Afterlife Page 20

My happiness lasted only a moment, though, as I focused once more on Lucas. Nobody attacked him, or said anything to him, which had to count as a positive sign; apparently Mrs. Bethany’s speech had done the trick. But if nobody planned on killing Lucas, nobody planned on forgiving and forgetting either. Every vampire student stared at him with undisguised loathing. Lucas didn’t slow down — he wasn ‘ t a guy to crumple because of a little glaring — but that didn’t mean he liked it.

We encouraged him to come here because we wanted him to feel comfortable being a vampire, I thought. How can that happen if eveqbody else nijects him?

Every time he walked past a human student, his whole body went tense; I could see it in the set of his shoulders and the lines of his face. But he determinedly didn’t look directly at them, and his steps never slowed. His resolve was as strong as his hunger, at least for now.

Lucas kept going, heading toward the north tower where the guys roomed. I stayed with him. A few flakes of ice crystallized on the windowsill nearest me, and hurriedly I floated higher, closer to the ceiling. Until I learned how to avoid creating frost, it might be better for me to stay up high, where at least nobody was likely to see it.

The crowd began murmuring, as though there were some commotion. I glanced back and saw that the students were parting — that someone was shoving them aside to get closer to Lucas. Apparently Mrs. Bethany hadn’t managed to calm everybody down.

I folded myself tightly in a corner. Lucas cocked his head, hearing the danger before he saw it, and turned to face his would — be attacker. Probably it was some younger vampire guy, only at Evernight for a few laughs, ready to turn into a killer again the first time he felt like it — like Erich, that jerk who’d stalked Raquel during our first year here. Lucas would be able to handle somebody like that easily, I knew.

But when the attacker appeared, it was somebody Lucas couldn’t handle. Somebody I couldn ‘ t handle.

It was my mother.

Mom stood in front of him, fists at her sides, eyes wild. “Is it true? Tell me.” Her voice shook. “I want you to look me in the face and tell me it’s true.”

Lucas looked like he’d been punched in the gut. As he opened his mouth to answer. though, Balthazar pushed his way to their side and grabbed Mom’s arm. “Not here,” he said quietly.

Mom didn’t even turn her head, like she couldn’t see or hear Balthazar, but after a moment she nodded and stalked toward one of the staircases. It was like she was daring Lucas not to follow her, but he did. Balthazar started to come, too, but Mom shot him a look that froze him in place on the stairs.

She led him into a small office on the second floor. I went along, although I desperately didn’t want to hear what I knew had to come next.

As soon as he’d shut the door behind them, Mom said again, “Tell me it’s true, Lucas.”

“It’s true,’ Lucas said. He looked deader than he had the night after he’d been killed. “Bianca died.”

My mother stumbled backward, like she’d been spun so hard she was dizzy. Her face crumpled into tears. “She was supposed to live forever,” she whispered. “Bianca was going to be our little girl forever.”

“Mrs. Olivier, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry? You convince our daughter to leave her home and her parents and forsake the immortality that’s rightfully hers — her birthright — and she dies, she’s gone forever, and the only thing you can say is sorry?”

“That’s all I can say!” Lucas shouted. “There aren’t words for this! I would ‘ve died for her. I tried to. I failed. I hate myself for it, and ifl could take it back I would, but . . . but…” His voice choked on a sob. He steeled himself and managed to say, “If you want to kill me, I won’t stop you. I won’t even blame you.”

My mother shook her head. Tears streaked her face, and a few caramel — colored strands of hair stuck to her flushed cheeks. “If you hate yourself as much as you say — if you loved her a tenth as much as we loved her — then you deserve immortality. You deserve to live forever, so you can suffer forever.”

Lucas was crying, too, but he never turned his head away, steeling himself to keep meeting my mother’s eyes. It was more than I could do. This Wasn’t Lucas’s fault. It was mine.

For one second I considered appearing in the room. If Mom saw that something of me lived on, maybe she Wouldn’t hurt so badly. But at that moment, I was too ashamed of having hurt her to show my face.

“This isn’t over,” Mom said. She pushed blindly past Lucas into the hallway. He slumped into the nearest chair. I wanted to take form and comfort him, but I had the feeling that seeing me as a ghost Wouldn’t be that comforting for Lucas right now.

And there was something else I had to do.

I followed my mother along the corridors. She wiped at her cheeks but otherwise didn’t try to disguise the fact that she’d been sobbing. Several of the students, both vampire and human, gave her curious glances, but she didn’t seem to care.

We went up the winding stone stairs of the south tower, all the way to my family’s apartment. My father lay on the sofa, his arms wrapped around himself and his eyes dull. He didn’t look at my mother as she walked in. Dad had put on one of his old records — one I recognized, one with Henry Mancini songs that I had liked a lot when I was a child. Audrey Hepburn was singing “Moon River.”

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