Afterlife Page 78

Afterward, as everybody prepared to go back into the school, I went invisible, becoming no more than a vapor trailing overhead. Balthazar, I noticed, rose from his seat but didn’t walk away with the others, lingering at the gazebo a moment longer. The moonlight outlined his silhouette amid the scrollwork iron and the ivy.

I drifted a little lower and whispered, “Are you okay?”

“Sure,” he said, though his voice was odd. I remembered the Autumn Ball two years ago, when we had walked out here together to watch the stars; it was the night I’d told him that I loved Lucas, and I was still learning how deeply that had affected him. Was he recalling that night, too?

Balthazar looked up in my general direction and said, “Lucas is heading up to double — check the traps, make sure they’re well hidden. So he won’t be going to bed for at least an hour or so.”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“I want you to come into my mind when I’m dreaming tonight.”

Immediately I knew why he was asking, what he planned to do. “Balthazar … I don’t know if that’s a good idea. We’re headed into a fight. You need your strength.”

Til be all right. It’s taken me a long time to face what I have to do — but I see it now. We can’t put this off any longer.” His expression was unreadable, but his voice was firm. “Trust me.”

After spending a couple of months second — guessing him at every turn, for something that hadn’t been his fault to begin with, I owed him that, didn’t I? “Okay. I’ll come.”

We went back into the school. The great hall’s grandeur was in shreds — the candles were out, the flowers had been knocked on the floor by panicking students, and the orchestra’s bandstand had clearly been abandoned in a hurry. Balthazar unfastened his bow tie and cuffs as he went up the stairs; his footsteps echoed on the stone. After what had happened earlier tonight, I was willing to bet that most people remained wide awake and would be for hours, but nobody was risking wandering around alone at midnight.

Balthazar didn’t turn on the lights when we entered his dorm room. That was probably so he could have some privacy while he undressed; of course, I looked away regardless. The moonlight was at work again, though, so I could see his shadow against the wall as he slipped off his shirt and unbuckled his belt.

And he’s not Patrice’s “type “?I thought. !just don’t get that.

When I heard the covers on his bed rustle, I returned to watching him, hovering just above his bed. Balthazar lay on his side, and he appeared to be one of those lucky people who only had to close his eyes before sleep began. Within a few short minutes, I could sense that he was dreaming.

Although I felt awkward about doing it — almost as though I were cheating on Lucas just by sharing this with anybody else — I stretched myself thin and dove downward, into the very center of Balthazar’s sleeping mind — And found myself in the forest, again at nighttime.

At first I thought these were the woods near Evernight, but then I realized that wasn’t right. Most of the trees here were taller, and some of them were hugely thick — ancient, perhaps. In the distance, I could hear a few people talking, and some other sound: horses’ hooves. As I peered through the inky night, I realized that the people were riding in an old — fashioned wagon along a dirt road, and the clothes they wore were unfamiliar, with large hats and long cloaks. It reminded me somewhat of the scene I’d glimpsed in Christopher’s memories of his life, but I sensed this was longer ago.

“You made it,” Balthazar said.

I turned to see him standing next to me, wearing the same kind of clothes; because he was closer, I could see that he wore trousers that only came to his knees, with high boots that flared out slightly at the top. His coat was belted, his cloak trimmed with fur. His hat — well, despite everything, I had to smile. “You look like the star of the Thanksgiving pageant.”

Til have you know, this was colonial high fashion in the year 1640.” Balthazar readjusted his hat so that it sat at a slightly more rakish angle. s More serious now, I said, “Is this what you dream about? Your life?”

“Sometimes.” Balthazar pointed toward a distant light — the glow of an oil lamp in the window of a small cottage. “Let’s see what we can see.”

I walked with him through the woods until we reached the clearing for the cabin. It was more primitive than I would have imagined, though when I thought about it, this made sense; Balthazar had probably helped his father build this house with their hands and whatever few tools they’d possessed. Smoke curled up from a slightly crooked stone chimney, and the single window was covered with some kind of waxy paper, rather than glass. A shaggy dog slept next to the chimney, his back to the warmth. Balthazar smiled and leaned down to pet him. “Hello, Fido.”

Fido didn’t stir. Maybe he couldn’t feel the touch, in dreams.

Then, from inside, I heard a woman’s voice, sharp and angry. “Your disobedience tasks us, Charity. “

“I’m ever so sorry, Mother.” Charity’s voice rang out, clear, strong, and not sorry. “But I’m afraid I have to disobey you even more.”

I’d known this moment was coming from the time Balthazar had first asked me to come into his dream, but that didn’t make it easier to face. To judge by the dread in Balthazar’s eyes, he felt the same way.

Balthazar walked to the front door and pulled it open. There I could see Charity, standing in a long, dark dress with a white apron, and a small white cotton bonnet on her head. Her face was younger than I rememb — ered — this was her a couple years before death, when she was only a child. In front of her sat two people who were clearly Charity’s and Balthazar’s parents, dressed in the same stark fashion as their children, their faces stern and unamused.

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