Vampire crush, p.12

Vampire Crush, page 12

 

Vampire Crush
 


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  Time to take my chances with Ms. Kate. “Well, you seem to be doing better,” I say, “so I’m going to—”

  “Wait!” she yells. “Do you think that we’re good together?”

  “Who? You and Vlad?”

  “No, you and me,” she says, straight-faced, but then rolls her eyes. “Yes, me and Vlad.”

  Vampires should not be allowed to make jokes. “I really don’t think that I’m qualified to say.”

  Marisabel’s eyes narrow. “Try.”

  “I think that you may have grown apart over the years.”

  Marisabel nods gravely. For the first time since I met her, she’s wearing pants, a pair of vintage jeans that are artfully worn at the knees. In spite of everything I know, she looks innocent, the girl-next-door who chose the wrong door to get next to. Biting her lip, she turns her head to stare once again at her work of calculated destruction and then traces the sharp peak of an engraved “V.”

  “Vlad was not always like this,” she says wistfully. “When we first met, he was so charming.”

  I find it difficult to believe that Vlad has ever been charming, but Marisabel looks at me expectantly, and I realize that I am being held hostage until I give up some good girl talk.

  “Well,” I offer, “people can change a lot in . . . what? Fifty years?”

  “Give or take a few,” she replies. “The first year was nice. He was willing to risk a trip to Greece then. We couldn’t sit on any beaches, but I’ve never found anywhere else where the night air is so warm and delicious. We made a vampire there. We made him together.” Marisabel frowns. “But then Vlad got mad and set him on fire.”

  I really hope this bonding session doesn’t end with an invitation to look at scrapbooks. “Sounds . . . romantic,” I say, trying not to heave.

  “It was! But then he started sneaking away every few months for ‘research purposes.’ I thought finding the girl was just a hobby, but then it became an obsession. I don’t understand why he couldn’t just be happy with what he had. When he came back, he was always in a terrible mood, muttering about dead ends and unhelpful records. And then there were the headaches. I’ve told him not to use his powers so often, especially when we have limited food resources.”

  I’ve been holding my breath throughout this entire speech; I hadn’t even thought of Marisabel as a source of information. Hopping up on the side radiator, I try to strike a pose that will help my casual probing look more casual; it involves a lot of leaning and resting things on my knees.

  “It’s not fair that he’s brought you here to look for another girl,” I say. “You’re his girlfriend.”

  She blinks at me for a few seconds before lighting up in delight to finally have someone’s sympathy. “I know! I think that I’ve been very understanding.”

  “Totally,” I agree. “What’s so great about her anyway? Is she, like, some miracle child?”

  “Supposedly,” she says with disdain, while I struggle to keep my delight in check at having called it. “She’s said to be the great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of some dumb baby of some musty vampire family named Mervaux.”

  “Let me guess. A half-vampire baby?” I ask, leaving off the “. . . who fights crime.”

  “No!” Marisabel says. “A plain old human baby. That’s what makes the whole thing so weird. Who cares about a human baby? People have those all the time.” She pauses. “Well, I mean, not vampires. They never have any babies, which is good because child vampires are freaky.” Suddenly, her face turns severe. “You’re not going to tell anyone this, right?”

  “Oh, no way,” I say quickly, shaking my head. I want to ask more questions about the connection between this child of the Mervaux vampire family and the Danae, but Marisabel’s burst of sharing starts to fizzle.

  “I mean, I try so hard to be enough,” she sniffs. “But he’s never happy. I’m starting to think that even if he finds her, that’s only the beginning. I would just like for this to be over. If Vlad could just see that this wasn’t going to work out, if he could just see that it’s not going to be so easy, then maybe he would give up.” She sniffs again. “Maybe you could keep getting in his way.”

  I can hardly believe my luck—here’s the perfect source of information, and it’s offering to crawl into my lap. But there’s something fragile in Marisabel’s voice that keeps me from pouncing.

