IT’S HARD TO SAY WHAT finally made me do it.I’d held on to so many secrets for so long, doing what I believed best protected Lissa.But hiding her cutting did nothing to protect her.
I hadn’t been able to make her stop – and really, I now wondered if it was my fault she’d ever started. None of this had happened until she healed me in the accident. What if she’d left me injured? Maybe I would have recovered. Maybe she would be all right today.
I stayed in the clinic while Dimitri went to get Alberta. He hadn’t hesitated for a second when I told him where she was. I’d said she was in danger, and he’d left immediately.
Everything after that moved like some sort of slow-motion nightmare. The minutes dragged on while I waited. When he finally returned with an unconscious Lissa, a flurry arose at the clinic, one everyone wanted me kept out of. She had lost a lot of blood, and while they had a feeder on hand right away, rousing her to enough consciousness to drink proved difficult. It wasn’t until the middle of the Academy’s night that someone decided she was stable enough for me to visit.
“Is it true?” she asked when I walked into the room. She lay on the bed, wrists heavily bandaged. I knew they’d put a lot of blood back into her, but she still looked pale to me. “They said it was you. You told them.”
“I had to,” I said, afraid to get too close. “Liss…you cut yourself worse than you ever have. And after healing me…and then everything with Christian…you couldn’t handle it. You needed help.”
She closed her eyes. “Christian. You know about that. Of course you do. You know about everything.”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to help.”
“What happened to what Ms. Karp said? About keeping it all secret?”
“She was talking about the other stuff. I don’t think she’d want you to keep cutting yourself.”
“Did you tell them about the ?®other stuff’?”
I shook my head. “Not yet.”
She turned toward me, eyes cold. ” ?®Yet.’ But you’re going to.”
“I have to. You can heal other people…but it’s killing you.”
“I healed you.”
“I would have been okay eventually. The ankle would have healed. It’s not worth what it does to you. And I think I know how it started…when you first healed me…”
I explained my revelation about the accident and how all of her powers and depression had started after that. I also pointed out how our bond had formed after the accident too, though I didn’t fully understand why yet.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but this is beyond us. We need someone’s help.”
“They’ll take me away,” she said flatly. “Like Ms. Karp.”
“I think they’ll try to help you. They were all really worried. Liss, I’m doing this for you. I just want you to be okay.”
She turned away from me. “Get out, Rose.”
They released her the next morning on the condition that she’d have to come back for daily visits to the counselor. Dimitri told me they also planned on putting her on some sort of medication to help with the depression. I wasn’t a big fan of pills, but I’d cheer on anything that would help her.
Unfortunately, some sophomore had been in the clinic for an asthma attack. He’d seen her come in with Dimitri and Alberta. He didn’t know why she’d been admitted, but that hadn’t stopped him from telling people in his hall what he’d seen. They then told others at breakfast. By lunch, all the upperclassmen knew about the late-night clinic visit.
And more importantly, everyone knew she wasn’t speaking to me.
Just like that, whatever social headway I’d made plummeted. She didn’t outright condemn me, but her silence spoke legions, and people behaved accordingly.
The whole day, I walked around the Academy like a ghost. People watched and occasionally spoke to me, but few made much more effort than that. They followed Lissa’s lead, imitating her silence. No one was openly mean to me – they probably didn’t want to risk it in case she and I patched things up. Still, I heard “blood whore” whispered here and there when someone thought I wasn’t listening.
Mason would have welcomed me to his lunch table, but some of his friends might not have been so nice. I didn’t want to be the cause of any fights between him and them. So I chose Natalie instead.
“I heard Lissa tried to run away again, and you stopped her,” Natalie said. No one had a clue why she’d been in the clinic yet. I hoped it stayed that way.
Running away? Where in the world had that come from? “Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know.” She lowered her voice. “Why’d she leave before? It’s just what I heard.”
That story raged on as the day passed, as did all sorts of rumors about why Lissa might have gone to the med clinic. Pregnancy and abortion theories were eternally popular. Some whispered she might have gotten Victor’s disease. No one even came close to guessing the truth.
Leaving our last class as quickly as possible, I was astonished when Mia started walking toward me.
“What do you want?” I demanded. “I can’t come out and play today, little girl.”
