Evernight Page 52

“Oh, great. I mean, that would be great.” I hadn’t counted on having to repaint my toenails for the rest of the school year, but if I could learn something useful, it would be worth it. I began, “It must have been difficult keeping things up in the old days, before, like, nail polish remover and stuff like that.”

“Well, we didn’t have nail polish to remove. But grooming was a challenge. Talcum powder helped a lot.” Patrice sighed, a soft smile on her lips. “Florida water. Scented sachets, too, and perfume on little handkerchiefs that you could tuck in the bosom of your dress.”

“And that drew the guys in?” When she nodded, I pushed it a little further. “So you could, well, bite them?”

“Sometimes.” Her face changed then, shifting into an expression I’d hardly ever seen on Patrice’s face: anger. “The men I met weren’t beaus, you know. They were bidders. Buyers. The balls I went to before the War Between the States were octoroon balls—You don’t even know what those are, do you?”

I shook my head.

“Girls like me—who were part white and part black, pale enough for plantation owners to consider pleasing—a lot of us were sent to live in New Orleans, and we were brought up as proper young ladies. You could almost forget you were a slave.” Patrice stared down at her half-painted toenails, three of which gleamed wetly. “Then, when you got old enough, you could go to octoroon balls so that white men could look you over and buy you from your owner, as a kind of concubine.”

“Patrice, that’s horrible.” I’d never even heard of anything so disgusting.

She simply tossed her head and said airily, “I was changed the night before my first ball. So I went through the entire social season, drinking from man after man. They thought they would use me, but I used them instead. Then I ran away.”

This was the first time Patrice had ever shared anything with me—at least, anything real. I would’ve liked to let her keep talking, so that she could reveal more about her past, but I had to change the subject for Lucas’s sake. “Did you ever drink from the same guy more than once?”

“Hmmm?” Patrice seemed to be coming back from a great distance. “Oh, yes. Beauregard. Fat. Self-satisfied. He could lose two pints and not even feel it, which came in handy.”

“Did anything happen to Beauregard?”

“On the last night of the social season, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. Maybe it’s because he was light-headed from blood loss, but probably he was just drunk. Do you think plum works with my skin tone?”

“Plum looks great on you.”

And just like that, it was over. The open door between us was shut again, and Patrice was again cocooned in her silks and perfumes, safe from having to look at the harshness of her past. I knew I couldn’t ask again without making her suspicious, so the entire conversation had been useless.

And the library? Worse than useless. You would think a library in a vampire school would have some books about vampires, right? But no. The only volumes they had were horror novels (shelved in the Humor section) and serious studies of folklore, more fiction than fact, like the ones we’d read in Mrs. Bethany’s class. Apparently there weren’t any books written by vampires for vampires. As I leaned my head back against a row of encyclopedias, sighing in frustration, I wondered if maybe I ought to break into the market someday. That helped with my potential career choices but not so much with Lucas’s situation.

Fortunately, Lucas felt better in a couple of days. His enhanced senses dulled slower than mine had, but they did eventually get back to normal, so that wasn’t a problem any longer. But there were other changes, too—ones that were harder to understand that felt even more familiar to me.

“Look at this,” Lucas said, as we walked out on the edge of the grounds the weekend after. As I watched, he jumped for the lowest branch of a nearby pine and grabbed it, hanging easily from the branches. Then, slowly, he pushed his legs upward, changing his grip on the branch as he pulled himself up and up, curling around the branch and finally stretching into a handstand, his feet up straight above his head.

“I don’t guess you’re actually an Olympic gymnast,” I joked, uneasily.

“Aw, damn, my secret life is out.”

“Thought I saw you on a Wheaties box one time.”

“Seriously, I’m in shape, but there is no way in hell I ought to be able to do this. And coming back down should hurt, but”—Lucas curled downward, dropped, and landed solidly on his feet—“it’s not a problem.”

“I can do that, too,” I confided, “but only right after I’ve eaten. My parents could do stuff like that anytime.”

“So you’re saying this is vampire power.” Lucas didn’t like the sound of that, I could tell. “That I’m stronger than a human—maybe even stronger than you now—even though I’m not a vampire.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me either, but—maybe.”

As January turned into February, we made other discoveries about the changes in Lucas. We would run together through the countryside, and I didn’t hold back. We ran faster than any human could, sometimes for hours. It tired us both out, but we could do it. At nighttime, we slipped out onto the grounds or onto the roof, and I quizzed Lucas on what he could hear. He could pick up the hooting of an owl half a mile away or the snapping of a twig. His hearing wasn’t quite as acute as mine, and neither of us felt anything as vividly as we had right after I’d drunk his blood, but it was still superhuman.

We didn’t make another trip up to the room at the top of the north tower. Although I wanted to be with Lucas as badly as ever, and I knew he felt the same way, we were both cautious. We had enough trouble controlling my hunger for blood as it was; if something had changed deep within Lucas, there might be other dangers if we started kissing and got too carried away. So you can guess how much I wanted to finally get some answers.

One evening, I decided we ought to try the ultimate test.

I met Lucas at the gazebo with a thermos in my hands. “What’s that?” he asked, obviously unsuspecting.

“Blood.”

“Oh.” His expression was strange. “If you’re hungry, just—you know, don’t mind me.” As he shifted from foot to foot, Lucas avoided meeting my eyes. Apparently Lucas still wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I drank blood, which didn’t bode well for the experiment I was about to try.

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