Afterlife Page 65

It was time to tell Skye the truth.

“What’s up?” Skye’s expression clouded as they stood together in the stairwell, light from the narrow arched window illuminating her dark hair. “Are you finally going to talk about what’s wrong with you?”

Lucas grew wary. “What do you mean?”

“You’re just so … angry,” she whispered, her voice gentle. “So angry about everything, all the time. I’m not saying you’re wrong to be angry, but Lucas — it’s burning you up inside. What is it? Can you tell me?”

If she’d tried to hint or trick it out of him, Lucas would never have spoken. But simple honesty always broke down his barriers. “My girlfriend, 171 Bianca . . . she died last summer. I still love her. I always will.”

The truth, if not the whole truth, and it had the power to warm and thrill me all over again. What surprised me was the power that it had over Skye; her pale blue eyes instantly welled with tears. “I lost somebody this summer, too. My older brother.”

“Oh, jesus.” Lucas was clearly caught off guard. “Skye, I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his hand. “Believe me, I get it. I might hide the anger better than you do, but sometimes I just want to . . .” Skye breathed out in frustration but managed to smile for him as she wiped away one tear. “Was Bianca just — amazing? I bet she was amazing.”

Lucas’s expression faltered. Talking about me in the past tense reminded him of my death and brought the pain back. “You have no idea.”

“If it helps any, I believe — no, I know — the dead aren’t truly gone.” She spoke with the deep assurance that could only have come from growing up in a haunted house. Skye knew about the undead, at least on that level. “They watch us. They’re close by. And I think they realize how much we love them, maybe more than they did when they were alive.”

As Skye finished saying this, I took the risk of brushing, gently, against Lucas’s hand. I saw him straighten, reassured of my presence and safety, and yet more emotional than before. “I believe that, too.”

“She’d want you to be happy,” Skye said. “Not angry all the time.”

Tm trying.” I knew Lucas was speaking to me as much as to Skye.

They just watched each other for a second, struggling for composure. After swallowing hard, Skye managed to say, “So, what did you want to tell me?”

“This school is dangerous, Skye. Everywhere around here is dangerous. You have to watch yourself.”

“Yeah, I kinda got that after the time those weird old gang members fired an arrow at me. What kind of gang uses crossbows?”

Lucas took a step closer and looked her straight in the eyes. Through the one crescent — shaped window, afternoon sunlight flooded in, turning his hair pure gold. “No, I mean it. Some of the students here — they’re not just students.”

She folded her arms. “You mean, they’re also enormous dickweeds?”

“I mean. they’re vampires.”

Skye stared at Lucas. Lucas stared right back at her. I wondered if she would scream, or ask questions, or just run like hell out of the school. Instead she burst into laughter.

As Lucas pulled back, startled, she gasped, “You almost had me!”

“Skye — ”

“It’s okay, I get it.” Her giggles almost masked her words. “We were getting way too heavy for people who need to think about calculus. Thanks for making me laugh. I needed it.”

Lucas struggled for words, then surrendered. “Anytime.”

“Come on, let’s get to class.” Skye headed for the door. Lucas glanced back, and I shimmered slightly in the light, so he’d know I was near. His bashful smile was the best welcome — home I could have had.

Of course I wanted to tell Lucas about Mrs. Bethany, but it could wait. Lucas’s dedication to his studies this semester might be mostly a way of distracting himself from pain, but that was a good reason to respect it. I supposed it wouldn’ t hurt to wait forty — five minutes.

Not everybody could be as disciplined about waiting for the right time to speak, though. As I settled back into the records room upstairs, alone and ready to spend a little more quality time wearing my bracelet, someone else decided to pay me a visit.

“Well, if it isn ‘t the prom queen of the dead,” Maxie said. I sat up, startled; she’d materialized across the room, and I’d been so deep in thought I hadn’t noticed. She was back in her flowing nightdress, like I was back in my usual pajamas. “Tell me, what’s it like to be so special that the rules don’t apply to youT’ “Awful,” I said. “It means even people you thought were your friends don’t like you.”

Maxie hesitated. She ducked her head, so that her cropped hair fell into her eyes, slightly blocking our view. “I like you,” she said in a small voice.

“Sometimes you don’t act like it.”

“We have to make choices,” she said. For the first time since I’d known her, she sounded more like an adult than a petulant child. “We have to recognize that we’re dead.”

“I get that. Trust me.”

“Vampires are our enemies.”

“Maybe that’s true most of the time,” I admitted, thinking of Mrs. Bethany, “but it’s not true for Lucas. Or for Baltl1azar, or Patrice, or Ranulf.

Why do you keep trying to create these black — and — white categories? Why are you looking at what everyone is, instead of who they are?”

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