“You sure have an attitude for someone who doesn’t exist right now.”
“As opposed to you?” I asked. Remembering what Christian had said, I did feel a little sorry for her. That guilt disappeared after I took one look at her face. She might have been a victim, but now she was a monster. There was a cold, cunning look about her, very different from the desperate and depressed one from the other day. She hadn’t stayed beaten after what Andre had done to her – if that was even true, and I believed it was – and I doubted she would with Lissa either. Mia was a survivor.
“She got rid of you, and you’re too high and mighty to admit it.” Her blue eyes practically bugged out.
“Don’t you want to get back at her?”
“Are you more psycho than usual? She’s my best friend. And why are you still following me?”
Mia tsked. “She doesn’t act like it. Come on, tell me what happened at the clinic. It’s something big, isn’t it? She really is pregnant, right? Tell me what it is.”
“If you tell me, I’ll get Jesse and Ralf to say they made all that stuff up.”
I stopped walking and spun around to face her. Scared, she took a few steps backward. She must have recalled some of my past threats of physical violence.
“I already know they made it all up, because I didn’t do any of it. And if you try to turn me against Lissa one more time, the stories are going to be about you bleeding, because I’ll have ripped your throat out!”
My voice grew louder with each word until I practically shouted. Mia stepped back further, clearly terrified.
“You really are crazy. No wonder she dropped you.” She shrugged. “Whatever. I’ll find out what’s going on without you.”
When the dance came that weekend, I decided I really didn’t want to go. It had sounded stupid to begin with, and I’d only been interested in going to the after-parties anyway. But without Lissa, I wasn’t likely to gain admission to those. Instead, I holed up in my room, trying – and failing – to do some homework. Through the bond, I felt all sorts of mixed emotions from her, particularly anxiety and excitement. It had to be hard hanging out all night with a guy you didn’t really like.
About ten minutes after the dance’s start time, I decided to clean up and take a shower. When I came back down the hall from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around my head, I saw Mason standing outside my door. He wasn’t exactly dressed up, but he also wasn’t wearing jeans. It was a start.
“There you are, party girl. I was about ready to give up.”
“Did you start another fire? No guys allowed in this hall.”
“Whatever. Like that makes a difference.” True. The school might be able to keep Strigoi out, but they did a horrible job at keeping the rest of us away from each other. “Let me in. You’ve got to get ready.”
It took me a minute to realize what he meant. “No. I’m not going.”
“Come on,” he prodded, following me inside. ” ?®Cause you had a fight with Lissa? You guys are going to make up soon. No reason for you to stay here all night. If you don’t want to be around her, Eddie’s getting a group together over in his room later.”
My old, fun-loving spirit perked its head up just a bit. No Lissa. Probably no royals. “Yeah?”
Seeing that he was starting to get me, Mason grinned. Looking at his eyes, I realized again how much he liked me. And again I wondered, Why couldn’t I just have a normal boyfriend? Why did I want my hot, older mentor – the mentor I’d probably end up getting fired?
“It’ll just be novices,” Mason continued, oblivious to my thoughts. “And I have a surprise for you when we get there.”
“Is it in a bottle?” If Lissa wanted to ignore me, I had no reason to keep myself sober.
“No, that’s at Eddie’s. Hurry up and get dressed. I know you aren’t wearing that.”
I looked down at my ripped jeans and University of Oregon T-shirt. Yeah. Definitely not wearing this.
Fifteen minutes later, we cut across the quad back over to the commons, laughing as we recounted how a particularly clumsy classmate of ours had given himself a black eye in practice this week. Moving quickly over the frozen ground wasn’t easy in heels, and he kept grabbing my arm to keep me from falling over, half-dragging me along. It made us laugh that much more. A happy feeling started to well up in me – I wasn’t entirely rid of the ache for Lissa, but this was a start.
Maybe I didn’t have her and her friends, but I had my own friends. It was also very likely that I was going to get head-over-heels drunk tonight, which, while not a great way to solve my problems, would at least be really fun. Yeah. My life could be worse.
Then we ran into Dimitri and Alberta.
They were on their way somewhere else, talking guardian business. Alberta smiled when she saw us, giving us the kind of indulgent look older people always give to younger people who appear to be having fun and acting silly. Like she thought we were cute. The nerve. We stumbled to a halt, and Mason put a hand on my arm to steady me.
