Stargazer Page 59

Shower. You smell like funk.”

“I only skipped one day,” I grumbled.

“I don’t care how long it took the funk to get here. I only know there’s funk in my room, and it’s got to go.”

I didn’t actually think I smelled bad; Raquel was just desperate to get me to move. So I moved, obediently taking my shower and returning to find Raquel remaking my bed—even though she hardly ever made her own. She’d hidden the magazines. “I made some tuna salad,” she said as she snapped one of the sheets. “For lunch, we can have a picnic out on the grounds. Maybe ask Balthazar, Vic, and Ranulf. What do you say?”

“You want to have a picnic?” She shrugged. I said, “You are really, really not acting like yourself.”

“Neither are you,” Raquel pointed out. “Until we get things back to normal, I’m stuck being the perky one. I kind of hate being the perky one. So can you snap out of it already and come to the picnic?”

“Okay.” I’d have to eat sometime. Though blood was becoming a bigger part of my diet all the time, I still needed food.

“So, are you ever going to tell me what’s bugging you?”

“Probably not.” How could I tell her that I was upset over losing Lucas? As far as she knew, I’d lost Lucas almost a year ago—not last month. “Raquel, it’s not that I don’t trust you. I just—I don’t want to say any of it out loud. Like, I don’t even want to hear myself speaking the words.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “Let’s just get you outside.”

The five of us had our picnic lunch (Balthazar and Ranulf both chew-ing very carefully) on the grounds. One of Vic’s tie-dyed blankets served as our tablecloth, and we mostly made small talk about midterms and school gossip. Balthazar sat close by, our arms sometimes touching, and his presence reassured me.

Only once did the conversation swerve into dangerous territory. As Vic shook more potato chips onto his plate, he said, “Hey, nobody ever heard anything else about Courtney?”

“They said she went back home,” Balthazar said quickly. He was sticking to the official Evernight cover story for any missing vampire students—which was usually the truth, though not this time. “A few kids leave every year. It happens.”

“It’s just totally weird,” Raquel said. “Last year Erich, this year Courtney. I mean, I get why somebody would ditch Hell High, particularly with the whole ghost situation, but the school administration really doesn’t seem to care much. And how come it’s the most popular kids who take off? The rest of us manage to stick it out.”

“Courtney was not happy,” Ranulf said. “She was lonely. I could tell.”

Though I’d never thought about that before, I realized that Ranulf was right. I knew I couldn’t let anybody see me getting emotional about Courtney, so I leaned my head against Balthazar’s shoulder. He patted my back.

For her part, Raquel looked skeptical. “I don’t see why the gorgeous popular girl would be any lonelier than the rest of us.”

“Everyone is lonely,” Ranulf said, but he smiled. “We have to remember that life is to be lived one day at a time. You cannot worry about past or future. Happiness is in the now.” Raquel laughed. “Vic has totally brainwashed you.”

Now that I thought about it, Ranulf did seem a whole lot more laid-back these days—and, yes, those were black Chucks on his feet. Instead of looking like a Christian martyr who had wandered out of some illuminated medieval text, Ranulf now dressed and moved almost exactly like a regular kid. He still talked strangely, but not so much that anybody would really notice. Most important, for the first time, he seemed to be happy. A year of rooming with Vic had done him more good than a decade of instruction at Evernight Academy ever could have.

“You should listen to the man, Balty,” Vic said, nudging Balthazar’s shoe with his own. “Carpe that diem.”

“I try.” Balthazar tried to sound enthusiastic but didn’t do a very good job. He hadn’t been much happier this month than I had; he’d taken the confrontation with Charity hard, as had I. I felt like a fool for trusting her because she looked so innocent and helpless—how much worse did that have to be for Balthazar? Not only had she chosen her tribe over him, she had become one of them: violent, ruthless, and cruel.

With a single stroke of a knife, Charity had ended Courtney’s existence—not to mention my relationship with Lucas.

Maybe Raquel saw something melancholy in my eyes, because she quickly said, “It’s a really clear sky. We ought to do some stargazing tonight. Right, everybody?”

“Not tonight,” I said. “I promised to help Balthazar with a school project.”

“Okay,” Raquel said. “But we’re going to do it soon.” I remembered how bored she was by astronomy and wanted to hug her for trying so hard.

The “school project” was actually playing video games—pure fun for me, but a difficult subject for Balthazar in Modern Technology. “You should be better at this,” I said, as my warrior neatly stabbed Balthazar’s on the screen for the dozenth time. “You’ve fought in some wars, right?”

“Plenty of them.” Balthazar scowled down at the controls. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, thinking of battle as a game.”

“Then think of it as fencing,” I suggested. “You know, moves you practice to get right. A role you play.”

“That actually makes sense.” He grinned and leaned back against the Modern Technology room sofa, and I felt very proud of myself. Then his smile changed, somehow becoming both softer and more intense. “Bianca, why are we still doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Hanging out all the time. Fibbing to our friends.” His dark eyes met mine. “Claiming that we’re together.”

“Well, because—” I realized I’d never even asked myself that question. I stared down at the floor, searching for words. “You’re still looking for Charity. That means you need an excuse to get off campus.”

“I don’t need an excuse to leave campus. I can come and go pretty much as I please. Our—whatever it is we’re doing, I don’t need it for that.”

“I guess we can stop if you want to.”

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