Afterlife Page 22

Then I reached a room where the two inhabitants sat on opposite sides of a chess board, and I smiled. “That pawn is now a queen, baby,” Vic said. “Booya.”

“Your soul is as devious as your stratagems.” Ranulf frowned as he considered what to do next.

I unfolded, willing myself into a visible form. Both Vic and Ranulf jumped, but then they each smiled. “Hey, ghostly lady.” Vic rose from his chair, like an old — fashioned gentleman. “How’s it going?”

“Not so hot,” I admitted. “How are you guys?”

“We compete now for the desirable bunk farther from the windows, which will be less drafty in winter,” Ranulf said. “Later, Vic’s iPad will be used to watch a film of the winner’s choosing. Much is at stake.”

“In other words, it’s all good.” Vic paused. “At least, in this room. On the sixth floor, You’re gonna find two guys who are having a suckier time of it.”

“So Mrs. Bethany let them room together?” Balthazar had said he would suggest it, and given the attitudes of the other vampires toward Lucas, it made sense for Mrs. Bethany to agree. But I felt better knowing for sure. “Well, that’s something, anyway.”

Vic was uncharacteristically quiet for a couple seconds. He avoided my eyes, instead studying the kitschy old Elvis Presley movie poster that he’d tacked onto his wall. Then he said, “I should’ve volunteered. To room with Lucas, I mean. He needs his friends with him — I know that — but I just — ”

“No, Vic, it’s okay. Lucas should be with Balthazar, because he’s going to have a lot of questions that only a more experienced vampire could handle.” There were other reasons Vic didn’t need to room with Lucas right now, but reminding him of them wouldn’t do anybody any good.

“That’s not what I meant. I want Lucas to know I believe in him. You know?”

“I know. But .. . give it time. Don’t rush it.”

Vic nodded and said nothing else. The moment was threatening to become awkward when Ranulf triumphantly slid his queen across several squares. “I believe the superior bunk will be mine.”

“Oh, man.” Vic made a face, and I had to smile despite myself. Waving good — bye, I dematerialized again and went farther up, to the sixth floor. After searching through a few rooms, I found Lucas and Balthazar. They were already asleep.

No wonder they’d already gone to bed — this day had to have been exhausting and traumatic for both of them. I didn’t think they’d unpacked. Lucas’s half of the room was as spartan as ever, and Balthazar appeared to have stopped moving in as soon as he laid a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on the windowsill. Balthazar, almost too broad and tall to fit in his bunk, was curled in facing the wall. Ever the fighter, Lucas slept on his back, large, scarred hands above the covers, the better to grab a weapon within moments if necessary. The only time he’d ever deviated from that was when he held me throughout the night.

Although I knew they needed to crash, I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to see Lucas again, even if only to wish him sweet dreams.

Then I remembered something Maxie had taught me before Lucas’s death, and smiled. Maybe I could tell him good night after all.

I concentrated on Lucas’s sleeping form, hoping that he was dreaming. If I remembered right, it was a little like diving into a pool — thrusting downward, inward, every bit of me in one taut line — Instantly, I was within Lucas’s dream.

The surroundings were familiar — this was the records room at the top of the north tower. A few filmy cobwebs clouded the corners of the room, and sepia gold pages were scattered about here and there. Mrs. Bethany used this only to store records of no use to her any longer, report cards from 1853 and similar stuff.

However, a lor had happened here in recent years. This was where Lucas had fought — and killed — Erich, a vampire who had stalked Raquel. This was where Balthazar and I had sought clues to Mrs. Bethany’s ultimate plan. And here Lucas and I had reunited after he’d learned that I was the child of vampires. He had accepted me no matter what, just as I had accepted him.

Good thing, too, I thought. Given how many things we’ve changed into since.

Lucas stood at the window, staring out at the night sky. His hair was slightly longer, as it had been when we first met. I smiled, realizing as I did so that I had a body now, or whatever passed for one in the world of dreams. That meant I could take Lucas in my arms, and we could share everything that our waking hours denied us. Here, in sleep, we could be alone and safe.

As I came closer to him, I noticed that he had a stake in one hand — strange, I thought. Then the door behind us opened.

“Knock, knock.” To my astonishment, Erich walked through the door. “Raquel? Thanks for the invitation. Knew you couldn’t wait to see me.” His greedy expression shifted into annoyance as he glimpsed Lucas at the window; I couldn’t tell whether he saw me or not. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Waiting to see whether I can forge Raquel’s handwriting well enough to get you up here,” Lucas said. He walked right past me without a glance. Apparently I didn’t play a role in this dream. “Looks like that’s a yes.”

“You played some stupid joke to get me alone? What are you, some kind of fag?”

“It would be your lucky day if I were.” Lucas circled Erich, his entire body tensed and ready. The second that he stood between Erich and the door, he let Erich see the stake. “But it’s not your lucky day.”

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