Vampire Crush Page 14

I wonder why he was so reluctant to tell me, but I'm glad that he did. "Thanks," I say. "We don't have much to work with, but if Vlad's working with the same amount of cluelessness I think we'll be okay."

"Be okay for what?"

"For beating Vlad to the punch. For finding the girl, warning her about whatever he's going to do with her." I stand up, my legs tingling after all this time on the floor. After nudging James's legs to the side with the tip of a toe, I grab my sophomore yearbook from the bottom drawer of my desk. "Vlad has rejected Caroline, so we only have three hundred more high school girls to go. You know, maybe Vlad knows something he's not sharing about finding her among the popular girls. He did home in on Caroline very quickly," I say, and then I realize that I've been chattering on without asking for advice from the person with insight into the vampire in question. "What do you think?"

James is silent. I turn to find him staring at me with a look that contains such a mix of guilt and shame that I can't help but ask him what's wrong.

"What if we let Vlad find her?" he suggests softly.

"I don't understand."

He doesn't respond, just continues to look at me, and suddenly I get it. "You think her blood might turn you back," I say in disbelief.

"It's just one girl," he says, but I detect a note of uncertainty that suggests he's been trying to talk himself into this way of thinking for a long time. "We don't even know what they'll do with her."

"I think we can assume that it's not give her a free shopping spree to the mall! I would say that anything Vlad is wrapped up in is probably hazardous to her health. And you know that," I say, "or you wouldn't be sitting on the sidelines. You don't want to be a part of finding her, but you're fine with reaping the benefits if it does happen."

And then James is standing, only I don't see him stand. One second he is looking up at me from my chair and the next he is across the room, staring at me angrily.

"Since when do you even care about your classmates, Sophie?" he says. "Today I saw you sell out the only friend you seem to have. And for what? A stupid journalism project?"

"Hey," I say. "I feel really bad about that. And in a non-psycho universe, it wouldn't have led to her ending up in the woods with a pack of hungry vampires."

"But it did."

"Fine. I'll haul myself up on the stage and let people throw stones at me on Monday." I lower my voice, hoping to go down a path that's more persuasive than accusatory. "But you know there's danger and you're letting someone stay in its path. In fact, you're hoping that the danger catches them."

"So what do you want me to do? Just stay like this?"

I wait for the echoes of his question to die away. "You chose it," I say, wincing at how harsh it sounds.

"It was a mistake! And, okay, I watched a lot of Psychic Network back when I couldn't sleep after my parents died, but maybe there's a reason that Vlad thinks he's going to find her here. Maybe it's a chance to start over. Maybe - "

"Are you listening to yourself?" I ask, and then try to be more diplomatic. "I'm sorry that you are upset, but your mistake isn't something someone else should have to pay for."

"You can stop," he bites out. "I get it."

The curt reply gives me pause. After a few moments of tense silence, I say, "So you'll help?"

"Help you get in Vlad's way? No."

"Then I guess you should go," I tell him, trying to make my voice firm where my resolve is not.

This time he doesn't protest. He looks out the window, and at this moment, I would give anything to have his mind-reading powers. But since I don't, I cross the room, open my bedroom door, and peer down the short hallway to the stairs.

"You'll want to be extra quiet by my parents' room - Marcie's a light sleeper," I say. "But once you reach Caroline's, you're good. She could sleep through a monster truck rally," I whisper, but when I turn back to check that he's heard, the room is empty and the window is open. James is gone.

Chapter Ten

Saturday morning breakfast is a dismal affair; Caroline is still sniffling over Vlad and complaining that her pancakes are bubbly, I hardly slept for thinking about my conversation with James, and my father is upset that he can't find this morning's paper.

"I don't know who took it," Marcie said.

"Vampires," I mutter as I smoosh a piece of pancake deeper into the syrup. From here on out, that's my go-to theory for everything. Marcie gives me a strange look before announcing that she has good news.

"You found it?" my father asks.

