Afterlife Page 64

I wanted to argue with him, but I remembered how hard it had been for me to appear to my parents. That fear of rejection was powerful. And as Lucas’s situation showed, not every person was strong enough to love despite the change.

Lucas, I thought. Of course Mrs. Bethany had been sympathetic to Lucas. Of course she reached out to him and understood him. She had been exacdywhere he was. But that didn’t make her generous and good. It just made her somebody who hated Black Cross a lot. He needed to realize that. and the sooner the better.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’ll come back, okay?”

I’d expected Christopher to protest, or throw some ice — storm tantrum to keep me here, but instead he kept gazing at the scorpion as it skittered upon the sand. “Go,” he said. “I am weary.”

Watching Mrs. Bethany’s death — even as a long — distant memory — had been as hard for him as it had been for me to see Lucas die. I put one hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for showing me.”

“Go,” he said, more quietly, and placed his face in his hands.

I concentrated on a place, on the records room, and traveled through the blue until it materialized around me. Patrice was up there alone, studying her German; she started when I appeared, but only for a second. “Hey, there you are. Lucas was getting worried.”

“I’m going to him right away,” I promised, going to the loose brick in the wall and retrieving my bracelet from behind it. When I’d put it around my wrist, I took completely solid form and felt an enormous wave of relief. “I just need a second to be … less ghostly. If that makes sense.”

“Whatever works,” Patrice said, not unkindly. “But he’s got a test this afternoon, remember? He’ll do better if he knows you’re around and okay.”

“I know it.” Though I hated to give up the bracelet so soon, I decided I’d better. “Okay, fine. Come with me?”

“Sure. I have to head down to class anyway.”

I trailed behind her as vapor the whole way down the stairs. “Could you keep out of my hair, please?” she muttered. “You’re awfully damp sometimes. I’ll frizz.”

“This isn’t easy. you know.”

“Neither is fixing my hair.”

I wanted to laugh, but just then — as we were reentering the classroom area — we heard the commotion. People shouting, shoes squeaking against the floor, the thud of a body against the waH — “A fight,” Patrice said.

“Lucas.” I knew it without having to be told.

Patrice ran, me above her, until we reached the fracas. Sure enough, Lucas and Samuel were on the floor, grappling with each other, their noses bloody.

“I said,” Lucas rasped, “leave her alone.”

“You want her for yourself, huh? Is that what you want?” Samuel’s sick grin made it clear that he Wasn’t talking about flirtation. Whatever human Samuel had been picking on — and Lucas had been defending — was a!J too appetizing as an evening snack. I realized who it must have been when Skye, amid the crowd, threw one of her books at Samuel, but he dodged it easily. “Hit me a little harder, and she’s yours, man. Take what you want.”

Lucas head — butted the guy, so hard that Samuel flopped back, stunned. Groggily, a hand to his forehead, Lucas said, “Mostly I just want you to shut up.”

The laughing crowd around us went very quiet, parting to allow Mrs. Bethany to sweep into the middle of this. She looked so different to me now that I had seen her younger, human, in love, alive. And yet she was still Mrs. Bethany, made of starched lace and long skirts and chilly authority. The fight scene got no more reaction from her than a raised eyebrow. “Mr. Ross. Mr. Younger. I take it You’ve settled this matter between yourselves?”

“Yeah, it’s settled.” Lucas got to his feet, somewhat unsteadily, and dabbed at his nose with his sleeve. Samuel continued to glare up at him, like he might tackle him anew whether the headmistress was watching or not.

“Mr. Younger?” Mrs. Bethany repeated. “I hope I won’t have to undertake any .. . disciplinary action. I suspect you wouldn’t care for my methods.”

“Yeah,” Samuel said, which wasn’t exactly an answer, but he rose and slouched off without another word.

As everyone else went about their business, scattering from Mrs. Bethany like leaves in a strong gale, I wanted to talk to Lucas — but Skye was a little faster, reaching him before I had a chance to say a word. “Thanks for standing up for me.”

“No prob.”

She had a crooked sort of smile that somehow made her beauty more approachable. How come my funny smile only made me look silly? “You’re kind of like a one — man SWAT team, you know. Who would ‘ve thought anybody would need so much rescuing in high school?”

Skye was only making a joke, but it obviously struck a chord for Lucas. He took her arm by the elbow and said, “We’ ve gotta talk.”

“Our test is starting in five minutes — and don’t you need to clean up after the fight?”

“Forget cleaning up. Forget the test. This is important.”

I followed them back into the stairwell; Patrice cast a worried glance after us but didn’t try to join them. Good thing, too, because she probably would’ve freaked out. Knowing Lucas as I did, I knew what he was about to say — and I thought it was a good idea.

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