Afterlife Page 17

So don’t go there, I told myself. It’s not like you’ve ever had a single reason to go up there before. As long as you can get in anywhere in the building, you can get to Lucas. Nothing else matters.

However, the knowledge of that strange forbidding energy made me uneasy. I darted downward again, the better to get away from it, and to watch the arrivals, which was what I needed to be paying attention to anyway.

As I focused again on the group, I saw my first familiar face and felt a warm glow of happiness that could ‘ve been a smile. Patrice!

Patrice Deveraux, my roommate during my first year at Evernight, stepped out of a lean gray Lexus. Her tailored version of the school uniform made her look sophisticated and trim, even in a kilt and sweater, and her hair now bounced with its natural curl, a thick dark halo that suited her. She’d skipped last year to have fun in Scandinavia with her new guy, but one or the other of them must have broken it off — probably Patrice, who seemed to think of men primarily as fashion accessories.

Despite her obsessions with appearances and luxury, Patrice had a fundamental grit that made me like her. Sort of to my surprise, she’d tried to reach out to me during the summer after I’d run away, proving that she wasn’t as thoughtless as she could sometimes seem. It made me happy to remember that not every vampire at Evernight Academy was sinister and forbidding. Besides, this was the first time I’d seen her since I’d died. I wished I could have said hello, but of course that was impossible.

just before Patrice stepped inside, she paused at the door and looked! upward, directly at where I was hovering. Could she see me? I realized quickly that she couldn’t, but the coincidence was striking. Patrice hesitated a second longer before readjusting her sunglasses and going inside.

A few more familiar faces began to appear, both vampire and human, mostly people I hadn’t known too well but had shared classes with and spoken to from time to time. A couple of teachers, too — both Mr. Yee and Professor Iwerebon mingled among the newcomers, saying hello to 52 parents. I looked for my mother and father, half in dread, half in hope, but they didn’t make an appearance. Among the human students, I didn’t see any old friends but recognized a few faces — like Clementine Nichols, whose ticket to Evernight had been her family’s haunted car, and Skye Tierney, Raquel’s sophomore — year lab partner. Raquel had said Skye was “good people, basically.” Coming from Raquel, who hated most people on principle until they gave her a reason to feel otherwise, that was high praise.

And yet I never tried to have a real conversation with her, or with a lot of these people. How could I never ask Clementine what it was like to have a haunted car?I should’ve reached out to people more often. I’d never been incredibly outgoing, but death made me feel lonelier, somehow.

The Woodsons’ car finally showed up, and Vic and Ranulf both emerged. Each of them wore the regulation uniform, but Vic had on a Phillies cap, as usual — and to my delight, Ranulf wore one as well.

“How very striking.” Mrs. Bethany swept out of the school, as if she could sense deviations from protocol at a distance. “Mr. Woodson, your sartorial influence on Mr. White is both profound and unfortunate.”

“We’ll take them off before class,” Vic promised, edging around her. “Absolutely.”

“See that you do.”

Mrs. Bethany watched them go, her sharp eyes following them like a hawk follows prey. She looked darkly beautiful with her thick hair piled atop her head and her long fingernails painted crimson. But the only thing I could think about was the last time I’d seen her — during the raid she’d led on Black Cross’s New York headquarters. She’d killed Lucas’s stepfather in front of my eyes without hesitating. The headmistress of Evernight enforced her idea of the law, absolutely, whether seeking revenge for a Black Cross attack or regulating the school dress code. I wondered if tl10se things were any different for her, or whether it was all just a matter of rules.

That was what Balthazar seemed to think. I wasn’t sure, though. Lucas and I had met because, two years before, Mrs. Bethany had suddenly changed the rules of Evernight Academy in order to allow human students to enroll — without informing those humans that they would be surrounded by vampires, of course. Each of those many human students had connections, one way or another, to ghosts. She’d been hunting the wraiths — creatures like me — for reasons we had yet to learn. Mrs. Bethany was complicated in ways I couldn’t pretend to fathom.

But I had to hope she would play by the rules today, at least, because I recognized the car that Balthazar had rented coming up the long gravel drive.

When Balthazar stepped out, several of the students — vampire and human — smiled at him; he’d always been effortlessly popular, trusted by everyone. But when Lucas got out of the passenger seat, the vampires’ smiles vanished, replaced by expressions of pure loathing.

The ones who had been here t\vo years ago knew that Lucas had been Black Cross — that he had first come to Evernight to spy on them, and that he had been raised to kill vampires on sight. All of them would have heard how narrowly he had escaped Mrs. Bethany when he’d been discovered. The fact that Lucas had been changed into a vampire, something they had to sense instantly, didn’t diminish their hatred in the slightest.

The only vampire who didn’t gape in shock and fury was Mrs. Bethany. She stepped forward smoothly, her long black skirt swirling around her, to face Lucas. Her expression was unreadable as she stared him in the eyes.

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