Vampire Crush Page 21


"There's nothing in there, you know," Violet says from behind me. I twirl around to find that she's hopped onto the counter, dust be damned. She swings her crossed ankles back and forth, not minding when they bang against the lower cabinet. "You really should give us some credit," she continues. "We may be a little behind the times, but we are not naive enough to leave blood lying around for just anyone to find."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I say, trying to look fluffy-bunny innocent despite her doubtful look.

"Marisabel told me about your conversation in the ladies' room. I never had the courage to tell her myself, but I agree that they should call it off. Seventeen would deem it a verbally abusive relationship."

"Who else knows?"

"Just us!" Violet says, but I still feel a little sick to my stomach. Violet must see my unease, because she adds, "I would not worry about it if I were you. Well, unless you're in front of Vlad. Then I might worry about it."

That's quite the disclaimer. "Why?"

"He has been snapping at all of us lately. Neville came home yesterday with the announcement that he won the lead in the school play, and Vlad nearly staked him on the spot. I really wish he would find the girl he wants so we can all forget this nonsense and start to concentrate on what really matters. Like Neal!" She claps excitedly. "Oh, Sophie, he is fantastic! I hardly even think of James anymore."

"You mean you want to stay here?" I ask with obvious disbelief. "Even if Vlad finds the girl?"

She either misses my tone or chooses to ignore it. "Of course. This is much more fun than that dusty old farmhouse! Why? You don't want James to stay?"

If that isn't the million-dollar question. It's not something I want to contemplate, so I try to change the subject. "Violet, about Neal - "

"I am aware that he is a little strange," she interrupts, "but I firmly believe I can get him to stop carrying that rodent around in his pocket."

"It's not that," I say, choosing my words carefully. "In the past, you may have been a little hasty with your . . . gentlemen friends."

"What do you mean?" she asks, starting to frown as her swinging feet go still. Ominously still.

"I mean, well . . . you like Neal a lot, right?" I ask, plunging ahead despite my better judgment.


"Then perhaps you should try something different this time," I say.

"And what do you mean by that?"

I check to make sure that the coast is clear before I delve into the Monster Mash portion of this conversation. When I've confirmed that it's just us here in this kitchen - a kitchen that is feeling more and more claustrophobic by the second, I might add - I say, "I know that in the past you have turned your boyfriends into vampires, and I am wondering if maybe you should try not to do that with Neal."

She gives a dainty sniff. "You don't have to say it like it's a dirty word."

"What? Neal?"

"No," she corrects. "Vampire! There are quite a few people who might like to be one of us. I think they are called Erica," she adds, naming our school's resident Goth. "And besides, I cannot make him unless he agrees."


"Well, that is the common practice. But sometimes I do cheat a little and ask vague questions. Like 'If you were accidentally stabbed in the stomach several times, would you want to live?' And if they say yes, then I can reasonably assume that they would like to be a vampire, because we are the only beings who would survive that. See?"

Her logic leaves me speechless. She takes the silence as my assent.

"Lovely, it is settled. I am going to find Neal now." She hops off the counter, but her tone still makes it sound like a threat. Before I can tell her to wait, she knocks into my shoulder as she brushes by me, hard enough to knock me into the refrigerator door. This is swiftly spiraling out of control.

"What would Seventeen say?" I call out, desperate to regain some leverage.

She stops. "What do you mean?"

"I read an article once about how you shouldn't try to, er, change your boyfriends?" I try. At this point I am just treading water, but Violet seems to be considering it.

"I may have read this article," she says finally. "There was a story about a girl named Amy whose boyfriend was some sort of athletics person but she wanted him to like jazz."


"And ultimately it tore them apart. It was very tragic."


"Perhaps," Violet says, trying to be arch and coy, but I can tell that for now, at least, I've managed to save Holland with my thumb.

"Promise me that you won't turn Neal," I say.

"But what if - "

"If you don't," I say, "I'm going to have to warn him. And I really don't want to have that conversation. I'm getting enough of a name for myself as it is."

Her face falls as she bites her lip. "I like him, Sophie."

"Then promise," I insist.

There is a brief pause, and I fear that I have pressed my luck too far. But then Violet flounces over to stand by my side, pulling up her toga when it threatens to slide off her shoulders.

"Very well!" she says, perky once again. "What do I have to sign?"

"No contract necessary. Just your word," I say. I would do a blood pact if I didn't think it would be an invitation to snack.

"You have my word," she parrots gravely, and then leaps toward me for a hug. "Oh, I am so glad we are friends now!" she exclaims and then pushes me back to stare into my eyes. "Please endeavor not to steal Neal."

"No worries there, I promise you."

"This is going to be so fun! Do you want to come over for tea tomorrow? I mean, I cannot have any, but I'll make some for you!"

"Let's take it one day at a ti - ," I begin, but stop when Violet's fingers dig into my shoulders.

"Go to the pantry," she says, urgent all of a sudden.

"Huh? Why?"

"Vlad is on his way over here," she hisses, "and he suspects that you know more than you should." Her eyes widen as she takes in my outfit. "You are also improperly attired for his party."

She pushes me toward the slatted doors and opens them with a free hand. The odor emanating from the pantry is foul.

"But - "

"In," she insists. "I will come retrieve you when it is safe. You may thank me later," she whispers, and then, with one swift shove, closes me in the pantry. The inside is just as rank as you'd imagine a small, unused, and unwashed room to be. The empty shelves stack all the way up to the ceiling, and in the weak light that squeezes through the slats, they look vaguely skeletal. A mildewed mop stands forlornly in the corner behind me like a vengeful ghost from a Japanese thriller. This better save me from certain death; otherwise I'm stuffing Violet in the oven as payback.

