Vampire Crush Page 20

Violet lights up. "Of course!" She orders Neal to start counting again. "And this time I won't be in the cupboard," she says, and then grabs my hand and pulls me through the crowd.

When we reach the top of the stairs, D'Ashley stands, an efficient sentry. Violet slips beneath his arm without hesitation, but when I try to do the same, I feel the heavy weight of his hand on my shoulder.

"Oh, do let her in, Ashley. Neal is probably at fifty by now!" she yells and follows it up with a kick to the shin. Clearly disgruntled, he lets me pass, and I am plunged into the darkness of the hallway.

Chapter Thirteen

Violet's eyes adjust to the gloom far quicker than mine, or at least I assume so because she's running down the hallway while I'm still clutching at the wall. "I am going to hide in the cupboard," she says excitedly before dashing into what must be the aforementioned study.

Dust pervades the air, and I try not to cough as I grasp the handle of the door closest to me. Apart from a few scattered drop sheets that lie wadded in the corners, the first room is empty. The second turns up more dust bunnies, and the third is filled with a collection of tattered couches and armchairs that were most likely granted a last-minute reprieve from the garbage truck. They are arranged in a cheery circle, almost as if the vampires spent their evenings in discussion. An old TV is pushed to one side, and beneath it are stacks of DVDs. Unable to resist, I sort through them to find that Vlad has amassed every high school comedy imaginable, from John Hughes to 10 Things I Hate About You and beyond. This is what he was using as research to infiltrate our high school? That almost frightens me as much as anything else.

It strikes me that I haven't come across any beds, and I don't find any in the fourth and fifth rooms either, although clothing hangs in the closets: velvet for Violet, knee-length skirts for Marisabel, and a row of white shirts for Neville. I realize that I never asked James if he sleeps. I hope so; the image of him sitting alone in his old bedroom, awake, all night every night, makes my throat constrict. No wonder he didn't want to go home that night, I think, and I feel a rush of overdue guilt.

Now there's only one room left, and I begin to lose faith that my brilliant hide-and-seek spying technique will turn up useful information. When the last door swings open to reveal one lonely rocking chair, my heart sinks. I do a loop around the room anyway, hoping that the thump of music downstairs is loud enough to cover the creak of floorboards. The chair is positioned to face the window, and the high vantage point of the house means that the sitter has a vaulted view of the neighborhood down below, with its slanted roofs and twinkling house lights. It's as majestic a view as you're likely to find in suburbia.

I wander to the far wall and slide open the closet door, pushing when it sticks. There is clothing here, as well, but while the other closets were a jumble of styles and owners, this is organized to the level of neatness normally associated with former military men, serial killers, and Marcie. To the right are shirts and jackets, all covered in plastic and arranged by color. I recognize the black jacket that Vlad wore on the first day of school, and look down to find the pair of pointed boots from that afternoon in the woods gleaming up at me in the dark. An unbidden shiver shoots through my body, and it takes a moment to regain my composure.

His jeans hang on the left side, and while they aren't covered in plastic, they each have an individual hanger, back pockets facing outward. This proves that old maxim that people who hang their jeans up are to be feared, even if I just made that maxim up.

I start to push the door closed, thinking that I would have learned more hiding in the cupboard with Violet, when a bulge in the back pocket of the outermost pair catches my eye. At first I don't believe what I'm seeing. But no - Vlad's journal is still there, stuffed in the back pocket of his jeans. He left his plans for vampire domination in his other pants.

I pull it out so forcefully that the jeans fall off the hanger. I rearrange them, heart pounding, and then open the pages with trembling fingers. Vlad's cramped, flowery handwriting covers every bit of paper, with lines squeezed into the margins or running up the spine and dead-ending in the corners. I go to the rocker and let the small bit of light from outside pour down over the yellowed pages.

