Vampire Crush Page 11

Suddenly Caroline's head twists to the side. ". . . And then he said, 'I fear you are not who I am looking for, Caroline,'" she says in a startlingly good imitation that's unfortunately ruined by the half sob, half hiccup at the end. "What does that even mean? Who knows what they're looking for at seventeen?"

"I know, dear. That's what I told you earlier," Marcie soothes, moving a strand of tangled blond hair away from her daughter's eyes. Once her vision is cleared, Caroline spots me in front of her.

"So I guess you heard," she sniffles from Marcie's lap. "Vlad broke up with me at the end of school today. Everyone heard. Even Ms. Kate." This last bit sets off a new wave of tears.

"I know. I'm sorry, Caroline." I perch on the sliver of bed not covered by something fuzzy. "You have to believe me when I say that you are better off."

At first she doesn't respond, and I'm afraid that I've said the wrong thing. I didn't think it was an "I told you so," but occasionally some know-it-all creeps in without my permission.

"Yeah," she finally says. "You were right. He's a jerk. Also . . . ," she starts, but then cranes her head to look up at Marcie. "Mom, cover your ears."

Marcie dutifully brings her hands up, obviously in a mood to humor her distraught daughter. But over her head, to me, she mouths, "Tell me if it's drugs."

"Also," Caroline continues, satisfied that Marcie's hands are soundproof, "he was not a great kisser. He bit my lip. And he really wanted me to take off my shirt."

It's nice to know that the breakup hasn't affected Caroline's desire to TMI, even when in front of parents. It used to embarrass me, but now I sort of admire it. And if Vlad's bizarre question to Lindsay in the woods is any indication, it only adds to the evidence suggesting that Vlad thinks this girl he's looking for has some sort of mark on her body. But what? A mole? A big bull's eye? A tattoo that says, "I am dying to be a vampire groupie"? Definitely number one on my "Things to Find Out" list. Well, maybe number two, after "Figure out what exactly 'mind-wiping' entails."

I start to make my exit. "Caroline, you know where I am if you want to talk," I say and give her shoulder a squeeze. She throws her arms around my neck in an enthusiastic, snotty hug that squishes my arms to my chest before pulling back abruptly.

"Why are you wearing a scarf?" she asks, curiosity overcoming self-pity. I had wrapped an old black scarf I found in the backseat around my neck to hide the puncture wounds. Trust Caroline to sniff out a fashion faux pas in the midst of an emotional breakdown.

"I think I'm getting a cold," I say.

"Well, it doesn't match your outfit," she says, starting to tear up again. "That really goes more with a peacoat."

To make it up to her, I sit through a few more rounds of Vlad-bashing. When I'm finally able to escape to my room, I head to the floor-length mirror and de-scarf my neck. The skin is smeared with blood, and while I can still see the deep impression of two tiny holes, they seem to have stopped bleeding. That's . . . something.

After erasing as much vampire action from my neck as possible, I search for the happiest pajamas that I can find, finally settling on a pair from three Christmases ago that is dotted with smiley, spouting whales. The shirt is a little too tight across the chest and I have a feeling that an impulsive squat might spell sayonara for the bottoms, but they are comfy and worn in all the right places.

I start to slide under the covers, but the thought of trying to sleep with, well, things lurking outside seems silly, if not dangerous. Instead, I curl up in my desk chair to keep watch, noting with surprise that it has started to rain. Raindrops distort my view of outside, fracturing the light from the nearby street lamps and blurring everything outside. The one thing I can see clearly is the window across the way. James's window.

"We'll talk," he said. Twice.

Suddenly the room feels stuffy, claustrophobic. I open the window to let in a gust of chilled air, sending whatever raindrops that were still clinging to the glass scurrying to the bottom of the pane. The silver rivers they leave in their wake slice my view of James's house down the middle, and it is a relief. Now I can't see anything.

