Evernight Page 29

“Balthazar—”

“—but I know it’s not always that simple.”

I shook my head. “No. It’s not. Because you’re the most amazing guy, and you ought to be the one I’m thinking about.”

“There’s no ‘ought to’ when it comes to love. Trust me on this.” His tuxedo shirt was brilliant white in the moonlight. Somehow Balthazar had never looked as handsome as he did when he was letting me go. “Is it that guy Vic? I see you talking to him sometimes.”

“Vic?” I had to laugh. “No. He’s great, but we’re just friends.”

“Then who?”

At first I was reluctant to tell him. Then I realized that I wanted to, because we really had become close friends after the past few weeks of spending time together. He always had time to listen, and he took my opinions seriously, even though I was younger and so much more sheltered than he was. Now Balthazar’s perspective meant something to me, too. “Lucas Ross.”

“The underdog wins a round.” Balthazar didn’t seem very pleased. Then again, why would he be pleased when I told him about some other guy I liked more? “I can see what you see in him.”

“You can?”

“Sure. He’s a good-looking guy, I guess.”

“That’s not it.” I wanted him to know what I truly meant. “It’s not like I haven’t noticed that Lucas’s attractive. But he’s the only person who understands what it’s like for me.”

“I could understand. Or I could try.” Balthazar glanced downward, and I realized that, as cool as he was playing it, this conversation was tough for him. “No more pleading. I promise.”

As gently as I could, I said, “You belong here, Balthazar. That’s why you can’t understand what it’s like for the rest of us who don’t.”

“You could belong here if you wanted to.”

“I don’t.”

He raised one eyebrow. “Then you’ll have some problems down the line.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Balthazar was trying to speak about the future, years and years away, and I didn’t want to think about that when things were confusing enough already. “I’m talking about high school. You’ve been around and seen the world. I don’t think you can realize how—how big this place is for me. How frightening it feels. If I let myself, I could fall into the trap of letting Evernight decide who and what I am. That’s not what I want. Lucas feels the same way.”

Balthazar considered that for a few seconds. Finally he nodded. I didn’t think I’d convinced him, but he’d heard me. “Lucas’s not a bad person,” he admitted. “Not as far as I know him, anyway. I’ve seen him stand up for students who were being picked on, and the things he talks about in class—he’s smart.”

I smiled. After weeks of doubting Lucas, it felt good to hear someone saying nice things about him.

Balthazar wasn’t done. “But he has a hot temper. You saw his fight with Erich, so you know that.” I felt guiltily grateful that Balthazar knew nothing about what had happened in the Riverton pizza parlor. “He’s defensive, too. I can see how Evernight might make somebody like him defensive, but that doesn’t change that he’s sometimes—”

“Volatile,” I finished. “Yes, I’ve seen it. I don’t know if we’ll ever get together, because of that. But you deserve to know what I’m feeling.”

“All I’m saying is, watch yourself. If he hurts you, get out fast.” He gave me a crooked smile. “Then maybe I can catch you on the rebound.”

I put one hand on his arm. “I should be so lucky.”

Balthazar kissed my forehead. He smelled like pipe smoke and leather, and I halfway wished I’d waited to say all this until after I’d gotten to really kiss him at least once. “Ready to go inside?” he asked.

“A few more minutes. I like it out here. Besides, you can see the stars tonight.”

“That’s right. You love astronomy.” He put his hands in his trouser pockets and walked alongside me as we continued into the woods, peering up at the constellations that winked through the leaf-bare branches overhead. “That’s Orion, isn’t it?”

“Yes. The Hunter.” I lifted one hand to outline the legs, the belt, the arm stretching upward to deliver a blow. “See the really bright star in his shoulder? That’s Betelgeuse.”

“Which one is it?” Probably Balthazar didn’t really care much about astronomy, but I thought he was relieved to have something to talk about besides his romantic disappointment. I knew how he felt.

“Here, lean down.” As he bent beside me, I guided one of his arms upward, so that his own finger pointed to the star. “Do you see it now?”

Balthazar smiled. “I think so. Isn’t there a nebula in Orion?”

“Yeah, halfway down. I’ll show you.”

A voice behind us said, “Bianca?”

We both whirled around. I’d recognized the voice immediately but hadn’t believed my own ears. Maybe hope was misleading me. But there in the darkness stood Lucas in his uniform. He was glaring—not at me, not even at us together, but at Balthazar.

I whispered, “Lucas, what are you doing here?”

“Making sure you’re okay.”

Balthazar didn’t like that. He straightened up. “Bianca is completely safe.”

“It’s late. It’s dark. You’ve got her out here alone.”

“She walked out here of her own free will.” Then Balthazar took a deep breath, obviously working to calm himself. “If you’d rather be Bianca’s escort, maybe that would be best.”

Lucas was clearly taken aback. He’d expected a fight, not resignation.

“I’ll come in with you,” I told Balthazar. Regardless of what we’d just talked about, or how I felt, he was my date. I owed him that.

But Balthazar shook his head. “That’s okay. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.”

Confused and embarrassed, I slipped off the tuxedo jacket, bracing myself against the cool air, and said, “Thanks. For everything.”

“If you need me, let me know.” As he shrugged his jacket back on, Balthazar shot Lucas a look, then walked back toward the school alone.

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