Afterlife Page 68

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Isn’t it?” Lucas kicked at the iron scrollwork nearest his feet, making the ivy rustle. “Why do you hate her so much?”

“She’s a killer.” I hadn’t realized I could speak so loudly, or so sharply, while hardly more than a vapor. “She murdered Eduardo, remember? And how many other members of your cell?”

“The Black Cross cell that invaded this place to try and kill her? And Eduardo — ” His hands gripped so tightly around the gazebo railing that I would’ve thought it would hurt. Lucas hadn’t been very fond of his stepfather, but he worried about his mother being left alone, even now. “That happened when she came to the New York cell to try and rescue you. Or have you forgotten?”

“She wanted revenge for the attack on the school! That’s what it was, revenge! And have you forgotten the traps she’s laid for the wraiths?”

“You wanted to trap them yourself before you turned into one!” Lucas realized we were starting to shout and took a deep breath, calming himself. I couldn’t exactly breathe in this state, but I tried to be more still. The few fights Lucas and I had had were always bruising, and besides, we didn’t want anybody to start staring at us. More quietly, he said, “People can do things for more than one reason.”

“If it’s Mrs. Bethany, it’s not a good reason.”

“Why do you believe that? Seriously, Bianca, do you have a reason for distrusting her besides the fact that she’s a hardass in the classroom?” That caught me up short. “The people she’s killed — ”

“I’ve killed plenty of vampires,” Lucas said. “I see now that they were people, too. Do you trust me?”

“Of course. Always.” My mind raced. When had I begun to fear Mrs. Bethany? Was it nothing more than a juvenile dislike of a strict teacher? I couldn’t believe that, but I couldn’t give any better reason than this: “Call it instinct, Lucas. I don’t trust her.”

“We can’t write her off on instinct alone. Not when she’s offering me — ”

“What is she offering you? Besides vague promises?”

“A place to live,” he said. “The right to figure things out. And maybe an end to this hunger.”

Lucas looked across the grounds, where a group of students were lounging. Humans. I could tell. Even now, while we were in the heart of a passionate discussion, he could smell their blood and long for his first kill.

“Oh, Lucas.” I dared to add a bit more substance to myself. enough to touch his hand. He closed his eyes tightly as I did. “Do you think that could be real?”

He stepped back from the railing, newly energized. His jaw was set as he looked at me — knowing, somehow, as he always did, how to look into my gaze. “I’m about to find out.”

“Lucas, wait!” But I was too late. He jogged from the gazebo, two steps at a time, heading straight for the carriage house.

Lucas was walking right into Mrs. Bethany’s lair — and I knew at that moment, if she made him the right promise, I could be in danger of losing him forever.

Chapter Seventeen

I FOLLOWED LUCAS TO MRS. BETHANY’S CARRIAGE house. Although I could have called out to him again, to try and stop him from doing this, I didn’t.

We need to know, I told myself. If she really can help him, then I should Jet her do it.

Was I resisting only because I was jealous that Mrs. Bethany could give !him something that precious — something I couldn’t? How petty. How small. No wonder Lucas felt he could trust her, if I was so weak by comparison.

I would listen, and watch. Maybe I would hear that Lucas could be free from the blood hunger. If so, then I promised myself I’d never say another bad word about Mrs. Bethany again.

As Lucas knocked on the door, I cautiously took my now — familiar place at her windowsill, relieved to sense no traps nearby — then was startled. Someone already sat in front of her desk: Samuel, no doubt being taken to task for the fighting earlier. Probably Lucas wouldn’t get a chance to have a serious conversation with Mrs. Bethany about anything. I couldn’t decide whetJ1er I was happy about that or not.

But when Mrs. Bethany opened the door and saw Lucas, she said, “What excellent timing, Mr. Ross. Please, step inside.” Lucas didn’t look any happier to see Samuel than Samuel did to see Lucas. “Is this about our altercation earlier?”

“Not exactly.” Mrs. Bethany gestured toward a chair in the corner of the room. “I was just having a conversation with Mr. Younger about his many disciplinary difficulties this year. There is another matter — one I had planned to bring up with you later, Mr. Ross — but upon consideration, this seems as good a time as any.”

Mr. Younger, aka Samuel, drew himself up, obviously offended. “Since when does that Black Cross scum have anything to do with running this place?”

“I alone am the authority here.” Mrs. Bethany walked toward her desk, long dusty — violet skirt swirling around her. As she laid one hand upon her 180 desk, I noticed again the framed silhouette she’d always kept nearby. Christopher: She still looked at his face every day. Kept him close. That made me wistful, and for a few moments I felt that I might have judged her wrong from the beginning. She continued, “As the authority at this school, I notice that you have been reprimanded by multiple instructors for offenses ranging from talking in class to bullying.”

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