Home > Vampire Crush(16)

Vampire Crush(16)
Author: A.M. Robinson

"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 desole," 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'inquiete pas, Monsieur Calvin. J'ai laisse mon 'stash' a 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'inquiete pas, Sophie. J'ai trouve 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. James 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!"

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.

Oops.

"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.

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