mom won’t stop moving. She’s reorganized the garage and raked the yard and cleaned the house from top to bottom at least half a dozen times. Except your room. She still goes to her book club meetings and volunteers at the art gallery on the weekends. I don’t know for sure, but I think she still wants to go on the senior trip as a chaperone, even though Dante said “Hell, no” when I asked if he was still going. I’m skipping it too.
Your dad, on the other hand, is motionless. He goes to work during the week, but if he’s anything like how he is at your house when he’s at his office, I don’t see how anything gets done. Whenever I’m over, I might see him get up to use the bathroom or to make coffee (never to eat), but then he just sits down again. I’ve only heard him say two complete sentences since the morning you died.
Dante shrugs, like he doesn’t care that his parents are falling apart, but a pained expression crosses his face. His fingers go all twitchy, and he starts chewing on his bottom lip before he says, “I didn’t come here to talk about them.”
He takes a deep breath, and I don’t know why, but I pick up my pencil again. I start sketching the oval outline of his face. I feel something inside me open as I look for differences between his face and yours, and I draw them. First, I sharpen the shape of the oval to echo his square jawline.
“I’m listening,” I say.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he starts. And I wait. I add his stubble to my drawing—another difference I can cling to. A million tiny dots and super-short black lines all over his chin and cheeks.
I glance up at him and then back down at my sketchbook.
“What am I thinking, Dante?” I ask.
He stands up and starts pacing, and I want him to sit back down so I can keep adding to his face on the page. I need to see his long, dark eyelashes (they’re straighter than yours). I can’t get his nose right (broader than yours was, and a little crooked from when he broke it) without having him in front of me.
“You’re thinking that you were with me when it was happening, right? You’re thinking you should have been at that dumb party with her.”
He jams his hands into his hair, and I look back down at paper-Dante, because that version of him doesn’t have eyes filled with tears. Paper-Dante doesn’t have eyebrows yet, so he can’t frown.
“I know you, Autumn. I know you’re freaking out, even though you’re just sitting there.” He throws his arms in my direction, like sitting is a crime. “You’re thinking this is on you.”
I feel myself pressing my lips together like my mom did when she was angry-crying, and I wonder if expressions can make you look like someone you love, even if your features are from strangers on the other side of the world.
He shakes his head, but he doesn’t tell me it wasn’t my fault.
His voice goes all shaky as he says, “You’re not the only one who feels like that.”
He comes over to me then, and sits down in the grass right in front of me. And God, I feel like I might burst into flames when he reaches for my hand. But he just slips the pencil from my fingers. He sticks the pencil between his teeth as he pulls off his gloves and shoves them into his back pocket. Then he reaches for my sketchbook, turns the page, and draws a quick, sloppy portrait of me. The only part that he gets right is my messy, elbow-length hair.
I take the sketchbook back and trace over a few of his most carelessly drawn lines. I darken my narrow eyes, and I make my cheeks a little rounder. And just when I’m almost done, lost in a self-portrait he started, he touches my arm, and I shift away from the weight of his warm hand, like it’s a reflex.
“So, what?” he asks loudly. Meanly. “I can’t even touch you now?”
I open my mouth, but no sound comes out. I close the sketchbook and watch real-Dante’s eyes turn stormy.
“That’s it, then? This, whatever this is—was—is done?”
I shake my head because the thought of losing him terrifies me. But a second later, I shrug because I don’t know how I can keep him.
“You’re not the only one hurting, Autumn,” he says through his teeth. I think about Willow telling me the same thing, and I feel a little ashamed.
He looks at me, and his black eyes are shining, like they’re made of glass. He clenches his teeth, and his jaw moves, as if a tiny wild animal is stuck inside his cheek.
“I missed you at school today,” I say.
I don’t add “and yesterday” or “and all week.” I want to tread lightly because ever since your accident, Dante is a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse. But my change of subject has the desired effect. The sentence calms him down, puts out his always-burning fire. He squeezes his eyes shut and stands up. Paces for a second.
“Yeah?” is all he says back.
“I know it’s only been two weeks since . . . But are you going to come back soon?”
He shrugs and runs his fingers through his dark hair again, looking out across my yard. I stand up too and tug at his jacket so he’ll look back down at me.
I want to tell him that I feel better when he’s around. That as complicated as things are between us, at least I feel a little less alone. But I can’t figure out the right words. I swallow, hard, before I say anything, but I don’t look away from him.
“It would be easier, for me, if you were there.”
It’s a selfish thing to say, to put on him. I feel like I’m tricking him into coming back to school, even though it’s true. I can barely be with him, but I’m so sorry, Tavia, I don’t think I can be without him, either. And I know there’s something not fair about that. It’s not fair to him or me. Or you.
I squeeze my fingers together and yank at my sleeves because my hands are shaking again, and Dante thinks I’m doing it because I’m cold. He pulls his gloves out of his pocket and hands them to me. I hesitate, but then I take them just for something to do.
“No one else knows what it’s like,” I say as I pull on the too-big gloves. I look down at my hands, at the flat flaps of fabric at the end of each of my fingers, so he can’t see my eyes. There aren’t any tears, but there doesn’t need to be for Dante to know what I’m feeling.
“Not even Alexa or Margo. Definitely not Faye.”
I don’t know if he gets it because things are different with boys. They don’t claim one another the way that girls do. They don’t learn who they are because of their friends.
“I hate taking the bus without her. Being at school without her. I text Willow constantly or look through Tavia’s pictures, just to seem less miserable.”
I even tell him that I listen to that one Unraveling Lovely song, “Unmasked,” over and over again, to drown it all out, and how it doesn’t really work. It’s the most I’ve said at once in days.
Then I bring up Perry again. “He keeps talking to me,” I say. “Not just small talk. He’s talking about her.”
“He’s still bugging you every day?” Dante asks.
I know Perry’s sad. He’s been in love with you since we were eleven. But God. I can’t talk to him. Especially since he’s the whole reason you were even in your car that night. I hate talking to anyone lately who isn’t Dante. Or you.
I reach for his hand. I squeeze it once and let it go.
“I don’t know what I want yet, with us,” I say. Dante crosses his arms. His eyes are hurt. He knows what he feels, what he wants, but he stays silent.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” I whisper.
And because your brother’s heart beats for everyone but himself, he rubs his eyes and nods.
“I’ll pick you up on Monday,” he says. I’m about to ask if he wants to stay for dinner, but before I can, he walks away and slams my back door.
I don’t know if his words mean he’ll drive me to school and drop me off, or if he’ll actually come inside and go to classes, but it’s a place to start.
When I pick up my pencil to start drawing again, I stop short.
I’m still wearing his gloves.