Afterlife Page 34

Chapter Ten

AFTER THAT NIGHT IN RIVERTON, LUCAS BECAME quieter. Harder. Although he continued to reach out to me, and to try to find fun stuff for us to do, it was increasingly obvious to me — and, no doubt, to him — that he was in a desperate struggle for his own sanity, and I could only help him so much.

And every time he would build himself up, get to where he might have a good day or two in a row, something else would happen to tear him down.

A couple of days later, I sneaked into his calculus class, one I generally avoided, because I’d taken that the year before and once was definitely enough. As usual, Lucas sat near the back of the room, but this time, ther — e was no invisible barrier around him. A couple of guys — vampire guys, lean and pale — were on either side of him, and they were paying more attention to Lucas than to the equation on the board.

As I dipped down closer, I heard Lucas mutter, “Shut it, okay, Samuel?”

The skinnier of the vampires, a new student apparently called Samuel , answered, “Can’t shut it out. You know it as well as I do. You smell it, too.”

The other vampire, silently giggling in an incredibly creepy way, pointed with his middle finger toward a girl sitting two rows ahead of them, one with blond hair in a pixie cut.

“Breathe that in,” Samuel whispered. “Nothing better than a girl on the rag.”

I’d never realized full vampires could smell when girls had their periods. Retroactive mortification from every month of my two years at Evernight hit me at once, and if I’d had a body, I would have blushed hot pink.

Lucas looked mortified, too, but that was clearly not the main problem. Samuel and his loathsome friend weren’t trying to embarrass him; they were trying to make him hungry.

Samuel leaned farther out in the aisle, his desk at the point of tipping over, his mouth right next to Lucas’s ear. “You just got turned this summer, huh, hunter? Bet you’ve never even had a kill. Never had fresh human blood. But you want it, don’t you?”

Lucas’s hands gripped the edge of his desk. His still — scarred knuckles were white. He kept staring down at the notes he’d made, but it was obvious he wasn’t seeing any of it.

“This place is like a freakin’ all — you — can — eat buffet these days,” Samuel said. “So many humans. So many girls. Don’t you want a drink, Lucas? Or did Black Cross make you too self — righteous to feed yourself?” He spat out the words Black Cross like they tasted bad in his mouth.

“Shut the hell up.”

Samuel’s voice lowered further, but he kept talking. “You’re gonna starve. You’re just gonna get hungrier and hungrier until it claws out the center of you. A pretty girl like that, maybe — she’ll send you right over the edge. Someday you’ll snap, hunter. Someday you’ll kill.” Lucas shut his eyes tightly.

Enough, I decided. I flattened myself at the floor, cold and strong, and swept beneath Samuel’s desk — toppling it, and him, over.

He crashed down, books and paper going everywhere, and everybody started laughing. Professor Raju crossed her arms. “Mr. Younger, you’ll never learn to balance equations if you can’t balance yourself.” Lame teacher humor, but people snickered anyway; Samuel looked furious but sullenly righted himself. I knew he Wouldn’t make fun of anybody else for at least a day or two.

Lucas didn’t join in the laughter. The hunger had taken him over, and I realized it was taking every bit of his focus and will to keep from attacking the girl two rows ahead.

When class was dismissed, Lucas got up so quickly that his desk scraped across the floor. Samuel and his creepy friend laughed, and Samuel said, “What’s the big hurry, Lucas? Cotta change a Tampax?”

A couple other vampires laughed, but Skye, who had been in the front row, whirled around. “Don’t you guys ever leave him alone?”

“What do you care if we don’t like this jerk?”

“I’m looking at the biggest jerk in the room, and it’s not Lucas.”

While Samuel and Skye had it out, Lucas grabbed his stuff and rushed out of the room. I followed him, and only my ability to travel above the crowds of students allowed me to keep up. Lucas shoved and pushed, going faster and faster, ignoring every annoyed look he received. He was focused on only one thing: getting out.

Lucas flung the great hall’s huge wooden doors open with both hands. Gold and tan leaves on the lawn crunched beneath his feet, and I could tell he was preparing to run. He’d vanish into the woods again, kill as many creatures as he could, beat himself into a pulp. Not again, I thought in despair. Please, not again!

At that moment, Balthazar appeared, like he’d materialized in front of Lucas. He must have called on his vampire speed to reach him. “Bad day?” he said.

“Get out of my way,” Lucas growled.

“No.” Balthazar grabbed Lucas’s arm and towed him back into the building. “You’re coming with me.”

“What are you doing?” I whispered furiously into Balthazar’s ear.

“Stopping him from tearing himself up.”

Which was what I’d wanted, too, but this would only make a bad situation worse. “He needs out of there. Away from the humans. Can’t you see that?”

Balthazar smiled grimly as we went through the hallways. It looked weird — him basically dragging Lucas along like that, Lucas almost out of it — but Balthazar didn’t seem to mind making it worse by talking to me out loud. “I know you don’t trust me anymore, but You’re just going to have to deal.”

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