Chapter Nine

Eventually, I crawl into bed, but I don't sleep well. My dreams resemble a flickering black-and-white horror movie. I'm in a cave swatting bats out of my hair, then fending off spiders with a can of spray paint. Finally, I end up on a windswept moor with a silver and gray wolf. He asks me to dance. I refuse. He retaliates by chewing on my toes.

My eyes snap open. It would be nice if my brain could take this seriously.

The temperature dropped in the night, and while the rain is lighter now, it's still heavy enough to drum against the attic roof. Wrapping myself in a faded afghan, I climb out of bed and shiver my way across the cold hardwood to the open window. Sliding behind my desk chair, I grasp the splintered frame and push down.

Suddenly, a hand snakes up from the darkness, and I jump back just as four fingers clamp over the sill. Stumbling over my desk chair, I crash to the floor, feet caught up in the netting of my afghan. I claw frantically at the mess around my legs as the hand becomes an arm and then a head and then a torso. A body vaults into view, filling the frame, blocking the outside light.

I have two options. Run downstairs with a rabid vampire in hot pursuit or lurch forward, close the window, and pray that the mixture of screen and glass is resistant to fists. So far the intruder isn't even scratching at the screen. For an assassin, he's taking his time, and closing the window might buy me more. Muttering "Close and lock, close and lock" like a mantra, I spring up and rush forward, hitting the window and pushing down with all my might until I hear a satisfying snick.

My attack brings more than I bargained for. Startled by my sudden appearance, the intruder loses his grip on one of the frame's sides. He swings backward like a saloon door, one hand clutching the upper eave of the window, one foot balanced on the outside cement ledge, and all other limbs dangling in space. The full glow of the streetlight floods his face, and I find myself staring into James's face - James's very annoyed, very angry face.

For one crazy, hurtling second I heave a sigh of relief; if forced to choose, he is the better option. But then again, I would also rather drown than be eaten by snakes.

Before I can figure out the next course of action, James begins to move, and move strangely. He swings his body back to and fro until he has enough momentum to bring his other foot back on the sill. Steady once again, he crouches in front of me, a particularly nimble gargoyle. So much for getting the upper hand.

"Let me in," he says, the glass muffling his voice.

He's soaking wet. His green shirt is plastered to his shoulders like a second skin, and beads of water race down his nose. I feel a twinge of sympathy, but then tell myself to snap out of it. Twinges of sympathy are better than being turned into an amnesia zombie.

"I don't care to be mind-wiped, thank you," I say through the glass. Little clouds of steam appear and vanish between each word.

"I'm not going to mind-wipe you!" he says. "I just want to explain."

My eyes take in his frown, his narrowed eyes. "Don't take this the wrong way," I say, "but you seem a little angry. Why should I believe you?"

"Because I am telling you that I won't." I must still look skeptical, because he brings his palm up to the window, pushing down so hard that I can see the small traces of his heart line. "I swear."

I check his eyes and body language for signs of deviousness, but there are none. I bite my lip, torn. This is the moment, I think. This is the moment where you can make a very smart choice or a very stupid choice.

"Sophie," he pleads again when he sees me wavering. "You've known me my entire life. You have to trust me. I'm still . . . just, please."

Memories of the last week's conversations flicker through my mind. It had all felt so normal, just like Old James and Old Sophie. Before I can think about it any more, I open the window halfway.

I am going to make the stupid choice.

"Listen," I say and then lean over to make sure that there's no glass preventing him from hearing me clearly. "You can come in - but make any sudden movements and I swear I will run downstairs for the garlic. Marcie buys it in bulk. Already chopped, too, if that means anything."

His face breaks into a smile that would be more appropriate on the face of a lottery winner than someone I just threatened with prepackaged foodstuffs. He yanks up the screen without the slightest hesitation. If he'd wanted to bust in without asking, that barrier would have bought me a whole .42 seconds - a grim thought. His hands reach for the window next, but I bang on the glass until he lets go.

