Stargazer Page 43

Chapter Fourteen


time, as he drove me back into Riverton.

“I’m all right. Honestly.” Inside I felt torn up and confused, but I didn’t want to admit it—neither to Lucas nor to myself.

We’d pulled ourselves together, looked at the stars, and talked, but nothing had been the same. The only words I really heard were Lucas’s, ringing in my memory: I’ll never be a vampire.

He’d said it before. I’d believed him. But this time it had really hit me: No matter what happened, no matter how much we loved each other, there would always be a boundary between me and Lucas. I’d en-dured our separation this year because I’d believed it wouldn’t be permanent. How could it be, when we loved each other so much?

But now I found myself wondering if this was all we could ever have: furtive meetings and smuggled letters, a few moments of passion stolen amid weeks and weeks of loneliness.

And someday he would grow old—even die—and leave me here alone forever.

Lucas pulled up in front of the movie theater just as patrons started coming out. Amid the older couples and a few laughing teenagers, one shape stood out from the rest—Balthazar, tall and saturnine in his long black coat.

“I should go.” I turned back toward Lucas. “Where will we meet up next time?”

“January, I think. There’s this one town—Albion—Charity goes there a lot. At least, that’s what the reports say. Guess that’s where Balthazar would be willing to take you.”

“He’ll do that, definitely. Second Saturday in January? Eight P.M.?” He nodded. “Where?”

“Center of town. Trust me, it’s a small town—we can’t miss each other.” He cupped my cheek in his hand. “I love you.” I nodded, too choked up to speak.

Lucas drew me closer and kissed my forehead. “Hey. No crying now.”

“I won’t.” I breathed in his scent. If only I could somehow keep him with me all the time, every moment, so that he was never any farther away than this. “Christmas morning, wherever you are, think about me.

I’ll be thinking about you.” We kissed each other tenderly before I reluc-tantly opened the truck door and climbed out.

On the way home, Balthazar and I didn’t say anything to each other at first until we’d driven almost all the way back to Evernight Academy.

It wasn’t an awkward silence, exactly; I was preoccupied with my own concerns and could tell that Balthazar was, too. Finally I ventured, “Did you learn a lot? From Lucas’s notes, I mean.”

“Not nearly enough. But I know that Charity’s revisiting the towns in this area—the places she remembers. She does that sometimes, but it never makes her happy. It’s like she hates those places for having changed while she stays the same.”

“You can find her, then.” I rubbed my hands together, still chilled from the wintery cold. “You can figure out where she’ll be.” Balthazar kept his eyes on the road as he flicked on the car’s heater.

“I can narrow it down. But there’s no pattern—never has been, with Charity.”

“Still, it’s a place to start.”

“Always looking at the bright side.” The corner of his mouth lifted in an unwilling smile. “Yeah. It’s a place to start.” After we pulled up in the lot on the far edge of the grounds, I opened my car door to get out, but Balthazar didn’t move at first. I hesitated.

“Thanks,” I said. “For tonight. It meant a lot.” Balthazar lifted his hand to my face. He didn’t touch me, but his fingertips were close to my mouth. “Your lips are swollen.”

“Huh?” Now that he mentioned it, my mouth did feel puffy and sore.

I realized it was from the hungry kisses Lucas and I had shared. “Oh.

Does it look—is it too—”

“It’s fine,” Balthazar said lightly. His eyes were shadowed. “Anyone who noticed would assume you’d been kissing me.” Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to brood over the separation between me and Lucas. Finals week approached, and the humdrum tasks of papers and exams demanded their due. In some ways, burying myself in schoolwork was a comfort.

My dark mood lingered, no matter how many essays I wrote for Mrs.

Bethany or how many calculus practice exams I took. Nobody really noticed though, because the entire school remained on edge. Though the window in the great hall had been repaired—again with clear glass in-174

stead of stained—it remained deserted, even on rainy days when the on-ly alternative was a cramped dorm room. Rumors spread, becoming more absurd by the day.

“I heard that the haunting is part of a voodoo curse,” Courtney proc-laimed one day from her shower. I was washing my hair a couple of stalls down. “Voodoo is totally and completely real, and some loser dro-pout from last semester decided to curse this place by ruining the best party of the year for all the cool people.”

I would’ve liked to tell Courtney just how stupid she was being, but I didn’t really have a better explanation yet.

As finals week began and the tensions increased, I realized one curious element of the school’s fears about the ghost, something I wouldn’t have expected: The vampires were the ones who were most afraid. The human kids were on edge, too, but they mostly seemed to take it in stride.

That didn’t make sense to me. Okay, vampires might be more likely to understand that the wraiths were real and appreciate the potential danger. But I hadn’t heard any of the human students scoffing at the idea of ghosts—not that anybody could doubt something supernatural was going on after what happened at the Autumn Ball.

“Isn’t it sort of weird,” I ventured one day while Vic and I were studying together in the library, “how more people aren’t freaking out?”

“About exams? Trust me, I’m freaking.”

“No, not exams. About the—the thing. You know.”

“The ghost?” Vic didn’t even look up from his anatomy textbook.

“Yeah, the ghost. You’re really casual about living in a haunted house.”

“I’ve always lived in a haunted house.” Vic shrugged. “I got over the creepy part a long time ago.”

“Wait, what?” It had never occurred to me that Vic might know more about wraiths than any vampire at Evernight. “Your house is haunted by a wrai—a ghost?”

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