Evernight Page 26

Finally I asked, “Are you all right?”

“Sure, fine.” Lucas didn’t look up. “You only need one or two molars, really. The rest are spares.”

“You lost teeth?” Vic blanched.

“One of them is kind of loose, but I think it’s sticking around.” Lucas paused, then said to me, “I told you it would be like this eventually.”

He had told me that, someday, he would be a pariah at Evernight. Sure enough, the day had arrived. But why was he pretending that he had left me alone for my own good? I was the one who had walked away from him.

“As long as you’re okay,” I said. I left him again, while he was still sprawled on the floor. Maybe this time he would notice which one of us was doing the walking.

Confusion and sadness settled over me, making my shoulders sag and my throat tighten. I bit my lip, hard enough for me to taste blood. It braced me up, but I still couldn’t go back to Raquel’s dorm room; I wasn’t ready to deal with her questions. So I headed up to the library to hide out for the next half hour or so until political science. Surely I could find something to read, maybe some books on astronomy or even just a fashion magazine. If I hid behind a book for a while, maybe I’d feel better.

As I walked toward the door, it swung open to reveal Balthazar. He cast a comic glance down the hallway. “Is the coast clear?”

“What?”

“I assumed you were hiding out from the battle royale between Lucas and Erich.”

“The battle’s over.” I sighed. “Erich won.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“You are? I thought most kids here didn’t like Lucas.”

“He’s definitely a troublemaker,” Balthazar said. “But so is Erich, and Erich’s got other people here on his side. I guess I have a soft spot for the underdog in any fight.”

I leaned against the wall. Already I felt exhausted, as if it were midnight instead of early afternoon. “Sometimes it feels so tense here that I’m surprised the whole place doesn’t shatter like glass.”

“So relax. Don’t study for a while,” Balthazar coaxed.

“I’m not here to study. I’m just going to hang out, I guess.”

“Hang out—in the library. Okay. You know what?” He leaned slightly closer to me. “You need to get out more.”

I was too miserable to laugh, but I did smile. “That’s an understatement.”

“Then let me make a suggestion.” Balthazar hesitated just long enough to let me understand what he was about to do, then folded his hand around mine. “Come with me to the Autumn Ball.”

Despite all Patrice’s hints and jokes, I hadn’t ever dreamed that Balthazar would ask me. He was the handsomest guy in the school, and he could’ve invited anyone. Even though we got along and were friends—and even though I wasn’t immune to his considerable charm—I’d never envisioned this moment.

And I’d never thought that my first impulse would be to tell him no.

That was stupid, though. The only reason I wanted to refuse Balthazar’s invitation was because I was still hoping for someone else to ask me, and that someone wasn’t ever going to ask, because I’d pushed him away for good.

Balthazar looked down at me tenderly, his brown eyes hopeful. I could only say, “I’d love to.”

“Great.” That smile of his deepened the dimple in his chin. “We’ll have fun.”

“Thanks for asking me.”

He shook his head, as if disbelieving. “I’m the lucky one here. Trust me on that.”

I smiled up at him, because that was one of the nicest things anybody had ever said to me. Totally not true, given that the most popular guy in school was taking the class geek to the big dance—we all know who the lucky one is in that scenario—but really nice.

My smile was a lie, though. I hated myself for looking up into Balthazar’s handsome face and wishing that he was Lucas, but I did.

Chapter Seven

THE FIRST PACKAGES ARRIVED AT HALLOWEEN’S mail call. Long cardboard boxes, some of them bearing the elegantly scripted labels of expensive retailers, a few from addresses in New York and Paris. Patrice’s came from Milan.

“Lilac.” Tissue paper rustled as she lifted her gown for the Autumn Ball. Patrice held the pale silk up to her body, supposedly letting me see what it would look like on but really almost hugging it. “Don’t you think it’s a lovely color? I know it’s not in vogue right now, but I adore it.”

“It’s going to look wonderful on you.” Already I could tell that the shade would flatter Patrice’s complexion. “You must have gone to a hundred big parties like this.”

Patrice pretended to be modest. “Oh, they all blur together after a while. Will this be your first dance?”

“We had a couple at my old school,” I said, not mentioning that these were held in the school gym, with music provided by the A/V geek who mostly played his extremely lame mashups. Patrice wouldn’t understand that at all, much less the fact that I spent each one of those dances standing awkwardly against the wall or hiding in the girls’ bathroom.

“Well, you’re in for a treat. They don’t give balls like this any longer. It’s magic, Bianca, it really is.” Her face lit up with anticipation, and I wished I could share her excitement.

The two weeks between Balthazar’s invitation and the ball itself were confusing for me, because my emotions kept tugging me in a thousand different directions at once. I could look at dresses in a catalog with my mother, happily picking out favorites, and within the next hour be so lonely for Lucas that it felt like I could hardly breathe. Balthazar smiled at me to give me strength during one of Mrs. Bethany’s in-class grillings, and I thought about what a great guy he was. Then I drowned in waves of guilt, because I felt like I was leading Balthazar on. It wasn’t like he had dropped to his knees and promised to love me forever, but I knew he wanted me to feel more for him than I did.

At night, I lay in bed and imagined Balthazar kissing me or holding my face in his hands. The images were meaningless; I might as well have been remembering a scene from a movie. Then, as I became sleepier and my thoughts wandered, my fantasies changed. The dark eyes gazing at me became forest green, and it was Lucas with me, his mouth on mine. I’d never been kissed, but as I lay beneath my blanket, twisting restlessly, I could imagine it so clearly. My body seemed to know more than I did. My heart raced, and my cheeks flushed with heat, and sometimes I hardly slept at all. The fantasies of Lucas were better than any dreams.

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