  “Is Vlad really worth this?” I ask. “He’s kind of mean to you. Do you—”

  I’m interrupted by the click of heels on tile. There’s no way that staccato terror belongs to a student. My eyes roam over the utter ruin of the bathroom stall; the last thing I need right now is a charge of petty vandalism. Holding a finger to my lips and motioning for Marisabel to climb up on the toilet, I push the door shut just as Ms. Kate rounds the corner. Clutching my stomach, I do my best to imitate a victim of cafeteria food poisoning.

  “I thought I heard something in here,” Ms. Kate snaps as she approaches me. “Hall pass?” When I hand it over, she barely even looks at it; years of practice have made her able to distinguish types of hall passes through the power of touch alone. “This is for the nurse,” she says. “You are in the bathroom. What is wrong with this picture?”

  Apologizing, I tip forward like I’m about to hurl on her ugly black pumps. “I thought I was going to be sick.” I cast a queasy look at the door behind me. “Don’t go in there.”

  I don’t know if she believes me, but her expression of slight disgust tells me that she’s thankfully not willing to investigate. “Let’s go to the nurse, then,” she says, walking me out the door and through the halls. She makes no move to leave me alone, not even when we hit the labyrinthine hallway that leads to a cluster of guidance counselors, speech therapy rooms, and the dreaded nurse’s office. If you’re truly sick, you can’t expect to receive much more than generic aspirin and an embarrassing pamphlet about your growing body.

  We find Nurse Ellis alone and shaking her head at a copy of Us Weekly. After Ms. Kate stomps off to catch more students unawares, Nurse Ellis spins toward me on her stool, a trusty stethoscope looped around her neck. Her light-brown hair is dusted with gray, and she has a round face and equally round body.

  “Not feeling well, Sophie?” she asks, genuinely concerned. “You do look flushed.”

  Thank God for pale skin and wimpy blood vessels. “I feel nauseous and light-headed,” I croak.

  “Well, why don’t you lie down on one of the cots and give it some time? If you still feel bad in a little while, we’ll see if we can reach your parents.”

  A fabulous idea. I lie down on the nearest cot and draw the hanging curtain around me. This should help me avoid Vlad, as well as keep me out of James’s way for a while. Researching with him on my tail is going to take a lot more cunning than being the first person to ask for a hall pass. Who knows the next time when I’ll have a moment alone?

  I sit up. I’m alone now, and who better acquainted with the student body’s bodies than the school nurse? The metallic curtain rasps as I push it back.

  “You don’t happen to know of any girls who have a strange and unusual birthmark, do you? Like a star?” As soon as I say it, I realize what a weirdo question it is. Oh well—no guts, no glory. Although one could also argue that “No guts, no extreme social embarrassment” is just as accurate a statement. “Like on their backs or their legs or their shoulders, maybe?” I add.

  To her credit, Nurse Ellis says nothing, just squints at me for a pregnant moment before wheeling herself over to a wall that’s close to buckling from the weight of multicolored pamphlets. She plucks out a dark yellow one and hands it to me. “Is What I’m Feeling Normal?” the bold headline asks. Boy and girl stick figures hold up their hands in “Why me?” gestures, their heads surrounded by a cloud of question marks.

  “Read this, Sophie. Then let me know if you have any questions,” she says, passing it over and giving me a gentle pat on the hand before closing the curtain.

  I flop back on the
cot. This is off to a great start.

  When Nurse Ellis asks me how I’m feeling an hour later, smiling as though we now share a great secret, I tell her that I’m ready to go back to class. Chemistry is in full swing by the time I hand my pass over to Mr. George, and surprisingly, there’s no James. This should be a relief. Why am I now consumed with curiosity over where he’s run off to? Maybe he was bluffing.

  Hopping up on my stool, I open my chemistry book and prepare to do more research under the cover of balancing equations. Because of an unfortunate incident involving mixed chemicals and Greg Ives’s knee, I have no lab partner. I’m busy spreading out my things when a figure walks past me to Mr. George’s desk. I watch James’s back as he introduces himself to the teacher, who pulls out his seating chart.

