Vampire Crush Page 12

"Okay," James cuts me off. "This isn't easy, you know? What you're going to hear isn't one of my best moments. After my parents died, it was . . . hard."

"Was it really a fire?" I ask, bracing myself for a story of how the fire was a cover-up, of midnight vampire attacks and bloody handprints smeared across white sheets. Instead he surprises me with a short laugh.

"Yep. Just one of those random tragedies everyone reads about in the newspaper and everyone forgets three days later. Except for the people it happens to."

It's hard to imagine that when I was cursing the day-to-day indignities of being a high school freshman, he was dealing with having his life suddenly ripped out from under him. Imagining James as a sudden orphan causes me to pull the afghan back up and wrap it, mummylike, around my shoulders. He's stopped talking again, but for once I don't poke or prod.

"Anyway," he continues so suddenly that I jump, "after my parents died, they had to figure out what to do with me. My grandparents had died long before I was born, and my parents didn't have any siblings. If they had left it up to me, I would have taken my chances on my own, but I was sixteen, and legally that meant I had to be placed in a foster home."

A foster home seems so . . . clinical. "Were the people nice?"

James shrugs. "I guess. They lived in an old renovated farmhouse with acres of fields around it. Susanna bred some form of German shepherd, and Ian spent most of his time with old tractor parts. An old country bus picked me up for school. When I went."

"When you went?"

"Yeah. I probably skipped half the time, but I passed. Barely," he snorts and then opens his eyes. "You know, when you're happy it's hard to imagine not caring about anything. But I didn't. Not myself, not my future, not anyone. Sometimes I imagined what it would have been like if we'd never moved, if we still lived next to you and your family, and if you and I still spent most of our days coming up with the perfect insults for each other. I'd stay up late at night, imagining conversations that could have happened on the way to school, in our backyards, over the phone . . . ," he says and then shoots me an embarrassed glance. "It was stupid - I had other friends, and you and I didn't even talk that much after sixth grade."

I don't know what to say. I feel like I should admit something personal as well - that when he kissed my cheek on the hammock I was just pretending to be asleep. That the day his family moved away I cried. Or, a little voice inside whispers, you could sit closer. That's a sure sign of emotional solidarity. That little voice is right, and from the way James is still looking at me, I'm going to have to come up with something a little more supportive than a few jokes. Trailing a clump of covers, I scoot to the edge of the bed and then slide to the floor. Now there's not as much space separating us, but even that measly six feet has taken on the proportions of a football field. Do I scoot over and loop my arm around his shoulders, or is leaning forward with a concerned expression, Oprah-like, okay?

I'm still wrestling with myself, eyeing the floor like it's Mount Everest and wondering how the whole vampire thing fits into the equation, when James's voice pipes up. "Comfortable now?" he asks with an off-kilter smile that says he knows exactly what stupidity I've been debating.

"The bed was too soft," I say in a rush, which makes him grin even more. The good news is that he's smiling again; apparently all I need to do to make him feel better is tap into my inner social moron. "I'm so sorry, James."

He shrugs again. "Not your fault."

"But that still doesn't explain where the fangs come in. My money's on a certain girlfriend from the wrong side of the afterlife."

His expression turns cagey. "Possibly."

"You mean there are several choices?" I ask, and then resist the urge to bang on my chest. Where did that shrillness come from? Clearing my throat to evict whatever jealous-girlfriend type has come in and changed the wallpaper, I strive for something calmer. "I mean, the only logical choice is Violet."

"I had other girlfriends, you know."

"I'm not saying that the only girl who would find you attractive is one with serious codependency issues. I'm saying that I've been English buddies with Violet this past week, and she's said a few things that are finally starting to make sense. And then there's the fact that she flipped in the lunchroom when she saw us talking."

"Okay, it was Violet."

"Did you lose a bet? Check the wrong box on a survey? Because she's kind of weird."

"Funny," he says. "So I told you how Susanna and Ian's farm was in the boonies, right? There were maybe three houses within a five-mile radius. Two of those were owned by old retired couples. The other one, the closest one, was deserted. Or so everyone thought."

"Dum dum dum."

"Yes, dum dum dum. Thank you."

"No prob."

"A few weeks after I moved in, I started taking walks. Sometimes I'd even go in the middle of the night, climbing out my window and down a tree like in the movies. One night I walked farther than I ever had before - anything to keep my mind off of reality - and I came across one of those rambling old country houses, complete with a wraparound front porch. For a second, just a second, I thought it was our old house. Or this house," he says, squinting up at the ceiling. "Honestly, other than its size, it was completely different. But it was enough to make me try the front door."

"Breaking and entering. Awesome," I say, happy when it makes him smile. I prefer it to the sadness, times infinity.

"The inside wasn't nearly as rundown as I expected," he continues, "and there was an old couch against the wall. Newspapers were everywhere. Old, yellow ones. And stacked up in the far corner was what I thought was a pile of sticks," he says.

The emphasis on "I thought" makes me a little queasy. I almost don't want to ask. Almost. "Let me guess. Not sticks?"

"No," he says flatly. "Not sticks. Animal bones and fur, from a lot of animals. More than could crawl inside for warmth and then die in the exact same place. I turned and ran for the door, but then there was Violet, standing with her arms twined around the pole of the porch and smiling. You know, I think I actually said hello. She looked like a doll, especially in one of those dresses."

"Anyone can look like a doll when their waist has been cinched to the size of a milk ring," I say peevishly and then feel foolish when James gives me a confused look.

"Anyway," he says, "Violet grabbed my arm and said that she was glad to meet me."

