Afterlife Page 9

“Okay,” I said. “Okay. Truce.” I was too tired for any of this.

Although Balthazar looked like he might keep it up, he finally let it go. From his pocket he withdrew my bracelet. “Picked this up off the lawn,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said flatly. But I hastened to clasp it around my wrist again. Since my death a couple of days ago, I’d learned that only a handful of things I’d bonded to strongly in life had the ability to empower me to be fully corporeal again — this coral bracelet, and a jet brooch in Lucas’s pocket. Both of them were made out of material that had once been alive; it was something we had in common. As the bracelet enhanced my power, I felt gravity settle around me, and I no longer had to work at retaining a regular form.

Balthazar sighed heavily, grabbed two glasses from the rack beside the sink, and poured for himself and Ranulf. After a moment, he said, “Can you drink wine anymore? Drink anything?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t seem to need food or water.” The mere thought of chewing was faintly disgusting to me now, I realized — one more difference between me and the living world.

There are better things than eating and drinking, Maxie said. Increasingly her presence could be felt, a sort of cool spot right next to me, but Balthazar and Ranulf remained oblivious. Aren’t you curious about what they are?

I ignored her. I had eyes only for Lucas, so pale and broken upon the floor. A thin circle of bloodstains ringed the stake, no more: evidence that his heart had stopped beating forever. The strong features that had always captivated me — his firm jaw, his high cheekbones — were more sculpted now, his handsomeness as compelling as it was unnatural.

The makeshift apartment in the wine cellar was where we had lived for the final weeks of our lives, virtually the only time we’d ever had to just be together without rules to keep us apart. We’d tried to make spaghetti on the hot plate, watched old movies on the DVD player, and slept together in the bed. Sometimes our situation had seemed so desperate, but I realized now that it was the greatest joy we ‘d ever shared. Maybe the greatest we ever would share.

We’re together, I reminded myself. You have to believe that as long as that’s true, we can make it. That belief had never been more important, but it had never felt so fragile.

I heard car doors slamming; Vic had apparently managed to get rid of the police. Ranulf and Balthazar lifted glasses to each other, or to Vic. Within a few seconds, there was a rapping on the door, and Balthazar opened it to let Vic in.

“Those guys did not want to believe my home invasion story,” he said. Vic remained on the doorstop instead of coming in. “Apparently my neighbors called them even before I did and said it was a wild party, though how that looked like a party, I don’t know. They made me take a Breathalyzer — oh, man.” Vic saw Lucas on the floor. “What did you guys do?”

“The staking will not harm him,” Ranulf explained. “When it is removed, Lucas will revive. Do you require some wine?”

Vic shook his head. He just stood there in his T-shirt and jeans, awkward and miserable, staring down at Lucas. “He won’t . . . he can’t …”

“He won’t attack you,” Balthazar said. “For the time being, Lucas can’t move. And we won’t unstake him until we can get him fed.”

Vic crammed his hands in his pockets, and although he had to know Balthazar was telling the truth, he couldn’t bring himself to walk any closer.

I realized that, no matter how upsetting this was for me, it had to be a hundred times worse for Vic. He was the only human in the room, and despite growing up in a haunted house and attending Evernight Academy, Vic’s experience of the supernatural was fairly limited — or it had been, before tonight, when one of his best friends had tried to kill him.

Maxie cocked an eyebrow, her saucy sense of humor already returning. “I already told you. Vampires and wraiths? Not a good mix. A really, really bad mix. We’re poison to them, and they’re no friends to us.”

“I love Lucas. Our deaths don’t change that.”

“Death changes everything. Haven’t you learned that much by now?”

“It didn’t change you haranguing me nonstop,” I snapped.

Maxie ducked her head, her dark blond hair tumbling around her face. If she’d had blood flow, I thought. she might have blushed. “Sorry. You’ve had a rough couple of days. I don’t mean to — I’m just trying to tell you how things are.”

A rough couple of days. I’d died, found out I was a ghost, seen Lucas get cut down and turned into a vampire, and fought off a Black Cross attack. Yeah, that counted as a rough couple of days.

“You used to play with Vic in this room, when he was a little kid.” I glanced at the place he’d shown me, where he used to sit and read his storybooks to her. “You didn’t separate yourself from the world after you died.”

“But I did. For the better part of a century, I just . . . I was stuck between here and there, and I didn’t quite know what was going on. Sometimes I’d stab into people’s dreams and turn them to nightmares, just to do it. Just to prove that I could affect the world around me.” I’d heard of wraiths doing worse things, maybe for similar reasons.

Maxie sat on the windowsill, her long white nightgown seeming to glow as the moonlight filtered through the billowing sleeves. “As you can probably imagine, people usually didn’t stay in this house long. It was like a game for me, seeing how fast I could scare them out. But then the Woodsons took the place, and Vic was so tiny, just a couple of years old. When I showed myself to him, he Wasn’t scared. That was the first time in so long that I remembered what it was like to — to be accepted. To care about someone.”

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