Vampire Crush, page 2
The seat happens to be next to Neal Garrett, who’s nice enough in an “I went to space camp this summer” way, but who brings his hamster to school at least once per year. The way he’s murmuring to the left pocket of his khakis right now makes me think that today is the day.
“Good morning, students,” Principal Morgan says from on high, and then sets to smoothing her hair as she waits for the microphone to cease whining. Satisfied her bun is scraped high enough to pull the edges of her eyebrows up demonically, she continues. “I’d like to welcome you to another year at Thomas Jefferson High and to remind you that it’s time to put away your summer brains and bring out your thinking caps.” She mimes putting on a hat. I hope that Neal’s hamster bites me and gives me a strain of rabies that will kill me quickly.
The rest is familiar stuff: our sports teams are great, good grades are great, cleavage is bad, short skirts should be burned immediately. By the time she gets to the evils of graphic tees, most of her audience has checked out, either staring blankly ahead or studying their crotches with great interest. I glance at the new kid to see how he’s taking it, expecting to find the same glassy-eyed condition that has infected everyone else around me, but instead he’s bravely sitting on the arm of an aisle seat and scribbling furiously in a small bound notebook. Every so often he looks up as though afraid he’s missed a stray word. One of the teachers tasked with policing the crowd approaches, face stern, and says something in his ear, but he just waves her away impatiently. The teacher tries again, and this time he turns to look at her directly. I can’t see what he says, but after a few seconds she backs off.
“So, in conclusion,” Principal Morgan drones on, causing my ears to perk up in the misguided hope that she’s reaching the end of her speech, “pointy shoes will no longer be allowed due to an unfortunate incident at the end of last year. I will determine what is pointy and what is not.” She clears her throat and shuffles a stack of note cards. “Now, please be aware that we have a bumper crop of new students this year, and I hope you will welcome them and help them learn our rules.” She moves on to the next card and announces that she will be recapping proper lunchroom decorum, but stops when something in the front row catches her eye. The new boy is taking large, purposeful strides up the staircase onto the stage.
The auditorium groans. Last year’s assembly ran over two hours because of a skit where a student pretended to need the principal’s help reading Thomas Jeff’s code of conduct. Some people get annoying pop songs stuck in their heads; I get dialogue from “The Code and You.” (“Gee, but is copying off Wikipedia really plagiarism, Principal Morgan?”) She’s obviously recruiting the new students early.
But Principal Morgan doesn’t seem to be in on the skit. “What are you doing? Go back to your seat this instant!” she snaps, clutching the head of the microphone, but the boy doesn’t stop until he reaches the podium. Ignoring the principal’s stuttering, he covers her death grip on the microphone and catches her gaze with a smile.
“May I have the floor?” he asks, the microphone picking up enough that the question echoes. There’s a precise quality to his speech that sharpens each word.
Principal Morgan sputters something about this being First Day Assembly, and the boy smiles encouragingly. Disconcerted, I look to Neal to see if he is registering the weirdness, but he is occupied with taming the wiggling bump in his lower pocket.
“Everything’s fine,” Principal Morgan says suddenly, and the few teachers who had pushed forward in anticipation of being backup retreat as she folds her hands in front of her and gives him the floor.
The boy’s lips quirk as he eases behind the microphone. “I’d like to introduce myself,” he says smoothly before another echoing rap of footsteps comes from the side stairs. His smile falters when he sees that a willowy girl has taken the stage and is now crossing to stand by his side. She is gorgeous in a dark, moody way, with thin black brows and long chestnut hair that breaks into a natural wave at her shoulders. If ever there were a girl meant to sit in a smoky café and tell you about the guinea pig that died tragically when she was four, it’s her.
The boy clears his throat. “Yes, well,” he begins, but then stops to glare at her when she tugs on his sleeve. His jaw tightens as he turns back to the microphone. “We’d like to introduce ourselves. My name is Vlad, and this is my . . .” He pauses and tilts his head to the side. “This is my stepsister, Marisabel. We hope that you’ll welcome us to your charming state of Michigan. I know some of us will become fast friends.”
Vlad and Marisabel—two of my interviewees. I confirm it with my list just as he winks at the front row, executes a stiff bow, and hops off the stage. Marisabel follows a few seconds later, looking suddenly glum. At first no one is sure how to react. There is a surge of whispers, a smattering of applause, and then, finally, a few admiring whoops. When he gets back to his seat, two guys in football jerseys lean over and pat him on the back like he’s just pulled off the ultimate prank. At first he seems affronted, but when he sees that they are smiling at him, he matches it with a sly grin.
“Well, yes. Okay. Thank you,” Principal Morgan says, her voice shaky as she moves back behind the podium. She clears her throat a few times as her hands flit around the microphone. “Assembly is dismissed,” she says finally. “No running in the halls.”
“That was weird,” Neal remarks from beside me, his hand on the pocket of his khakis to calm the creature that is now visibly doing a wiggle dance, most likely agitated by the din of five hundred student bodies barreling toward the cafeteria.
“I think he broke her,” I say, my eyes still on Principal Morgan. Teachers have surrounded her in a protective circle. She’s shaking her head and waving them away, and while I can’t tell what she’s saying, she still looks a little vacant.
