Stargazer Page 23

Raquel bought my story hook, line, and sinker. She didn’t even ask that many questions, which was a relief but, weirdly, a little disappointing. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d gotten away with it completely until Sunday night dinner with my parents, when Mom idly asked me where I’d been Saturday afternoon—they’d looked for me. I blurted out the first excuse I could think of, which was distantly related to the truth.

It turned out to be the worst excuse I could think of, because my parents loved it.

“Walking in the woods with Balthazar, hm?” Dad made a show of all his questions, which made Mom laugh. He laid on a bit of his long-faded English accent, Sherlock-Holmes style, for comic effect. “Now, what would a young lady be doing speaking to Balthazar More until all hours of the evening?”

“We were hardly out until all hours.” I spread butter on my roll, eagerly helping myself to the meal my parents had prepared. The blood was even more welcome than the food. I’d had to go without for half the weekend, so I drank glass after glass. “It’s personal, okay? Please don’t ask him about it or anything.”

“All right,” Mom said soothingly. “It’s just good to have you home.”

When I raised my head from my plate to look at Mom and Dad, they were both smiling at me so warmly—so gratefully—that it was all I could do not to hug them close and apologize for ever, ever lying to them. But I stayed where I was. The memory of Lucas was enough to convince me that some secrets were worth keeping.

Within a few weeks, I’d get to see Lucas again. I’d already worn all our old memories threadbare, imagining myself in them over and over again. Now I had new memories, kisses and laughter I could remember for the first time, and it was like falling in love all over again. During the next few days, I should’ve been on cloud nine.

But one question loomed overhead as dark and threatening as storm clouds—Would Balthazar tell? I knew he wanted to keep Charity a secret, but Mrs. Bethany would have known Charity back when she attended Evernight Academy. How secret could his sister be? Add how much Balthazar hated Lucas, and I wasn’t sure that our pact of secrecy would hold for very long.

I studied Balthazar’s face every day: in English, while Mrs. Bethany described Macbeth’s motives; in fencing, as he dueled with the professor to show the rest of us how it was really done; or in the halls, as we walked past each other. He never looked back at me. He never seemed to look at anyone any longer. The guy who was always the first to say hello or hold the door open for others was the guy who was now steering his way through the school corridors like a blind man, his path uncertain and his eyes blank.

“That guy is totally cracked out,” Vic said one day, as we walked past Balthazar in the great hall.

“I don’t think he’s on anything.”

“I didn’t mean, for real. If he was cracked out for real, he’d probably be having more fun, right?” Vic shrugged. “Balty looks like he’s not having any fun. He looks like he never had any. Like he wouldn’t know fun if it started dancing around yelling ‘I’m fun’ in his face.”

It took me a couple of seconds to process that. “He does look sad, doesn’t he?”

“Doesn’t look good, that’s for sure.” Vic brushed his mop of sandy bangs from his forehead, then snapped his fingers. “Hey, I’ll invite him to my next classic DVD screener. We’re doing a Matrix/Fight Club double feature about awesome leather coats and the evils of the corporate hegemony. You think he’d like that?”

“Who wouldn’t?” I resolved to look up hegemony in the dictionary. Once I’d thought that Vic wasn’t a very bright guy, but I’d learned better. Oblivious to details as he often was, he knew more about more subjects than virtually any of my other friends.

I cared about Balthazar as a friend, and that made it hard enough to watch him when he was so obviously miserable. But I would be lying if I claimed that the main reason I was frightened was because I was worried for him. I was too selfish for that. Every time I saw him so lost and strung out, I couldn’t help thinking, He’s going to tell.

Balthazar’s funereal gloom, and his silence, lasted for more than a week, until the first day of driver’s ed.

The driver’s education class at Evernight Academy was split into two sections. There was one for the regular human students, who could be expected to be fairly familiar with modern automobiles and probably drove their parents’ cars at home, and one for the vampires, some of whom had been driving regularly since the Model T days, others who had never been behind the wheel of a car before and whose wildly uneven sets of experiences were best kept hidden from human eyes. By rights I should’ve been put in the human section, but instead I was assigned with the vampires—probably because of my parents’ concerns that I wasn’t socializing with the “right people.”

“I just don’t get why every car needs a computer now,” Courtney bitched as she fumbled for the blinker. “Seriously, what is the point? I’m not doing math while I drive.”

“Please concentrate on the road, Miss Briganti.” Mr. Yee sighed heavily as he marked something on his board. We were driving one of the school’s official cars—a nondescript gray sedan, several years old—around the gravel paths that stretched through the back grounds. “I’m going to ask you to take this next loop a little faster.”

“Speeding is unsafe,” Courtney said, then smiled. “See, I read the booklet.”

“That’s very impressive, Miss Briganti, but you’re currently driving approximately twenty miles an hour. I’d like to see how you handle the car at something approaching normal street speed.”

Courtney’s hands tightened around the steering wheel. She was out of practice, and her nervousness had a tendency to manifest as whiplash-inducing sharp turns. I fumbled around to make sure my seat belt was fastened. It was difficult, because I was squashed into the middle of the backseat, with Ranulf on one side and Balthazar on the other. Ranulf studied the car interior as though he’d never seen one before, and Balthazar stared gloomily out the window.

Ranulf said, “These automobiles have only become popular in the last one hundred years. They might not remain so.”

“What, you think we’re going back to horses and buggies?” Courtney snorted as she stepped on the gas and the car lurched forward. Mr. Yee braced himself against the dashboard. “Dream on, Prince Valiant.”

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