Afterlife Page 57

If I failed tonight, I would never have the courage to stand up to the wraiths again. And that meant I might never be able to control my own destiny.

I concentrated on an object that had been meaningful to me during my life — a potential “subway stop” I could travel to at any time. This would be tricky, though; this object hadn’t belonged to me. It was owned by someone else. Someone who maybe never wanted to see me again — but she was about to.

I filled my mind with the image, willing myself to see it, to be one with it: a braided, tawny leather bracelet.

Evernight Academy vanished. Everything around me went dark. As I looked around, I could see a few points of illumination — strips of lights through Venetian blinds, revealing the garish neon of a cheap hotel’s sign and blocky numerals on a digital alarm clock.

To my relief, this was a private room instead of a full Black Cross lair. I’d suspected as much, but all the same, it was better to know for sure. I decided the room needed another light source and turned up my own glow, filling the room with soft blue light that outlined my spectral form. Now I could see the hotel bed, and the two figures who slept there.

One of them shifted beneath the covers, then sat bolt upright. She blinked once, then said, “Bianca?”

I smiled. “Hey, Raquel.”

Chapter Fifteen

RAQUEL STARED AT ME, HER SHORT BLACK HAIR rumpled and her eyes wide. “Am I dreaming?” she whispered. “No,” I said.

She punched at the other person sleeping in the bed — her girlfriend, Dana, who sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes. “What is it, babe?”

I brightened a little more, daring to take firmer shape. “Hey, Dana.”

Dana did a double take that, under other circumstances, would’ve been funny.

“Are you here to haunt me?” Raquel asked. She had scooted backward, against the headboard of the bed, like she wanted to get away. One of her crazy — quilt montages had been pinned to the wall, a collection of magazine snippets and found objects that Raquelliked to turn into art. “I knew it.”

“What? No.” Then I realized why Raquellooked so scared and guilty; she thought I remained angry about her having turned me in to Black Cross.

Which I was, a little bit. I hadn’t quite realized that until I saw her again, without any horde of Black Cross fighters to get in the way. Dana interrupted, “How’s Lucas doing? In Riverton, he didn’t look good.”

“He’s having a hard time.” That was totally inadequate for what Lucas was going through, but I didn’t know what else to say.

Dana slumped, as if crushed. She and Lucas had grown up together — and she also had been indoctrinated by Black Cross, to the point where she would consider vampirism the worst possible fate. Maybe she was the only person who could fully comprehend the depth of Lucas’s self — loathing now. Then her eyes fixed on mine, flashing with anger. “How come you didn’t behead him?”

As horrible as that was to contemplate, I’d considered it difficult enough to know my answer: “Because I’d been a vampire myself. I knew it wasn’t always the worst thing. I thought maybe he could handle it, and maybe he can.”

“You were never anything but a vampire,” Dana shot back. Raquel watched us argue with wide eyes, as if afraid to remind either of us she was there. “How do you know what’s the worst thing? I know for damn sure that if I got changed, I’d want somebody to make sure I never woke up undead. It’s the most sacred promise we make to ourselves. Lucas and I promised each other that a thousand times.” She was breathing hard, her 153 outrage growing. “If you loved him, you’d have done that for him.”

It was a slap in the face, even though I knew Lucas had forgiven me for it. “It’s easy to make promises. But if you had been there — if you’d seen Lucas lying there dead, and knew that you could either lose him forever or talk to him again in just a couple of hours — it’s not that easy anymore.” Once again, I wished it was possible for wraiths to cry; it hurt to carry such a sad memory and have no way to vent my grief. “As difficult as this is for him, he has his friends. He has me. Is that honestly worse than never having anything else, ever again?”

Dana sat in silence for a few seconds. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted. “But what I say goes, okay, babe?” Her eyes met Raquel’s. “If I get changed into a vampire, you make sure I never, ever see the sunrise.”

“I promise.” Raquel’s voice was so quiet, so sure, that her love for Dana filled the room. If Lucas and I had ever talked about this — if I had made him that promise — could I have been strong enough to let him go? As strong as Raquel? I wasn’t sure.

For a few long moments, Raquel and Dana looked only at each other, and Raquel held Dana’s hand tight. But then Dana turned back to me. “Is that what you came to talk about? Lucas?’ Her tone softened slightly. “Does he need to speak to me? Because . .. if you need me to sneak into that crazy vampire school for him, I’ll do it.”

Raquel blurted out, ;;What are you guys doing back at Evernight Academy? Are you nuts?” Then she shrank back again, still afraid of me.

“It’s working out, sort of. Mrs. Bethany wasn’t even angry. It’s like she hates Black Cross so much that — she enjoys having taken Lucas from them.” I hadn’t realized that until now, but I didn’t doubt that was part of her reaction. “Anyway, I wouldn’t suggest showing up there as a Black Cross hunter. But there’s another Riverton trip coming up fairly soon. Unless … would Black Cross come after him again, if he leaves campus?”

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