Stargazer Page 2

Her writing desk in the corner looked like the place to begin. I sat in the hard-backed wooden chair, put aside a silver-framed silhouette of a nineteenth-century man, and started rifling through the papers I found there.

Dear Mr. Reed,

We have reviewed your son Mitch’s application with great interest. Although he is obviously an exceptional student and a fine young man, we regret to inform you—

A human student who wanted to come here—one Mrs. Bethany had rejected. Why did she allow some humans to attend Evernight Academy but not others? Why did she allow any humans in one of the few vampire strongholds left?

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Nichols,

We have reviewed your daughter Clementine’s application with great interest. She is obviously an exceptional student and a fine young lady, and so we are pleased to—

What was the difference between Mitch and Clementine? Fortunately, Mrs. Bethany’s organized filing system led me straight to their applications, but studying those didn’t offer any answers. Both of them had scary-high GPAs and tons of extracurricular activities. Reviewing their lists of accomplishments made me feel like the world’s biggest slacker. Their pictures made them both look pretty normal—not gorgeous, not ugly, not fat, not thin, just regular. They were both from Virginia—Mitch lived in an apartment building in Arlington, and Clementine in an old house in the country—but I knew that they both had to be rich as sin to even think about going to school here.

As far as I could tell, the only difference between Mitch and Clementine was that Mitch was the lucky one. His parents would send him to a regular high-class boarding school on the East Coast, where he would mingle with other megarich kids and play lacrosse or go yachting or whatever they did at those places. Clementine, meanwhile, would be surrounded by vampires every second. Even though she would never know that, she would sense that something here was terribly wrong. She would never feel safe. Even I never felt safe at Evernight Academy, and I would become a vampire—someday.

Lightning brightened the windows, thunder following only a few seconds later. The storm would get harder soon; it was time for me to get back. Disappointment settled heavily upon me as I refolded the letters and put them back where they’d come from. I’d been so sure I would get answers tonight, but instead I hadn’t learned a thing.

Not true, I told myself as I slipped on my raincoat and glanced at the flowerpots. You learned Mrs. Bethany likes African violets. That’s going to be REALLY useful.

I straightened the violets on the windowsill just the way they’d been and left by the front door, which luckily locked automatically. How like Mrs. Bethany to not leave even that to chance.

The wind whipped the rain against my cheeks so that they stung as I ran back toward Evernight Academy. A few windows of the faculty apartments still glowed golden, but it was late enough now that I wasn’t worried about anyone seeing me. I put my shoulder to the heavy oak door, and it swung open obediently without even so much as a creak. Shutting it behind me, I figured I was home free.

Until I realized I wasn’t alone.

My ears pricked, and I peered into the darkness of the great hall. It was a vast open space, with no nooks to hide in or columns to duck behind, so I should’ve been able to see who it was. But I couldn’t see anyone. I shivered; it suddenly felt much colder to me, more as though I were in a dank, forbidding cave than within Evernight’s walls.

Classes wouldn’t start for another two days, so the only ones at the school were the teachers and me. But any of the teachers would’ve immediately started scolding me for being out on the grounds so late in the middle of a thunderstorm. They wouldn’t spy on me in the dark.

Would they?

Hesitantly I stepped forward. “Who’s there?” I whispered.

Nobody answered.

Maybe I was imagining things. Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t actually heard anything. I’d just felt it, that weird sense you sometimes have that somebody is watching. I had been worrying about people watching me all night, so maybe the worry was catching up with me.

Then I saw something move. I realized that a girl was standing outside the great hall looking in. She stood, draped in a long shawl, on the other side of one of the windows, the only window in the hall that was clear instead of stained glass. Probably she was my age. Though it was now pouring outside, she looked completely dry.

“Who are you?” I took another couple of steps toward her. “Are you a student? What are you—?”

She was gone. She didn’t run, she didn’t hide—she didn’t even move. One second she was there, the next she wasn’t.

Blinking, I stared at the window for a couple of seconds, like she would magically reappear in the same place. She didn’t. I walked forward to try to get a better view, saw a flicker of motion, and jumped, startled—but I realized it was my own reflection in the glass.

Well, that was stupid. You just panicked at the sight of your own face.

That wasn’t my face.

But it had to have been. If any new students had arrived today, I would’ve known, and Evernight was so isolated that it was impossible to imagine any stranger wandering by. My over-active imagination had gotten the better of me again; it must have been my reflection. It wasn’t even that cold in here, once I thought about it.

Once I’d stopped shaking, I crept upstairs into the small apartment my parents and I shared over the summer, at the very top of Evernight’s south tower. Fortunately, they were sound asleep; I could hear Mom’s snoring as I tiptoed down the hallway. If Dad could sleep through that, he could sleep through a hurricane.

I still felt creeped out by what I’d seen downstairs, and being soaked to the skin didn’t improve my mood. None of that bothered me as much as the fact that I’d failed. My big bad burglary attempt had come to nothing.

It wasn’t like I could do anything about the human students at Evernight. Mrs. Bethany wasn’t going to stop admitting them just because I said so. Besides, I had to admit that she’d protected them, policing the vampire students to ensure they didn’t take even one sip of blood.

But knowing Lucas had made me aware of how little I understood the existence of vampires, even though I’d been born into that world. He’d made me see everything in a different way, made me more likely to ask questions and need answers. Even if I never saw Lucas again, I knew he’d given me a gift by awakening me to the larger, darker reality. No longer would I take anything around me for granted.

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