Evernight Page 70

“Sorry.” We started walking again, lazy steps that didn’t really take us in any particular direction. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“You were thinking about Lucas.” Obviously Raquel wasn’t easily fooled. “It’s been almost six weeks, Bianca. You have to forget him. You know that.”

Raquel knew only what the other students like her knew: that Lucas had broken a slew of rules and run away, assaulting my father on his way out. That probably fit perfectly into her sad view of the world, in which every secret was only a cloak for violence. She’d warned me about Lucas a dozen times. Why shouldn’t she believe he’d snapped? Never did she say anything remotely resembling “I told you so”—Raquel was too good for that.

Vic took it hard. Lucas had really been his best friend at Evernight, and there was a gap in Vic’s life now that was beyond my power to fill. I’d assured him, as best I could without revealing secrets that would only endanger him, that Lucas was a good guy and that he’d had his reasons for running. I thought Vic believed me, but he didn’t smile as often anymore. I could’ve used some of his smiles.

The other vampires, both students and teachers, knew more of the truth. They knew that Lucas was a member of Black Cross—one who now had some of the strength and power of a vampire, thanks to me. Before, Courtney and her friends had merely held me in contempt; now they hated me, pure and simple.

To my surprise, however, Courtney’s group was in the minority. My parents forgave me, of course, and Balthazar blamed Lucas for everything, treating me more gently to make up for Lucas’s supposed cruelty. But comfort and support came from others, as well—Professor Iwerebon, who had offered several off-topic lectures about the treachery of Black Cross while gesturing with bandaged hands, or Patrice, who insisted that no girl could be held responsible for her first love. For them, I suspected, a battle with Black Cross meant that I was more surely on their side. More purely a vampire than I had been before.

I was the only one who knew the whole truth about Lucas—who he really was, and what we felt for each other. That truth was all I had left of him, and I would have to carry it alone.

“We should go inside.” Raquel nudged me with her elbow, which was as close as she ever came to showing affection. The tawny leather bracelet dangled upon her wrist once more; I’d told her it turned up in the lost and found. “Mail call soon.”

“Expecting a care package?” Raquel’s parents had let her down a lot, but at least they knew how to bake. “If there are going to be more oatmeal cookies—”

Raquel shrugged. “Gotta be there when I open the box, or else I’ll end up inhaling them all before you know it.”

“Exercise some self-control, would you?” I felt a rare smile creep across my face as we started back across the grounds. For the first time, I was able to walk past the gazebo without hoping that I’d see Lucas there waiting for me.

“Self-knowledge is better than self-control any day,” Raquel said firmly. “And I know myself well enough to know how I act around cookies.”

We got back to the great hall just as the first brown-wrapped packages and FedEx envelopes began making their way among the crowd. As she’d hinted, Raquel got a big box, and the two of us started up the stairs to her room to wolf the cookies down. But just as my foot hit the first step, a hand tugged at my elbow.

“Bianca?” Vic brushed his sandy bangs back from his face and smiled uncertainly. “Hey, can we talk for a sec?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

He shifted from foot to foot. “Um, like, alone?”

I hoped Vic wasn’t about to ask me out in some cracked attempt to get me on the rebound. “Well, okay.” With a shrug, I turned back to Raquel and said, “There had better be cookies left when I get there.”

“I’m not making any promises.” She jogged up the stairs without me, and I resolved to make this quick.

Vic guided me to the far end of the great hall, near the one window that wasn’t stained glass—the one broken by Lucas and also, so long ago, by a member of Black Cross. Instead of his ordinary casual slouch, Vic was tense and a little bit strange. I mean, stranger than usual. I asked him, “Hey, are you all right?”

“Me, I’m fine.” He looked around, decided we were definitely alone, and then grinned. “And you’re about to be a whole lot better, thanks to something I found in my care package.”

“What do you mean by…” My voice trailed off as Vic slipped something into the pocket of my blazer.

Mail call. Lucas would’ve known that they’d double-check any letters for me, but not letters to Vic. If Lucas wanted to reach me, this is how he’d do it.

I put one hand over that pocket, which now bulged with a thick, padded envelope. Vic nodded quickly. “So, right, that’s good, then. Glad we got that settled. See ya!”

As he loped away, I took a deep breath. My heart pounded inside my chest, but I walked calmly up the stairs until I reached my parents’ apartment. They weren’t home—probably Mom and Dad were downstairs grading papers and getting ready for finals. I went into my bedroom, shut the door, and, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled the shade down so that even the gargoyle wasn’t looking inside. Then, with trembling fingers, I unsealed the envelope.

Inside was a small white box. When I opened that, a cool dark shape tumbled into my waiting palm—my brooch. The black flowers gleamed in my hand again, as perfect and as beautiful as they had ever been.

He promised. Lucas promised he would get it back for me, and he did. He kept his word.

For a moment I couldn’t think about anything but the brooch. I wanted to pin it to my shirt that second, just where I’d always worn it before, but I couldn’t do that any longer. Too many people knew that I’d worn it as a gift from him, and if anybody realized that Lucas and I were still in contact, Mrs. Bethany and those loyal to her would use that to go after him. No, for Lucas’s own good, I had to hide it, keep it safe.

Maybe I would never have anything else of his, but I had this to remind me of the truth nobody else would ever understand. Lucas and I truly loved each other, and we always would.

Carefully I folded one of my winter scarves around the brooch and nestled it in the back of a dresser drawer. Then I very nearly tossed the envelope away to hide the evidence, but I realized that there was something else inside—a card. One of the expensive kinds that they sell in museums, on thick, shining white paper, with a work of art emblazoned on the front: Klimt’s Kiss. I glanced up to see the identical print hanging beside my bed—the same print he’d seen when we were in here, laughing and talking and making out, during those few brief months we had together.

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