“That’s not a totally bad thing,” Neal muses. “Maybe we’re due for a kinder, gentler regime at Thomas Jeff. Pointy shoes for all!”
“Maybe,” I say and start to ask him what he thought of Vlad’s performance when I see a pink nose emerge from beneath a khaki flap. “Your, um, friend is escaping.”
“Oh crap, he’s hungry. Check ya later,” Neal says, and scoots out the back auditorium doors in an awkward run.
Figuring out where to sit for lunch is always a tricky process. Sometimes I sit with Lindsay, but most of the time she’s saving the whales or forests or last season’s winter coats. Caroline will always make room for me, but only on the condition that I don’t speak to anyone. She doesn’t like it when I ask her friends questions like “Don’t you think wearing a shirt that says ‘I Brake for Boys’ is laying it on a little thick?” and follow it up with “I think it’s generally illegal not to.” Most of the time, I end up picking a quiet corner to read or work on upcoming articles.
But after the assembly weirdness, insider access is too good to pass up. I make my way to the sea of school colors that signifies Caroline’s table, where she immediately scoots over to make room for me. Her eyes are glued across the middle aisle, where Vlad, Marisabel, and a few other students I don’t recognize huddle around one of the central tables. Is this new-kid solidarity, or do they all know one another? Before I can mention it, Caroline demands my attention.
“Oh. My. God. Sophie, he winked at me! I mean it was at me, right?” Caroline looks around the table with an appraising eye. “Yeah. It was totally me. It was, like, so electric. I’ve never felt anything like it before in my life, not even when Tommy gave me his jersey after the homecoming game.”
“I imagine that felt sweaty.”
“You know what I mean. Amanda, tell her.”
I look at Caroline’s three best friends, sitting in a row across the table. They all look like the same person with different haircuts.
“Oh yeah, electric,” the middle one says, bobbing her head until her dangly earrings swing in agreement.
That adds nothing, Amanda. Before I can ask for clarification, or even decide if I want clarification, Caroline grabs m
Vlad is making his way across the cafeteria. He moves silently and with an easy grace, an achievement when you take into account the cheap tile that makes everyone in sneakers sound like farting mice. When he stops at the end of our table, his handsomeness is more apparent, even if my discount view only gives me a direct shot of nicely defined nostrils. Reaching across my chest, he picks up Caroline’s hand.
“May I have your name?” he says, bending over and kissing a knuckle.
Caroline’s close to hyperventilating, but she manages to croak it out.
“A lovely name for a lovely girl,” he says, politely ignoring the fact that his “lovely girl” is acting lobotomized. “I wonder if you would do me the honor of showing me around your school.”
The lines are corny and dated, like excerpts from the failed script of Pride & Prejudice: The High School Years, but that doesn’t seem to bother Caroline.
“Yes,” she blurts. “I would be delighted to chauffeur you around.”
My sister has a tendency to lose her powers of vocabulary when nervous. I’m guessing she was going for “escort,” but the rest of it’s strangely formal, too, even for someone who’s not her.
“Wonderful,” Vlad says, and then probably follows it with something else ridiculous (“Your hair is like sunlight in space” or “Let’s greet the dawn with kisses”), but I’m distracted by a loud huff, followed by a smacking sound and the swing of a lunchroom door. I sneak a peek at Vlad’s table. Marisabel has disappeared. Either she thought too hard about the “Surprise!” part of “Lunchmeat Surprise!” or she does not approve of Vlad wooing Caroline.
I want to ask Vlad about his stepsister, but the bell rings, sadly bringing an end to our twitterpated weirdfest. After another strange little bow, Vlad strides back to his table, and I realize that this is probably as good a time as any to talk to him about getting that interview, which I have to admit is looking more interesting. After grabbing my stuff, I dump my tray and approach, annoyed to find that he’s already in the middle of a group conversation with two beefy, athletic-looking guys and a boy with coppery hair who can’t seem to decide whether or not to put his hands in his pockets. I slip into a seat at a nearby table and pretend to be searching for a worksheet as I wait for an opportunity to jump in.
“They already like me, Neville,” Vlad says. “Did you see how many of them congratulated me afterward? Look, this is called a ‘fist bump.’ It is more accepted now than a handshake.”
Neville—or, as I like to call him, “Interview Subject Three”—ignores Vlad’s proffered fist. “I still think that it is unnecessary attention,” he says and then pulls a crumpled schedule out of his khaki pocket. “What do you think one studies in ‘Basic Skills’? I do not think I will attend that.”
“You must go to everything,” Vlad snaps. “Everyone goes to everything.”
For a moment Neville looks as though he might protest, but then thinks better of it. “Very well,” he says, looking around the cafeteria. “Where is—”
“I do not know. I will deal with him later. Go to class.”
Neville’s mouth tightens, but he complies, and I’m a little disappointed that I won’t get the chance to knock two interviews off at once. After he’s disappeared through the cafeteria doors, Vlad turns to the two quarterbackesque boys with a look that suggests he finds Neville’s attitude unbelievable. They say nothing, just respond with matching smiles. Except for a chin dimple and their hair color—one black, one a dirty blond—they’re almost identical.