  “Okay, then, Mr. Hallowell. Why don’t you have a seat by . . . ,” he starts, but then frowns at the paper in front of him, scans the room, and then frowns again. “Well, it looks like you’ll have to sit by Miss McGee.”

  Unbelievable. When James turns around, I prepare to withstand a cocky grin, but his energy level seems to have taken a nosedive since last period. His face looks drawn and tired, his skin stretched and tight. Math class is no fun, but I’ve never seen it take this much out of a person.

  “Having trouble keeping up?” I whisper when he slides onto the stool beside me.

  “I had something to take care of,” he says tightly. “Since we’re not sharing anymore, I won’t tell you what it is.”

  I’m about to retort that I’m not interested anyway and warn him to guard his knees, but then I see that his fingers are shaking as they open the cover of his textbook.

  “James, what’s wrong?” I ask, my annoyance taking a backseat to sudden worry.

  “Nothing.”

  In my experience “nothing” doesn’t make you seem like you’re about to keel over at your desk. But James ignores my worried looks, studying the periodic table like he’s Marie Curie.

  “I’ll see you after lunch,” he says as soon as the bell rings and then leaves before I can respond.

  Chapter Eleven

  James doesn’t come back after lunch, and he’s still MIA when the final bell rings. On my way to my locker, I poke my head into the journalism room only to find that Mr. Amado is missing too, although his perpetually wrinkled jacket and messenger bag are still hanging from a cabinet hook. I wait for a few moments, but when he doesn’t show up, I take a casual peek at his planner. Staff meeting: 3:30. Nuts.

  Since I have time to kill—and since, so far, Vlad has left me alone—I decide that French club can be approached with caution. Still, knowing his habit of roaming the halls, I tape a few pieces of paper over the narrow window as soon as I close the door.

  “Hello, Sophie,” says a high, dulcet voice.

  Oh crap. Violet. Violet the fluent French speaker and newest member of our miniscule language club. I’m starting to lose track of all the people I need to avoid. When I work up the courage to turn around, she’s smiling at me serenely, her hands folded primly in front of her, always the lady, even when plotting my demise. Regina Michaels and Calvin Abrams flank her on either side. Luckily, they seem oblivious to any tension as they argue about the sex of various fruits. I’ve come to learn that arguing about French is how they flirt. The imparfait debate is third base.

  “Are we going to do drugs?” Calvin asks nervously when he notices my makeshift window coverings. “Because I am president of the ‘Just Say No’ Club, and we had to sign something saying we would never—”

  “Don’t worry about it, Calvin. I left my stash at home,” I say, trying to play it cool but still keeping my eye on Violet. At this point, I’m not sure how much I am supposed to know around her. She wasn’t there for the forest debacle, but Vlad has surely talked . . . unless he doesn’t want them to know about the “misunderstanding.” Her cat-with-canary face isn’t helping me decide.

  “Je suis désolé,” Regina pipes up, “mais je ne comprends pas l’anglais.”

  I’m sorry, but I do not understand English. Technically, the rule is that we don’t speak any English once the meeting has begun. I made that rule up. I hate myself.

  “J’ai dit,” I begin, repeating my earlier joke to Calvin, “N’inquiète pas, Monsieur Calvin. J’ai laissé mon ‘stash’ à la maison.”

  “‘Stash’ is ‘un cache,’” Violet corrects, and then pats the seat beside her. Deciding that the current threat to my safety is at least limiting her attacks to my foreign language skills, I slip into the seat.

  We chat for thirty minutes about simple things: winter socks, our favorite type of pie, and Calvin’s fear of ladybugs and getting stuck in a ticket turnstile. He and Regina soon launch into an argument about the difference between a croque-monsieur and a croque-madame. Violet takes the opportunity to wiggle her desk closer to mine, a noisy, thumping endeavor that should be as intimidating as being rushed by a blind, three-legged dog. Should be. It makes me nervous enough to check the exits again before she leans over and whispers in my ear.

  “N’inquiète pas, Sophie. J’ai trouvé un nouveau petit copain. Donc, nous sommes encore amies, non?” she says and smiles warmly, if a little too widely.

