‘Hmm. Scholarships aren’t supposed to be Few. They’re often “food”, though. Didn’t you think I might end up as a life-source?’
‘Yes, maybe.’ Guiltily he rubbed a hand across his face. ‘But I had such a good experience with my roommate Erik when I was at the Academy. He was honest, straightforward, no deception. I was happy to help him and he never abused my trust. I suppose I was naive; I suppose I thought it was always like that.’
‘Yeah.’ She let the maître d’ draw out a chair for her, and sat down opposite Patrick, watching his hands as he nervously smoothed the white linen tablecloth.
‘I thought it was worth it,’ he continued. ‘I thought, for the educational advantage you’d be getting, coming from your background—’
‘I know, honestly. And you know what?’ She quirked an eyebrow at him. ‘I appreciate what you did. It’s been a wonderful experience. I mean everything – the ravenous hunger for life-energy, the spirit I’ve got hanging about to chat to now, the supernatural fights …’ She smiled at him. ‘It’s been fabulous.’
He remained solemn as he watched her eyes, then caught hers twinkling. ‘Oh. That’s a little Cassie Bell sarcasm, isn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ she said contritely. ‘Hey, it’s been … different. But in a weird way it hasn’t been terrible. I’m getting used to it all.’
He leaned forward, touched her hand. ‘Are you sure, Cassie? Are you sure you’re OK?’
‘Sure. Really. I’m moving on, Patrick. New start. I’m Few’ – or half-Few, she added silently to herself – ‘and I’ll live with it. It’s not so bad. I’m controlling the hunger, it isn’t hard, and Isabella is as understanding as I’m sure you must have been to Erik.’
‘You’re lucky to have such a good roommate.’ He looked up at her over his menu. ‘I was so happy when I heard that, Cassie. It makes a difference. I think she’s a real rock, Isabella, isn’t she?’
‘I don’t know what I’d do without her,’ said Cassie truthfully. She laid down her menu and traced patterns on it with her finger. ‘I bet Erik appreciated you too. Do you … do you still miss him?’
‘All the time.’ Patrick smiled with half his mouth. ‘Erik was an amazing person. Even all these years later, it’s hard to believe he’s gone.’
Cassie clasped her hands and looked at him directly. ‘What happened to him? When I asked Sir Alric about it last term, he wouldn’t really go into details.’
Patrick took a breath and sat back in his chair. ‘It was nearly twenty years ago now. In our final term. The Academy was in Mexico City, and we had all these special classes and field trips in archaeology. It was a bit like here in Istanbul, actually. Anyway, Erik was working on a project with Sir Alric; they’d gone off to the Yucatán for a week. I remember how excited Erik was, how pleased he was that Sir Alric had chosen him out of all the Few students, trusted him. And he was fascinated by the project too, whatever it was.’
‘You never found out?’
‘Sir Alric came back alone on the third day. I knew something was up but no one was told anything. Not till he called me to his office and broke the news that Erik had been killed. In a landslide.’
‘God.’ Cassie touched his hand. ‘You must have been devastated.’
‘Yeah. I mean, he was so young, so intelligent, so full of promise and potential. Beautiful-looking, of course. He was one of the Few, after all. I suppose I had a little bit of a crush on him. Still, he had a lifetime’s happiness and success ahead of him.’ Patrick stared at the tablecloth. ‘And it was all gone, just like that. Surreal.’
The silence that fell wasn’t uncomfortable. It felt quite appropriate. At last, Patrick looked up and nodded to the hovering waiter.
‘I always wondered what they were looking for, out there in the Yucatán.’ He shrugged. ‘But Sir Alric never said. I suppose, after Erik died, it was irrelevant. Now.’ He sat up, trying to look more cheerful, and smiled at the waiter. ‘Are you ready to order, Cassie?’
When they’d chosen – Cassie with some difficulty, since she wanted at least five of the things on the menu – Patrick shook his head and smiled more positively. ‘Let’s not talk about sad things any more, eh? I want to hear what you’ve been up to here this term. Any nice boys? Whatever happened with that Ran—’
‘Uh, we’re not talking about him,’ she interjected, with a slightly stiff smile.
‘Ah.’ Patrick nodded. ‘Fair enough! I’ll stick to safer subjects. What’s the Academy building like? We never came to this one while I was a student.’
Cassie smiled, relieved he didn’t press her any further on romance. ‘It’s pretty spectacular actually. Certainly a far cry from Cranlake.’
‘I don’t doubt it! Well, tell me all about it, and while you’re at it, give me some gossip about the teachers. Some of them haven’t changed since my day, you know.’
‘Yeah, the ones with the cobwebs hanging off their eyebrows might be familiar to you,’ she ribbed.
‘Hey! I’m not that old!’
As Patrick began to list off some of the teachers he’d had while he was at the Academy, Cassie sighed contentedly. One thing was sorted at least. Giggling at his irreverent comments, Cassie realised with a huge sense of relief how much she’d missed him. Thank God she’d sent that text. This was just what she’d needed, a connection to her old life. She wouldn’t forget it, or him, just because of this new start of hers. He was family.