Evernight Page 24

I sighed. “You know, I think you’ve got a point.”

He was definitely right about needing as many friends as I could get in a place like Evernight Academy. It wasn’t as if I’d ever liked it here, but my brief time with Lucas had taught me how it felt not to be so desperately alone. Now that he was gone, my isolation stood out in sharper relief. Realizing how much better it could have been only made it harder to bear how unfriendly and intimidating this place actually was.

The change in seasons didn’t help. The school’s Gothic architecture had been softened slightly by the lush ivy and the sloping green lawn. The narrow windows and strangely tinted light hadn’t been able to fully mask the brightness of the late-summer sun. Now, however, dusk came earlier, making Evernight seem more isolated than ever before. As the temperatures cooled, a lasting chill crept into the classrooms and dormitories, and sometimes it seemed that the featherings of frost on the windowpanes were etching themselves permanently into the glass. Even the beautiful autumn leaves rustled in the wind, a lonely, shivery sort of sound. They’d already started falling, leaving the first few branches bare, like naked claws scrabbling at the gray-clouded sky.

I wondered if perhaps the founders of the school had created an Autumn Ball to cheer the students up at such a melancholy time of year.

“I don’t think so,” Balthazar said. We were at the same table in the library; he’d first invited me to study with him a couple of days after the ill-fated Riverton trip. At my old school, I hadn’t studied with anyone, because “studying” usually turned into “talking and goofing off,” and then the assignments stretched out even longer. I preferred to get my homework over and done with. But Balthazar turned out to feel the same way, and we’d spent a lot of time together in the two weeks since, working side by side, hardly saying a word for hours. The conversation didn’t start until we were packing up our books. “I suspect the school’s founders loved autumn. It brings out Evernight’s true nature, I think.”

“That’s why they’d need cheering up.”

He grinned and slung his leather satchel over one shoulder. “This is not the most terrible school on the face of the earth, Bianca.” Balthazar was teasing me, but I could tell that he was genuinely concerned. “I wish you were having more fun here.”

“That makes two of us,” I said, glancing at the corner where I’d seen Lucas reading a few minutes before. He was still there, lamplight making his bronze hair shine, but he didn’t so much as turn his eyes in our direction.

“You could like it if you gave it a fair chance.” Balthazar held the library door for me as we went out. “You ought to explore a little more. Try harder to get to know people.”

I shot him a look. “Like Courtney?”

“Correction: Try harder to get to know the right people.” When Balthazar said “the right people,” he didn’t mean the richest or the most popular; he meant the ones that might be worth getting to know. Thus far, the only member of the in crowd who seemed remotely worth knowing was Balthazar himself, so I thought I wasn’t doing too badly on that score.

“I don’t think Evernight is right for everybody,” I confessed. “I’m positive it’s not right for me. I know it serves a purpose, but I’ll be glad when I graduate.”

“I will, too, but not for the same reason.” Balthazar walked slowly by my side, carefully measuring his long stride so that I wouldn’t fall behind. Sometimes it hit me how big he was—tall and broad, powerfully built—and a weird little tingle would start in my belly. “Evernight always makes me feel like I can understand the whole world. Like I can master it. Every new subject I study, every innovation I learn about—it’s like I can’t wait to get out there and try everything for myself.”

His enthusiasm wasn’t enough to make me like the school, but it did make me smile for what felt like the first time in ages. “Well, at least one of us is happy.”

“I hope we’ll both be happy before too long,” Balthazar said softly. His dark eyes were studying me intently, and that warm tingly feeling started again.

We’d reached the archway that led to the girls’ dormitory wing, and he stopped right at the boundary. I could imagine him in the nineteenth century, all courtly manners, and a smile tugged at my lips as I envisioned him bowing from the waist.

Balthazar looked like he might be about to say something, but at that moment Patrice walked up, apparently done with her own schoolwork. “Oh, Bianca, there you are.” Easily, she took my arm as if we were best friends. “You must explain our latest assignment in Modern Technology to me. I can’t make any sense of it.”

“Um—okay.” As I was being towed down the hallway, I looked back at Balthazar and waved. He looked more amused than disappointed. I muttered to Patrice, “We were talking.”

“I realize that,” she whispered. “This way he’ll keep wishing he’d gotten a chance to talk to you more. That means he’ll return to you more quickly.”


“In my experience, it works rather well. Besides, I really do need you to explain.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d had to shepherd Patrice through that particular course, or the first time I’d wondered why I bothered signing up for it at all. “Not a problem.” I sighed.

Patrice giggled, and for a moment she was almost girlish. “Balthazar’s the most attractive man here, if you ask me. Not precisely my type, but those shoulders? Those dark eyes? You’ve done rather well for yourself.”

“We’re just friends,” I protested as we returned to our room.

“Just friends. Hmmm.” Patrice’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “I wonder if Courtney would agree.”

I held up my hands, trying to cut this conversation off before it got even more uncomfortable than it already was. “Don’t tell Courtney about this, okay? I don’t need the hassle.”

She arched one eyebrow. “Don’t tell her about what? I thought you said there was nothing to tell.”

“If you want help with your homework, you’re going to drop the subject. Now.”

Slightly offended, Patrice shrugged. “Suit yourself. If I were you, I’d be excited about attracting the attention of a guy like Balthazar. But, by all means, let’s talk about homework instead.”

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