Vampire Crush, page 19
My tenuous grip on sanity starts to crumble. A day is not enough time. I’m so wrapped up in my thoughts that it takes a moment before I register the sound of Marcie’s minivan bouncing into the driveway and her shout at Caroline to come back and help her carry in all the diet soda that she made her buy. This is it. Everything’s going to collide and there’s no way to stop it from spiraling out of control. I look up, expecting to find him watching me with a triumphant look, but instead he’s watching the door with an unadulterated terror that almost mirrors my own.
“I need your answer now,” he snaps. “Your sister has been sending me letters, endless letters asking me to tell her what went wrong in our relationship.”
“A week,” I say quickly. “Give me a week.”
He hesitates. Footsteps reverberate up the wooden porch steps.
“A week,” I insist.
“Agreed,” he says. “Now, quick, point me to the back entrance. She cannot find me here. I have told her we are different people a thousand times.”
“A week without you coming to see me,” I clarify as we hear the jingle of keys in the lock.
“Fine!” he yells. “Where is the exit?”
I point to the room behind me. And then with a whoosh and the sound of a chair toppling in the dining room, he’s finally out of my house.
When Caroline bangs into the foyer, she’s clutching a twelve-pack of diet root beer. “Why is there a silver Hummer parked on the street?” she says excitedly, ripping the iPod buds out of her ears. “Seriously, what is wrong with you? You’re standing in the middle of the room like you’re cataclysmic or something.”
“I just woke up,” I say, but it sounds hollow even to me.
“Right, okay, whatever,” Caroline says, looking around the room. “Is Vlad here?”
The eagerness in her voice is only a hard-edged reminder of what I am dealing with, how hard it will be to keep everyone safe. “Why would Vlad be here?” I say as casually as I can.
“I thought maybe he had gotten my note and—”
“He’s not here, Caroline.”
“Oh,” she says, her hope visibly deflating. “Anyway, warning—Mom was out jogging this morning, and she swears that she saw a boy who looked like James Hallowell going next door. I tried to tell her she was crazy, but I’m pretty sure she suspects. If I were you, I’d pretend you don’t know anything.”
Joy bursts through the catatonia, and I grab Caroline by the shoulders. “James? James is next door?”
“Good. Act exactly like that!” she calls out behind me as I run out the back door and across the yard.
I bang on James’s back door, and then, when that fails to make it open, kick it at the same time. It’s no longer a knock, it’s a cacophony, and I keep it up until the door finally swings inward.
“What—,” James begins, but he stops when I hug him like someone they just let out of the asylum for hugging maniacs, but only because they were facing overcrowding.
“You’re alive,” I say into his neck.
“I think you’re strangling me.”
“You don’t breathe.”
“Good point.” After a moment’s hesitation, he wraps his arms around my back and slips his thumbs into the belt loops at my waist. It feels familiar and intimate and I like it. I allow myself a few moments to bask in this joy before I have to face the new situation with Vlad.
James pulls back and frowns. “What situation with—,” he starts to ask, but I punch him on the shoulder.
“Why didn’t you let me know that you were fine?”
“I threw rocks at your window as soon as we made it back.”
“We?” I ask just as I spot Violet in the room behind, dwarfed by an oversized T-shirt and gray sweatpants that are rolled up at the cuffs to expose their fuzzy underbelly. Her hair is still pulled back, but a few loose tendrils curl around her ears. A floral sheet is draped over the end of the banister.
“Marisabel’s here too,” James says quickly.
“And that makes this . . . better?”
His eyes widen. “No! I mean, Marisabel and Neville.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I probably should have said him first.”
“You didn’t tell me you were having a slumber party,” I say, but Violet bounces over before he can respond.
“Oh no, it is nothing as fun as that,” she says. “Vlad kicked us out and ruined the dress I made.”
“Vlad tried to kill us, Violet,” he says.
“Well, yes, that too. Come on—we are discussing our next step in the salon,” she says, grabbing my hand and dragging me behind her.
James has added a few things to the living room since I first peeked through the window that first day of school, most of which I’ve seen gracing the neighborhood curbs this past month: an orange-and-brown plaid couch that could only have come from the seventies, a small television that still has a VHS slot, and an uneven coffee table that’s only standing because there’s a thick copy of The Wall Street Journal beneath one leg. What do you know—a vampire really did steal my dad’s paper.
I take a seat beside a despondent-looking Marisabel. She’s alternating between staring into space and idly trying to pick out the tangles at her shoulders.
“What were we talking about?” James says, suddenly sounding very weary.
“I would like the largest room,” Marisabel says. “Violet claims that she should have it because there are purple curtains, but I saw it first.”
“You did not,” Violet says. “And I still do not see why you do not want the bedroom with the green paper, because it matches your eyes.”
They both look at James, who is rubbing his own eyes in frustration. “I told you both that I don’t care who has the master bedroom; you’re not going to be sleeping in it anyway. And this is just temporary until you find out where to go.”
Marisabel’s face crumples. “But I don’t have anywhere to go!”
