Afterlife Page 13

“What was it like for you?” I asked. “Being dead?”

“I don’t remember anything about it.” Lucas leaned his head back against the leg of our folding table, giving in to the exhaustion that followed rising from the grave. We remained on the floor, unable to summon the will to move. “Just now, when Balthazar staked me — that sounds so weird to say — whatever. Well. after that, I dreamed. Thought I saw Charity chasing after us.” He half laughed, a bitter sound, and looked up at the ceiling. “The last thing I needed was her in my nightmares.”

I shivered. Charity looked innocent, with her youthful face and bedraggled, waiflike appearance; she was anything but. I figured I would have nightmares about her forever, too, if I could still dream. I wasn’t sure about that yet.

“What was it like for you?” he asked, focusing on me again. “Did you become a ghost right away, or was there some time between? It’d be nice to think you got a sneak preview of heaven. “

“No sneak previews.” I folded my arms atop my knees and rested my chin there. “I think I turned into a ghost pretty much instantly, but it took me awhile to realize what had happened. At first I just drifted in and out.”

“Do you think there’s an afterlife for vampires? Do they — do we all go hell, if there’s a hell?”

“Don’t say that!”

“Holy water burns me. I’ll never be able to set foot on consecrated ground again, “Lucas said. “God’s made it pretty clear where he stands, don’t you think?”

I cupped his face with my hands. “I know you hate this, but there are ways to go on, to enjoy the years to come. Think about it: We’re immortal now. We lost each other once, but at least we never have to again.”

Lucas pulled away, breaking contact between us. Slowly he pushed himself to his feet. He walked a few steps farther into our makeshift apartment in the wine cellar, studying it as though he were seeing it for the first time: the hot plate, the air mattress on a bed frame, the cardboard drawers that held our things. There were times in the past few weeks when I’d thought this was the most perfect, romantic place on eartth. Now it seemed shabby and small, its beauty just our last shared illusion.

He said, “Bianca, I don’t know ifl can do this.”

“You can.”

“You’re saying that because you want to believe it. Not because you do.”

“You’re giving up without even trying.”

Lucas turned to me, his eyes anguished. “I’m going to try. Jesus, Bianca, do you think I wouldn’t try for you? As much as I hate this — this hunger inside me, this cold, disgusting, dead feeling — if it means being with you, I’ll try.”

“You’ll make it. You’ll learn how to handle the hunger. I promise.”

“How is that supposed to happen?” He gestured at the empty blood containers on the floor. “That’s, what, three pints of blood? It’s as much as I can do right this second not to tackle that bag and drink the rest immediately. Already when I think about Vic outside — it’s not about Vic anymore, it’s about the fact that he’s alive and he’s got blood I could drink. In another few minutes — ”

“We have more blood. Drink as much as you need. We can get more.” But that was a purely temporary solution, and we both knew it.

He needed hope, and only one suggestion gave us any hope. I laid aside my own objections and fears about my parents; Balthazar’s plan was the best we had.

“Classes start in two weeks, “I said. “At Evernight. You’re going to go back there.”

Lucas stared at me for a second, then thumped his head against one of the wine racks so that the bottles rattled. “Great. I’m already hearing things. Halfway to crazy.”

“You’re not hearing things. You’re enrolling in Evernight Academy again as a student, a vampire student this time, and they’ll take care of you.”

“Take care of me? Bianca, the last time I was there, I rode with the guys who burned the place down.”

I remembered what Balthazar had said and clung to it. “You’re a vampire now. If you ask for sanctuary, Mrs. Bethany has to give it to you. They might not be friendly, exactly, but they’ll give you a place to stay, and plenty of blood to drink, and advice about how to deal with the hunger. For weeks or months, however long you need.”

“Or years,” Lucas said. “Balthazar’s kept coming back for years.”

Balthazar had attended Evernight Academy for different reasons, ones more focused on the school’s true mission: helping young — looking vampires pass for human by keeping them up — to — date with the modern world. I wasn’t about to point that out to Lucas, though. The last thing he needed to hear was how well all the other vampires could manage.

Lucas added, “Besides, it doesn’t matter how much they hate me. We’re not going to Evernight Academy because it’s dangerous for you.”

“For me?” I had hardly had a moment to consider this, but Lucas was right. We knew from the events at school last year that Mrs. Bethany was no longer merely the headmistress at Evernight; she was also using the school as a means of finding — and perhaps capturing — ghosts like me. Why she was doing this remained a mystery, but there was no doubt that she loathed the wraiths. Whatever she was up to couldn’t be good for us.

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