Afterlife Page 39

I hoped I had another way. “Do you think you could take a little time away?”

Lucas looked up at me, his green eyes so warm and liquid that I felt myself melt. “For you? Always.”

“We’re alone.” I brushed my hand through his hair; he shut his eyes, clearly relishing the touch. “You’ve got my jewelry, so I could be solid for a while. Maybe we could . .. give being together anotl1er try?”

He remained silent for a long moment. His hand closed around mine, and I felt again the sparkly sensation of connecting when I wasn’t 100 percent solid — deliciously cool, sending ripples of pleasure through me. I bent to kiss Lucas, but just before our lips met, he said, “We shouldn ‘t.”

“Lucas — why not?” I didn’t feel rejected; his longing and love for me radiated from him. So I didn’t understand what kept us apart. “I know last time was bad, but we realize what’s going on now. What we can and! can’t do.” As far as I was concerned, the stuff we could do was a whole lot more interesting than what we couldn ‘ t.

“The need for sex and the need for blood — they’re so tightly linke·d, Bianca. They always have been, for us.”

“But they aren’t the same thing.” I kissed his forehead, his cheek, the side of his mouth. He breathed in sharply, and I knew he wanted this as 108 badly as I did — more, perhaps. “You know now that drinking my blood would hurt you. Maybe destroy you. So that means you won’t lose control and bite me.”

Lucas gripped my hands tightly and met my eyes. “I know that drinking your blood could destroy me,” he said. “And that’s why I’m afraid I’ll bite you.”

Silence fell over us, as heavy and horrible as the new knowledge I had to bear. I’d known that Lucas was struggling, but I hadn’t realized that his desire for self — destruction remained so immediate and strong.

My face must have looked crushed, because Lucas said, “Oh, God, Bianca, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“You told me the truth,” I managed to say. ‘That’s the main thing.”

Lucas embraced me as tightly as he could in my semisolid state. “I daydream about being with you all the time,” he whispered into my hair. “All the time. If I couldn’t remember being with you, I don’t know how I would go on. But sometimes I think — if I could end it, just end it, while I was with you, it’s as close as anything like me could ever get to heaven — ”

“Lucas, no.”

“I would never do that to you,” he said. “Never. But . . . Bianca, we can’t.”

I nodded, accepting the barrier between us. It wasn’t forever; just until Lucas managed to control his blood hunger and the terrible self — loathing Black Cross had programmed into him. But how long until that day came?

Would it ever come?

As though he could hear my doubts, Lucas said, “Someday.”

“Someday,” I said, a promise to him and to myself.

Later that night, still dazed with disappointment and worry for Lucas, I drifted down into the main area of the school — deserted, this late at night. Even the vampires were asleep.

How many vampires don’t make the transition? I thought. How many give in to suicidal impulses or blood hu11ger, or both? I suspected the number was far larger than my parents had ever let on. Once again I felt a fierce surge of longing for them. Not only did I miss Mom and Dad just as themselves, but if we could talk — really talk, without all the lies between us — maybe I could learn how to help Lucas bear his burdens.

Perhaps ii was the intensity of my concentration as I wondered about this, the way it dragged me so deeply into my own mind rather tl1an the here and now — or maybe it was some trick of where I was at that moment, because Evernight’s traps and guards and passageways created a kind of spiritual architecture within the stone. Whatever it was, in that moment, I suddenly became sharply aware that I was not alone.

I could sense the wraiths.

They were more distinct at that moment than they had ever been. Instead of simply knowing that they were there, I could now tell roughly how many there were — dozens, at least. They seemed to stand out in my awareness, each of them distinct but part of a whole, like stars in the sky, maybe, different points of brightness that formed constellations all around me. It was like suddenly seeing the night sky for the very first time, as though I’d been blind to it my whole life and then been dazzled all at once.

Except that constellations were beautiful, peaceful — and what I sensed around me now was desperation and madness. Instead of being dazzled, I felt the cold grip of fear.

Some that lingered alone, crammed into tiny slivers between stones or at the edge of windowpanes. It was as though they were beating their heads against a wall, cramping and hurting themselves just to remind themselves they continued to exist.

The trapped ones were the worst, because I couldn’t feel anything from them but pure terror. They’ d become nothing but long wordless screams.

And then there were a few others, clustered tightly together, who, when I sensed them, sensed me in return.

Once again, the visions began.

I saw an image of Mrs. Bethany in my mind — not a product of my own imagination, but something projected into my head like a movie on a screen. Something was tearing her apart, literally, graphically, bone and sinew and blood and guts, more disgusting than anything I’d ever seen. My throat tightened, and I gagged, but the image filled my whole mind now, and I couldn ‘ t push it away.

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