Afterlife Page 67

She started to laugh, and I did, too.

Although Maxie wanted to keep creating “air pockets” for plane traffic out of Boston, I parted from her when I sensed that Lucas’s class was probably over. We promised to go stargazing soon, and while that prospect delighted me, the closer I got to earth, the more pressing my real concerns seemed.

I found Lucas out at the gazebo, waiting for me as usual. His backpack had been tossed on the floor, and he was resting his forearms on his knees, his head drooping. “You look tired,” I whispered, becoming a soft mist near him.

“I am tired.”

“Up late worrying about me?”

“Up late worrying,” he confirmed. “But I know you can take care of yourself, so I also stayed up studying. And listening to music. And surfmg the Internet. And doing whatever else I could think of to avoid going to sleep.”

I didn’t have to ask why. “Charity.” Lucas didn’t reply, but he swallowed hard, making his Adam’s apple bob in his throat. I brushed gently against his cheek, hoping he could feel the cool touch. “Is she getting worse?”

“Worse? No. She started off making my dreams as bad as they could be, and since then — well, you have to give her this, she’s consistent. It’s horrible every night. Every single night.” Lucas stood abruptly. He braced his hands against the cast iron of the gazebo, every muscle in his back so tense I could make them out through his uniform sweater. “Sometimes it’s Erich again, threatening to torture you with stakes soaked in holy water. 176 Sometimes other vampires drink your blood, and for some reason it kills you instead of turning you into one of them. Sometimes my mom cuts off your head. Or those drunk guys — remember, our first date? In my dreams, they’re not trying to take care of you. They’re trying to burn you. All the dreams are about losing you, over and over again.”

The ragged pain in his voice made me wish I could risk becoming corporeal. so I could put my arms around him. “Charity only turned you to take you away from me,” I said. “It’s my fault.”

“It’s not your fault,” Lucas said. I wished I could be as sure as he sounded. “But yeah, Charity likes the idea of me losing you forever. Enough to have it on infinite replay in my head.”

“Please, let me come back. If I were in your dreams, I know I could get through to you.”

Lucas shook his head. “Absolutely not. Anything she did to you in there could really hurt you. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.” Even if the only alternative was his enduring pain? I hated this, but for now, we had no better choice.

He said, “Bianca, I’ve been meaning to ask you about this for a while now. What happens after Evernight?”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t stay at this school forever, “Lucas said. “I mean, I guess technically I could, but I don’t really see me repeating English Lit every other semester for the next several centuries. And you can’t want to spend the rest of eternity hiding in corners. Waiting on me.”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead — hadn’t let myself. Now that I understood my own powers, the many places I could go and things I could do, I no longer feared the eternity that lay before me. But it was different for Lucas.

I said, “Vampires usually start out … wandering, I guess. Taking advantage of their immortality to explore the world. Once you get a few decades of experience, apparently it’s not so hard to start making money. And after you get rich, well, you can pretty much do what you want.”

Lucas’s face looked pained at the words a few decades. He said, “I don’t need to get rich. I don’t need to do what I want. Because right now, I’m not sure I’d use that power well.”

“You have to stop being frightened of yourself. Of what you’ve become.”

“I know what I’ve become,” he said. “That’s why I know I need to be afraid.”

Fear gripped me as I realized that the next thing he was going to say was something along the lines of “You should be free.” He still thought he wa:; a uun.leulu me, w!teu !te wa:; auylltiug uut. “Wital yuu’ve uecume i:; my aucltur,” I :;aid. “Tite per:;uu w!tu cuuuecl:; me lu lith wurld.”

He couldn’t fully believe me. “Really?”

“Always.”

Lucas breathed out heavily. “I only wish I could believe I could give you something worth having.”

“You do every day. Every second. Never doubt that.”

“Okay,” he said, but I knew he Wasn’t completely convinced.

Time to focus his attention on our real problems. “Listen,” I said. “I want to talk to you about Mrs. Bethany.” He half turned, so I could see his face. “Do we have to go over this again?”

“This is new.”

As quickly as I could, I told him who Christopher was, and what he had revealed to me about her past. When I said that she’d been Black Cross, Lucas’s eyes went wide, but he said nothing. Once I’d finished, I said, “She’s not being sympathetic because she suddenly turned nice. She just hates Black Cross as much as you do.”

“Why do those have to be two separate things?”

I stared at Lucas, stung. He seemed more frustrated than before.

“Bianca, does being mad at Black Cross mean you lose the power to think rationally forever? Or to care about other people? If so, I’m screwed.”

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