The first few pages are just a list of names and dates, beginning with "Anton and Evangelique Mervaux (d. 1815, burned)" and ending with "Christiana Jones (d. 1999 - killed)." Beneath that Vlad has written question marks of all sizes, some scored so deeply that he's torn through the page. If what Marisabel told me was right, this must be the list of the girl's descendants that he's been piecing together through the years - but if he knows where it ends, why is he here?

Next comes a series of journal entries, the first of which dates from 1966. They are terse reports of research, mentions of lost children, dreams of what life will be like once he is Danae and can get revenge on all the vampires who have snubbed him, and complaints about being Unnamed. There are years of time in between entries, years, and a small part of me can't help but admire Vlad's tenacity; the longest I ever pursued a story was one month.

I stop at an entry of unusual length.

March 13, 2000New OrleansThird appeal to join the Society of the Divine One denied, even with fake identity. Broke into their archives. The last descendent was (obviously) female, recorded death in Canada. No further research done. Obviously a society of incompetence to which I would not want to belong anyway. Three-year gap from Christiana's last sighting in Michigan unexplored. Previous flights had been limited to months. Why three years?The next few entries outline his theory. Christiana stayed in Michigan because she had fallen in love and become pregnant. What's more, he thought that she had given birth to a child, the next descendent of this family tree that everyone thought had died out a long time ago. But soon after arriving here, she adopted an alias that he has still not been able to discover, although her child would have to be anywhere from fifteen to seventeen.

November 23, 2009New York Upstate WildernessTruly, everything is coming together. Met a vampire named Neville, who bears the mark of the Danae and who seems very interested in my work. This is my link to them; this is the sign I have been waiting for.The following entries all detail his preparations to bring the group here, which included glamouring people out of their money and possessions and being blood-drive bandits. My heart skips a little when James's name first appears.

April 11, 2010New York Upstate WildernessViolet's new conquest, James, has actually turned out to be useful for reasons other than to stop her incessant sulking. He is not only familiar with the location of the girl, he may have attended school with her during his early years. At first he seemed reluctant to return, but was convinced by yet another example of particularly clever thinking on my part. "Well used are those cruelties that are carried out in a single stroke."

- MachiavelliI frown, wondering exactly what "particularly clever thinking" and that quote are supposed to mean - it can't be anything good. Maybe I should show it to him in yet another attempt to lure him over to my side, or at least give him a heads-up - I shake my head, realizing this is just another example of Distraction via James. No. Girl. Danae. Moving on.

We've reached Vlad's first day at Thomas Jeff.

August 30, 2010Town of MichiganInfiltration of Thomas Jefferson school successful. The child is here. I can taste her. . . .Why is this woman still talking? If she thinks that I am going to stop wearing my pointed boots, she is sadly mistaken.I let out a loud snort and then turn the page quickly, feeling guilty at being amused by Vlad's ramblings. Thankfully, the following entries putter out into endless rants about how the other vampires aren't helping and he doesn't even know where James is. I move past a number of blank pages to the next section, which is a listing of girls he's rejected. Caroline sits proudly at the top, followed by approximately thirty other girls that I'll cross-reference with my own list later. When I turn the next page, I swear that my eyes start to tingle. This. This is what I've been looking for.

Vlad has made a rough sketch of Neville's tattoo, large enough that the star's four main points touch the edges of the page. By each tip he's written a name - last names from the look of it, unless there's some poor soul wandering around with the name "Vandervelde." I squint and look closer. Instead of a "D" in the center, Vlad's written "Mervaux," the big, bad, human-baby-having vamp family itself, and I would guess that these others are vampire families as well.

Excited, I move on to what appears to be a timeline. Some dates are far apart and others are crammed together, and they're all in different colors of ink, like this is something that he's been adding to for a long time.

