Vampire Crush, page 13
She probably means “sadist,” although for once, option number two isn’t all that wide of the mark. Still, I doubt that Caroline’s his target. I’m guessing that Vlad wants to make sure I’ve forgotten his fangy little secret. But considering my audience, I scan my mind for some excuse as to why Vlad would be loitering for an hour and a half. He’s hypnotized by shiny wrestling trophies? He is conducting a sit-in to protest the ban on pointy shoes? Violet moves to console Caroline before I can even try.
“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she soothes. “I’m going through a broken engagement myself at the moment. If you would like, I have a magazine article that might help.”
Caroline perks up. “Really?”
“Yes. Sophie doesn’t seem to put much faith in what they have to say, but I think they are a wonder.”
“Sophie doesn’t put much faith in anything but her own loud voice.”
“Yes, she can be very resistant to new ideas, I think.”
It’s time to nip this conversation in the bud. “I hate to break up your bonding session, but I would like to leave the building at some point. And Vlad’s still here.”
“But why are you hiding from Vlad?” Caroline asks.
“Sisterly solidarity?” I try.
Caroline blinks at me a few times and then launches in for a hug, nearly knocking the small desk over in her enthusiasm. “Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you.”
I hug her back, feeling nice and fuzzy and like a good sister for once. There’s no reason I can’t be avoiding Vlad for sisterly solidarity and the overwhelming desire to live, is there? When I am finally released from her body-lotioned death grip, the three of us peek around the corner to find Vlad and Neville in the middle of yet another debate.
“But High School Musical?” Vlad says. “It’s not even something civilized.”
Neville crosses his arms tightly over his chest. “You said that we should join in school activities.”
“Join in activities so we can find the girl. Not so you can twist and twirl about on the stage for your own amusement!”
Beside me, Violet emits a tiny snort. “Vlad can be so overbearing at times,” she whispers in my ear. “And he lies; he told me that this place would be filled with eligible young gentlemen.”
“Really?” I whisper.
“He told us all sorts of things to lure us along.”
“Lying poophead scumbag,” Caroline says. “Anyway, how do we get out when their stupid butts are blocking the door?”
“Why, we will have to walk our stupid butts out the door!” Violet cries, clearly getting into this. After we shush her, she tries again more quietly. “What I meant to say was we will need to act like their presence does not bother us. For example, I will act like I do not even notice the presence of James. You do the same with Vlad. Believe me, it has worked for hundreds of years.” She looks at me. “You do whatever you think sisters of the brokenhearted do.”
This sister of the brokenhearted is trying to remember exactly what James told her three nights ago and marshaling all the puny acting talent she possesses. Now’s the time for my first-grade experience as Silent Woodland Animal #3 in Snow White to really pay off. Try not to let him get close to you. Concentrate if he does.
I take a deep breath. “Ready?”
Violet and Caroline nod furiously, but our first attempt is stalled by Caroline’s hand on my shoulder.
“Wait. Is that James Hallowell?” she asks.
“Yep. He’s living next door again,” I say, still stinging from his betrayal. But instead of making me feel better, revealing James’s secret only makes me feel petty. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Why?” she asks. “Oh man, Amanda said that Danny said he was back, but I thought that she had just finally lost it. He got cute,” she says, and I don’t like the undercurrent of “oooh, gimme” in her voice.
“Just . . . please, Caroline?”
She shrugs. “Sure, whatever.”
How reassuring. “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” Caroline says. “Wait! I mean no. My shoes. This is not something I want to do barefoot.”
We wait for Caroline to shoe up for battle, and then walk out the door, marching toward the vampires. James snaps to attention as we approach. Vlad and Neville are still knee-deep in their argument, with Neville explaining the plot of High School Musical and Vlad countering that he may not be exceedingly familiar with this world, but he is certain that basketball players do not sing. Hope balloons in my chest; maybe they won’t even notice me. We are swerving around the edges of their huddle when Vlad’s voice rings out.
“If it isn’t the girl I want to see,” he says, his hand snaking out to block my way.
“Excuse me?” I say, trying to act confused as I back away. I try to remember James’s lessons on how to keep one’s mind impenetrable, but it’s harder said than done. I think of how much I hate him, how much I want him out of this school, this town, this universe. But how do you tell if it’s working? Other than the fact that he hasn’t yelled “Gotcha!”
Vlad steps forward, eating up my hard-won buffer of space. He starts to reach for my chin, and a chill of panic rushes over my body. But before he can touch me, Caroline pushes Vlad away with an unladylike grunt.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asks as I take the opportunity to step away. “You’re acting like you’ve never met.”
“We have not,” Vlad says, obviously annoyed. He scowls at me over his head.
She turns around, looking for a denial, but I force myself to nod and agree. She frowns for a few seconds, giving me a look that says she thought I was on her side. Finally, she says, “You’re both crazy,” and marches toward the door.
We listen to her heels as they click across the lobby’s floor, and I try to gauge everyone’s suspicion level. Neville is still pouting, while Vlad watches Caroline’s back with a moody scowl. Marisabel stands beside him, trying so hard to look innocent that she might as well stick her head up in the air and whistle, and Violet continues to study the five food groups display so James will see that she has moved on to better things, apparently fruits and vegetables. Against my better instincts, I sneak a glance in his direction and am met with a small smile that does nothing to mask the worry in his eyes.
