Afterlife Page 27

At that, he actuaUy laughed; it was a rueful laugh rather than a happy one, but I’d take what I could get. It just felt so good, being here with him without the weight of the world crushing us down.

I kept counting off points. “You think for yourself, which is a lot rarer than it ought to be. You can admit when you’re wrong, which is even rarer than that. You’re loyal, and you’re courageous, and you make friendships that last forever. That’s all part of you. The best part of you.”

Very serious now, Lucas shook his head. “You’re wrong.”

“Listen to me — ”

“You listen.” He snuggled more tightly against me. “You’re the best part of me. Always.”

I closed my eyes and rested my head against his arm, finally at peace — at least for one night.

The next day, Evernight Academy continued along in its usual whirl of activity — in its own way, I thought, more alive than most of its student body. People jumbled together in the hallways, the vampires sleek and sophisticated, the rest wondering vaguely why they couldn’t fit in. Traveling down the hallways was scarier now, because I never knew where the next trap might lie. But I took it slow and proceeded carefully. So far, so good.

I was searching for Lucas, intending to follow him into class. I wouldn’t distract him; he was honestly trying to do the course work, as a way of killing time if nothing else. After our reunion last night, it felt like enough just to be at his side, and I suspected he would feel the same way.

But then I saw someone who looked lonelier than Lucas had — my mother.

Mom’s clothing was much the same as it had always been: simple skirt, practical shoes, and a soft sweater. Her caramel — colored hair was pulled back in the ponytail she’d worn as long as I could remember. But the spring had left her step, and there was no light in her eyes as she trudged down the hallway toward her twentieth — century history class.

When I drifted through the door of her classroom, she was writing on the blackboard. I read the words along with the students: THE LOST GENERATION. l saw a few familiar faces in the room, most particularly Balthazar; he ‘d lived through this, and remained more hooked — in than most vampires, but I realized he had probably enrolled in this class in particular in order to stay close to my mom.

Oh, sure, I mused. Now you’re thoughtful. Why weren’t you thinking al1ead when Lucas needed it the most? Balthazar had brought Lucas into the fight with Charity knowing that Lucas Wasn’t himself — something I still hadn’t gotten past. But for my mother, if not myself, I couldn’t help feeling some gratitude toward him — and toward Patrice, who sat a few rows ahead and was probably enrolled for the same reason, though she would never admit it.

“The Lost Generation. That’s what they called the people who came of age during the First World War — or, as they called it then, the Great War. Anybody know why that was?” Mom asked tiredly.

She was directing her question at the human students, of course, or at least the vampires who had been turned after that era. It was an unwritten rule at Evernight Academy that relying on historical knowledge you ‘d lived through was too much like cheating.

Skye Tierney, who sat in the front row, raised her hand. “Because the Second World War hadn ‘ t happened yet.”

“Correct.” Morn’s gaze remained a couple inches above the class, not quite engaged with them. Dark circles ringed her eyes. It looked like she hadn’t slept well in weeks. “Because they couldn’t believe humaniry could ever be that stupid twice.”

A couple of the vampires smirked, obviously thinking that was a slam on human beings, instead of what it was — Mom being fatalistic. Balthazar shut his eyes briefly as if trying to shield himself from their stupidity.

My mother clutched her chalk in her hands, fine yellowish powder coating her fingertips. Her gaze was distant, her voice softer than it should ‘ve been for addressing a roomful of students. “World War I shattered people’s beliefs in every aspect of their society. People could no longer worship an aU — protecting God after so many of their sons and brothers died in the trenches. Soldiers who had suffered from mustard gas and machine — gun fire and starvation could no longer trust the governments and generals who had sent them to the front with promises of a war that would last only a few months. Women who had picked up the slack of war work in factories and managed at home alone for years could never be ‘sheltered ‘ again.” Pens scratched on notebooks; keyboards of laptops clicked. Everybody thought this was going to be on the exam. I could tell this was just Mom getting lost in sad memories.

She continued, “Some of those women had lost everyone they’d loved. Every promise they’d ever made to their children to keep them safe . . .

those promises were broken. After that, you could never — they could never believe again.”

Oh, Mom. I wanted to put my arms around her so badly. Did I want to hold her and tell her it would be okay, or was I childish enough to want her to reassure me?

A few of the vampires — the older ones, who had been through that time, too — looked as sad as my mother did; Balthazar suddenly seemed acutely interested in his shoes. I realized I’d never asked what he did in that war, if anything. Whatever had happened to him then might darken his memories, or maybe he simply understood Mom’s mindset better than anyone else and felt bad for her.

Reaching out to other people, I reminded myself. Taking care of them, even if I happen to be mad at them right now. That’s what I’m here for.

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