Violet shoots him a dirty look before moving to pat Marisabel’s knee. “You can be very insensitive at times,” she tells James. “Do you know about this aspect of yourself?”
Before James can defend himself, Neville stands. He’s been sitting against the wall looking guilty, but now his face looks determined. “James may be insensitive, but he is right. Now is not the time for discussing bedroom arrangements. We barely managed to escape with our lives last night, and I for one do not believe that the danger has passed. He might very well be coming for us, and we need to be ready; we need to be prepared; we need to be at full streng. . . ” He trails off when he sees that I’ve raised my hand. “Yes? Sophie?”
“I don’t think you’re Vlad’s number-one concern,” I begin, but then catch sight of Marisabel’s face. Ever since we stopped talking about bedrooms, she’s done nothing but sniffle. The fact that Vlad has proposed to someone else a day after they ended a sixty-year relationship and tried to kill her might be the final stake to the heart. While Violet continues to pat her consolingly, I look at James and Neville. “Can we talk somewhere else?”
“We can go to my room,” James says, his face worried. “Just to be safe.”
As we wind past the dining room on our way upstairs, I notice that the wild floral wallpaper hasn’t changed—the last time I stood in that room was when we said adios to the Hallowells over chips and dip. Marcie made a heartfelt toast while I stood in a corner and tried to blend into the jungle of mauve flowers, hoping no one—especially James—noticed how miserable it was making me. But everything else is different. The hallways are eggshell blue instead of the old hunter green, and the stairs beneath my feet have been varnished to a different woody hue.
“Even my baseball wallpaper is gone,” James says when we’ve reached his room. I study the place where I spent hours trying to beat him at all of his video games. Back then the floor was always littered with sports cards and electronic wires, but now there’s nothing but
“Sophie, what happened?” James asks.
As I take a seat on the bed next to Neville, I search for words that will make it sound less insane, but then realize that they don’t exist. So I calmly explain the facts about the particularly demented way that Vlad has decided to proceed. The reactions are as expected.
“Ha-ha,” James says flatly. “No, seriously.”
“Seriously,” I say. “He shoved his way into my house this morning to backhandedly propose.”
“He thinks it will make him Mervaux,” I say and then look to where Neville has put his head in his hands. “Will it?”
“If you were who he thought you were, I suppose,” Neville says. “Oh, I should never have encouraged his delusions.”
I’m thinking that that may actually be the understatement of the year, when James clears his throat.
“Uh . . . did you tell him no?” he asks.
I give him the death look to end all death looks. “Yes, James, I told him no, but for some reason he wouldn’t accept ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ I finally got him to agree to give me a week to think things over, but who knows if he’ll stick to that.” I turn to Neville. “What exactly happens at a vampire marriage?”
“The usual. You exchange blood before witnesses who will testify to the courts that it was done properly.”
Right. Totally the usual.
“But he can’t marry you unless you are a vampire,” Neville says. “Human-vampire marriages are forbidden.”
This gives me a tiny smidgeon of hope. “Violet said that you cannot make someone a vampire unless they agree.”
“Ha! No one enforces that. Take me, for example. There I am, fresh from a wonderful performance as Oberon and feeling generous, so I agree to let the fan who has been sitting in the front row for the past ten shows back for a chat and an autograph. And what does she do? The crazy lady bites me. The next thing I know I’m staring up at her and she’s saying that she has given me a very special gift and that now I am something called Vandervelde and she will make sure that I am offered a spot in the Danae because she has very powerful connec—”
He stops when he sees my face, which I’m sure is leeched of all color now that he’s snipped the small thread of hope I was clinging to. He does his best to train his expression into something encouraging.
“But no, he is not supposed to, and I imagine he will not want to risk the Danae’s displeasure. They do like enforcing rules even if they themselves do not follow them,” he says before adding more brightly, “Worst-case scenario, he does make you a vampire, but you will still have to agree to marry him. Forced marriages have been held as unlawful in the vampire community for at least three decades.”
“You mean centuries,” James corrects.
“No, decades,” Neville says cheerfully and then gives me a thumbs-up.
Yet another compelling reason for my Why I Should Not Become a Vampire list. The giddiness that came from finding out that everyone was still alive is starting to fade, slowly replaced by a simmering panic. A week is not much time. I need a plan. I need a plan and a big laser gun that takes out any vampires who want to marry me.
“We’ll protect you,” James says firmly, and while I admit that for a moment my heart melts like a microwaved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, hiding behind vampire bunkers is only going to get me so far.
“There are five of us, and three of him if you include Ashley and Devon,” I say. “There has to be a way that we can get him out of our lives for good.”
At first no one says anything, and I wonder how I can be the only one who thinks Vlad has worn out his welcome on this planet.
“Before we can plan anything,” Neville says, “we need to deal with—” The gong of the doorbell interrupts him, and the room falls silent; it’s probably too much to hope that someone in this crowd ordered a pizza. One second Neville is sitting beside me, and the next he is at one of the small windows, leaning as far forward as it will allow. “I cannot tell from here,” he says, “but I find it hard to imagine that he would ring the doorbell before coming to kill us.”
