Afterlife Page 75

I can’t wait to see him after this and tell him how amazing he looks, I thought dreamily. Oh, I wish we’d been able 10 go to this dance together just once.

My giggly delight at Lucas’s appearance lasted until Skye appeared on the stairwell.

Every guy in the room went quiet. Even the girls had to stare, including me. Skye’s dark brown hair, which normally hung straight, had been swept into a soft bun that left little tendrils free to curl around her oval face and exposed her long, slender neck. Her one — shouldered dress had a richly embroidered band just beneath her br**sts, from which the chiffon material rippled to the floor. The deep wine color set off her skin and her pale blue eyes.

On the average day, Skye looked like a cute girl. This was not the average day. When she wanted people to notice her, it turned out nobody would 196 be able to look away.

Sick with jealousy, I wanted to dart from the room that instant, rather than see Lucas offer her his arm. If I did that. though, I’d torture myself wondering what he’d said to her, what she’d said back, everything. Though I knew Lucas loved me, I couldn’t help feeling insecure when comparing myself to a beautiful girl who had such a gorgeous body — heck, even one who just had a body, period, all of tile time.

So I stayed put to see Lucas walk up to her. His smile was appreciative, but something else, too. Uncertain, maybe? “Hey. Wow, Skye. You look amazing.”

“Thanks.” She seemed to wilt; why would a compliment have made her feel so awful? But then she caught a bit of the chiffon between two of her fmgers. “Some dress, huh?”

“You can say that again.”

“I bought it to sweep Craig off his feet. Craig, who is now dating a girl named Britnee. With two Es. Somehow the two Es make it worse.” There was no flirtation in her, I realized; her exquisite appearance tonight was like a battle flag — a symbol of her refusal to surrender, though her heart was broken.

“Don’t let it spoil your night,” Lucas said quickly. “Forget about that jerk, okay?”

Though her shoulders still drooped a bit, Skye nodded, and I relaxed. There wasn’t any reason to be jealous of her. Well, except for that awesome dress. “I’m done crying over him. Tonight I just want to hang out with my friends and dance.”

“I can oblige.” When Lucas offered his arm to her, I found I didn’t mind.

The Autumn Ball was always a spectacle — something out of another century, harkening back to the grander events so many of the vampire students remembered from when they were young. Instead of a OJ or a band, a small orchestra played classical music, which turned out to be a lot more danceable than you’d think. Instead of glittery lights or modern decorations, the great hall was illuminated with hundreds of candles, many set in place in front of hammered brass or old — fashioned, smoky mirrors to reflect the light throughout the room. Every guy wore an evening suit or a tux; every girl wore a floor — length dress, and some of them had gloves to match. It was the kind of grand occasion every girl — and more of the guys than 197 would readily admit it — wanted to be a part of at least once.

I’d attended twice with Balthazar, and had loved my dresses, the dancing, and everything else. However, it turned out to be just as much fun to watch, from above, where I darted amid the hanging chandeliers lit by candles. Sometimes I laughed, either watching Lucas carefully navigate Skye through the waltz, almost visibly counting one — two — three, or Vic and his date, keeping each other at full arm’s length and obviously both plotting an early escape. Other times, I watched in admiration; some of the dancers were clearly expert and eager to show off their many years of experience. Balthazar and Patrice were the most beautiful of all, moving gracefully at the heart of the dance. And, of course, every once in a while, one of them would slip out to continue the hunt. My parents would always nod at them as they went past — Mom pretty in a cream silk dress I hadn’t seen before.

Lucas went most often, as much as everyone else put together. Was that because of his crazed drive to do something productive? Because Skye excused herself frequently to goof around with her friends on the outskirts of the dance? Or because he didn’t trust himself to be in such close proximity to a human? All of the above, I suspected. Each time he went out, he walked by my parents, and the three of them would get very tense. But they were acknowledging each other now, Mom and Dad getting over their anger, and I hoped it was a positive sign.

Everything was going perfectly, until I felt a chill — and the visions began.

My mind filled with image after image of the humans below, people I’d never known well but now felt an intimacy with that was as powerful as love. Different faces, different emotions, different ages: Every human being down there felt precious to me now. And above this, a darkening veil of terror for those humans’ safety, and hatred of the vampires who danced in their midst.

The wraiths. The Plotters, to be exact. Suddenly I could feel them over the entire dance, gathering like storm clouds. Was this how the attack had begun a year ago? “What are you doing?” I whispered, safe that I was far enough above the crowd for the orchestra to drown out my words.

The images changed to violence: vampires being set aflame, being frozen within blocks of ice, being caught in the kinds of traps that Mrs. Bethany set for ghosts. No one plan took form, but I could tell what it meant. These ghosts feared for their anchors’ safety, and for their own. And they wanted revenge on the vampires below, for Mrs. Bethany’s plan.

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