Balthazar Page 27

“Poor you.” Madison leaned across her desk, mock confidential. “What if I told you something guaranteed to make you feel better?”

“School’s canceled forever?” Skye was too tired to think of a better joke. Craig and Britnee walked in, hand in hand, and she had to close her eyes.

“Like I’d be here if it were. Listen, you know the Valentine’s Dance is coming up. And you’re gonna have a date. Guess who’s asking you? Keith!”

Skye had to work to remember exactly who Keith was—one of Madison’s friends, of course. He was actually pretty cute, though in a blond, catalog-model way that had never much appealed to her. “Oh.”

“Oh? That news only gets an oh? Keith’s about the hottest guy in this school.” Madison paused before adding, “Except, of course, for a certain homeroom teacher.”

Balthazar had just walked in. Skye glanced up at him to see him looking at her; his expression appeared as desolate as she felt inside. They broke the connection at the same moment, and after that she could only stare at her desk and be glad about the waterproof mascara.

Madison whispered, “He’s acting as weird as you.”

Skye shrugged. She didn’t trust herself to speak.

Somehow she made it through homeroom and history class; for the first day ever, it was dull. Balthazar was obviously phoning it in, and it was a very small consolation to know that he felt rotten, too.

It could have been so different, if he’d just turned to her this morning.

When the bell rang, louder than ever before, Skye hurried out as quickly as she could. Mr. Bollinger’s room felt like the only safe haven at school, even if he did make her polish the triangles again. But as she walked past Ms. Loos’s room, she felt it:

Pain shooting up the arm, circling the chest. Knowing the doctor said to be careful but not really believing death was possible, not until now—

“Oh, no,” she whispered. Never before had she been able to sense the death if there was some kind of barrier between her and the place where that person had died. But her senses were heightened today—all of them.

She started running away from the room, hurtling down the hall much faster than was allowed or safe. Some people swore as they ducked away from her, and she could hear cranky Coach Haladki yelling for her to slow down, but she didn’t. All that mattered was getting farther away from that death—

Then she slammed into someone so hard that she stumbled and her victim fell.

“I’m sorry!” Skye gasped as she bent to grab her books, and only then did she see who it was she’d knocked over. Britnee Fong stared up at her, a little angry but more shocked.

“Are you, like, in trouble?” Britnee didn’t say it like she thought Skye could possibly be in any real trouble. “Because you were going really fast? And I’d hope you wouldn’t knock anybody down on purpose?”

“I said I was sorry,” Skye said curtly. She would’ve apologized more to anyone else on earth, but not this girl. Not the one who stole her boyfriend.

As if he’d heard her thoughts, Craig appeared at that moment to help Britnee up. “What is your problem, Skye?”

“My problem? My problem?” If only she had just one problem to deal with. “Forget it, okay?”

“No,” Craig said. “We’ve got to talk. Britnee, tell Ms. Loos I’m—sick or out or something.”

“Um, okay?” Britnee looked as startled as Skye felt when Craig took her by the arm and steered her toward the art room, which was empty during second period.

“Don’t grab me!” Skye threw his hand off.

“Don’t make me say all this in the hall,” Craig retorted.

Skye, who had already had enough of people at Darby Glen staring at her like she was some kind of freak, followed him into the room. Besides, it would feel good to unload on somebody. Anybody. The fact that it was Craig—faithless, cruel—was a bonus.

As soon as she shut the door, he said, “Where do you get off attacking my girlfriend?”

“It was an accident, Craig. I wasn’t looking where I was going. Is that a crime?”

“An accident. Right. You hate Britnee. You laugh every time that bitch Madison Findley jokes about Britnee being ‘fat’ or ‘stupid’ or any other insult she can throw at her.”

Which—was true. And not exactly cool of her to do, even if Madison was only making those jokes to cheer Skye up. “Don’t call Madison a bitch. She’s my friend.”

“If that’s the kind of person you want to hang around with, fine. You’ve changed, Skye. I used to think we could be friends again someday, but there’s nothing in you but hate.”

“If I hate you, don’t I have a reason?” Skye’s voice was getting louder. She tried to keep her voice down, so that the entirety of Mrs. McCauley’s Algebra II class next door wouldn’t hear every word. “You slept with me and then you dumped me.”

“Months after that!”

“How could you do any of that to me after Dakota died?”

Her words were shrill even to her ears. The anger drained out of Craig in an instant. Wearily he leaned against the drafting table, bowing over as if from the weight of it all. “Skye, don’t you get it?” he said. “If Dakota hadn’t—I was going to break up with you at the start of the summer. Face-to-face, like I know I should’ve. But after he died, I couldn’t.”

“What?” She’d never dreamed that was possible. Craig had been there for her every second of that time, and she’d been too lost in her own grief to notice that his thoughts might have been far away, too. “But—why?”

“There wasn’t any reason why. We’d been at different schools for two years. You came home talking about all these people I didn’t know and events I hadn’t been to, and when I talked about being here, it bored you, too, and—we were just growing apart. It happens. I knew I cared about Britnee, but I never asked her out—never even touched her—and finally it got to the point where I had to break up with you or turn into a cheater. I don’t cheat. I was honest with you. So why do I have to be the bad guy?”

