Afterlife Page 55

I turned back to the subject. “Anyway, most ghosts aren’t as crazy as that one.”

“Most of the ones here seem to be,” he pointed out. “Remember the autumn ball last year?”

Like I’d forget nearly being crushed by massive spears of falling ice. “If they’re so dangerous, why is Mrs. Bethany bringing them here in the first place?”

“Bringing them here? Bianca, what do you mean?”

Quickly I explained the secret common element that every human student at Evernight shared — each of them came from a haunted home and 147 was connected to a ghost or ghosts. Some of those ghosts had followed them here. “That’s why she let humans in to begin with. To bring the ghosts.”

“You don’t think it might have something to do with the fact that human students help the vampire students acclimate to the present day? There’s no better preparation for fitting in with humanity than actually spending time with human beings.” He squeezed my hands tightly, like he thought I was being a little silly, but didn’t mind.

But I shook my head. W Maybe that helps. But seriously, Dad, every single one of the humans? There aren’t that many wraiths. Not even close.

There’s no way that’s a coincidence.”

“So she has some purpose behind trapping ghosts. Some purpose we don’t know. I’ll try to find out.” My father’s expression changed then, turning sharp and distant, like he was mad at someone not in the room.

“Dad?”

“It’s just — Nothing.” He turned his attention back to me and hugged me tightly. My glow of happiness lit up the entire library and turned it to gold. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except having you back.”

We stayed with each other for a while after that, but we’d already said the most important things. Soon he would tell Mom; until then, the two of us agreed to meet up after his classes so we could at least spend a few minutes a day together checking in, finding out how to navigate being father and daughter now that so much had changed. It was a place to start, and I felt like all we needed was that beginning.

When, after midnight, my father finally went up to his rooms, I felt exhausted — like I needed! to “fade out” for a while, the closest I could get to sleeping. But I knew I had more important things to do. Though I had now met Christopher, and had changed my mind about being scared of all ghosts, I’d just gotten a big wake — up call about how dangerous they could be to the people I loved. I’d struck back against a wraith once now; it was time to discover what else I could do, without Patrice by my side.

Whatever else Black Cmss had done to me, they’d made me a fighter. It was past time for me to act like one.

Of course, to test myself in a fight, I needed a wraith to fight with. But for a few days now, I·d had a candidate in mind — one ghost that I knew 148 absolutely, positively used his powers in the most evil way. That sounded like a good place to start.

“That’s awesome,” Lucas said as he sat on the stone steps with me the next afternoon. “I mean it, Bianca. It’s great that your father knows, and it’s going to be good between you and your parents.”

His eyes were shadowed as he said it. I knew that had nothing to do with his feeling about my reconciliation with Dad; it was the memory of Kate’s brutal attacks that hurt him now. The cruelty of her rejection struck me harder now that I, too, had faced my father — !knew the fear and vulnerability of that moment. Lucas had shown even more courage and faith than I had; his trust in her had been immediate and total. His reward had been betrayal. I couldn’t imagine how much that must have hurt.

“Your mom might come around,” I said softly. “Given time.”

Lucas smiled grimly as he shook his head. “I’m nothing but a monster to her now. Never will be anything else.” I touched his face. “You’re not a monster.”

“Yes, I am. Got the fangs to prove it.”

“Then you’re not only a monster. You’re also a good man.” I smiled, scattering a sof t glow around us in the stairwell. Hopefully that had helped him, but I thought it would be a good idea to change the subject, too. “So, what do you think of my plan?”

“I hate it.”

“You think it’s a bad idea?”

“No,” he admitted. “It’s a good idea. You’ve got to go up against a wraith sometime, and I can’t think of a better candidate than that creep. But it’s dangerous. I hate the fact that I can’t protect you.”

“I can protect myself.”

An unwilling smile spread across Lucas’s face. “I know that. I trust you. And I’ve seen what you can do when you set your mind to it. But I always wanted to be the one looking out for you, you know? I’ve gotta learn to let you fight your own battles — at least the ones I can’t fight for you.”

Understanding, I said, “You just don’t have to like it.”

“Exactly . ..” His voice trailed off as we heard footsteps on the stairs above us. Quickly I vanished, turning into a fine cloud of mist that could easily hide in a corner. Lucas stood up, adjusting his uniform sweater, and said to the unseen person, “Hey!”

His voice was a little too loud, an attempt at forced cheer, and it must have scared somebody who thought she was alone. I heard a feminine cry of surprise, and then a thudding on the stairs. Lucas ran up, taking t\vo steps at a time, as I followed behind.

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