Stargazer Page 29

“I feel no hurt from your clumsy play.” That was about the best Ranulf could do for trash talk. As Ranulf leaned over the board to consider his next move, Vic stretched in lazy satisfaction, then saw me standing there. I flinched and would’ve left, but Vic simply rose from the table and came to my side.

“Hey,” he began, shifting from foot to foot. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty well. I guess—I guess we kind of need to talk.” This was even harder than I’d thought it would be. “About Balthazar.”

“There’s just one thing I want to say, okay?” Vic put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re my friend, too. I want you to be happy.”

“Oh, Vic.” Too moved to say anything else, I hugged him tightly.

With his voice muffled against my shoulder, Vic said, “I like Balthazar. He’s okay.”

“Yeah, he is.”

“You’ve told Lucas, right? Or you’re gonna tell him soon? Because it’s not right, keeping it from him.”

“We’re supposed to talk before long.” I didn’t give any more details about our upcoming meeting in Riverton; doing that would only draw Vic in too far. “I thought it would be better if I could speak to him, not just send a letter or e-mail or something.”

“I guess it’s hard, being apart all the time.”

“It really is. If Lucas were still here, everything would be different.”

Vic’s smile turned smug. “Yeah, I’d have a roommate who could beat me at chess instead of the other way around.”

Ranulf never looked up from the chessboard. “I hear your insults and plan to silence them with my victory.”

“Keep dreaming,” Vic called.

What Vic didn’t know was that I’d tell Lucas the full truth about the game Balthazar and I were playing. Everything really would be fine. And now there was only one more hurdle to cross, the most important one of all: my parents.

Chapter Ten

THE CONFRONTATION I’D BEEN WAITING FOR CAME the next day, as I ducked out of the library, already running late. I started to jog down the hall, but her voice stopped me cold.

“What a hurry you’re in, Miss Olivier.” Mrs. Bethany’s sharp gaze took me in, head to foot. She wore a dress of crisp, dark-brown wool that made her appear as though she were carved into the very woodwork of Evernight itself. “You act as though you’ve seen a ghost.” Was that supposed to be funny? I could only stare at her.

Fortunately, she didn’t seem to expect a reply. “We should at some point discuss what you witnessed upstairs.”

“I told Balthazar all about it. If he talked to you, then you know as much as I do.”

“Have you mentioned this matter to your other classmates? Or your parents?”

“No.” That wasn’t the whole truth—I’d sort of mentioned it to Raquel, or tried to, anyway—but given that Raquel had refused to hear me out, I figured I’d kept the secret well enough.

“Good. See that you don’t. I am certain the event was an aberration.

People do behave irrationally when confronted with the supernatural.” For once, I could see Mrs. Bethany’s point. Just one question about a ghost had freaked Raquel out pretty badly. The last thing I needed was for my parents to go into overprotective mode. “Yes, ma’am. I won’t say another word.”

A conspiratorial smile crept across Mrs. Bethany’s face. “In recognition of your discretion, we’ll forgo any punishment for your infringe-ment of school rules by slipping into the gentlemen’s dormitory at night.

Despite your lack of self-control, I find this a heartening development.

At least this time your romantic attentions have fallen upon a more deserving candidate.”

That was a jab at Lucas, but I kept my cool. “Balthazar’s great. In fact, I’m supposed to meet him in a few minutes so we can have dinner with my mom and dad.”

“Don’t let me delay you. And give your parents my regards.” I nodded and hurried down the hall. Even though it was probably my imagination, I could’ve sworn I felt Mrs. Bethany’s eyes on the back of my neck the whole way.

Raquel didn’t say anything when I came into our rooom. She simply rolled over to face the wall and kept reading whatever magazine she’d picked up this time. I didn’t bother trying to start the conversation myself. If she wanted to be a total jerk to me because of one stupid question, fine.

I started going through the sweater drawer of my dresser. Periwinkle cowl neck—no, I wore that with Lucas last year, and wearing it with Balthazar just feels wrong. Green cardigan—too thin, because it gets drafty up there this late in the fall. Black V-neck—totally boring, and I have to at least look like I’m getting dressed up for Balthazar.

“You don’t usually bother changing for dinner with your parents,” Raquel said. I could tell by the echo that she was still facing the wall.

I paused, unsure how to react. This was the first time she’d started a conversation with me since I mentioned ghosts. I was relieved, but annoyed with myself for being relieved, because Raquel was the one who had been behaving badly. Why should I feel like I was the one getting off the hook?

“I’m taking Balthazar with me.” I didn’t glance in her direction as I pulled the dark-purple cashmere sweater from the drawer.

“I saw you guys hanging around together the other day. I wondered if something was up.”

“Something’s up,” I said shortly. When I didn’t volunteer anything else, Raquel apparently went back to her magazine. Quickly I set about getting ready, putting on the sweater, some dangly earrings, and even a little of the nice perfume my parents had given me for my birthday. It smelled like gardenias.

As I slipped the perfume bottle into the back of my dresser drawer, my fingers brushed against the velveteen scarf that held the brooch Lucas had given me. I didn’t think of him buying it for me; instead I remembered the time we had been forced to pawn it, when we had been on the run together, so desperate and totally broke. I’d thought we were in so much trouble, but if I could’ve traded places with myself and traveled back to that moment, where it was just me and Lucas against the world, I would’ve done it. It was like I couldn’t understand why the world didn’t rip in two—just tear apart at the seams—to bring us back together again.

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