Afterlife Page 82

Dana swaddled Lucas in a bear hug, just as the soundtrack swelled. “I’ve always got your back, Lucas. You know that, right?”

“That’s good to hear, “I said, “because we need your help.”

While Deborah Kerr flirted with Cary onscreen, I explained what we were trying to do. Neither Dana nor Raquel hesitated for a second. “We can get you guys out,” Raquel said. “And we’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

“Black Cross taught me how to fake IDs nobody will ever catch,” Dana promised. “We can get you guys clear and free, for whatever you want to do next. What is that, exactly?”

Lucas and I looked at one another. We didn’t have an answer.

After the pause had stretched for a few seconds, Dana said, “Y’all can make up your mind about that later. Tell the others to expect us, okay?”

“And tell Balthazar — ” Raquel had trouble saying this, but she managed. “Tell him I should ‘ve done more, when I saw him last. I should have helped him out. like you guys did.”

“He’ll be okay,” I promised. “But tell him that yow·self, okay? Balthazar would probably like to hear it.”

Raquel nodded. “We should go. If anybody who was at Evernight last year sees me, there could be questions.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“You don’t have to thank me,” she said flrmly. We smiled at each other, and it felt so good to know we’d found our way back to being friends.

Once they’d gone, Lucas and I remained in the movie theater, watching the story unfold. Normally that would’ve been because there was no way 214 I would walk out of a Cary Grant movie. But this time, I felt as though the unanswered questions between us were weighing us down, so we were held in place.

Finally I said, “Where do you want to go after Evernight?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Never spent much time out west. Maybe we could try that.”

“Or Europe,” I suggested. “Balthazar says it’s actually easier to cross a large body of water than a river.” Lucas grimaced; the trip over the river on the way into town had shaken him. ‘If he says so.”

On screen, Cary and Deborah promised to meet one another at the top of the Empire State Building if their love held true. I took Lucas’s hands in mine. “I know it’s scary — going to a new place — ”

“I’m not scared of that. I never lived more than a few months in any one place — not once in my whole life. But what are we going to do? We couldn’t support ourselves in Philly, and that was when you could work, too.”

I hadn’t thought about it before, but being a ghost pretty much eliminated my chances of getting a job. “Mom and Dad will help us this time. They’ve got plenty, and besides, they know how to fit into the world. They’ll teach you. We don’t have to worry about that.”

Lucas didn’t like the thought of borrowing yet more money, I could tell, but that obviously wasn’t our biggest problem. “Sitting here, between Dana and Raquel — 1could hear their heartbeats.”

“You’ll get past the hunger. I know you will. Look at Balthazar, or my parents, or Ranulf.”

“It’s harder for me, and we both know it. And if I haven ‘t gotten any better at this after a couple months at Evernight, there’s not much chance I ever will.”

“You’re not crazy. You’ll never be a killer like Charity.”

“If I kill even once — if I ever slip, and God, Bianca, I just know in my heart I’m gonna slip — I’d rather be dead.”

“No,” I insisted, taking his face in my hands. “Lucas, I’ll always be here. I’ll never leave you. You have to promise not to leave me behind. You 215 have to be strong.”

Lucas’s eyes met mine, and I knew he was making me a more solemn promise than he ever had before. ““ll never leave you behind. Never. Whatever happens, we’re together.”

That should have made me happy, because I knew how deeply Lucas meant it. But instead, I realized what I’d demanded of him. He hated being a vampire, and suffered from such powerful blood hunger that it ground him down, every day, every moment. For him, going on like this was torture; our love for each other could only provide temporary comfort. He’d sworn to endure countless centuries of that existence rather than leave me alone. I could get Lucas to carry on, but he would never be right again. Nothing would ever really be right again. Our last shot at true happiness had died when Charity changed him.

I hugged him tightly, and he returned the embrace. His voice muffled against my shoulder, he said, “I wish she’d never showed me. It’s worse, knowing there’s a way out I can never take.”

Mrs. Bethany had shown him how to live again. She’d wanted to win him to her side, but she ‘d realized the other side, too — that if he turned her down, he’d be tormented by the possibilities forever.

I tried to tell myself that it would be okay, as long as we were together, but the world wasn’t that simple. I knew that now.

On the movie screen, Deborah Kerr was trying to reach the Empire State Building, but I’d seen the movie before. I knew she didn’t make it.

That night, I’d planned to enter Lucas’s dreams again. With Charity permanently exiled from his mind, it was finally safe for us to be together there. But, weighted with guilt from the night’s realizations, I felt as if I couldn’t face him yet. I drifted through the hallways, restless. For the first time, I really felt like a ghost.

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