Afterlife Page 28

I went to his side. His fingers weren ‘t holding his pencil very tightly — having witnessed these events, he apparently didn’t see the need to take notes. So I took control of the pencil and wrote, within his grip, Do you think she’s okay?

Balthazar sat upright very quickly, but he got over being startled fast enough. His grip tightened as he took the pencil back from me. No, I don’t.

He let the pencil slightly loosen again so that I could reply. What about my father? Do you think he’s able to help her?

He asked me to leave his class. The reminder would be too painful, he said. So that sounds like a no. Bianca, why don’t you appear to them? I hate lying to them that you’re completely gone, forever.

Mom and Dad hate the wraiths. They did everything they could to stop me from turning into one and wouldn’t say one word to me about my becomiilg anything but a vampire. The next words were hard, but I forced myself to finish: I’m afraid they’d r ect and hate me. too.

They’re your parents. They wouldn’t do that. They’d accept you. Like Lucas’s mother accepted him?

He didn’t have a response for that.

In her seat in front of Balthazar, Patrice started shivering; apparently the presence of a ghost always created a chill in the air. She glanced over her shoulder once, obviously curious about the cause of the draft. I moved toward the door, unable to take much more of this, but I looked long and hard at Mom before I left the room. Every time I saw her now felt like it might be the last time.

I wanted to appear to her and to Dad so badly. I imagined appearing before them, wearing the white camisole and cloud — patterned pajama pants I’d died in, and slipping on the bracelet so that I could become solid. Ifl did that, there would be nothing I’d want more in the world than to run into their arms and feel them hug me again.

And then I imagined them turning away. If they did that — I would never get over it.

The other students had started talking about the upcoming scrnool trip into the nearby town of Riverton days ago, but I hadn’t paid much attention, because I doubted any of my friends would take part. The trips were a recent innovation — a treat for the human students. Vampires tended to skip it entirely, because getting to Riverton involved crossing running water, which for them always induced chills, nausea, and sometimes a kind of shock. Also, anything the humans enjoyed was automatically extremely uncool to the vampires. The only human I spent any time with anymore was Vic, who would probably stick around school to hang with Ranulf.                                     81 However, my plans were about to change.

After Mom’s class, as students crowded into the hallways, I sought Lucas. I felt like he needed me, and after seeing my mother’s anguish, I needed him, too. But as I carne along his right side, Mrs. Bethany stepped smoothly to his left. “Mr. Ross.”

“Mrs. Bethany,” he said, casting one quick glance in my direction; he’d sensed that I was there and obviously felt protective. Although we both knew that I was invisible, something about that woman made it seem as though she could detect me anyway.

But she seemed to be thinking about something else entirely. “You have not yet put your name on the list of students joining our first off campus trip. I seem to recall that you were fond of such outings.”

“Back when I could cross a river without wanting to throw up, yeah.”

“Such discomfort is momentary,” Mrs. Bethany said. “It can be overcome.” Lucas shrugged. “I don’t see the point.”

“I will share a secret with you, Mr. Ross. The secret of how I learned to bear being dead.”

What would ever make Mrs. Bethany reveal something so personal? Lucas’s face looked just as shocked as I felt. “Urn, okay.” Then he shook off his surprise. “Actually, that’s something I’d like to hear.”

“Right now, I suspect, you are attempting to forget what you loved about being alive.” Mrs. Bethany’s skirts rustled as she made her way through the crowd, people parting to leave a wide berth around her and Lucas. “To distance yourself from those joys, believing yourself separated from them forever. But that is a mistake.”

Lucas walked more slowly, obviously trying to take that in. “But it’s not like I can . .. I don’t know, go get a good hamburger or go swimming in the ocean — ”

“No. Some things are closed to us. But surely you can enjoy the entertainments Riverton has to offer.”

We’d gone to the classic movie house on our flrst date. He’d bought me my brooch in the vintage clothing shop. It would be fun to visit some of those places again, together. So what if I had to hide? Call it another take on a “blind” date.

Maybe Lucas picked up on what I was feeling, because he slowly nodded. “That’s true. I could still go.”

Mrs. Bethany smiled in satisfaction. “Remember your life,” she said. “Don’t let go of it, any more than you must.” Then she straightened, entirely formal once again. “I shall put your name on the Riverton list.”

“Thanks.”

As we wandered out onto the grounds, I whispered, “I’m so glad you said yes.”

“That was kind of weird, wasn’t it?” He was clearly thinking about Mrs. Bethany. “Her opening up like that.”

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