"And then she dragged you to the shed and bit you, right?" I ask, thinking that I'm being helpful by filling in the blanks. A+++ for me. I wait for a sign of affirmation, a mouth twitch, a blink, a head wiggle, anything, but nothing comes. "Right?" I repeat.

James suddenly finds his shoelaces fascinating.

"Are you kidding me? You mean it didn't happen that night? You mean you went back?"

"After my parents died I couldn't believe how normal everything was," he says before I can ask him how he could have been so stupid. "Even though I was in a different place with different people, it still felt the same. Susanna made dinner every night at the same time my mom did. She even used some of the same magazine recipes. Every morning I would wake up to the same dumb bird chirping, and every day I would put on the same clothes. And yet all it did was remind me how different everything was, how horrible. Nothing at Violet's was the same. Not her, not the life, and not the rest of them. It felt like getting lost in a movie or book. It was an escape."

"But didn't their extreme strangeness set off any warning bells?"

He gives me a withering stare. "Give me some credit. But vampires are supposed to be outside the realm of possibility, right? And besides, I didn't see you jumping up and down in the cafeteria crying monster."

"True. But I didn't see their animal-bone collection, either."

"Fair enough," he says. "The truth is I didn't care. It felt like a dream, and I acted like it was a dream. One night Violet asked me if I wanted it all to last forever. I said yes. She bit me, she told me to bite her, and by that time I was so out of it that I did. When I woke up I thought, hey, at least nothing will ever be the same." His head thunks against the desk. "It was the stupidest thing I've ever done. You can't kick me more than I've kicked myself."

"Couldn't you have just dyed your hair purple and called it a day?" I ask weakly. When I think about the loneliness and grief that drove him to do this, I am suddenly choked up. I slide halfway across the floor to be closer, to let him know that I appreciate his honesty. When I stop, he lifts an eyebrow.

"Really? That's the best sob story I've got. What does a guy have to say to make you move all the way?"

When I don't answer, he scoots forward, closing the distance himself and leaving me to stare dry-mouthed at the inch between our knees.

"Do you know that all the blood in your body just rushed to your cheeks?" he asks. "They're glowing."

My head jerks up. Without thinking, I clap my hands to the runaway body parts, which do feel a little bit warm.

"Whatever. It's too dark to tell that," I say with false bravado.

"Darkness doesn't matter. One of the few benefits of my new condition."


"I can see body warmth, pools of blood. And right now, your cheeks are two giant beacons." He points at my face like I might not know which cheeks he means.

"I flush easily," I say.

"Uh-huh," he says, clearly a nonbeliever. Now seems like the perfect time for another subject change.

"So what other superpowers do you have?" I ask. "And if you say X-ray vision I am going to shoot myself."

He doesn't respond. It's obvious that the question makes him uncomfortable - he sits up straighter and shifts his weight from side to side. Apparently I am going to have to play a guessing game. "If Vlad is any indication, I would say that you have powers of persuasion."

"To an extent," he says cautiously.

"And you're stronger?"


"And you have heightened senses."


"And you sparkle in the sunlight."

His lips make the "yuh" shape, but then he does a double take. "What?"

"You, uh, sparkle?" I try again. When his bafflement fails to disappear, I begin to ramble. "I mean, now that I think about it, I've seen you in the sun and there doesn't seem to be any glitter action. But aren't you not supposed to go in the sun?" Someone really needs to step in and universalize vampire lore, pronto.

He continues to look at me as though I like to eat grass in my spare time. "Sunlight doesn't kill us, but it makes us weaker. So does using any of our gifts," he says, and the sarcasm is thick on the last word. "The more we use them the more we need to . . ."

"Need to what?" I prod.

"The more we need to drink," he says.

My stomach lurches. While I knew that vampirism was a blood-sucking operation, this is James. James. He likes red licorice and banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches. I know this because he used to steal them out of my lunch box all the time and replace them with pieces of paper that said, "James: 1, Sophie: 0."

I turn to study him in the moonlight. He has gone back to studying his shoes, but I can tell that he is watching me from the corner of his eyes. My mind is tossing up images of him bending over the ivory columns of exposed necks and snatching up rabbits in the woods. In these images he is dressed in a cape with red lining and a tailed tuxedo, not the T-shirt and jeans he's wearing now.

Unconsciously, my fingers creep up to my neck. The puncture wounds have scabbed over into two bumps that are hard and curved like tiny turtle shells. Perhaps I should be more worried than I am.

"Yes," James says darkly. "I do drink blood. But never yours. Never anyone alive's really. Too dangerous. And . . . you know. Wrong."

His voice startles me - I hadn't thought that I said anything out loud. I look at him, confused.

"Er, right. We can sort of read thoughts when we're close to someone. Sometimes. Occasionally. We have to be touching you if we want to go very deep. But it goes hand in hand with the mind-wiping thing that we should talk about."

I know that I should be like, "Yes! Mind wiping! Please explain at length and in detail!" but right now I just feel like seeing if I can stuff myself beneath my bed for the rest of eternity. I frantically try to think back to the times we've been "close" in the last week. There was that first night in his backyard, and then today in the lunchroom, and then -

"Now," James fills in helpfully.

I scoot sideways faster than anyone has ever scooted before, and I don't stop until my back is against my bedroom door and there's at least twelve feet between us.

"Oh, come on," he says, "I haven't picked up on anything embarrassing. Although it's nice to know that someone thinks my arms are pretty." His mouth starts to twitch. "Well, mine and Danny Baumann's."

Dear God. Danny Baumann was something that I had meant to take to my grave, unless that fantasy played out where we met at a twentieth high school reunion   and he was blown away by my poise and reporting experience, and I got to spend a lifetime staring at him before we were buried side by side. Which would still mean taking him to my grave, actually. So yeah.

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