"I want a verbal commitment."

He dutifully parrots that he will under no circumstances fiddle with my mind. He caps it off with a Boy Scout salute.

"The salute was a bit much," I say, pushing the window the rest of the way up. I sweep my hand back in a welcoming gesture. "James, you may come inside."

"Aw shucks, Sophie, that's swell. I sure do hope my manners are as nice as yours one day." He ducks through the window and closes it behind him.

"I thought I had to invite you in."

"Not really, no," he corrects before stooping over to shake out his wet hair.

I dodge to the side to avoid an inadvertent shower. "I'm pretty sure that - "

"You don't." He stands up straight, surveying me as though he's suddenly seeing me in a new, geeky light. "How many vampire movies have you watched?"

More than a few, if I'm being honest. In retrospect, I should have cried vampire that first day in the auditorium, but we'll chalk that misfire up to general sanity. "Not that many," I mutter. "And there's a pretty big consensus on the invite thing, I'll have you know."

"Well, the consensus is wrong. And besides, if you thought I needed an invite to get in, why did you freak out at the window?"

It's a valid point, but not one that I feel like acknowledging. "I didn't freak out. I just thought you were the neighborhood pervert. He likes me. A lot," I say as he starts to smile. "What?"

"Did you wear the cape just for me?"


He points to my shoulders. "The cape."

I look down. At some point in my terror I had seen fit to tie the afghan around my shoulders. Oh my God.

"It's just something I wear sometimes," I shrug, untying the knot at my throat in what I hope is an offhand manner. Self-conscious, I cross the room to sit on the bed cross-legged, tucking my feet beneath my knees until not even the pink of a pinkie toe is visible.

"You don't have to sit all the way over there," he says, raising an eyebrow in the way that always made me jealous back when I aspired to be an arch villain. "I don't bite."

Considering earlier events, it's a gutsy joke. "How long have you been waiting to say that?"

"Since I moved home," he says, taking a seat by the leg of my desk.


We lapse into silence. I lean my head back against the wall, keeping watch on him from the corner of my eye. He's brought his knees up closer to his chest, and his hands rest calmly on top of them, patient and relaxed.

"You know, you don't get a free pass here. If you want me to really trust you, you have to tell me everything. You have to answer all of my questions, no matter how stupid or invasive they are."

"Okay," he says without hesitation.

"I mean it," I say, looking at him directly. "No evasion."


"Fine, then," I say archly. "What did you do with the flip-flop you stole in third grade? I never found it in your yard."

He doesn't miss a beat. "I dug a hole and buried it by the swing set."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah. With my hands," he adds. "The neighbor's dog watched me the entire time. I had to wash under my nails for weeks to get the dirt out."

"Okay. How did you become a vampire?"

He blinks a few times. "You go from zero to sixty, don't you?"

"It's the best way to get honest answers," I say. "Why? Backing out?"

"No. But I wonder if you'll answer a question for me first."

If it has anything to do with my blood type, I'm going to kick myself. "What?" I ask, suspicious.

"What bothers you more?" he asks, leaning forward. "The fact that I'm a vampire or the fact that you have me here, sitting in your bedroom, after midnight? Because I actually think it's the second one."

He flashes a toothy smile. In any other time, under any other circumstances, I would almost think that he was . . .

"Are you flirting with me?" I ask, stunned. "Now?"

I think I see a flicker of disappointment wash across his features, but it could just be a shadow. "Please," he says coolly. "I was just curious. And besides, I thought the whole vampire thing was supposed to be sexy. I just wanted to make sure you weren't going to start giggling and twirling your hair."

"I think you're safe. One, vampires lose a little something when one of them tries to snack on your neck, and two, I'm still not sure what you're doing back. So spill," I order, frowning when all that follows is a few seconds of awkward silence. "I'll get you started. Once upon a time, I met someone with really pointy teeth, and they said - "

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