Stargazer Page 27

Another explanation came to mind, but I didn’t want to accept it. That can’t be right. Those are just old stories my parents told me. Even when I was a little kid, I didn’t think the stories could possibly be real.

I didn’t sleep that night. Outside the window of our dorm room, the sky paled slowly into a gray, cloudy dawn. Not long after daybreak, Raquel stirred, groaned, and kicked irritably at the covers.

“Raquel?” I whispered.

She blinked at me. Her short black hair stuck out in all directions, and her oversized white T-shirt hung off one shoulder. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah, I guess I am.” I screwed up my courage. “Hey, if I ask you something that sounds a little bit—well, a little bit crazy—you’ll hear me out, right?”

“Of course.” She swung her feet out of bed, as if readying herself for action. “You listened to me last year when I was convinced something was creeping around on the roof, remember?”

Something had been creeping around on the roof—a vampire intent on hurting her—but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to mention that now, or ever. Carefully I began, “Do you believe in—well, in—”

“God? Nope.” Raquel’s smile told me she was joking around to make this easier for me. “Santa Claus? No again.”

“I figured that one out already.” I swallowed hard. “I was going to ask if you believe in ghosts.”

I was prepared for Raquel to laugh at me. Who could blame her? I was prepared for her to pepper me with questions about why I was saying such a thing. I thought I was prepared for whatever her reaction might be. But I was wrong.

“Shut up.” She scooted backward on the bed, putting distance between us. “Just shut up. Right now.”

“Raquel—I just asked—”

“I said shut up!” Her eyes were wide, and her breath was coming fast. “I don’t want to hear you say anything about that ever again. Not ever. Do you understand me?”

I nodded, hoping it would reassure her. Instead, she only looked more panicked. Raquel pushed herself out of bed, grabbed her shower bucket, and stalked toward the door, even though it was still hours before our first class. She slammed it shut behind her. From down the hall, I heard Courtney sleepily call, “What is the damage down there?”

I wished I knew. All I understood was that I’d just witnessed something inexplicable—and the mere mention of it terrified Raquel even more than the reality had scared me.

The adrenaline rush that started in the records room ran out in the middle of my morning psychology class; one minute I was taking notes on Adler’s theories and the next I felt like I was about to dive face-first onto my desk. Exhausted, I propped my head on one hand and did my best to keep writing. By the time class was over, I could tell that the rest of the day would feel like eternity. Normally I would have tried to run up to my room for a quick nap, but Raquel might be there, and things between us were definitely weird right now.

As I trudged down the hallway, jostled by sweater-clad students on every side, I glimpsed a friendly face. “Hi, Balthazar.” I meant simply to wave at him as I went.

He smiled at me more warmly than he ever had before. “Hey, you,” he murmured as he changed direction and slung his arm possessively around my shoulders. Only then did I remember that Balthazar and I were pretending to be dating. His lips against my ear, he whispered, “At least try to look happy.”

“Actually, I’m glad to see you. Is there some place we can talk?”

“Sure. Come on.”

Balthazar led me through the hallway and down the stairs to the ground level of the school. Several people saw us along the way, and I noticed a few raised eyebrows and some whispering. Even though our relationship was only a sham, I couldn’t help feeling sort of proud that I was being seen with such a gorgeous guy—or being amused when I imagined Courtney’s reaction.

But as we walked through the great hall toward the main door, we were seen by someone else.

Vic’s ever-present smile faded as he saw me walk by with Balthazar’s arm around me, and my heart sank. Vic and Lucas were still good friends, and Vic had already taken risks to smuggle Lucas’s letters to me. Looking at me now, he had to think that I was cheating on Lucas—and it wasn’t as though I could tell him anything different.

Vic didn’t say a word. He just glanced down and pretended to be incredibly interested in his shoelaces. For my part, I acted as though I didn’t notice Vic or anyone else in the world besides Balthazar.

Together we wandered out to the edge of the grounds, near the forest. A few other couples sat together in the shade not very far away. Balthazar sat on the thick carpet of still-soft fallen leaves, orange and red, and rested his broad back against the trunk of a maple tree. As I took my place next to him, I gingerly laid my head upon his shoulder; I thought it would feel awkward, but it didn’t.

“You ought to tell your parents about us fairly soon.” Balthazar’s arm slipped around my waist. “The sooner they’re convinced we’re together, the sooner I can ask their permission to take you off campus.”

“There’s no rush. I’ll see Lucas in Riverton next month, so—we can get all of this straight then. But I’ll make sure Mom and Dad find out soon.” One more lie. I was already tired of lies, and the only person who could hear the whole truth—Lucas—felt too far away.

“You sound exhausted. Are you okay?”

“I didn’t sleep last night. I saw something that scared me, but I don’t know if I even believe it myself. I have to ask you.” I took a deep breath. “Are ghosts real?”

“Of course they are,” he answered, as easily as if I’d asked him if the stars were in the sky. “Didn’t your parents tell you about wraiths?”

“They told me ghost stories when I was little and told me to watch out for them, but I thought they were—you know—ghost stories.”

Balthazar raised an eyebrow. “You know, for a vampire, you’re very skeptical about the supernatural.”

“When you put it like that, I feel sort of stupid.”

“Hey, you’re still new at this. Give it a couple of centuries and you’ll be a pro like me.”

New possibilities crowded into my mind. “What else is real? Werewolves? Witches? Mummies?”

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