"No, Fred," she says patiently, "I did not find it while sitting stationary in my chair. I was talking about how we have new neighbors!"

I drop my fork. "What? No we don't."

"Yes, we do," she insists.

"Who are they?" my father asks, having resigned himself to eating his breakfast sans paper.

"Well, I don't know that part yet," Marcie admits. "No one answers when I knock. But I left a cake and a card on the porch last night, and this morning when I was jogging I noticed that it was gone."

I can't believe James was duped by a cake, especially since he can't even eat it. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised - there are a lot of things I can't believe about James as of late. Still, that doesn't mean I should sic Marcie on him and let her get caught up in this too.

"That could mean anything. Maybe raccoons took it," I suggest and then want to do a forehead smack. Discovering vampires has really thrown a wrench in my concept of reality if my first theory is cake-stealing raccoons.

"The dish was gone."

"Or thieves?" I try again. "Dad's paper is missing too," I say, grateful for my father's commiserating nod. Marcie doesn't say anything else, but she's still emanating a faint glow that I recognize all too well as investigative pride. It's only a matter of time before she lays another booby-casserole.

After breakfast I try to call Lindsay's cell, but there's no answer. I try again after lunch, and three more times after eating dinner. Finally, on Sunday morning I call her house. Her younger brother picks up. He sounds about nine.

"Can I speak with Lindsay?" I ask, and then listen to his thunderous footsteps as he runs to find her. He returns a few seconds later, breathless.

"She says to tell you that she doesn't want to talk to you. Not now, not ever. That is a quote."

Even though it's what I expected, I'm still disappointed. "But she's okay?" I ask. "No one's visited the house?"

"Robert came over."

"But no one else?" I prod.

"Um . . . no?" he says, starting to sound a little nervous. "I have to go now. I'm not really supposed to answer the phone."

"Wait! Can you tell her I'm - "

He hangs up. Defeated, I return to my desk, where I've been staring at a blank page for the last three hours. It's difficult to write perky, upbeat articles about the new students when you keep wanting to end sentences about their hobbies with "P.S. He's a vampire." Even though the profiles are light-years away from what they should be, I finally give up and print them out, thinking how funny it is that a week ago I would have been up until three A.M. debating whether to use "of" or "for." But now I need to make sure that what almost happened in the woods on Friday never has a chance to happen again.

Pulling out my yearbook, I set to circling possibilities. Considering how quickly Vlad targeted Caroline, I decide to start with girls who are similar to her - in other words, popular upperclassmen who have lived here their entire lives. When I've got a list of about twenty, I plot how best to find out if they have any starry birthmarks. Most of them seem to be involved in either cheerleading or athletics, which is promising, but lurking next to the locker rooms without a reason will not win me any awards for subtlety. I need a cover.

Idly, I flip through the team photos in the hopes that it might inspire me. A tiny "? Mark Echolls" can be found beneath the majority of them, and Mark himself even pops up in a few, his bespectacled face shining. I suspect this is less from endorphins and more because he's surrounded by fourteen tall, vibrant-looking girls. A senior now, Mark has been covering girls' sports since I started. Mr. Amado tried to take him off of it once, and he almost cried.

But this is a matter of life and death - if I can convince Mr. Amado to let us switch up the assignments, writing up the sports articles would be a perfect reason to be in the gym. Not to mention that it would show a lot of organizational initiative and "thinking big," something that puts Mr. Amado over the moon. He still raves about how last year's editor in chief took it upon herself to restructure the way we route articles for copyediting. This could be my way of staying in the game. Two goals, one stone. Bingo.

I am on a roll. Now all I need to figure out is exactly what the Danae will want to do with this girl once they find her. Much as I hate to admit it, I think I've burned the few vampire bridges that I had. Violet's unlikely to talk to me ever again, and James . . .

