Afterlife Page 53

It didn’t answer me. The wraith had to think, I realized — it was divided between hope and hate, unable to choose one over the other.

Softly. I added, “Where we’re going . .. it can be beautiful. It’s better than haunting a school. anyway. You have to see it. Come on.” I forced myself to offer my hand to the wraith, though its fingers were clawlike and bony.

For another moment, the wraith hesitated. I dared to glance over at my father and wished instantly that I hadn’t; tears were running down his cheeks as he looked up at me, and I thought maybe he was crying because I had turned into something so horrible — something just like this creature that had tried to hurt him.

Then the wraith suddenly shrieked in rage. “It doesn’t! It doesn’t get to run away.” Hate had won.

It dove for my father, and I tried to get between them. I couldn’t stop the wraith, exactly, but it was like we somehow tangled up in each other neither of us solid, neither of us distinct. Like fluffernutter in a sandwich: a gooey, sticky mess. The wraith’s spirit curled around my own, sicker and sadder than I’d realized, and I shuddered in revulsion.

“Get away from me!” I pushed the wraith away, and it worked. The ghost sprang above us, a coiled blue streak of electricity just beneath the ceiling. I had a sudden image of it coming down as a thunderbolt. Who would it strike first? My dad or me? And what would happen when it did?

Then the wraith screamed, a pitiful sound, and dissolved into bluish smoke that swirled down toward the library door. Within a second the light had gone out, and there was silence.

I realized what must have happened. “Patrice?” I called.

“It’s in my new compact!” she called from beyond the ice. “Which just happens to be Estee Lauder. This thing had better not break it.” Then I heard the sound of Vic’s amazed laughter. “That was incredibly cool.”

“I try,” she said.

The ice walls surrounded my father and me. Although I guessed they’d melt eventually, I didn’t like the idea of leaving him in there alone to be 143 found in the morning. “Can you guys break us out?”

“Yeah, hang on!” Vic sounded excited about the whole process. “I’m gonna use the emergency fire ax. Try out some of Ranulf’s moves.”

As I heard them going into the hallway for the fire ax, I knew that there was no other way to avoid it. Bracing myself, I turned to once again face my father.

“Bianca,” he said again. His cheeks were wet from tears. “It’s … really you?”

“Yeah.” My voice sounded so small. “Dad, I’m sorry.”

“Sony? n Dad grabbed me and hugged me so hard that my semisolid body almost gave way, but I held on. “My baby girl. You don’t have to be sorry for anything. You’re here. You’re here.”

And I knew that he didn’t care that I was a wraith, or that I’d been so stupid and wrong about so many things, or that we’d fought the last time we talked. My dad still loved me.

If I could have cried, I would have. As it was, the joy that spread through me turned into light and warmth, a soft glow like a candle — and I could feel it soothing my father’s pain. “I missed you, “I whispered. “I missed you and Mom so much.”

“Why didn’t you come to us?”

“I was scared you wouldn ‘ t want me anymore. Now that I’m a wraith.”

“You’re my daughter. That never changes.” Dad’s face was creased with pain. “We hated them so much . . . were so afraid of them. Of course you were scared. We were so — obstinate and shortsighted about this. We should have talked to you.”

“If I’d known . . .” I didn’t know what I would ‘ve done, if I had known. Would I have turned into a vampire? Chosen my present path? I couldn’t tell, and it didn’t matter. We were here now. “I’m sorry I ran away like that. I know I scared you.”

My dad’s expression suggested that I hadn’t known the half of it, but he never stopped embracing me. “It’s that boy. He was always a bad influence on you — ”

“Dad, no. I made the decision to go on my own. Lucas helped take care of me, but it was my choice. If you’ re angry about it — and I don’t blame you — you have to understand that it was my fault. Only mine.”

Dad stroked my hair, but said nothing. I knew he didn’t believe me.

“Lucas needs your help,” I whispered. “He’s having trouble with the transition. He hates what he is and can’t get over it. You could help him.”

“That’s too much to ask.”

“That’s what I’m asking.” But after what I’d put my father through in the past few months, maybe I didn’t have the right to demand a whole lot, at least not now. “When you’ re ready. Think about it.”

The library doors squeaked, and I heard Vic yell, “Fire brigade’s here!”

My dad and I took hands as Vic and Patrice started chopping their way through the ice. They were laughing — apparently it was wet, messy work — which let me whisper to him privately, “Can we go see Mom?”

I thought he’d be so thrilled, but instead he hesitated. “We should wait. Not long — I need to think about how best to handle it.”

My heart sank. “You think Mom wouldn’t be able to accept this. She hates the wraiths. Is she going to hate me?”

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