Stargazer Page 39

“You’ll have her home by a decent hour.”

“Of course.”

“And you’ll let us know what you’re doing and where you’ll be,” Mom said. She bounced a little on her heels.

“At all times,” Balthazar promised. “I’ll ask Mrs. Bethany’s permission as well.”

“I can handle that,” Mom said. “She’s more likely to say yes if we do the asking.”

“This is a big responsibility,” Dad said to me. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

I was only thinking of the fact that soon I’d be with Lucas again.

“I’m very, very ready.”

They grinned, so happy and trusting that I felt bad about lying to them—but I knew what I had to do, and I wouldn’t back down now.

In the immediate aftermath of the Autumn Ball, people were seriously freaked out. Raquel started packing to run away from school three separate times, and each time it took me more than half an hour to calm her down. We slept with the lights on for a week, and we weren’t the on-ly ones in the dorms who did. More teachers took hall monitor duty at night; once I even saw Mrs. Bethany herself striding purposefully down the hall, candle in hand, so watchful she seemed almost eager. Nobody would go near the great hall to study, hang out, or anything else. The tarp covering the one shattered window while the new panes were on order wasn’t the best, and it let in drafts of winter-chilled air, but that wasn’t the reason why people gave it a wide berth. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was more than ready to get out of school for a few hours for more reasons than seeing Lucas—though, of course, he was still the most important reason of all.

“Do I look okay?” I turned back and forth in front of the mirror, trying to ignore the faint haziness of my reflection. I’d gone too long without blood; I’d have to drink some on the way into town.

“For the nine thousandth time, you look great,” Raquel said without looking up from her latest project. She’d immersed herself in her art as a way of hiding from her fears. “Balthazar sees you every day, you know.

It’s not like he doesn’t know what you look like.”

“I realize that.” I’d dressed fairly casually because of that—jeans and a soft blue button-up sweater—but of course it was Lucas I was going to see.

Raquel laid aside her scissors and magazines. “Mrs. Bethany definitely plays favorites. I mean, I’m happy you get to leave for an evening, but I wish we all could.”

“I know it’s not fair. But I’m not going to point that out to Mrs. Bethany yet. Besides, you know I’m not on her list of favorites. I’m just lucky Balthazar is.”

“Balthazar’s crazy about you; anybody can see it.”

I pretended to check my makeup in the mirror, so she wouldn’t catch the uncertainty in my eyes. “He’s great.”

“The main thing is that you’re in love and that you’re happy.” It was the most romantic statement I’d ever heard Raquel make, so much so that I would’ve thought she was joking if not for the tone of her voice.

“The rest doesn’t matter. Not really. Right?”

Raquel was closer to the truth than she knew. “Right.”

“Good.” We smiled at each other, and then Raquel rolled her eyes.

“It’s not like I’m going to hug you or anything.”

“Thank God.”

She threw a wadded-up magazine page at me, and I ducked.

Balthazar had borrowed the gray driver’s ed sedan for us to drive into Riverton. We listened to some music on the radio, with me trying to find my favorite artists and Balthazar arguing for the oldies station.

“You have to get with the times,” I insisted. “Isn’t that why you’re at Evernight in the first place?”

“Maybe I’m there for the company,” he said with a grin.

Our good mood lasted until we got closer to Riverton and approached the bridge across the river. Balthazar pulled over to the side of the road, steadying himself. “I hate this,” he said. “I mean, I hate it.”

“How did you manage to travel to Europe and the Caribbean and all those places? If crossing a river is this bad, isn’t crossing the ocean impossible?”

“Larger bodies of water are actually easier, in some ways. Anytime we’re overly stressed like that, if we have to make a long ocean crossing or get stuck on consecrated ground—basically, we fall into a deep sleep.

It’s like hibernation, I think. The trance protects us. What you have to watch out for are humans finding you while you’re unconscious. We don’t have pulses, and we can’t awaken easily; it’s a good way to end up being taken for dead. As in, really dead. Once you’re buried in consecrated ground, forget it.”

“Or cremated.”

“Exactly. But if you’re on a ship, you can hide for a few weeks.

You’ll wake up hungry, but it can be done. On a plane, they assume you’re asleep, and you usually come to not long after the plane’s above land again. Don’t get me wrong—it’s no fun. But at least that way you sleep through the worst of it. This—there’s nothing but the shock wave.” I thought about all the stupid vampire movies I’d seen on late-night TV, with black-caped Romanian counts making the sea voyage to England as they lay sleeping in coffins. Now I realized that those legends were based in truth; the safest way to ensure that you got where you were going was to ship yourself as a dead body. Who knew that even horror shows could tell me something real?

The river shimmered slightly in the moonlight, and I felt a chill of dread. “Can’t we get it over with? It wasn’t too bad on the last school weekend, because we took it fast. Maybe that’s better.” Balthazar turned toward me, eyes watchful. “You felt it, too, last time?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah.”

“You’re starting to feel more of what we feel. You’re becoming more of a vampire.” He sounded sort of excited about the idea.

“I want blood more often, too,” I confessed. “And I’ve started thinking about, well, killing things. Squirrels.”

“Have you killed anything?”

I felt so ashamed. “A mouse, once.” Still I remembered its pitiful little squeak.

“It’s all right. We all want living blood now and then.”

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