My eyes wander to his window, which is dark as usual. What does he do over there all day, anyway? Knit with the blind? I yank the shade down so hard that it bangs against the window. I need to focus. Why is it when you need a few prophetic dreams or a creepy librarian with a book called Vampyre, they're nowhere to be found? Instead I've got a tattoo, a name, and sixteen years of conflicting pop culture, which is no help at all . . . or is it? James seems to be a walking grab bag of popular vampire mythology. Since I don't have any better options, I brainstorm what else pop culture has taught me about vampires.

? Vampires could really use a sharp push out of the nineteenth century.? Half-breed vampires often find themselves compelled to fight crime.? Someone should study the correlation between broodiness and vampirism.? Vampires love cliques, they just call them covens.? No one ever expects a vampire baby.As I write the last one, something niggles at the back of my mind. My sophomore-year English class was taught by a woman with horrible time management skills, which meant we spent approximately twelve weeks of the first semester on Greek mythology and two weeks on the entire works of Shakespeare. I Google "Danae" and am rewarded with confirmation that in Greek mythology, Danae was the mother of Perseus, one bona fide miracle baby. It's not a lot, but at least it's one working theory. And hey - Vlad may have the strength, the knowledge, and the high levels of insanity, but I have Wikipedia.

The next morning I oversleep, ruining any chances I might have had of hitting Mr. Amado with my proposition before the bell. By the time I make it to Mr. Baer's pre-calculus class, he's already so lost in Mathmagic Land that he barely turns to take my permission slip. Afraid that he might mistake my proximity as a desire to answer a problem, I scuttle to my seat in the back just in time to continue a worksheet conga line. After selecting one for myself, I hold it over my shoulder for the last guy to take. Nothing. I shake them. Still nothing. Intending to give the delinquent paper-taker behind me a lecture, I turn around only to come face-to-face with James's smug smile.

"Nice of you to show up," he mouths.

I drop the stack of papers on his desk, pleased to hear a soft curse and the rustle of frantic gathering behind me. After a few moments, he taps my shoulder.

"What are you even doing in here?" I ask over my shoulder, disturbed by how happy I was to see him in the split second before I remembered his end goal. "This is a junior class. 'Special' or not, you're a senior."

The squeak of his chair warns me that he's moving closer, but I still don't expect his low voice whispering in my ear. "The power of persuasion occasionally has its perks," he says. "I have your whole schedule. So what do you think we'll be doing in art class?"

More fun with pinecones, probably, which serves him right. "So this is your plan?" I ask, twisting around. "Stalk me until I find her and then pounce?"

James looks annoyed. "I'm here because I told Vlad I would be," he says, leaning forward. "Remember?"

A flash of guilt clouds the anger. I do remember - no matter how annoying he's being, he did stop Vlad from killing us in the woods.

"And have you ever thought that I might want to keep an eye on you as you try to smash Vlad's hopes and dreams?" he continues. "You know, for protection?"

"That was a one-time thing," I insist.

"Sure it was."

The skepticism in his voice makes my blood begin to boil. "Okay, Saint James, are you still planning on making an after-dinner drink out of whoever we find?" I ask, and when he doesn't answer, add a prim, "That's what I thought," before turning to fake attention in the equations Mr. Baer is scribbling on the board. The chair behind me squeaks again.

"Have it your way," he whispers in my ear, "but just so you know, don't expect to go anywhere without me following until this is settled."

Oh, really. I raise my hand, and keep it raised until I catch Mr. Baer's attention in one of his checks to see if we're listening. He looks surprised.

"Miss . . . McGee?" he tries.

"Can I please go to the nurse?" I ask sweetly. "I'm not feeling well. I thought I could make it, but I think I might vomit if I have to sit here for one more second."

Mr. Baer is overcome by a wave of teacherly indecision; since we've only had a week of class, I'm an unknown quantity. After a long pause, he finds the pad of pink passes among the stacks on his desk, scribbles something down, and puts it on my desk. "Do page eighty-three for Wednesday and feel better," he says and then turns back to the board.

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