Skye’s anger returned. “Well, now because you slept with me knowing you were going to dump me.”

Craig ran his hand over his stubble-short hair. “I shouldn’t have. I know that. But—it was your idea, remember?”

It had been. She’d felt so empty, so alone, after Dakota’s death. Craig had been her lifeline and her comfort that summer, and she’d thought—maybe if they took that final step, she’d finally feel alive again. Feel anything again. But she’d never dreamed that it wasn’t something Craig wanted, too.

“My idea.” Her eyes were welling with tears now. “Well, thanks for humoring me.”

“That’s not—oh, crap. I know it was a mistake, all right? I know. But I was mixed-up, and I thought maybe it would change things for us. That was stupid. I’m sorry.” Craig’s voice wavered a little; this had upset him as badly as it had her. What right did he have to be so hurt?

And yet, the part of her that remembered being in love with him hated to hear him so broken up. That flicker of feeling—no longer love, but still powerful, still real—upset her as much as anything else she’d been through that day. She didn’t hate him, not down deep, and she wanted to, just because hate was easier. Simpler. Knowing that about herself was hard.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” she repeated, but quietly this time. “You should’ve told me the truth.”

“I couldn’t leave you after Dakota.” While she was dating him, Craig and Dakota had become friends. They used to shoot hoops out in the driveway of the old house. How had she forgotten that?

“All you did was put the pain off until later.” Skye wiped at her eyes. “It didn’t hurt any less.”

Craig looked as guilty as she wanted him to feel. She’d always thought it would help to see him feeling like the scum of the earth. It didn’t.

He said only, “If I had it to do over, I’d do it differently.”

“Whatever. Let’s just drop it, okay? And for the record, knocking Britnee over really was an accident. I didn’t see her. Tell her—tell her I’m sorry.” Skye pulled herself together and hurried out, hoping none of the hall monitors would see her.

When she got to Mr. Bollinger’s room, he was busily leafing through sheet music. “There you are! And here I thought you must have called in sick today.” His voice trailed off as he saw her face. “Uh-oh. What’s the matter?”

Skye tried to turn it into a joke. “Boys are stupid.”

“Don’t I know it.” Mr. Bollinger sighed. “Sit down and take a load off.”

Instead of making her work through the period, he set up the A/V screener and let her watch thirty minutes of Singin’ in the Rain, which as far as she was concerned made him the best teacher ever.

So, ur just ditching study hall?

It’s not ditching, Skye typed as she elbowed her locker shut for the day. If ur a senior, u can sign out up to 2x a week. This is the 1st time I’ve ever signed out. Y not?

Clem replied: B/c vampires r trying to KILL U and staying close to ur bodyguard might be a good idea!

Redgrave’s not going to kill me anytime soon. He could’ve done that yesterday if he wanted to. He didn’t.

Other vampires tried to kill u too. Maybe they got the smack-down, but doesn’t mean they won’t try again.

Clementine had a point. I just can’t be around Balthazar right now.

I get that. But u have to b careful.

She walked through the front doors of the school, where it was still snowing thick and heavy, with big, fat flakes blanketing down so abundantly that the whole world got fuzzy about two hundred yards in the distance. The snowfall hadn’t stopped since last night; the drifts were at least seven inches deep by now. This softening of the world—the muffling of sound, the dimming of light—helped soothe her overwrought senses. This was just what she needed: deep, endless snow.

After rewrapping her muffler around her neck, she sent back, I’ll go to Café Keats. I’ll even take the shortcut nobody uses. Madison can meet me there after school. It was weird that Madison hadn’t wanted to sign out with her, and Skye would have appreciated the company, but if somebody wanted to actually study in study hall, so be it. Even vampires won’t be out in the middle of this.

I guess, Clem replied. But txt me when u get there. Besides, we have to talk more about ur date to the dance!

Skye sighed. Keith had asked her at lunch period, so offhandedly that he either didn’t care if she said yes or not, or wanted her to think he didn’t. It was a huge turnoff, but since the alternative now seemed to be sitting at home and crying about Balthazar, she’d said yes. Sure thing. Next text within 10 minutes, I swear.

Tromping through the drifts was vaguely satisfying; the cornstarch crunch of her boots in the snow was virtually the only sound she could hear, and even her enhanced senses didn’t overreact to that. Skye curved around the school grounds, grateful that the staff had thoroughly salted the paved path and steps. All she had to do was cut through Battlefield Gorge, and she’d be at Café Keats within seconds. The only reason she couldn’t already see it was the blinding snow—

He’s scared, he doesn’t know what to do, war isn’t like this in the books or the prints Mama showed him. There are no straight lines, there is no one telling him what to do. There are only men running at him to kill him, and he has to kill them or else. Why did no one tell him how sad he would feel to kill someone?

Damned musket! The whoreson thing won’t reload and the damned frogs are on him now!

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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