His surprise grew, but he stepped aside so we could enter. We all stopped and stood in the chapel's lobby, just outside the main sanctuary.
"I was just about to go home for the night," Father Andrew told us. "I was shutting everything down."
"You told me that St. Vladimir lived a long life and died of old age. Is that true?"
"Yes," he said slowly. "To the best of my knowledge. All the books I've read - including these latest ones - say as much."
"But what about Anna?" I demanded. I sounded like I was on the verge of hysteria. Which I kind of was.
"What about her?"
"What happened to her? How did she die?"
All this time. All this time, Lissa and I had worried about Vlad's outcome. We'd never considered Anna's.
"Ah, well." Father Andrew sighed. "Her end wasn't as good, I'm afraid. She spent her whole life protecting him, though there are hints that in her old age, she started growing a little unstable too. And then..."
"And then?" I asked. Christian was looking between the priest and me, completely lost.
"And then, well, a couple months after St. Vladimir passed on, she committed suicide."
I squeezed my eyes shut for half a second and then opened them. This was what I'd been afraid of.
"I'm sorry," Father Andrew said. "I know how closely you've followed their story. I didn't even learn this about her until reading it recently. Taking one's life is a sin, of course...but, well, considering how close they were, it's not hard to imagine how she may have felt when he was gone."
"And you also said that she was starting to go a little crazy."
He nodded and spread his hands out. "It's hard to say what that poor woman was thinking. Many factors were probably involved. Why was this so pressing?"
I shook my head. "It's a long story. Thanks for helping me."
Christian and I were halfway to the dorm before he finally asked, "What was that all about? I remember when you guys were looking into this. Vladimir and Anna were like Lissa and you, right?"
"Yeah," I said glumly. "Look, I don't want to get between you guys, but please don't tell Lissa about this. Not until I find out more. Just tell her ... I don't know. I'll tell her that I suddenly panicked because I thought I had more community service scheduled."
"Both of us lying to her, huh?"
"I hate it, believe me. But it's also best for her at the moment."
Because if Lissa knew that she might potentially make me insane ... yeah, she'd take that hard. She'd want to stop working her magic. Of course, that was what I'd always wanted ... and yet, I'd felt that joy in her when she used it. Could I take that away from her? Could I sacrifice myself?
There was no easy answer, and I couldn't start jumping to conclusions. Not until I knew more. Christian agreed to keep it secret, and by the time we joined the others, it was almost time for curfew anyway. We had only about a half hour together, and then we all split off for bed - including me, since the part-time field experience agreement said I couldn't do nighttime duty. The Strigoi risk was low in general anyway, and my instructors were more concerned about me getting a full night's sleep.
So when curfew came, I walked back to the dhampir dorm alone. And then, when I was almost there, he appeared again.
I came to an abrupt halt and glanced around me, wishing someone else was there to witness this and settle the crazy-or-not thing once and for all. His pearly form stood there, hands in the pockets of his coat in an almost casual way that somehow made the experience that much weirder.
"Well," I said, feeling surprisingly calm, despite the sorrow that washed over me whenever I saw him. "Glad to see you're alone again. I didn't really like the extras on the plane."
He stared, expression blank and eyes sad. It made me feel worse, guilt twisting my stomach into knots. I broke.
"What are you?" I cried. "Are you real? Am I going crazy?"
To my surprise, he nodded.
"Which?" I squeaked. "Yes, you're real?"
"Yes, I'm crazy?"
He shook his head.
"Well," I said, forcing a joke through my hurricane of emotions. "That's a relief, but honestly, what else would you say if you're a hallucination?"
Mason just stared. I glanced around again, wishing someone would come by.
"Why are you here? Are you mad at us and looking for revenge?"
He shook his head, and something in me relaxed. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how worried I'd been about that. The guilt and grief had been wound up so tightly in me. Him blaming me - just as Ryan had - had seemed inevitable.
"Are you ... are you having trouble finding peace?"
Mason nodded and seemed to grow sadder. I thought back to his final moments and swallowed back tears. I'd probably have a hard time finding peace too, taken from my life before it began.
"Is there more than that, though? Another reason you keep coming to me?"
"What?" I asked. There were too many questions lately. I needed answers. "What is it? What do I need to do?"
But anything other than a yes or no question was beyond us, apparently. He opened up his mouth as though he would say something. He looked like he was trying hard, like Adrian had with the plant. But no sound came out.
"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I'm sorry I don't understand ... and...I'm sorry for everything else."
Mason gave me one last wistful look and then vanished.
"Lets talk about your mother."
I sighed. "What about her?"
It was my first day of counseling, and so far, I wasn't impressed. Last night's Mason sighting was probably something I should have brought up right away. But I didn't want school officials to have any more reason to think I was losing my mind - even if I was.
And honestly, I didn't know I was for sure. Adrian's analysis of my aura and the story of Anna certainly lent credence to me being on the road to Crazyville. Yet I didn't feel crazy. Did crazy people know if they really were? Adrian had said they didn't. Crazy itself was a weird term. I'd learned enough about psychology to know that it was also a very broad classification. Most forms of mental illness were actually very specific and had select symptoms - anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc. I didn't know where I fell on that scale, if I did at all.
"How do you feel about her?" continued the counselor. "About your mother?"
"That she's a great guardian and a so-so mother."