Afterlife Page 33

“And I guess I did miss you,” Patrice added. ““d been thinking about you earlier tonight, actually.”

“Really?” That made me feel nice, being missed.

“You always did have wonderful taste in vintage jewelry, and I wanted to hit the shop here to find something to wear with this outfit. Worth a ride over the river, don’t you think?”

Patrice would stop at nothing to have the perfect look, but I no longer found that annoying — instead it was funny. and kind of great, and, well, just her. “Okay, I’ll go with you. They won’t see me. I may be dead, but I can still shop.”

She perked up. “Ooooh, we need T — shirts saying that.”

I shopped with Patrice, urging her toward an antique charm bracelet, but while it was nice to reconnect, on another level I was basically killing time. When we were in the clothing store, I couldn’t help remembering how Lucas and I had come here on one of our early dates. He’d been so happy. trying on awesome long coats and crazy hats, so carefree. So alive.

It wasn’t that I loved him any less for being dead — how could I? — but I knew that his life was something that I had loved about Lucas, and it was gone.

When the students began to gather in the square to catch tlhe bus back to school, Lucas didn’t appear with the rest. Nobody except Skye seemed to notice. As everyone started boarding, she went to the chaperone and said, “We’re one person short. He might be hurt.”

“Ross? He’s not hurt.” The driver — a vampire — shrugged it off. “He told me earlier that he had another ride back to school tonight. You’ll see him tomorrow.”

Skye didn’t look very happy about Lucas being left behind. and I could understand why. At any normal school, that would ‘ve been a cause for concern; even at Evernight, if it had been a human student who had gotten lost, there would have been search parties and considerable worry. But vampire students were allowed more independence and were assumed to be able to take care of themselves.

I hoped that was true.

“Go find him,” Patrice whispered before she stepped onto the bus. “See you later.”

Swiftly I moved away from the square, toward the woods that Jay between the town and Evernight. Once the houses were few and far between, and the night breeze stirred around me, I had the solitude I needed to concentrate.

I imagined my jet brooch, the one he had bought for me here in Riverton. The black stone, the shape of the flower, the stone filling in the life that had once pulsed at the core of the wood.

Everything around me swirled like so much smoke, changing colors, taking shape. To my surprise, I Wasn’t with Lucas; the brooch had been in the pocket of his jacket, which now Jay discarded in a heap on the forest floor. As I peered down at it, I saw that it was stained with blood. His from the fight, I assumed — but then I saw that other things were lying around it. A dead raccoon. A dead bird of some kind. A dead fox. Their bodies hadn’tjust been drained; they’d been torn apart. The pile was the aftermath of a killing frenzy, taken out on small animals instead of human beings.

In the near distance, I could hear a thud, thud, thud — blows against wood, like with a mallet or maybe an ax. Taking hold of the brooch and becoming solid, I walked toward the sound until I saw Lucas, stripped down to his undershirt. He stood facing a tree, punching it the way a boxer would a bag.

I came closer. ILucas was oblivious to me, maybe to anything. He hit the tree so hard that bark flew with each punch; on either side of the trunk were stripped — down places of splintered wood, glistening with his blood. Horrified, I realized that he’d !beaten through the skin of his own hands, and a sliver of bone jutted through one finger. The pain he felt with each blow had to be tremendous, and yet he kept going, relentless.

“Lucas!” I ran to his side and grabbed at one of his arms. “Don’t do this to yourself!”

He stopped, but he didn’t look at me. Sweat slicked his skin, making his T — shirt stick to him and his face shine in the moonlight. Lucas kept staring at that tree like he hated it. “I wanted to kill her.”

“She’s your mother,” I said. “She’s betrayed you, as badly as anybody could ever . . . it’s okay to be mad.”

“Not just her. I wanted to kill Dana and Raquel, while they were trying to save me. I wanted to kill Skye the whole time I was rescuing her. And now I look back on it, and I’m not proud, and I don’t feel strong. I’m just so mad at myself for not killing them and drinking their blood when I had the chance, and I hate myself for it, and I — Damn it. Damn it.”

Lucas punched the tree again, so fiercely that I knew he Wasn’t imagining hurting anyone but himself.

“Please don’t do this.” I took both his arms in my hands and brought his broken hand to my face. It was a twisted mess of bone and sinew and blood, like he’d been in a car wreck. “It hurts to see it.”

“I keep trying to break my hand worse and worse, so it won’t heal,” he said. “But it is healing. I can feel the bones coming back together even while I break new ones. It goes back to the way it was before. I can’t tear myself down. I can’t escape from this. There’s no way out.”

He was right. I couldn’t argue with him. So instead I flung my arms around his neck and held him tightly. After a moment, Lucas embraced me back. He shuddered, as though the madness was leaving him.

Only for now, I knew. But if that was the only help I could give, then I would give it. I closed my eyes and hoped that love truly could win over death.

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