Afterlife Page 19

“Guess not,” he muttered.

Mrs. Bethany rose to her feet, walked around the desk to Lucas’s side, and put her hand on his shoulder. If his wide eyes were any indication, he was as surprised as I was. “It is unfortunate that you had to learn the error of your ways in such a painful fashion. But you should know that my sympathies are entirely with those who have suffered persecution by Black Cross. Your past as a living man, and the mistakes you made then, have now been wiped away. The sanctuary of Evernight Academy is yours. We will protect you. We will teach you. You need not be alone any longer.”

For one half second, I actually liked Mrs. Bethany.

Lucas Wasn’t won over quite so easily. “Thanks. I mean that. But it’s not going to be so simple. Those guys are about ready to stake me already.”

“They’ll obey the rules.” Mrs. Bethany’s smile held a hint of chill. “Leave that to me.”

“The human students — ” His voice sounded strangled. “I’venever killed.”

“The urge is strong.” She spoke as though this were only to be expect·ed. “In your case, perhaps, stronger than most — I see the signs. But here you will have many guardians over your conduct; I daresay you are in less danger of harming a human here than you would be in the outside world. In time, you will discover how to be a part of the vampire world. You will become one of us.”

Lucas shut his eyes for a moment, and I wondered if it was in relief or despair.

Chapter Six

LUCAS WALKED TO THE WROUGHT — IRON GAZEBO, staring after Mrs. Bethany as she went inside to give the annual welcoming speech to the student body. Finally sure that nobody else was watching, I dared to materialize at his side.

“Hey,” he said. He half turned to see me and managed to smile for my sake. “Right back where we first kissed.”

“The more things change.” As the breeze ruffled his dark gold hair and the ivy leaves around us, I could imagine that we’d gone back to the beginning. The sunlight seemed to pass through me, warming me throughout. Despite the wind, my own red hair hung long and motionless, untouched, unreal. “Why aren ‘ t you in there?”

“Mrs. Bethany gave me an exemption this go — round. Said she’d try to find a way to explain to the vampire students and teachers to leave me the hell alone without tipping off the humans. Me walking into a pack of vampires before she gives the hands — off speech — no way am I doing that unarmed.”

“She handled it better than I would’ve thought,” I said. “I guess Mrs. Bethany takes the sanctuary thing here seriously.”

Lucas shrugged. “She claims she’s got my back, but all the same, I’m glad Ranulf sneaked our weapons up here in his trunk.”

“Why not yours?”

“If Mrs. Bethany doesn’t search mine, she’s a fool. And that lady’s no fool.”

I studied his face, reading the emotions he was trying to hide. “You’re not frightened of the vampires. You never have been. It’s being around the human students that gets to you.”

He grimaced. “I can’t look at Vic without thinking — Bianca, I would’ve killed him. Vic. One of the best friends I’ve ever had. I’d have slaughtered him just to eat.”

“Is that why you won’t be alone with him?” When he shot me a look, I added, “Yeah, I noticed.”

“No, you didn’t,” Lucas said quietly. “It’s not just me. It’s Vic, too. He finds ways to avoid being illone with me.” I could hear the pain in his voice.

I put my arms around him; maybe it Wasn’t a real embrace, but I could feel him next to me and knew he’d take some comfort from it. “He’ll trust you again. It’s just going to take some time.”

“How long will it be before l trust myself?”

There was no answer to that. I said the only thing I could: “I love you.”

“And I love you. That’s why I’m going to make this work. I have to.”

* * * just like Lucas was learning to be a vampire for my sake, I was learning to be a ghost for his. This meant I had to get the hang of this haunting thing.

I had the basics down: going invisible, appearing in my mist form and!, when I had my bracelet or my brooch, becoming solid and lifelike once more. Moving from place to place required some concentration, but it could be done.

Haunting Evernight Academy, though — that was going to be a lot tougher. I’d need to figure out where I could travel in the hallways and where I couldn’t. Leaving trails of frost around wherever I went would tip off the other students and teachers about a ghost, and while I wasn’t sure they could do anything about it but scream. I didn’t intend to find out.

It was scary, to think about the myriad ways this could go wrong. But holding back meant leaving Lucas alone, and that was something I couldn’t do.

As he walked into the school I followed. The heavy wooden doors were simple enough to slip through, maybe because they, like me, had once been alive. Once again, I entered the Evernight Academy great hall. Dozens of students milled around, each wearing the uniform sweater with the school crest: a shield emblazoned with two ravens on either side of a sword. To my surprise, a wave of nostalgia swept through me. Maybe I hadn ‘ t often been happy at Evernight — but sometimes I had. This was where I’d fallen in love and made so many good friends. This was where I’d lived.

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