“Wait a moment,” Vlad says, and I whip my head around to find him watching me. I feel the fluttery, zooming sensation in my heart that means I’m starting to panic. And when I start to panic, my mind goes blank. The more I try to train my thoughts into one orderly progression, the more they want to scream “Vampire, vampire, vampire!” James steps forward, worry on his face, and it heightens my panic. If he can tell, anyone can tell.
As if on cue, Vlad’s countenance darkens. I prepare for the worst. This is it. This is the end. But Vlad doesn’t reach for my throat—instead he pulls away, disappointed. It takes a few seconds to realize that it’s not because James has betrayed him; no, it’s because he has no excuse to kill me. I’ve passed. Somehow, I’ve passed.
“Maybe I’ll see you around,” I say, giddy with good luck, and head toward the door, half expecting to be tackled from behind. Soon enough, however, the High School Musical argument starts up again. Talking to Mr. Amado can wait until tomorrow. Right now I need to get out of here and go where I can be sure my thoughts are completely my own.
I’m almost to the door when James catches up with me. A part of me wants to yell at him, but his relief at not being found out is plain, and for a moment, that’s something we share. If I’m being honest, the temptation to put everything on hold and celebrate is overwhelming, especially when I note that he seems to have recovered from whatever was ailing him.
“Are you feeling better?” I ask, just as a figure appears at the other side of the lobby. It’s Lindsay, the girl I almost let become the prime entrée of a vampire buffet. Now she’s heading toward us with a determined stride, her hands hidden by the stack of papers clutched to her chest. Plea for forgiveness nu
“Thanks again for finding me today,” she tells him with no hint of ill will. “The articles are due to our journalism teacher tomorrow, so my head was about to, you know, spin around and pop off.”
“No problem,” he murmurs.
“It’s so great that you’re going to join our class,” she continues. “Maybe we can work on something together.”
“Sure,” he says, but his eyes are on me.
Lindsay follows his gaze, and I brace myself for another well-deserved telling off. But all she does is apologize for ignoring me and ask if I’ve given any more thought to joining the collection drive for Greenpeace. “I think we could really use you,” she says. “Final sign-ups for the planning committee were on Friday, but, well, this whole weekend is kind of a blur.” She frowns. “I think I need to stop pulling all-nighters.”
It’s like our almost death never happened. I look at James for an explanation and find one in his guilty expression. So that’s why he was late to chemistry, and that’s why he looked so tired. He may not have mind-wiped me, but he had no problem doing it to someone else.
Lindsay picks up on the tension immediately. “Okay, then. I’m, uh, just going to go. Check in with you later for Greenpeace,” she says, and then bolts out the front door. I try to follow but James steps in front of me.
“I had to,” he says. “I tried to explain some things to her, but she freaked out and started screaming. She’s safer this way, I swear. The fuzziness wears off after a few days.”
“Where were you after lunch?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.
His jaw tightens. “I had to find Vlad,” he says stiffly. “It took more out of me than I expected.”
“There’s not going to be an extra space in the front row tomorrow, is there?” I say. It’s a bad joke, mainly because I’m half serious.
James’s face wrinkles in disgust. “No. Vlad has a cooler from—”
“The fair,” I say quickly. “I know.”
“I don’t want to know how you know that. Sophie, I’m serious, this is not a stupid journalism assignment. You need to stay away from him. You’re lucky he was distracted. I could hear you, and I was farther away than Vlad. You may think that you’re a fortress of snark and bad-assery, but you’re not.”
The fact that I didn’t entirely succeed in wearing my antivampire hat is not exactly comforting, but I can’t let that deter me. “Not until I make sure the girl is safe,” I say. “I won’t just leave people in danger.”
James’s face hardens, and I realize that I’ve just destroyed any chance of a truce. He steps to the side to let me pass. When I exit into the sunlight, he doesn’t follow, leaving me to wonder exactly how many reminders I need before I realize that he’s not on my side.
Mr. Amado collects our Welcome Back articles the next day. When it comes time for me to hand mine over, I experience a moment of panic. Last night I caved and looked over them again, after which I tried to do some final-hour touch-ups, but they are still hovering more toward the “suck” end of the spectrum than the “stellar.”
“Thank you, Sophie?” Mr. Amado says calmly, tugging a few times when my fingers continue to clutch the end. “I’m taking them now.”
Left with little other option, I let go, and he moves on to the rest of the students. I notice that Lindsay doesn’t hesitate at all when it’s her turn; she offers her handful of pages proudly and with a bright smile that Mr. Amado returns. Mind-wiping, and Other Keys to Better Journalism: An Exposé. Maybe I should have asked James to go ahead and wipe me as well.
I risk a peek at the back corner of the room, where James has stashed himself in the most isolated desk and is now propping his cheek up with his hand as he watches the proceedings with a bored eye. This has been his position of choice in all of my classes, with the exception of English where he finagled a seat directly between me and Vlad and sat up so straight in his seat that I couldn’t even see the tippy-top of Vlad’s head. We haven’t exchanged a single word since yesterday’s fight in the foyer, although once when he caught me looking at him, I thought I saw the ghost of a smile before he schooled his face back into impassivity.
