Vampire Crush Page 15

I scoop up my books just as James raises his hand and speaks without waiting to be called on. "Mr. Baer, I'm not feeling well either," he says.

"Then put your head between your knees and wait for the feeling to go away," Mr. Baer says without turning around, obviously hip to the error of giving out two hall passes.

"But Mr. Baer," James tries again in a more coaxing voice. "If you just look at me - "

"No. You can go when Miss McGee gets back."

With an exultant look at James, I walk out, head held high and heart full of the delight that comes from seeing mister almighty vampire humbled by hallway rules. That delight stays with me until I realize that the last thing I want to do is go to see the nurse. The library is off-limits without a special pass, and sitting in the hallway will leave me exposed to any wandering teacher. I set off for the band hallway, deciding to check on the Lindsay situation. If she's playing clarinet at eight in the morning, I'll know that she's at least in the recovery stage. Just as I'm turning the last corner, however, Ms. Kate's squat form waddles into view. I duck into the nearest bathroom; it smells of pink soap and cheap paper towels, but thankfully seems to be empty.

I hop up onto the side radiator; might as well get some work done. I've just started paging through my yearbook when a choked sob swells up from the last stall, followed by the sound of furious scratching. If it didn't mean falling into the clutches of Ms. Kate, my first instinct would be to flee. Caught, I try to ignore the escalating sounds of a meltdown, but when I hear the violent thunks of something striking porcelain, I can't help it any longer. Padding down the aisle, I knock gently on the stall's mottled green door.

"Are you okay? Do you need anything?" I ask. "A tissue, a wet paper towel . . ." I trail off, looking around the restroom for anything else that might be useful. A used piece of gum? The butt of a cigarette? Half of a sticker that says "Kitten Diva," whatever that means?

"Just leave me alone," a muffled voice orders between sobs. After a few moments the scraping sound resumes.

"Are you sure?" I ask. "It sounds like you're trying to flush yourself down the toilet."

The door flies open, barely giving me enough time to avoid a sharp whack to the nose. Marisabel is crouching on the checkered tile, clutching a pair of scissors like they are the Holy Grail.

I can imagine the expressions that flicker across my face; there's the "Crap, she is a vampire," followed by "Crap, I am not supposed to know she is a vampire," followed by "Crap, I think she just realized that I still know she is a vampire." Even if she couldn't mind read, I'd be totally screwed. Marisabel raises a hand, and I flinch instinctively, expecting it to go for the tasty parts of my heart. Instead, she waves it dismissively.

"Oh, stop," she says, and then for the benefit of my baffled look, adds, "I don't care if you know, and I'm not going to tell Vlad. I hope his idiotic plan fails." She turns back to the stall wall and resumes her work, a sprinkling of green paint chips falling around her feet. She's done a decent job of scoring the graffiti away, but I can still see a few "Vlad + Whatever Girl with Bad Taste Was Here Last" rambling across the wall. Attacking one beneath the toilet paper roll, she rakes the scissors across the door so furiously that she bangs her elbow against the toilet seat.

"How do they even manage to write down here?" she huffs.

"Girls can get very bendy when they are in love," I say, and know immediately that it was the wrong thing when Marisabel stops scraping, distraught.

"You think they're in love with him? I'm in love," she cries before resuming her destruction of property with even greater fervor. "Have they been with him for fifty years?" she asks, now shouting to make up for all the scraping noises she's making. "No! Have they hunted down rotten little squirrels when he asked, even though he knows that they have a fear of rodents? No! Did they change their name from 'Mary' to 'Marisabel' because he thought that it would be more 'vampire'? No!" she yells one last time, stabbing the scissors into the wall so deeply that they hang there, quivering. After a few moments, she smoothes her hair and tugs them from the wall. "Forget that you saw that," she says far too calmly.

Time to take my chances with Ms. Kate. "Well, you seem to be doing better," I say, "so I'm going to - "

"Wait!" she yells. "Do you think that we're good together?"

