Stargazer Page 41

“Okay.” He squared his shoulders. “Fine, I’ll make nice with Balthazar and then we can get out of here together. Right?”


We walked back to the front of the theater, arm in arm. Balthazar hadn’t moved from the car. When he saw us again, however, he straightened up and came toward us with a swagger in his step. It would’ve made me snicker at him if Lucas hadn’t been doing the exact same thing.

“Balthazar,” Lucas drawled. “Last time I saw you, you punched me in the gut.”

“The last time I saw you, you nearly broke my nose. Lucky thing we’re working together on this.”

“Lucky for me or lucky for you?” Lucas’s cocky grin made it clear that he thought Balthazar was the one getting off easy when they weren’t fighting. “By the way, nice wheels there. That ride could take you straight from a meeting with your banker to the PTA. Makes it crystal clear you’re more than a century old.”

“It’s the driver’s ed car.” Balthazar’s jaw was clenched, like he was biting back a lot of other things he’d rather say.

I gave Lucas a warning look, wishing he’d knock it off, but he still acted like he had something to prove. “What, you haven’t owned a horseless carriage since your Studebaker broke down?” Balthazar smiled, satisfied. “Actually, the last car I owned was a red 1968 Mustang GT 390 Fastback.”

I had no idea what that meant, but Lucas did. His expression shifted from disdain into envy, and then to a grudging respect. “Sweet.”

“Yeah.” Balthazar sighed, all animosity temporarily forgotten.

Guys, I thought. “Okay,” I said, hoping to end this before they started sparring again. “We’ll meet you back here in, what, two hours?”

“You’re not leaving yet.” Balthazar had focused his attention on Lucas again. “First you tell me what you know about my sister, and promise me that you’re going to call off the Black Cross hunt for her.”

“I’m not in charge of Black Cross, okay? They don’t do what I say to do. The hunt for that gang is on, and as long as Charity’s hanging with the same crew, she’s going to be in the line of fire. So we’ve got to separate her from them, one way or the other.”

“There’s one way. Only one. Mine.” Balthazar stepped closer, using every inch he had on Lucas, who was tall but not that tall. “Charity is a person. The same as you, the same as me.”

“You and me aren’t the same.”

Balthazar cocked his head. “Then let’s say the same as Bianca. Will that make you listen?”

“Bianca’s no killer! She didn’t have a choice about what she is.”

“Guys, don’t do this,” I pleaded, but they paid no attention.

“A choice? You think we all get a choice?” Although Balthazar spoke softly, there was a roughness to his voice I’d never heard before.

It sent chills down my spine. “Try being hunted down in the night. Try running as far and as fast as you can and finding out they’re faster. Try coming to in a stable, with your parents’ dead bodies on the ground in front of you, your hands roped above your head and a dozen hungry vampires arguing with each other about who gets you next. See how much choice you have then.”

Lucas just stared at him. Obviously he’d never imagined anything like that; neither had I.

Even more quietly, Balthazar continued, “Try watching your baby sister die, and then tell me that you wouldn’t spend the rest of eternity trying to make up for it. When you’ve done all that, Lucas, then you can talk to me about choices. Until that time, tell me what I need to know and then shut your mouth.”

“Back off,” Lucas said, but he was calmer now. “I get it, all right?

We’ve all got to do what we’ve got to do, and it’s fine by me.” He pulled a small notebook from his coat pocket and handed it over. “That’s got some information about her—Charity, I mean—it’s just notes about the hunts we’ve been on lately. Those ‘friends’ she’s got with her, any ideas who they might be?”

“None.” Already Balthazar was flipping through the notebook, scour-ing the pages for clues.

“Most of the details are probably useless, but maybe there’s something. And next time I’ll put together some stuff just about her, try to lay it out so you might figure out a pattern.” After a few seconds’ pause, he added, “Hope it helps.”

“Thank you.” Balthazar sounded sincere.

In the uncertain silence that followed, I tried to think of what to say after what I had just learned about Balthazar’s past, but no words were adequate. So I hugged him quickly. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Just going to the movies, it looks like.” He hugged me back, just long enough that I became acutely aware of Lucas watching us. “See you in two hours.”

As Lucas and I drove away in his mom’s truck, he said, “You all right?”

“Yeah, sure. I’m worried about Balthazar, though. I never knew that was what happened to him. I can’t even imagine how terrible that would be.”

“I’ve had vampires after me since I was born. I don’t have to imagine.”

“I know that a few of us are killers,” I said quietly. “I’ve known that for a while now. But not all of us are.”

“Right, I get that. What neither of us knows is the truth behind the party lines our parents taught us—where to strike the balance.” I sighed. “I don’t want to talk about this any longer. Okay?”

“You got it.”

“Hey, where are we going?” The truck’s headlights illuminated the road ahead of us, but it wasn’t any place in Riverton I recognized. We were headed sharply uphill.

“Don’t worry, gorgeous.” Lucas grinned. “You’ll be back by curfew.

Our ultimate destination is a surprise.”

Despite the tense mood that had descended earlier, I had to smile a little. “Hint?”

“You’ll know it when you see it.”

And I did.

The observatory was an older one, a small pale silo with a copper-green roof that slit open to reveal a telescope’s lens. As I began to smile, Lucas said, “They used to have a small college here in town. Been closed for a few decades now. But they’ve kept the observatory open so the high school kids could come out here once in a while.”

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