Stargazer Page 20

His thumb brushed against my cheek as he nodded. “Always looking out for everybody.” He kissed me gently on my forehead, right there in front of the whole group, and that made Dana grin for the first time since the hospital.

After that, the group discipline broke down—or it might be more accurate to say it was suspended. Kate didn’t give any more orders, and apparently there wasn’t anything else to do until later. Some people shuffled off to an area where several cast-iron cots were lined up. Kate fired up a portable stove and started making breakfast for a few people, and Mr. Watanabe began methodically cataloging all the weapons. Lucas and I helped get Dana comfortable on the cot in the first aid room.

“Sorry about this,” she said as she eased her way down. Her braids looked like dark ropes on the white pillowcase.

“Sorry about what?” I asked. “It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, but now I’m taking up the only room in this whole place where you and Lucas could’ve been alone. That’s suckiness one, young love zero.”

“I’ll forgive you this time,” Lucas said. “You need some breakfast, Dana?”

“Send somebody up here with some pancakes. If they don’t have ’em, make ’em.” Dana made a show of putting her good arm lazily behind her head. “What good is getting stabbed if you can’t use it for emotional blackmail?”

While Lucas went to tell Kate about Dana’s breakfast, I sort of threw myself together in what passed for a bathroom. It was a small cinder block room off the first aid area, one both tinier and grosser than in most gas stations. I couldn’t really do much with myself, but I pinned my brooch to my sweater. When I came out, Lucas brightened so much at the sight of it that I felt like I’d had a complete makeover—or maybe he was just that happy to see me.

“Look at you two.” Mr. Watanabe chuckled. He was carefully sharpening a small knife with a grindstone, peering at the blade through his bifocals. It was weird to think that anybody so kindly spent his time preparing weapons to attack vampires. “I’m glad to see you with a girl, Lucas. A young man should have a girl.”

“No arguments here.” Lucas hugged me from behind. “You must’ve been fighting ’em off with a stick when you were my age, huh?”

“Oh, no. Not me. I had already met my Noriko.” The old man’s eyes softened as he said her name. “After the first time I saw her, every other girl in the world—for me, it was as if they did not exist. I only wanted to be with Noriko all the time.”

“That’s really romantic,” I said. I wanted to ask where she was, but then I realized that if she were in Black Cross, she would be here. Maybe the reason a gentle man like him joined a group of vampire hunters was because his wife had run into one of the vampires who really was a mad killer. Something like that could blind you to subtleties and leave you with only one wish: revenge.

“Never enough time to be with the ones you love,” Mr. Watanabe said as he tested the blade’s edge. “You two go out. Explore the town. Don’t worry about us here. You should enjoy each other.”

“It’s early,” Eduardo said. He’d come around the tarp behind us when I wasn’t looking. “I don’t see what you expect to do out there at this hour. It’s more secure if you stay here.”

“Coffeehouses are open.” Lucas took my hand possessively. “We’re not in lockdown. I can go if I want to. That’s the rule.”

Eduardo looked as if he would like to argue, but instead he said, “Go.”

We were free, then, and we went outside with no real goal or direction. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous autumn day, the kind where the sun turns all the colors of the leaves into different shades of gold. Because Lucas and I were alone again at last, maybe we should’ve instantly started discussing all the important secret topics we had to discuss, but we didn’t. Instead we talked about anything else. Everything else. As bizarre as our lives were, what we shared was the closest either of us could ever get to “normal.” One day just being together, without any worries in the world—it was all we could hope for, and I didn’t intend to waste it.

At the local coffeehouse, we debated the brownie cookies versus the peanut butter chip and took turns dunking them into my latte.

In the Amherst square, we sat on a park bench for a couple of hours and made up stories about everyone who passed by—the woman in a red jacket was a secret agent, and that gray-haired man getting into a car nearby had the confidential files she needed to save the world. The old lady across the street had once been a showgirl back in the fifties, dancing around Las Vegas wearing a feathered headdress and sequined bikini. We knew the whole time that our lives were probably stranger than anything we could make up for anybody else, but that didn’t make the game less fun.

At the bookstore, we compared notes on our favorite childhood novels. It turned out we both loved the Chronicles of Narnia.

“I never realized that they were Christian,” I confessed. “Looking back, it’s so totally obvious that I feel stupid for not getting it. But, you know, my parents—it’s not like they were taking me to church much.”

That was Lucas’s cue to laugh. Instead, he studied me gravely, and I thought I detected a slight uncertainty in his eyes. “Does it affect you now? The God stuff in the books, I mean.”

“Reading about it? No. It probably never will, either. I can remember Mom reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader out loud. It’s the visual symbols that are the problem.” We were sitting on the floor of the downstairs textbook section, away from most of the customers. As it was the middle of the term, no students seemed likely to interrupt. I risked asking, “Have you felt anything different? You know—your powers?

“I feel stronger. Run faster. A couple people here have commented on it, but not like they’re suspicious. They just think I’m working out. I mean, I’m strong, but it’s not like I’m doing anything supernatural. Mrs. Bethany said I’d start feeling some drawbacks as well as some benefits, but nothing.”

“Maybe not yet, but someday.” Hope flickered inside me like a candle. “You’ve already said you’ve thought about leaving Black Cross.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know what would come after that, for me. Could I just—get a job? This is the only thing I know how to do, and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of openings in the field.” He sighed. “Bianca, I never even went to high school, unless you count that year at Evernight. I’ve read and studied on my own, but it’s not the same. All these college textbooks—this is like a foreign world to me. A place I couldn’t ever get to go.”

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