Afterlife Page 42

While Lucas gaped at this, I whispered, “We’ll always have each other — but we can have this, too.”

“Hey, guys!” Vic was the first to spot us. “We thought we’d try to cheer this place up. Nothing like some vintage Elvis movie posters to add a touch of class.”

“I could make some other suggestions,” Patrice said, in a tone of voice that suggested “a touch of class” was not what had happened here. But 115 she was smiling.

“Is this safe?” Lucas said.

Balthazar stubbed out his cigarette on the stone windowsill. “I don’t see why not. We might get caught, but they’ll probably think we’re just hanging out up here.”

“And we are going to do some hanging out,” I said, “but seriously, we need a place Mrs. Bethany doesn’t know about. A place to . . . strategize.

Figure out what she’s up to. Find a way to communicate better with the wraiths. All of that. I can’t just keep muttering to you guys between classes.”

“There’s no reason for anybody to realize Bianca’s up here with us,” Patrice agreed. “And if someone overheard a lot of us talking, they wouldn’t think anything of it. She’s right. If we keep meeting up with her one on one, it sounds like we’ve started talking to ourselves, and that makes people wonder. Besides, Bianca can leave something here to help anchor her. It would be good for her to be hooked in to a place, as well as to people. ‘“

Vic’s initial cheer had faded somewhat, and he and Lucas studied each other warily. Lucas said, “I’m not sure about — about this.” About being around Vic, he meant. About being around any human for long.

Vic blurted out, “I’m daubed.”

“What?” Lucas looked confused; I couldn ‘ t blame him.

“I mean, I got my parents to send me some holy water, which took, like, some serious explaining, and now I think they believe I want to become a priest, which, come on, hardly, but they sent it. I keep it in a cologne bottle on my desk. And now I’m daubed.” Vic yanked open the neck of his shirt; his hula — girl painted tie swung slightly. “Holy water. daubed all over my neck. So even if you did lose it and bite me, which I’m hoping You’re not going to do, it would burn. Like biting into a — a . . . jalapeno pepper. Me equals jalapeno pepper. So you’d back off immediately.” He glanced around at the rest of us. “Right?”

“Urn, maybe?” That was as much as Patrice could come up with; the rest of us had nothing.

Lucas obviously was as nonplussed as we were, but slowly, he nodded. “You know, weirdly, that helps. I don’t think we should be alone up 116 here, but — yeah. Okay.”

Vic relaxed a little. There was still distance between them, but less. Maybe Lucas could get the hang of being around a human if it was one he couldn’t easily bite; maybe their friendship could start to heal. “Come on, man. I haven’t kicked your ass at chess in more than a year. Time for you to learn some humility.”

Ranulf said, “He now challenges you because he can no longer defeat me.” Vic mock — shoved him away from the chessboard.

Lucas handed me my bracelet, and I slipped it on, taking form again. For the first time in what felt like forever, I could just spend time witl1 my friends like anybody else. It was as close to normal as I could possibly get. “This is going to work. You ‘11see.”

“Yeah.” Lucas said. But I knew he remained uneasy about Vic and the rest of it.

Give it time, I told myself, and him, too.

As dusk came earlier and the leaves began to cover the ground more tl1ickly than the branches of trees, Lucas gave me back my bracelet for good. He kept my brooch, so I could reach him at any time. But, at Patrice’s suggestion, I hid a small box beneath a loose stone in the wall, and I stored the bracelet there. That way I could reach it anytime I wanted to turn solid.

“If anything happened to me or my stuff, I wouldn’t want you to be stuck,” Lucas said as he placed it into my hand.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” I insisted, but I knew he was right. I just couldn ‘ t have guessed how quickly events would prove it.

Later that night, Lucas and I decided it was time for me to try entering his dreams again. “This time I’ll know you’re coming,” he said, obviously trying hard to psych himself up for it. “That’s going to help me break out of the pattern of the nightmare.”

His one assumption — the way he matter — of — factly said nightmar told me that all his dreams were nightmares, now.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said. Although I felt sure it was true, it felt a little like a lie. I hadn’t mentioned the mysterious scratches I’d received during his dream about the fight with Erich. They had stopped hurting very quickly and had completely vanished after only a few days. Besides, they were only scratches. How much could something like that injure me?                                117 Lucas, I decided, was already too worried about me. If I got some kind of mystical bruise or scratch while visiting his dreams, it Wouldn’t mean much afterward — but if he was concerned about it before we began, it could infect his mind and maybe his dreams. He needed an escape from that anxiety, not another reason for it. I knew it was best to remain silent.

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