Stargazer Page 53

Now you’re an expert?”

My father squeezed my shoulders. “It’s gone,” he said. I’d never valued his steadiness more. “Celia, it’s all over.”

“It isn’t.” Mom’s voice was muffled, and I realized she was crying.

“You know it isn’t. They want to take Bianca away from us.” I held one shaky hand out to her. “Mom, that’s—It’s not—You aren’t making any sense. What does that mean?” Then I thought of the letters carved in frost: Ours.

“Sweetheart—” She held one hand out to me, but her eyes darted toward my father. I couldn’t see his face, so I didn’t know what passed between them in that moment. I only knew that my mother sighed and closed her hand around mine. “I’m sorry. The wraith frightened me.

That’s all.”

That wasn’t all, and every person in the room knew it. Maybe I should have pressed them then and there, but Mom looked so shattered.

“I’m okay,” I said. “Everyone’s okay. It wasn’t nearly as bad as before.”

“Maybe they’re going away,” Mom said. “Maybe they’re giving up.”

“Maybe.” Dad didn’t sound like he believed that, but like he wanted to. “Bianca, did the wraith say anything to you?” I opened my mouth to reply honestly, but found myself instead saying, “No. There wasn’t time. It was quick.”

“Please let this be over,” Mom whispered. If she hadn’t been a vampire, I would’ve been sure she was praying. I hugged her tightly, and then Dad put his arms around both of us. Our misunderstandings didn’t seem to matter as much as the embrace.

At first I thought I would keep the wraith’s odd visit secret, but I was too shaken to go it totally alone.

“You saw a ghost outside your room,” Raquel repeated as we hud-dled together in a corner of the great hall. Students had slowly resumed studying and hanging out there, though never alone. “You’re sure it was a girl.”

“She was as real as you are. And she spoke—well, wrote words in frost to me.”

“What did she say?”

I’d lied to Raquel since the day we met; I’d have to keep lying to her forever. But it never became any easier. “Just—be careful.”

“Be careful? She’s the ghost! What else is it we’re supposed to be scared of?” Raquel fiddled nervously with the tawny leather bracelet on her wrist. “I don’t like the sound of this.”

“We’ll be okay. We have to believe that.” I knew I hadn’t convinced Raquel, and I wasn’t very sure myself.

She said we were alike, I thought. What could that mean? I wasn’t a ghost of any kind. First of all, I was alive, and, second, when I died, I’d turn into a vampire. So what had she been talking about?

Balthazar walked into the great hall. When he saw me, he gave me a small, hopeful smile.

“Looks like somebody wants to make up,” Raquel said.

I had almost forgotten that Balthazar and I were pretending to be an arguing couple, instead of pretending to be a dating couple. “I ought to talk to him.”

“Yeah, do that.” Raquel gathered her stuff together. “I’m going online to see if there are any new Web sites about casting out ghosts or something.”

“New Web sites?”

“You think I haven’t looked before? But so far they’re useless. Just crackpots making stuff up. The truth is crazier than anything they can imagine.”

“I believe it,” I said faintly.

Balthazar waited for me at the entrance to the great hall, and I realized that he had both his gym bag and mine looped over one arm. “Did you bring those from the gear room?” I asked.

“I thought we might put in a little fencing practice.” We went upstairs, changed, and entered the fencing room. The class had progressed slowly, or so it seemed to me; we had only recently started using swords instead of sticks, and the “fighting” we did was more like “knocking swords together about twice before the teacher stopped everything and explained we were doing it wrong.” However, I could tell that my arm muscles had become stronger—they hurt less, anyway—and my balance was improving. When Balthazar and I faced each other alone in the fencing room, dressed in white, faces hidden behind steel masks, I realized I was relishing the opportunity to test myself. Not that I stood a chance against Balthazar, but this time I could feel the rightness of my moves, the muscles in my body responding to the motion, like they’d known how to do this all along and had been waiting for me to catch up.

For a long time, there was no sound in the room but my panting, the padding of our feet on the mat, and the chirping of steel on steel. After Balthazar disarmed me for the third time, though, we each paused—

partly because I was tired, but mostly because I could tell Balthazar was ready to talk.

I wiped my sweaty face on a towel. “You seem better,” I said. “Not at fencing—that, too, maybe—but I meant, generally.”

“Charity may hate me right now.” Balthazar’s words were measured, as though he’d repeated them to himself very often. He sat on one of the benches that lined the room and peeled off his mask. “That just makes it more important for me to find her again. It could take me a long time to get through to her, but I can do it.”

“Are you sure?”


“Have you thought about what it means if we’re wrong?” Remembering her sweet, innocent face made me feel absurd for even suggesting this, but I wanted to be totally sure. “If Charity’s tribe is killing people—

and she’s hanging out with them—”

“I’m sure Charity is safe. I know you’re sure, too, really. But Black Cross’s idea of being sure is killing her along with her tribe,” Balthazar said. “That death counts as much as any other. Maybe Lucas doesn’t believe that, but I know you do.”

I didn’t know what shook me more—Balthazar’s absolute faith in his sister or my uncertainty about what I believed. I sat beside him, half noticing that in the mirror across the room, my reflection was sharp and clear, while his was hazy. He must not have eaten in a day or two. “Balthazar, you haven’t seen her in more than thirty-five years. She’s taken up with an entirely new gang of vampires, apparently dangerous ones.

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