This is officially the creepiest clique ever. Not only do the new kids all seem to know one another, they—
No, I tell myself. No. According to Mr. Amado, my job is not to suspect, just to interview. Before Vlad has a chance to turn and talk to the other two guys, I walk up and tap his shoulder. He whips around, the suave grace from before replaced by a wary alertness. When his eyes flick down to meet mine, I notice that they are a dark gray.
“Hey! I’m Sophie,” I say, holding out my hand, but he stares at it like I’ve just hauled my pet fish out of my pocket and suggested he touch it. When it becomes clear that he’s not going to shake it, I let it go limp at my side. “Okay. Anyway, I work on our school paper, and we like to do features on all of the new students. You know, the traditional stuff: where you’re from, favorite bands, what dead person you’d like to have dinner with . . .”
He snorts at this last one. God, this is embarrassing.
“. . . that sort of stuff. I know it sounds boring, but if you want to pick a time, we can get it over with.”
I wait. For the first time since I started this appalling introduction, he looks at me, really looks at me, from the crown of my head to the tips of my sneakers before meeting my eyes.
“No, I think not,” he says politely, and gives me a cool smile before turning his back and walking toward the exit. The two giants lumber after him wordlessly.
“I’m Caroline’s sister!” I call out, and then make a mental note to punch myself in the face for making the humiliation worse. But it doesn’t matter; the swinging door marks this conversation as over.
My next class is around the corner, so I allow myself a few moments of post-snubbing indignation before heading for the classroom. As I’m walking to the door I give my ego a reassuring pat by telling it that I don’t have to see him again. And I don’t, at least not until two seconds later, when he’s sitting in the front row of my English class with his long legs extended. I steel myself for a smirk, an arrogant chuckle, or some sort of recognition, but he’s leaning back in his chair, alternating between absently studying his fingernails and writing in the small black journal I first saw in the auditorium. (My guess? “Today I was a total douche for no reason. The End.”)
Even though I’m one of the last ones in, there’s still an empty spot in the back row. It doesn’t take long to figure out why. A wave of floral perfume hits me like a truck before I’m even halfway there. It’s coming from the diminutive blond girl I saw leaving the cafeteria earlier, who is now sitting primly in the corner seat like the poster child for perfect posture. Of all the newbies, she wins the award for strangest outfit, having chosen a lavender floor-length skirt with a flouncing layer of gossamer ruffles and a fitted velvet jacket.
I check my chart. Good morning, Violet Martin. After Ms. Walpole passes out our semester syllabus, I make a bid for her attention. “Psst, Violet.”
She continues to stare ahead, idly twisting one of her blond curls. I wait until Ms. Walpole turns to write the five steps to a good thesis statement on the board and then tap Violet’s shoulder.
“Yes?” Violet says, her voice strange and airy. First-day lectures are never anything to make you stand on your desk and thump your chest, but she’s achieved a new level of spaced out.
“My name is Sophie,” I whisper to her cheek, “and I’m doing profiles of all the new students for the school paper. If you have a second after class maybe I could ask you a few questions?” I notice that her boots have hundreds of little black buttons and an intricate tangle of laces. “I know I’m eager to hear your fashion philosophy.”
I get no response, unless you count how she fiddles with her hair and the locket around her neck. I try another tactic. “So . . . is that locket from your boyfriend?”
“No, it’s not,” she hisses, and then collapses into a few dainty sniffles before pulling a lace handkerchief from her bodice to dab at nonexistent tears. A few people in front of me turn around to glare, worried that the noise will get them in trouble. I am about to tell them to mind their own business when Violet’s fingers clamp around my wrist.
“Can I ask you a question?” Violet asks, finally looking at me as she jerks me toward her and starts rambling in a breathy rush. “Let us say that you liked this boy. You liked him so much that you didn’t care that your family and friends said that it would end badly. You think he admires you as well, so you
I look up from studying the little pink crescents that her nails have left tattooed on my arm. “No, that would probably freak him out.”
“Then what should I do? What should I do?”
“Um, here.” I hastily pick up the wilting copy of Seventeen that someone left under my chair. Pointing to a headline on the cover, I say, “Look! ‘How to Tell if Your Crush Likes You.’”
She grabs it out of my hands and flips through it wildly, mouthing the words as she reads.
“Yes, this may work,” she mutters after a few seconds. “‘Drool-worthy’? How repulsive. I may need some assistance with the language. Will you give me your address?” She lowers the magazine and looks at me expectantly.
“What about my cell number?”
“No. Address, please.”
I’m torn—giving it to her might mean I end up with half of a “BFF” necklace and my fingers superglued into a pinkie swear. Neal, who has the desk in front of her, takes advantage of my hesitation and turns around.
“You can have my address,” he says, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that is more Charlie Chaplin than leering creep, especially when you take into account that the back of his sandy hair is threatening to cowlick.
“Pardon me?” Violet says.
“I am not entirely sure that would be proper.”
“Neal, stop it,” I hiss, scared that I’m going to lose all of my previous progress if we continue down this road.