Mr. Amado has finished his rounds. I force my attention back to the front of the room just as he sets the stack of articles on his desk and then sits on its corner. “This is great, guys,” he says. “On Thursday we’ll start using the computers to lay everything out—and remember, if you need to brush up on your InDesign skills, I’m holding refresher workshops after class for the rest of the week.” He claps, which I’ve learned is his way of drumrolling. “But right now I wanted to check in and see how you are all holding up after the first assignment and brainstorm ideas for the next few issues. Remember, this is a forum and I am just the steward here to help you.”
“What’s a steward?” Neal asks.
Mr. Amado’s mustache twitches. I also noticed during the assignment roundup that Neal turned in a handful of comics and not an article about the missing blood. That makes me happy, but it means that Mr. Amado’s Neal Frustration Level is high.
“A guide, Neal,” he says. “A guide.”
“I want to keep covering girls’ sports,” Mark Echolls says before anyone else can stake claim to his territory.
“I anticipated that, Mark,” Mr. Amado says. “I don’t see any reason why—” He stops when he notices that I’ve raised my hand. “Sophie?”
I was really hoping to suggest this in a one-on-one meeting, but it looks like I’m going to have to do it now since Mr. Amado turned into a Super Sophie Evader over the weekend. “I’ve been thinking that maybe we should shake things up this year,” I say. “I mean, Mark, you’re excellent at girls’ sports, but you’ve been doing it forever. And I’ve been doing the investigative stuff forever, and Emma has been doing the horoscopes forever. The paper might be fresher if we all brought a new perspective to the articles.”
I stop, realizing that most of my classmates are glaring at me. Well, except for Lindsay, who is doing her best to look encouraging, and James, who’s watching this with more interest than anything else that’s happened today.
“Also, it will make our clip files more diverse for when we’re applying for colleges and university newspapers,” I finish in a rush. “We’ll have so much more experience.”
“That seems like a fair point,” Mr. Amado says. He’s trying to act casual and facilitatorish, but I can tell that he likes the idea. “What do the rest of you think?”
“But I spent all summer reading Linda Goodman’s Love Signs,” Emma says, flipping her black, curly hair over her shoulder. “That’s not going to help me if I’m stuck watching the school play three thousand times.”
“And I’ve always covered girls’ sports,” Mark says. “They know me.”
There are some murmurings from the rest of the class. Mr. Amado is looking at me with a newfound admiration, and that gives me the needed boost to press forward. “But don’t you guys want to try something new?”
“No,” Mark says emphatically, pushing his glasses up his nose.
I should have waited until I caught Mr. Amado alone. He’s not against getting dictatorial with individuals, but he won’t support something that the class is clearly against. And if I don’t have the girls’ sports cover, then I have no idea how to even start looking—
“I think it’s a great idea,” Lindsay offers. “I mean, I cover almost all of the volunteer drives, and it’s wonderful and everything, but maybe I’m missing something because I’ve gotten so used to it. I don’t see why it would hurt us to try it for at least one or two issues.”
She smiles at me, and I’m overcome by a wave of gratitude, but also guilt, considering that she was robbed of the right to be angry. It feels like I’ve gotten away with something that I shouldn’t have.
“That’s one vote for yes,” Mr. Amado says, “and two votes for no.” He folds his plaid arms
The bulk of the new sophomore staff members raise their hands along with me and Lindsay, clearly wanting to get on Mr. Amado’s good side right from the get-go, not to mention either one of the editor in chief hopefuls.
“That’s twelve yeses,” Mr. Amado says, and then blinks a little because the no’s have already raised their hands. “Okay. And that’s eleven no’s. Did anyone not vote?” he asks and then frowns. “Neal?”
Neal looks up from his binder and rubs his cheek, leaving a smudge of dark blue ink on his chin. “What are we talking about?”
“Whether we want to switch up assignments for the next issue.”
“I want to keep doing the comics. So . . . no?”
Mr. Amado sighs. “Of course. Twelve and twelve. Who’s our tie-breaker?” He scans the room until he finds James, who’s been doing nothing but idly rolling his pen back and forth throughout the whole thing. “What do you say, James?”
James is obviously frustrated to have been singled out. Please say yes, I think, even though I’m fairly sure that he’s too far away to hear me. I wonder if he realizes my ulterior motives for this switch. Even if he doesn’t, he might vote no just because we’re on the outs. I’m still holding my breath when he looks at the ceiling.
“Yes,” he says finally.
“Wonderful!” Mr. Amado says. “Why don’t you guys think over what you want to handle and come talk to me when you’re ready to pitch article ideas.”
I’m at his desk before he’s even halfway in his seat. When I tell him that I want to cover girls’ sports he does a double take. “Are you sure?” he asks.
“It will be a challenge,” I say, doing my best to put a Future-Journalist-of-America spin on it, “and I really want to try my hand at something new. Cross-country, soccer, and tennis all have their first official matches next week.”