I’m about to say that I wouldn’t be so sure, but footsteps are already thundering up the stairs. James and Neville flank the door on either side, alert and ready to strike. Whoever is on the other side knocks lightly.
“Are you in there?” Violet chirps. “There is a woman at the door with a very large container. She is asking if Sophie is here, and would like to speak to James as well.”
James looks at me questioningly.
“Um, yeah. Marcie knows you’re living here,” I say and then hold up my hands when he seems perturbed. “Sorry, but I kind of thought Vlad took precedence on the list of things to worry about.”
Before he can answer, Violet knocks again. “Hello? I have told her I would return with a decision on whether or not she is to be admitted.”
I’m sure that went over well. “We probably have a better chance of getting Vlad to leave town than getting Marcie to leave the door,” I tell them.
“Okay,” James says. “We’ll be down in a second.”
When we open the door, Marcie is doing her best to sweep fallen leaves off the porch with the side of her foot while holding a large foil tray of what I would guess is her famous baked ziti. As soon as she sees James she places it on the ledge and gives him a hug, rambling the whole time about how she knows he is a teenager now but she is going to do it anyway.
“I was so sorry to hear about your parents,” she says when she pulls away. “Are you all right? Do you need anything? Sophie should have told me that you were back.”
“I’m doing okay,” James says, a little dazzled. “Thank you for the cake. And the card.”
“Oh, you were always so polite,” she says, and then looks at me for the first time. “Unlike some children I know.”
So this is how she will wreak her vengeance; she will embarrass me to death. There’s no great excuse for why I wouldn’t have mentioned this to her, so I play the dumb teenager card. “Sorry,” I say. “I forgot.”
Marcie says nothing, just picks up the tray of ziti. “Can I put this in the kitchen?” she asks James, trying to peer around him.
“I’ll do it,” I say, eager to escape. After grasping the tray by its edges, I do my best to telegraph a message to James. If she steps foot in the house, we’ll be lucky if she thinks James is a vampire rather than a serial killer.
When I get to the kitchen, I flip the wall switch. Yellow light floods the room, exposing a grimy tile floor and a row of empty shelves to my left, their contact paper curling up at the edges. I set the ziti down next to a familiar maroon cake pan—Marcie’s previous offering—just as the refrigerator rattles to life. I stare at the metal handle, suddenly gripped by a perverse curiosity. After a few futile seconds, I give in, and then wish that I hadn’t. One dark red pouch sits by the meat tray, looking lonely and viscous.
“Marcie went back next door,” James says from behind me, and I whirl around to find him leaning against the entryway, watching me calmly. I slam the door shut, embarrassed to be caught rudely poking around in his refrigerator, but he just asks me if I want a drink. “I have water. Well, water and . . . I have water.” While I’m still struggling to overcome my shame, he moves to the cabinet and grabs a novelty mug that says, “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down.” After filling it, he hands it to me. “This was left here, by the way. It’s not a personal motto.”
I take a sip. The water has a metallic edge, and I’m pretty sure that’s dust I’m tasting on the rim, but I am nervous enough that I drink it anyway. “So how were you able to get rid of Marcie?”
“She spotted Neville and Marisabel on the stairs, and I told her we were busy working on a group project for school,” he says. “I don’t think she really bough
I can only imagine. I look around for a place to sit down, but there are no chairs, only a precarious-looking folding table set up in one corner. Crossing my fingers that it doesn’t collapse beneath me, I jump up and joke that maybe I could stay here.
He takes a seat beside me. “Why not?” he says. “Everyone else is. Just don’t say that you want the bedroom with the purple curtains.”
“I would definitely want the one with the bed,” I say and then realize how that sounds. I wonder if I will ever be able to flirt intentionally, as opposed to just accidentally.
“Really?” he says, a little too innocently.
I can do this—I can say something flirtatious and mean to. “Or maybe not. You were always horrible at sharing your things,” I tease, but then realize that was just an insult said with an eyebrow wiggle.
James leans in close enough that our arms touch and he smiles, slow and deliberate. “I’ve gotten better.”
I think all of my internal organs just evaporated. “Why do you have a bed if you don’t sleep?” I blurt. “It looks new.”
“Yeah, that’s not where I thought this conversation was going at all,” he says before settling back against the wall. “I ordered it. I mean, I sit on it. And sometimes if I close my eyes and lie still for a long time I can . . . blank out for a little bit. It feels like sleeping.” He rubs his eyes. “I guess I should get used to it.”
In the midst of all the fighting, and preparing, and fielding my stepmother, we haven’t had a chance to think about Vlad’s big party revelation. “Do you want to talk about it?” I ask.
“What’s there to talk about?” he asks bitterly. “I was stupid enough to believe Vlad, and then I was stupid enough to follow Vlad. It serves me right.”
“But that doesn’t mean—”
“It’s fine, Sophie,” he says in a way that suggests it’s not fine at all.