Vampire Crush Page 18

Sure enough, one of Caroline's friends breaks away from the pack and jogs over, her blond ponytail swinging.

"Did you see it?" she asks, half out of breath.

"See what?"

"Um, my penalty kick. My game-winning penalty kick."

"Oh, right. You kicked the ball and it went in that net," I say, pointing to the goal at the far right end of the field.

"No," she says, pointing in the other direction, "it went in that goal. Where's Mark? He always covers our games."

Mark is probably in an underground lair sticking pins in a Sophie voodoo doll, but I lie and say that he really wanted to cover the fall play this year. "Apparently he's a big High School Musical fan," I add, feeling the jab of another imaginary pin.

"Fine, whatever," she says. "Just make sure that you list my name as 'Marta' and not 'Martha.' He always gets that wrong."

"Noted," I say, expecting her to run back to her teammates, but she continues to stand there. Thinking I'm supposed to offer some encouragement, I add, "Really great game by the way. You kicked the ball really far. Like, I didn't think it could go that far, but then it did."

"Thanks," she says dryly. "Aren't you going to interview me?"

"Oh, right. I was going to interview you all in the locker room."

"Like when we're getting dressed?"

"Yeah. I thought it would make for a better article that way," I say. "You know, smell the sweat; feel the camaraderie. That sort of thing."

She looks at me like I just said I wanted us all to hold hands and then play spin the bottle.

"Come on," I say, trying for peppy obliviousness as I stand up and nudge her toward the locker room. "We can get started on the way."

I ask Marta questions for as long as it takes to confirm that she's not bearing any star birthmark, and then move on to the rest of the team as they trickle in to wrestle out of sports bras and wiggle into skinny jeans. After I exhaust my soccer questions, I recycle the icebreakers from the new-student profile. Finally, one of the sophomores slams her locker shut with a clang.

"I mean, my favorite color's burnt orange, but seriously - what does any of this have to do with the game?"

The rest of the girls murmur in agreement and start to brush past me, some of them picking up their remaining clothes and walking out in their soccer uniforms. When the room is empty, I close my eyes and fall back against the wall. On the upside, I have another seven girls to cross off my list, which makes about thirty when you add in all the other locker rooms I've been lurking in. On the downside, at this rate I will get a name for myself as the creepy reporter who insists on interviewing subjects while they are half-naked.

I wait a few moments before pushing through the swinging door. Unfortunately, my delay tactics were for naught; a gaggle of them are huddled in the center of the gym around a bright blond head that I know all too well.

"Vlad, I thought you said you were going to come to our game," pouts one of the team members that I've just crossed off my list.

He smiles. I've been doing my best to avoid him these past two weeks, but even I know that's occurred less and less regularly since his kissy lips have failed to locate the girl among the cheerleaders. He's been losing patience with teachers, and yesterday I even overheard him snap at Ms. Walpole for asking how his paper on Frankenstein is going ("It's not, you harpy"). But now that he has an audience, he's all sweetness and light. I watch as he clasps a hand to his heart.

"I know, and please accept my deepest apologies for missing it," he says. "I hope that the upcoming party my friends and I will be throwing is enough to make up for my absence."

"Party?" Marta says.

"Yes," Vlad says. "And there is even a theme."

She claps her hands. "Theme parties are my favorite. What is it? Twenties? Pimps and Hos?"

Vlad just raises his eyebrows mysteriously and puts a finger to his lips. "The invitation will say more. In fact," he says, making an elaborate show of looking at his watch, "they should be in your lockers now."

The girls look at one another and then head for the door - apparently I'm the only one who wants to vomit at the prospect of a Vlad-catered party. I can only imagine what the theme will be . . . "Show Off Your Birthmark Night"? As if I didn't have enough to deal with already, Vlad has to learn how to multitask.