1798: Human child born to the Mervaux and named Mercedes (star mark on right shoulder). Vampire families are split between those who think it is a miracle and those who think that she is an abomination, including the ruling family of the time (Desmarais - now extinct)1799: In fear, Mervaux call for help. Nine families answer - Vandervelde, Doyle, Greco, Rose, Wolf, Magnusson, Kaya, Quinn, Pavlov. Danae treaty signed.1806: Desmarais falls. Nine families take power under new name of Danae.1820 (?): Mercedes gives birth to child (vampire father?), also human, also female. Named Melisande (star mark, lower abdomen).1845: Under pressure, Danae abdicates in favor of elected leaders and is forced to disband as a condition. Do so publicly, but not in private. Tattoo is designed so that members will know one another.1847: Melisande gives birth to daughter (definite vampire father), child still human. Named Michelle (star lines on palm).1869: Michelle disappears. Reason unknown.1902: I am born.1965: Victor Petrov circulates influential work, The Lost Daughter, underground, in which he argues that the human line of Mervaux vampires continues. Later recants and says, "It was just a novel," but then disappears.I turn back to the beginning of the journal - Vlad's first entry is dated in 1966. Victor's "novel" obviously converted Vlad enough that he's spent the last half a century searching for her. I read over the timeline again, doing my best to make sense of the rush of dates and bite-sized history. The Danae isn't just looking for the girl because of her supposed powers; they're looking for her because she and her line are their crown jewel. Or at least she was until she vanished.

When I flip to the next page, I find more cramped writing and the header "Collected Myths and Legends." Before I can start to read, however, the door creaks behind me. I whirl around to find Neal standing in the entranceway, staring at me with surprise. Guess what? His neon swim trunks glow in the dark.

"Found you!" he says before his face wrinkles in confusion. "Why are you standing in the middle of the room? You're worse than Violet." His eyes fall to the book in my hand. "What's that?"

"Nothing," I say, annoyed at the interruption until I realize that I'm lucky it's just Neal. Vlad might be hunting for this, which means that I should save a more thorough read for later. I attempt to shove it in my pocket, but girl pants are not as accommodating as boy pants. Left with little other option, I lift my T-shirt and wiggle it into the space between my back and the waistband of my jeans; at least if Vlad tries to take it back it will be covered in girl cooties. Holding up my hands, I say, "You got me!" just as Violet's blond head appears behind his shoulder. She tickles his sides, and he jumps.

"Too long again," she says, but she is smiling. "Let's go downstairs. I am tired of the cupboard."

I let them walk in front of me, head still pounding with new information until the way Violet loops her arm through Neal's and he bends down to whisper something in her ear makes me think this might not be a problem that can be moved to the back burner. This is not good, I think as her giggle bounces up the stairway. This is not good at all.

When we get to the bottom of the stairs I grab Violet's free arm. "I need to talk to Violet for a second," I tell Neal. "Go have another ranchy cheese puff. I hear they're magically delicious."

"But - "

"We'll find you," I say and pull Violet into the next room: the kitchen.

A thick layer of dust coats the new appliances. The sink's faucet is a dull green, and the only light still working is the one hanging over the oven. Cobwebs cling to every corner, including the slatted pantry door. The most neglected room in the house, it's been left mostly empty by the other partygoers.

Mostly. A girl I recognize from the soccer team and her friend stumble in, gossiping about how so-and-so just threw herself at Vlad for the third time, energetically enough that her top slipped down and exposed her man entrancers to the world. "And he just studied them for a few seconds," she says, "then pulled up her top and said, 'Thank you, that was an immense help.' Sometimes he's so weird."

Her friend nods enthusiastically and then points to her throat. "I'm thirsty," she mouths and goes to the fridge, which I assume is filled with items that are more frightening than mystery mold.

"There's punch in the living room," I tell her, blocking the handle. "It's rude to poke around in people's refrigerators." As I jerk my head to point out the right direction, I do a quick skin sweep. She has a small birthmark on her hip, although it would be the most circular star ever made. I ask for her name anyway. I'll admit that it comes out a little boot-camp.

"Uh, Grace," she says, eyeing me like I might order her to drop and give me twenty at any second. "And we'll leave the fridge alone, okay? You don't have to freak out," she says and drags her friend toward the living room. "Who's that?" I hear her ask before they disappear into the hallway. "Oh you know, that girl."

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