"Who? You and Vlad?"

"No, you and me," she says, straight-faced, but then rolls her eyes. "Yes, me and Vlad."

Vampires should not be allowed to make jokes. "I really don't think that I'm qualified to say."

Marisabel's eyes narrow. "Try."

"I think that you may have grown apart over the years."

Marisabel nods gravely. For the first time since I met her, she's wearing pants, a pair of vintage jeans that are artfully worn at the knees. In spite of everything I know, she looks innocent, the girl-next-door who chose the wrong door to get next to. Biting her lip, she turns her head to stare once again at her work of calculated destruction and then traces the sharp peak of an engraved "V."

"Vlad was not always like this," she says wistfully. "When we first met, he was so charming."

I find it difficult to believe that Vlad has ever been charming, but Marisabel looks at me expectantly, and I realize that I am being held hostage until I give up some good girl talk.

"Well," I offer, "people can change a lot in . . . what? Fifty years?"

"Give or take a few," she replies. "The first year was nice. He was willing to risk a trip to Greece then. We couldn't sit on any beaches, but I've never found anywhere else where the night air is so warm and delicious. We made a vampire there. We made him together." Marisabel frowns. "But then Vlad got mad and set him on fire."

I really hope this bonding session doesn't end with an invitation to look at scrapbooks. "Sounds . . . romantic," I say, trying not to heave.

"It was! But then he started sneaking away every few months for 'research purposes.' I thought finding the girl was just a hobby, but then it became an obsession. I don't understand why he couldn't just be happy with what he had. When he came back, he was always in a terrible mood, muttering about dead ends and unhelpful records. And then there were the headaches. I've told him not to use his powers so often, especially when we have limited food resources."

I've been holding my breath throughout this entire speech; I hadn't even thought of Marisabel as a source of information. Hopping up on the side radiator, I try to strike a pose that will help my casual probing look more casual; it involves a lot of leaning and resting things on my knees.

"It's not fair that he's brought you here to look for another girl," I say. "You're his girlfriend."

She blinks at me for a few seconds before lighting up in delight to finally have someone's sympathy. "I know! I think that I've been very understanding."

"Totally," I agree. "What's so great about her anyway? Is she, like, some miracle child?"

"Supposedly," she says with disdain, while I struggle to keep my delight in check at having called it. "She's said to be the great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of some dumb baby of some musty vampire family named Mervaux."

"Let me guess. A half-vampire baby?" I ask, leaving off the ". . . who fights crime."

"No!" Marisabel says. "A plain old human baby. That's what makes the whole thing so weird. Who cares about a human baby? People have those all the time." She pauses. "Well, I mean, not vampires. They never have any babies, which is good because child vampires are freaky." Suddenly, her face turns severe. "You're not going to tell anyone this, right?"

"Oh, no way," I say quickly, shaking my head. I want to ask more questions about the connection between this child of the Mervaux vampire family and the Danae, but Marisabel's burst of sharing starts to fizzle.

"I mean, I try so hard to be enough," she sniffs. "But he's never happy. I'm starting to think that even if he finds her, that's only the beginning. I would just like for this to be over. If Vlad could just see that this wasn't going to work out, if he could just see that it's not going to be so easy, then maybe he would give up." She sniffs again. "Maybe you could keep getting in his way."

I can hardly believe my luck - here's the perfect source of information, and it's offering to crawl into my lap. But there's something fragile in Marisabel's voice that keeps me from pouncing.

"Is Vlad really worth this?" I ask. "He's kind of mean to you. Do you - "

I'm interrupted by the click of heels on tile. There's no way that staccato terror belongs to a student. My eyes roam over the utter ruin of the bathroom stall; the last thing I need right now is a charge of petty vandalism. Holding a finger to my lips and motioning for Marisabel to climb up on the toilet, I push the door shut just as Ms. Kate rounds the corner. Clutching my stomach, I do my best to imitate a victim of cafeteria food poisoning.