I peer through the gaps just in time to see James enter the kitchen from the other door and tap Violet on the shoulder. She yelps. It takes two seconds for her flustered expression to turn flirtatious as she looks down at the floral tent she's wearing and asks him if he likes it.

"It's lovely," he says. "Have you seen Sophie?"


"Good. Where?"

"Have you met my boyfriend?" Violet asks, apropos of nothing. "I am speaking of my new boyfriend, of course. He should be by the refreshment table. Eating cheese doilies."

"I'd love to meet him - later. Right now I'm looking for Sophie," he says, stretching out my name until it sounds like two distinct words. "Where is she?"

Holding a finger to her lips, she points to the pantry.

"Why is she in the pantry?" James asks before his expression melts into horror. "Violet, what did you do?"

"Nothing! I am trying to help her. Quick! Vlad is coming."

James's eyes widen, and he jogs toward the door. Before I can fashion a NO BOYS ALLOWED sign, he's opened it, closed it, and is standing in front of me. His body blocks most of the light, so I can't see the expression on his face, but I can feel him looking at me, even though he doesn't say anything. I try to think of a joke to cut the tension, but the only things that come are of the knock-knock variety. ("Knock knock." "Who's there?" "A steadily shrinking pantry!" "A steadily shrinking pantry who?" "Get out, please.")

The silence ticks on; all I can hear are the sounds of my own breathing and the thrum of tropical music leaking through the walls. The thin bars of light squeezing through the slats make him look like a trendy tiger. Finally, I can't take it anymore.

"This is an abnormally small pantry. I'm going to write a letter," I say, leaving off the part about his shoulders seeming abnormally large. I'm thinking that I'm going to write a letter about that too when James suddenly blurts that he wants to apologize.

"Really?" I ask, surprised.

"Yeah. I think it's brave what you're doing. And I've tried to stop hoping that there's some way to change this, I have. Because I hate the way that it makes you look at me, like I'm some kind of criminal."

"That's not what I think," I say, and it's true. I open my mouth to tell him this, but the particles of dust stirred up by his entrance tickle my nose. I cover my mouth and sneeze as quietly as possible. It still sounds like a chipmunk that's recently had a sex change operation.

"That's not exactly the pledge of understanding that I was hoping for," James says, "but I'll take it."

The dark is making his voice lower, warmer, and more rumbly. His shoulder is level with my ears. I don't know if it's a trick of the light or what, but at the moment it looks very comfortable. Distraction, I try to remind myself, but my brain doesn't care. It would be so easy to just sort of rest my head on it for a few to see if it's as comfortable as it looks. . . .

"You can if you want," James says.

I will be so glad when James is finally done with vampire puberty. "You have to stop doing that."

"I can't help it. Your thoughts are very strong," he says. "It's another reason I would like to not be . . . this . . . anymore. Mind reading is fun until you find out that your chemistry teacher dreamed he was a transvestite the night before."

"Mr. George?" I ask, suddenly beset by an image that is both hilarious and terrifying.

"Mr. George," James confirms. "The thoughts of yours I catch are at least amusing."

Is it wrong to be flattered by that? Because I am. Until I am struck by a very important distinction.

"Amusing ha-ha or amusing he-he?" I ask.

"I have no idea what the difference is."

I give him a withering look that is unfortunately wasted in the dark. "Amusing ha-ha is funny. Amusing he-he implies snickering. Obviously."

"Got it," he says, and then makes me wait for the answer. "Amusing ha-ha."

Okay, I am flattered. It nudges me to suggest something that has been rattling around in the back of my mind for these past few weeks. "What if, when I find her, we talk to her. Explain things to her. Then if she wants to help you, if she chooses to help you . . ." I trail off, but the meaning is clear. "We could work together."

"Together," James says as he steps closer, only the way he says it makes it sound about thirty times sexier.

"Together," I repeat, starting to ramble in an effort to cover up the fact that my heart is pounding so loud that I imagine my other organs might complain. "It wouldn't be that different from asking someone to donate blood. I mean, I'm not all that sure about the particulars. Like do you have to actually drink it from her neck?" I ask. "Or maybe we don't have to tell her. Can we say it's for needy children and then, I don't know, put it in a thermos? I'm not sure about that from an ethical standpoint, but we should discuss." I stop when I realize that he's gone still, most likely out of disgust. "It was the thermos bit that took it over the edge, wasn't it?" There's still no answer. "James?"

I barely have time to register his head swooping down in the dark, and then he's kissing me and even though this is a distraction, I want this. His lips are firm but cool, and I grab the side shelving to keep my balance. At first I'm too stunned to do anything normal like close my eyes, and I'm thankful that he has his closed so he doesn't see me staring at his cheekbones like some sort of goggle-eyed amphibian. I lower my lids and concentrate on kissing him back, offering up a fervent prayer that my repeated viewings of the last five minutes of Grease in the fifth grade will finally pay off. Because he's definitely improved since the hammock.

He smiles against my lips, and I realize that he must have heard that, but for once I don't care. His hands slide to my waist, and I lean forward to wrap my arms around his neck. He tugs me forward against his chest, his palms brushing against my sides as his hands slide upward. I'm standing up on tiptoes to move closer when suddenly he pulls back. Even in the dark I can tell that he's puzzled.

"Are you wearing a battery pack?" he asks.

His fingers have found the hard edge of Vlad's book. Evidence of my snooping will bring a swift end to the kissing truce, and I was just getting the hang of it.

"Oh, well, funny story . . . ," I start to say as his fingers continue to explore upward. When they reach the bare skin of my back, I jump. "Your hands are cold!"

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