Stargazer Page 24

“Innovations are often forgotten,” Ranulf said wistfully.

“I don’t think cars are going anywhere.” I tried to sound sympathetic and hide my amusement. Poor Ranulf always looked so lost.

“I liked horses. A horse was a friend to you. A companion. This is merely metal, and the countryside goes by too quickly to see.” That was about as much as I’d ever heard Ranulf say at once.

“I bet it was kind of nice.” I thought about that for a second—about how nobody really had horses and carriages anymore, and how many vampires must have felt more at home in those days—and then I sat up. “Hey, why don’t we start an Amish colony?”

That made Balthazar turn toward me, confused. “What?”

“You know. We have Evernight Academy, and we’re building that rehab center in Arizona—all the safe places for vampires to go, the ones where nobody else will bother us and where we can control who gets in. So why don’t we have an Amish colony? Or town, or whatever Amish people call it.” Nobody seemed to be getting it. Maybe I wasn’t explaining it right. “People who aren’t really caught up with today would be more at home there. They could have horses and carriages, and old-timey lanterns and clothes and stuff, and nobody would care. Come on, that’s a good idea!”

Mr. Yee seemed to have become drawn into the conversation despite himself. “Our gathering places are meant to bring people up-to-date with the modern world, not hide from it. Left turn signal, Miss Briganti.”

“It could be a halfway step. People could start there and work up to Evernight or wherever.” I really thought it was a pretty great plan. “And people who got homesick for ye olden days could visit sometimes.”

“Ooh, would it be like that movie Witness?” Courtney laughed, but it was a nicer laugh than usual. She drummed her fingers excitedly on the steering wheel. “Because I totally loved that movie.”

“Me, too.” I’d seen it on cable a couple of times; that was pretty much the basis for everything I knew about the Amish. “Back when Harrison Ford was hot.”

“So hot. I would so go to Vampire Amish Town if it was like that—Oh, crap!”

The car swerved sideways, bouncing off the gravel road. Everyone grabbed onto the nearest seat and shouted as we ran into the ditch. It wasn’t much of a wreck, but then, it wasn’t much of a ditch.

“This brings us back to lesson one,” Mr. Yee said. “Watch the road.”

“Does that mean I flunk?” Courtney wheeled around to glare at me. “You were distracting me on purpose!”

“I wasn’t!”

She didn’t stick around to hear my denials. Courtney flung open the car door, let it swing shut behind her, and huffily stalked back toward the school. Mr. Yee opened his door to call after her. “Miss Briganti! We have to get the car back on the road!”

“Do it yourself!” she shouted. Her blond ponytail bobbed behind her, keeping time as she walked away. “I already flunked, remember?”

“You have now,” Mr. Yee muttered.

“Her pride is wounded,” Ranulf said. “That is why she left.”

“Save analysis of Miss Briganti for psychology class,” Mr. Yee said tiredly. “For now, we have a car to push.”

We took turns trying to steer and floor the gas pedal while the rest attempted to push the car out of the ditch. By the time we finally managed it, all of us were muddy to the knees—not such a big deal for the guys in their uniform trousers, but my legs were filthy and scratched beneath my skirt. We still had about half an hour left in driver’s ed, but Mr. Yee gave me permission to head back to the school to clean up. Balthazar said, “I’ll walk with her. It’s getting late.”

Mr. Yee looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn’t. It wasn’t like I needed protection on the school grounds, but it was Ranulf’s turn to drive, and Balthazar was already pretty good behind the wheel. “Sure. Go ahead.”

As the car rumbled into life behind us, Balthazar and I began walking back toward the school. It was the first time we’d been alone since the night he caught me sneaking in. The silence lay heavy between us, and I wanted to fill it with nervous chatter, but I held my tongue.

“Vampire Amish.” His lopsided smile was only a shadow of its former self. “Only you could have thought of it.”

“You’re laughing at me.”

“Not at you. Never at you.” Balthazar took a deep breath. “You haven’t told anyone about Charity.”

“No. I promise I haven’t.”

“It wasn’t a question. If you’d told anyone, Mrs. Bethany would already have interrogated me about it.”

“Why? And what do you mean, interrogated?”

“Charity and Mrs. Bethany never got along.”

“So Charity said.” I cast him a curious glance. “If you and your sister are so tight, why did you fall out of touch?”

“We’ve lost track of each other before. It’s complicated.” He stopped walking. The raw pain in his face hurt to witness. Embarrassed, I dropped my gaze toward the ground. We stood on yellowing fall grass, his heavy-booted feet almost twice as large as mine in their muddy loafers. “She’s never forgiven me.”

“Forgiven you for what?”

He opened his mouth to answer, then apparently thought better of it. “That’s between us. All you have to know is that she needs me. That never changes; for vampires, nothing ever changes. It’s always like this—she slips away, and everything goes to hell, but then I find her again and we’re all right.”

I remembered her unwashed clothes and body, her transparent loneliness. Charity looked like somebody who needed looking after, badly. “How long has it been?”

“We haven’t seen each other in thirty-five years.” Thirty-five years, I thought, recalling a conversation we’d had almost a year ago, just before last Christmas, as we walked together through the snow. That’s when he last “lost touch” with humanity, I realized. Losing Charity is what made him give up. “But she always comes back to Massachusetts eventually. That’s where we grew up together; it’s home, Bianca. Our home. If she’s returned, that means she’s homesick. I can reach her now. But to reach her,” he continued, even more quietly than before, “I have to find her.”

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