Stargazer Page 33

“I know. I’m just—I really wanted to see him tonight. But thanks for coming to tell me,” I said hollowly. It was better to get the bad news quickly instead of waiting by the river all night, wishing that Lucas would come. No matter how kind Dana had been, now I wanted her to leave so I could sit down and have a good cry.

“No big thing.” Then Dana’s grin faded as she stood up straight. In that instant, when her posture shifted into wariness and readiness to fight, I saw the warrior in her. “Somebody’s coming. You sure the vampires aren’t on this trip?”

“Only one, and he’s not dangerous.” Dana gave me a look that clearly meant, Are you nuts? I plowed on like I hadn’t said anything about friendly vampires. “It’s either a townie or a student. Just act natural.”

“You got it.”

But I was the one who was going to have trouble acting natural, because the person who came around the river bend was Raquel.

“Hey!” I said, too brightly. “I thought you were at the bookstore!”

“Got bored.” Raquel shrugged. “I slipped out.” Great, I thought. Poor Balthazar’s going to spend the rest of the night tearing apart the whole town looking for her.

“What about you? I thought you were going to the movies to see your parents.” Raquel cast a suspicious glance at Dana.

But Dana grinned and held out her hand. “Dana Tryon. Good to meet you. I’m an old friend of Bianca’s, and we ran into each other on the street. What are the chances?”

“Oh, okay.” Raquel shook hands. “You’re from Bianca’s home-town?”

“Good old Arrowwood Middle School,” I said quickly, grateful for Dana’s fast thinking. “Yeah, we used to hang out all the time. So when I saw her, I was like, forget the movies.”

Raquel smiled, accepting the story. “Cool. Are you guys just walking around down here?”

“Yeah, basically.” Apparently Raquel intended to hang around with us. How were we supposed to fake a big friendship? We’d only met twice before.

Dana didn’t seem dismayed. “Actually, I’m headed back up to grab something to eat. Bianca’s going to hang out with me for a while. You want to join us?”

“Well—I just ate—” To my astonishment, I could see that Raquel actually wanted to go. Dana’s cheerful personality had won a quick con-vert. “But I skipped dessert. The pie looked pretty good.”

“Pie!” Dana grinned. “Everybody loves pie. It’s settled.” We talked easily the whole night, and nobody would ever have guessed that Dana and I were nearly strangers. Raquel certainly didn’t, mostly because we kept the focus on her, drawing her out about her art projects, her skateboarding, and everything else. When the topic strayed from Raquel’s interests, Dana kept making up absurd questions to ask me about the history we supposedly shared: “How’s Hubert doing? God, the way you two used to flirt back at good old Arrowwood Middle School! You really never minded those Coke-bottle glasses he used to wear? Or going with him to Star Trek conventions?”

“Oh, you know,” I fumbled. “I used to be into the intellectual type.”

“You wouldn’t know it from the guy she dated last year,” Raquel said.

“I can imagine.” Dana smirked. I knew she wouldn’t be able to resist teasing Lucas about that later.

I jumped in with, “What about you, Dana? Are you still collecting My Little Ponies? You were only two fillies short of a complete set when I moved away.”

As Raquel started laughing, Dana shot me a dirty look—but she was grinning. “I might have grown out of that.”

About halfway through, Raquel excused herself to go to the bathroom. The second she was out of earshot, Dana said, “So, you and Lucas. When and where?”

“We’d better come back here, to Riverton—say, in front of the movie theater. Let’s try the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 8 P.M.” Surely Balthazar would have permission to take me off campus at that point. “The lockdown will be over by then, right?”

“Ought to be.” Dana smiled. “Now I’ve done my part for young love.

I feel all virtuous inside.”

“Virtuous? Why don’t I believe you?”

“Because you’re smarter than that, that’s why.” Between feigning a lifelong friendship and laughing at Dana’s jokes, I didn’t have time to get too upset about not seeing Lucas. It didn’t really hit me until later, when we were boarding the bus again. Balthazar gave me a questioning look, clearly wanting to know if he and Lucas had a deal; I had to shrug a little and shake my head. He seemed to understand that the meeting hadn’t happened, but we didn’t have a chance to discuss it. We just had to hang on to each other again as the bus sped across the river.

That night, at bedtime, Raquel was more cheerful than I’d seen her all year. Dana could get almost anybody into a good mood. But I felt like I’d left part of myself standing by that river, waiting for Lucas, who couldn’t come. I closed my eyes tightly, willing myself to sleep. The sooner this day was over, the sooner I could stop thinking about how I should have seen Lucas today. I could start thinking about how we would be together soon. That was how I had to look at it, or else I’d never get through.

But even my dreams conspired against me.

“You have to hide,” Charity said.

We stood in the old Quaker meetinghouse where I’d first encountered Black Cross the year before. The chill of consecrated ground crept into my bones and made me shake. Charity clung to a doorjamb, as if she had to hold herself upright.

“We don’t have to hide,” I told her. “Lucas won’t hurt us.”

“You don’t have to hide from Lucas.” She brushed her wheat-colored curls back from her face. Though her coloring was almost entirely different from Balthazar’s, I could see the likeness now—the wavy hair, their height, and the intensity of their dark-brown eyes. “But you still have to hide.”

What was she talking about? Then I thought I knew. The last time I was in this meetinghouse, it burned to the ground. Was that what the strange shadows were all around us? Was it smoke? “It’s burning,” I said.

“No. But it’s going to burn.” Charity reached a hand out toward me.

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