Evernight Page 45

So, for the first week of vacation, I mostly stayed in my room. A lot of the time, I just stayed in bed. Once in a while, I’d check my e-mail in the now-deserted computer lab, hoping against hope for a note from Lucas. Instead, all I got were various joke photos of Vic on the beach, wearing sunglasses and a Santa hat. I wondered if I should write Lucas instead of waiting for him to write to me, but what could I possibly say?

My parents drew me out for holiday activities whenever they could, and I tried to go along with them. Just my luck, to be born to the only vampires in the history of the world who baked fruitcake. Every once in a while, I’d catch them exchanging glances. Obviously they realized that I was miserable and were on the verge of asking me what was wrong.

In some ways, I wanted to tell them. At times I wanted nothing more than to blurt out the whole story and cry in their arms—and if that was immature of me, I didn’t care. What I did care about was the fact that, if I told my parents the truth, they’d have to report it to Mrs. Bethany, and I didn’t trust Mrs. Bethany not to go after Lucas and make his life miserable.

For Lucas’s sake, I had to keep my unhappiness to myself.

I might have carried on that way for the whole holiday break if it hadn’t been for the next snowfall, two days before Christmas. This was more generous than the first, blanketing the grounds with silence, softness, and blue-white glitter. I’d always loved snow, and the sight of it, shining and perfect across the landscape, nudged me out of my depression. I tugged on jeans and boots and my heaviest cable-knit green sweater. My brooch safely pinned to the lapel of my gray coat, I trudged downstairs for a walk. I knew I’d get chilled to the bone, but it would be worth it if mine were the first footprints on the grounds and in the woods. When I reached the door, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who liked that idea.

Balthazar smiled at me sheepishly above his red muffler. “Hundreds of years in New England, and I still get excited about snow.”

“I know how you feel.” Things between us were still awkward, but it was only polite to say, “We should walk together.”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

We didn’t say much at first. It wasn’t strained, though. The snowfall and the pinkish-gold early morning light asked for silence, and neither of us wanted to hear anything louder than the muffled crunching of our boots in the snow. Our path took us across the grounds and into the woods—like the walk we’d taken the evening of the Autumn Ball. I breathed in and out, a soft gray puff of warmth in the winter sky.

Balthazar’s eyes crinkled at the corners, like he was amused, or at least happy. I thought about all the centuries he must have known, and the fact that he still didn’t have someone to share them with. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

He blinked, surprised but not offended. “Sure.”

“When did you die?”

Instead of answering me immediately, Balthazar walked a few more steps. The way he studied the horizon made me think that he was trying to picture how things had been for him, before. “1691.”

“In New England?” I asked, remembering what he’d said.

“Yeah. Not far from here, actually. The same town where I grew up. I only left it a handful of times.” Balthazar’s gaze was distant. “One trip to Boston.”

“If this is making you sad—”

“No, it’s all right. I haven’t talked about home in a long time.”

A hungry crow perched on a branch of a nearby holly bush, black and shining amid its sharp-cornered leaves, plucking at berries. Balthazar watched the bird at its task, probably so he wouldn’t have to look me in the eyes. Whatever it was he was preparing to say, I knew it was difficult for him. “My parents settled here early. They didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they weren’t far behind. My sister Charity was born during the voyage. She was a month old before she ever saw dry land. They said it made her unsteady—that she wasn’t rooted to the earth.” He sighed.

“Charity. That was a Puritan name, wasn’t it?” I thought I remembered reading that in a book once, but I couldn’t imagine Balthazar dressed up like a Pilgrim in a Thanksgiving pageant.

“The elders wouldn’t have said we were among the Godly. We were only admitted to membership in the church because—” My face must’ve betrayed my confusion, because he laughed. “Ancient history. By any modern standard, my family was deeply religious. My parents named my sister for one of the sacred virtues. They believed in those virtues as something real enough to touch, just far away—the way we believe in the sun or the stars.”

“If they were so religious, why did they name you something edgy like Balthazar?”

He gave me a look. “Balthazar was one of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the Christ Child.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.” One broad hand rested on my shoulder, for just a minute. “Very few people teach their children that any longer. Back then, it was common knowledge. The world changes a lot; it’s hard to keep up.”

“You must miss them all very much. Your family, I mean.” It felt so inadequate. What must it have been like for Balthazar, to have not seen his parents or his sister for centuries? I couldn’t begin to imagine how badly that must hurt.

(What will it be like when you haven’t seen Lucas for two hundred years?)

I couldn’t bear to think about that question again. I concentrated on Balthazar instead.

“Sometimes I think I’ve changed so much that my parents would hardly know me. And my sister—” Balthazar paused, then shook his head. “I realize that you’re asking me how different things were then. How much things change. But we don’t change, Bianca. That’s the scariest part. And it’s one reason a lot of people here act like teenagers, even when they’re centuries old. They don’t understand themselves or the world they have to join. It’s sort of like perpetual adolescence. Not so much fun.”

I hugged myself as I shivered from the cold and from the thought of all those years and decades and centuries stretching out before me, shifting and uncertain.

We walked on for a while after that, Balthazar lost in his thoughts, and me lost in mine. Our feet kicked up small plumes of fresh snow as we left the only footprints in a still sea of white. Finally I got up the courage to ask Balthazar what was really on my mind. “If you could go back, would you bring them with you? Your family?”

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