After verifying that the coast is clear, he pulls the small black journal from his back pocket. He's been scribbling in it more than ever - in English, in the cafeteria, in the middle of the hallway - and I want to know what. I haven't had the chance to try and squeeze more information out of the Sophie-friendly vampires. Marisabel has either been absent or too close to Vlad, and Violet seems to have taken a vow of silence; every time I try to speak to her in English, she just presses her lips together and whispers, "C'est une secrete."

Suddenly, Vlad looks up, and before I can think of a suitable hiding spot, he's heading my way. Since that day in the lobby, he's looked at me several times with a suspicious glint in his eye. When he's about twenty feet away, I panic and let my feet walk in whatever random direction they would like to go . . . which happens to be halfway up the bleacher stairs. My flight instinct needs a better sense of direction.

Realizing that I'm trapped, I turn around and try to pretend that's what I was intending on doing all along. I take a seat, but keep to the edge just in case I have to move quickly.

"What are you doing here?" Vlad barks up at me from the bottom step.

I hold up my notebook and do my best to feign a natural indignation at being harassed by what is supposed to be a near stranger. "Um, reporting on the soccer game. I was just going to jot down some notes."

"You were here yesterday outside the locker room as well. After the other meet concluded, the one where they run around in the forest for no reason."

"Yeah, I cover cross-country, too," I say, trying to keep my voice as even as possible. "What's the big deal?"

Vlad continues to stare at me, lips pressed so thin that they are nothing more than a slash. The high lighting is hitting his cheekbones in a way that emphasizes the chalky quality of his skin. He's not looking as debonair as usual - I wonder if he's stretched himself too thin. But my observations are cut short when his face turns resolute and he takes the first two steps in one stride. My mind scrambles for something to concentrate on when a voice calls out from across the gym.

"Hold it right there, young man," Mr. Hanfield says from the doorway. "You are not supposed to be up there when no game is in session. Bleachers are not toys."

Vlad's tenuous hold on his temper snaps. "How is standing on it treating it like a toy? And I am not a 'young man.'"

Talking back only makes the small teacher puff up in indignation. "Come down right this instant," he says, scuttling over to look up at us sternly.

"Unlikely." Vlad stomps a few times, hard enough that the entire section rattles. "That is treating it like a toy."

Mr. Hanfield pulls a small white pad out of his front pocket. "We'll see how cocky you are when you have detention. Stay right there," he orders and then turns to me. "What about you, young lady?"

"I've got no problem getting down," I tell him, resisting the urge to pat him on his sweatered shoulder as I head down the stairs. When I reach the door, I risk a look back just in case Vlad has already mumbo-jumboed his way out of detention, but he's just scowling as Mr. Hanfield continues to lecture. Another close call - time to declare quits for the day and go home, try to write an article about a game I still don't quite understand, and then take a nice bubble bath. All I need to do is pick up my backpack and . . .

As soon as I turn the corner I stop dead in my tracks. James is leaning up against the wall of lockers, and Amanda is leaning toward him. She's in full cheerleading regalia, but she's hiked her skirt up a few inches to show more tanned leg. I start to feel a little nauseated; I tell myself that it's just because I'm sickened that James is helping Vlad, never mind that Amanda is the only girl I've seen him talking to for the past week (and, if the rumor of an impromptu make-out session with Vlad in the janitor's closet is to be believed, already off the list). We still haven't spoken.

"Remember when we went to homecoming in eighth grade?" Amanda asks and then giggles annoyingly. Determined to prove how much this does not affect me, I walk toward my locker and start to twist in the combination.

"Yeah, it was fun," I hear him say. "Danny got that limo and we kept throwing Coke cans out of it."

Amanda giggles again. "That's not what I remember."

The door of my locker clangs as I slam it open. Oops. Out of the corner of my eye, I see James straighten up enough that Amanda has to step back or lose her balance. He says my name.

"Don't mind me," I say as I reach for my bag. I'm so intent on not looking directly at him that at first I don't realize that there's actually something in my locker that deserves attention. An envelope is wedged in the slats, and the giant black seal on its back is staring at me like an ominous eye. Dear God, I think as I wiggle it out and tear it open, do not let this be another one of Violet's quizzes.