  Don’t worry, Sophie. I found a new boyfriend. So we are friends again, right?

  Well, that was fast. The rush of my relief is quickly replaced by a new worry: If history has taught us anything, it’s that falling into Violet’s lovesick clutches means that there will soon be another teenage vampire running around my high school.

  “Who?” I ask, dropping any pretense at French.

  She holds a finger to the tiny bow of her lips. “C’est une secrete,” she says with a coy raise of her eyebrows. It’s a secret.

  Before I can start digging for more information, there’s a rap at the door, and Mr. Hanfield, Spanish teacher and study hall minion, sticks his bald head in to tell us that we need to clear out.

  “Who taped this up here?” he asks as he rips it down. “You know we have to have a clear view into all classrooms at all times.”

  I’m fairly sure he just made up this rule, but I don’t argue. We agree to meet again next week and part ways. Or at least I try to part ways; while Calvin and Regina argue in the opposite direction, Violet glues herself to my side, chattering on about an article on getting over a bad breakup that she read (“Supremely helpful, even if I couldn’t partake of the sugar-free ice cream.”) and how she thinks Calvin is a little strange. Her still unnamed new boy is strange, she admits, but not that strange. At least he’s not afraid of inanimate objects.

  “And I do believe he really likes me,” she says as we round the last corner before the main lobby. “I mean, men are always difficult to fathom. One moment they want to run away and elope, and the next they leave you sitting alone on a park bench in the middle of the night, ruined and with no place to go.”

  I look at Violet, wondering if this was pre- or post-vampire. She is studying her shoes, a small frown playing about her lips. In that second, I want to say something comforting, but I don’t know whether or not that will invite too many questions about what I do and do not know. So instead I just pull her to the side so she doesn’t walk into a cement column.

  “I did not see that at all,” she says, and I’m happy to hear some of the old perkiness. “To continue what we were speaking about before, I gave James what he wanted too soon. I know that now,” she says. “But it does not matter; the periodical says ‘Sisters before Misters’ and I have decided to adhere to that.”

  Not only do I want to find her magazine source, kill it, and skip around on its grave, I want her to understand that James is not my mister in any sense of the word.

  “Violet, James is not—,” I begin before the sight of what’s waiting for me at the end of the hallway stops me in my tracks. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

  There is a vampire roadblock at the end of the hallway and everyone’s invited. Vlad, Devon, Ashley, Marisabel, Neville . . . and James. Ja
mes is waiting for me. With them.

  I duck into the nearest open door, which happens to be Mrs. Elton’s government class. She coats her walls with American flags and badly printed photos of the current president. I’m so dazzled by the red, white, and blue that I don’t realize Violet has trotted after me until it is too late. That’s great, Sophie, bring a vampire with you to your hiding place from the vampires.

  “What is this about?” Violet asks, tugging her jacket down schoolmarmishly. “I understand why I don’t want to see James, but you should try not to be so standoffish. It will give him the wrong idea.” She smiles at me, and I realize that she really doesn’t know anything about what happened on Friday—Vlad’s keeping his setbacks close to his chest. But before I can answer, her gaze shifts to something beyond my shoulder. “Oh, hello,” she says. “Are you crouching here like a deranged person as well?”

  Caroline is slouched in the back corner, and from the looks of things, she’s been camped out for a while. Her feet are bare, having kicked the strappy sandals she tottered around on all day to the side. She rarely puts her hair up—she thinks it’s lazy—but now she’s scraped it into a mushrooming bun.

  “He won’t go away,” she says, sliding down in her chair until all I can see is the fluff of her bun. “And the evil janitors locked the side doors. I mean, hello. Fire hazard.”

  “Who won’t go away?”

  Straightening back up, she gives me a look suggesting that I could win this year’s Miss Idiotic pageant by a landslide vote. “Vlad. I have been sitting here since three waiting for him to leave. Why? Why does he want to humiliate me? Isn’t breaking up with me enough?” She bangs her fists on the desk. “He’s a satanist!”

 
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