Afterlife Page 21

“It’s true,” Mom said in a small voice.

“I know. I think — I think I knew a long time ago. just didn’t want to…” Dad shut his eyes tightly, like he was closing out Mom and memory and the whole rest of the world.

My mother stretched on the sofa beside him, taking him into her arms. As she bowed her cheek against his dark red hair, his shoulders began to shake with heavy sobs.

I couldn’t take it anymore. No matter how ashamed I felt, no matter how hard it would be, it couldn’t be worse than hearing them suffer. It was time for me to appear to them, to reveal what had happened.

But as I gathered myself together to take form, even as I struggled to find the right words to say first, my mother choked out, “May God damn the wraiths.”

I froze.

“It’s their fault,” she continued. “What happened to her is their fault.” Dad cuddled her closer. “I know, sweetheart. I know.”

“I hate them. I hate them all. As long as I’m on this earth, I’11 never stop hating them….” Her voice ebbed into sobs again.

They hated the wraiths, for having had a hold on me, for haunting Evernight, for merely existing. If I appeared, they Wouldn’t think of me as their little girl anymore. I would just be a monster. The way Lucas had been nothing but a monster to Kate.

I’d never known how much I needed their love for me until I’d lost it.

So I didn’t appear to them. How could I? I would only have made it worse for them and for me, as impossible as it seemed that anything, ever, could be worse than that moment. Compared to this, dying had been easy. But I remained there for a long time, watching them weep. I deserved to see it.

They cried themselves to sleep, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. For a while I drifted through my old room. Apparently most of my family’s stuff had made it through the fire, because many of my things remained there. Klimt’s The Kiss still hung on one wall, shining, ideal lovers that, in my mind, symbolized Lucas and me.

We’11 get back to that place, I thought. We’11 find a way.

I flowed through the window, not bothering about the frost, until I sat beside my old friend the gargoyle again. His stone wings were the same color as the gray autumn nightfall.

“Remember that time we talked here?”

Startled, I turned to see Maxie sitting next to me — actually a few inches off the windowsill, but once you were a ghost, gravity dido’t matter so much. She was smiling like this was the greatest day ever.

“Maxie, what are you doing here?”

“Uh, saying hello? Like the last time we met here. You figured out how to fog up the glass so I could write on it. That was when I decided maybe you weren ‘ t terminally stupid.”

I’d fogged the glass with my breath — a trick I’d never be able to perform again. “Don’t take this personally, but honestly, I can’t do the banter thing right now.”

“Stop sulking, living dead girl.”

“Maxie. No.” I couldn’t feel good about being a wraith, about being dead, after seeing what my death had done to my parents.

“You’re not alone, you know.” Maxie tried to make it sound casual, but I knew she was reaching out as best she could. After decades of being isolated from the living world, except for visits from Vic, she wasn’t very good at the social — interaction thing. “You don’t have to be afraid of us.”

But I was. Going to “talk to Christopher” sounded the same as accepting my death, and at that moment, I couldn ‘t. “Not tonight, okay?”

She hesitated, clearly disappointed, but then she vanished.

After a second, I realized that Maxie was right about one thing: It was time for me to quit brooding and go to Lucas. By now, perhaps, he’d be ready to see me again, ghost or not.

The easiest way down proved to be sort of melting along the tower wall, feeling the stones ripple past me. As soon as I reached the new roof, I could feel that it was far more resistant to ghosts than before, but I could go in through the front door or most of the windows. I darted in and out. finding my way, memorizing paths in case I needed to use them later.

Occasionally I felt a small ripple of energy behind me, or in an opposite corner, and figured Maxie was trailing along after me. But then I realized that it wasn’t her.

It — they — were other ghosts.

Christopher? I thought, with a shiver of fear. He was the only other wraith I’d encountered at Evernight. But his was a powerful, unmistakable presence, one I didn’t detect here. And there were several of them: two, three, five, ten, maybe more. They were just slivers of fog, zephyrs of sensation, probably invisible to anyone who wasn’t a ghost, too. It reminded me of when I’d been a vampire, the way I’d started to be able to just sense when another vampire was nearby, whether or not I ever saw them. I wasn ‘ t exactly seeing these ghosts — more the trails they left behind — but I knew they were there.

Mrs. Bethany’s plan to draw them here through the human students had obviously worked.

We always wanted to know why she was hunting the wraiths, I thought. I guess soon we’11 find out.

I rose through the north tower, searching as I went. Mostly I saw a lot of vampire guys hanging out in their rooms, chugging blood and bragging about how much sex they’d had during summer vacation, and a few other rooms with human guys who were hanging out, eating potato chips and bragging — less credibly — about the sex they’d had during summer vacation. If I’d had a body, I would’ve rolled my eyes.

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