The good news is that it's not a chance to reevaluate my flirting potential; the bad news is that now I know Vlad's theme.

Bring your bathing outfits and throw caution to the wind! You are cordially invited to our Fall "Luau" this Friday, October 1st.Who:Vlad, Marisabel, Violet, Neville, Devon, and AshleyWhere:235 Preston Dr. (Map included)When:9:00 P.M.What:An end-of-summer pool party. No one will be admitted without a bikini (or for the males, if you must bring one with you, swim trunks).No RSVP NecessaryMandatory bathing suits? In October? Vlad is evil.

A small piece of paper is folded inside. "Hope you can make it!" says Marisabel's loopy handwriting, and beneath that she's drawn several hearts and written "Wink," which I assume is the fifty-year-old vampire version of an emoticon. At least this solves the problem of how to get into the party.

After I wedge it into my backpack, Amanda asks, "Are you going to that?"

I say yes at the same time that James says no. Amanda looks back and forth between us a few times before her eyes narrow.

"I mean, no one cool is going to be there. I wasn't even invited." She turns to James. "We should go to the movies or something instead."

The wide-open hallway suddenly feels as spacious as a sardine tin. "Have fun," I say, shutting my locker and leaving before I can hear his answer.

I ignore the bathing suit situation as long as I can. The last time I went swimming I was eleven, and it was only after being promised a juice box, animal crackers, and my turn with the inflatable raft shaped like a dolphin. I am no longer that stupid. Or that fond of floating toys.

Still, knowing Vlad's motive for throwing the party, I doubt I'll be able to get in without showing skin, not even if I say "pretty please with A-positive on top." At 7:54 on the night of Friday, October 1st, I drag myself to Caroline's door and knock with questionable enthusiasm. When it opens, Caroline has a phone cradled in the crook of her neck and a flat iron hard at work on her bangs. She waves me in with her free hand - that, or she's trying to dry her nails. I choose to view it as an invitation.

"No, we're not going to crash it," she tells her phone buddy with a note of finality. "Like I want to hang out in his dirty, musty house ever again." She graciously allows the person on the other end a few opinions. "Yeah, okay, I'll see that. Meet you at the theater in thirty? Fab." After beeping off, she tosses the phone on her bed, where it bounces a few times before coming to a plush resting place between Grover and a nameless stuffed penguin. After fluffing her bangs and unplugging the flat iron, she finally speaks.

"What do you want?" she asks, arranging herself on the bed so as not to muss her strapless navy sundress and sandals that tie up the calf. She plays with the chunky beaded necklace around her neck, choosing to study it instead of me. Caroline has still not forgiven me for my "Vlad-related amnesiosity."

"Do you have a bathing suit I could borrow?" I ask.

Her eyes narrow. "You're going to Vlad's party," she says, more statement than question.

"Yes," I say, keeping things simple. I might actually have an easier time convincing Caroline that Vlad's a vampire than explaining why I hate parties that have no purpose other than to drink things and mingle.

She studies me for a few seconds, her dilemma clear: She can stay mad at me or play clothes fairy. Lucky for me, the latter wins.

"It's going to be lame, but okay," she says, hopping off the bed and crossing to her dresser. She flings open the second drawer. "What kind? One piece, two piece - "

"Red piece, blue piece?" I try.

Caroline is not amused, and for once her exasperation is probably justified.

After wading around in the drawer for a few seconds, she comes out holding two red triangles held together by a piece of yarn. In other words, something that looks more like a preschool craft project than a bathing suit.

"No way," I say. "Next."

She rolls her eyes but puts it to the side, digging around until she surfaces with two more options. One is yellow with big pink flowers blooming on the ni**les, and the other has "Flirt" written in purple block letters across the butt. You've got to be kidding me.

"I'll take the red one, I guess," I say, holding out my hand. "You have no shame, by the way."

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