"I thought I heard something in here," Ms. Kate snaps as she approaches me. "Hall pass?" When I hand it over, she barely even looks at it; years of practice have made her able to distinguish types of hall passes through the power of touch alone. "This is for the nurse," she says. "You are in the bathroom. What is wrong with this picture?"

Apologizing, I tip forward like I'm about to hurl on her ugly black pumps. "I thought I was going to be sick." I cast a queasy look at the door behind me. "Don't go in there."

I don't know if she believes me, but her expression of slight disgust tells me that she's thankfully not willing to investigate. "Let's go to the nurse, then," she says, walking me out the door and through the halls. She makes no move to leave me alone, not even when we hit the labyrinthine hallway that leads to a cluster of guidance counselors, speech therapy rooms, and the dreaded nurse's office. If you're truly sick, you can't expect to receive much more than generic aspirin and an embarrassing pamphlet about your growing body.

We find Nurse Ellis alone and shaking her head at a copy of Us Weekly. After Ms. Kate stomps off to catch more students unawares, Nurse Ellis spins toward me on her stool, a trusty stethoscope looped around her neck. Her light-brown hair is dusted with gray, and she has a round face and equally round body.

"Not feeling well, Sophie?" she asks, genuinely concerned. "You do look flushed."

Thank God for pale skin and wimpy blood vessels. "I feel nauseous and light-headed," I croak.

"Well, why don't you lie down on one of the cots and give it some time? If you still feel bad in a little while, we'll see if we can reach your parents."

A fabulous idea. I lie down on the nearest cot and draw the hanging curtain around me. This should help me avoid Vlad, as well as keep me out of James's way for a while. Researching with him on my tail is going to take a lot more cunning than being the first person to ask for a hall pass. Who knows the next time when I'll have a moment alone?

I sit up. I'm alone now, and who better acquainted with the student body's bodies than the school nurse? The metallic curtain rasps as I push it back.

"You don't happen to know of any girls who have a strange and unusual birthmark, do you? Like a star?" As soon as I say it, I realize what a weirdo question it is. Oh well - no guts, no glory. Although one could also argue that "No guts, no extreme social embarrassment" is just as accurate a statement. "Like on their backs or their legs or their shoulders, maybe?" I add.

To her credit, Nurse Ellis says nothing, just squints at me for a pregnant moment before wheeling herself over to a wall that's close to buckling from the weight of multicolored pamphlets. She plucks out a dark yellow one and hands it to me. "Is What I'm Feeling Normal?" the bold headline asks. Boy and girl stick figures hold up their hands in "Why me?" gestures, their heads surrounded by a cloud of question marks.

"Read this, Sophie. Then let me know if you have any questions," she says, passing it over and giving me a gentle pat on the hand before closing the curtain.

I flop back on the cot. This is off to a great start.

When Nurse Ellis asks me how I'm feeling an hour later, smiling as though we now share a great secret, I tell her that I'm ready to go back to class. Chemistry is in full swing by the time I hand my pass over to Mr. George, and surprisingly, there's no James. This should be a relief. Why am I now consumed with curiosity over where he's run off to? Maybe he was bluffing.

Hopping up on my stool, I open my chemistry book and prepare to do more research under the cover of balancing equations. Because of an unfortunate incident involving mixed chemicals and Greg Ives's knee, I have no lab partner. I'm busy spreading out my things when a figure walks past me to Mr. George's desk. I watch James's back as he introduces himself to the teacher, who pulls out his seating chart.

"Okay, then, Mr. Hallowell. Why don't you have a seat by . . . ," he starts, but then frowns at the paper in front of him, scans the room, and then frowns again. "Well, it looks like you'll have to sit by Miss McGee."

Unbelievable. When James turns around, I prepare to withstand a cocky grin, but his energy level seems to have taken a nosedive since last period. His face looks drawn and tired, his skin stretched and tight. Math class is no fun, but I've never seen it take this much out of a person.

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