“Mr. Ashford, Miss Hathaway. I’m surprised you aren’t already in the commons.”
Mason gave her an angelic, teacher’s-pet smile. “Got delayed, Guardian Petrov. You know how it is with girls. Always got to look perfect. You especially must know all about that.”
Normally I would have elbowed him for saying something so stupid, but I was staring at Dimitri and incapable of speech. Perhaps more importantly, he was staring at me too.
I had on the black dress, and it was everything I’d hoped it could be. In fact, it was a wonder Alberta didn’t call me on the dress code right there and then. The fabric clung everywhere, and no Moroi girl’s chest could have held this dress up. Victor’s rose hung around my neck, and I’d done a hasty blow-dry of my hair, leaving it down the way I knew Dimitri liked it. I hadn’t worn tights because no one wore tights with dresses like this anymore, so my feet were freezing in the heels. All for the sake of looking good.
And I was pretty sure I looked damn good, but Dimitri’s face wasn’t giving anything away. He just looked at me – and looked and looked. Maybe that said something about my appearance in and of itself. Remembering how Mason sort of held my hand, I pulled away from him. He and Alberta finished up their joking remarks, and we all went our separate ways.
Music blasted inside the commons when we arrived, white Christmas lights and – ugh – a disco ball casting the only light in the otherwise darkened room. Gyrating bodies, mostly underclassmen, packed the dance floor. Those who were our age stood in too-cool clusters along the edges of the room, waiting for an opportune time to sneak off. An assortment of chaperones, guardians and Moroi teachers alike, patrolled around, breaking up those dancers who did a little too much gyrating.
When I saw Kirova in a sleeveless plaid dress, I turned to Mason and said, “Are you sure we can’t hit the hard liquor yet?”
He snickered and took my hand again. “Come on, time for your surprise.”
Letting him lead me, I walked across the room, cutting through a cluster of freshmen who looked way too young to be doing the kind of pelvic thrusts they were attempting.
Where were the chaperones when you needed them? Then I saw where he was leading me and came to a screeching halt.
“No,” I said, not budging when he tugged my hand.
“Come on, it’s going to be great.”
“You’re taking me to Jesse and Ralf. The only way I can ever be seen with them is if I’ve got a blunt object, and I’m aiming between their legs.”
He pulled me again. “Not anymore. Come on.”
Reluctant, I finally started moving: my worst fears were realized when a few pairs eyes turned our way. Great. Everything was starting all over again. Jesse and Ralf didn’t notice us at first, but when they did, an amusing array of expressions played over their faces. First they saw my body and the dress. Testosterone took over as pure male lust shone out of their faces. Then they seemed to realize it was me and promptly turned terrified. Cool.
Mason gave Jesse a sharp poke in the chest with the end of his finger. “All right, Zeklos. Tell her.”
Jesse didn’t say anything, and Mason repeated the gesture, only harder.
Not meeting my eyes, Jesse mumbled, “Rose, we know none of that stuff happened.”
I almost choked on my own laughter. “Do you? Wow. I’m really glad to hear that. Because you see, until you said that, I’d been thinking it had happened. Thank God you guys are here to set me straight and tell me what the hell I have or haven’t done!”
They flinched, and Mason’s light expression darkened to something harder.
“She knows that,” he growled. “Tell her the rest.”
Jesse sighed. “We did it because Mia told us to.”
“And?” prompted Mason.
“And we’re sorry.”
Mason turned to Ralf. “I want to hear it from you, big boy.”
Ralf wouldn’t meet my eyes either, but he mumbled something that sounded vaguely like an apology.
Seeing them defeated, Mason turned chipper. “You haven’t heard the best part yet.”
I cut him a sidelong look. “Yeah? Like the part where we rewind time and none of this ever happened?”
“Next best thing.” He tapped Jesse again. “Tell her. Tell her why you did it.”
Jesse looked up and exchanged uneasy looks with Ralf.
“Boys,” warned Mason, clearly delighted about something, “you’re making Hathaway and me very angry. Tell her why you did it.”
Wearing the look of one who realized things couldn’t get any worse, Jesse finally met my eyes. “We did it because she slept with us. Both of us.”