Vampire Crush Page 26

"Why Monday?"


"You're kidding me."

"There's a soccer game that I have to cover."

"So find someone else to do it."

"Yeah, because pawning off articles is going to look really good when Mr. Amado is about to pick editor in chief. Anyway, since he thinks he's already found me, maybe he won't even go."

"Do you really want to risk it?"

Truth be told, the thought of meeting Vlad again post-proposal makes my skin crawl more now than when I thought he just wanted to kill me. I don't want to risk it. Considering that so far the only thing that's slowed him down at all is Caroline, my house might be the safest place yet. But still.

"We can come up with something. All we need to do is . . ." I trail off, realizing that maybe it's presumptuous to think that the other vampires will want to help me. But when I say so, James just shakes his head.

"It's not that. Neville wants to fix this, and I'm pretty sure Marisabel would be first in line to help take Vlad down. Violet will probably just fight in whatever direction you point her."

"Then - "

"We're out of blood," he says. "Last night took a lot out of us, and I barely had enough just to make sure that everyone healed. We can't even think about going up against Vlad until we're at full strength."

"Oh," I say. "What do you guys normally, uh, do about that?"

"We've never done much of anything," he says. "Vlad handled all of that stuff. He liked to hit up blood drives - there are usually a lot of volunteers and people are a little more lax with their records. But first we have to find one, and then we have to get there. Just stay at home for the next couple of days," he says. "And then we can all come up with a plan."

"I hate hiding."

"You're not hiding," James says, "you're playing the long game. Think of it like a giant game of chess, only one with vampires instead of bishops."

"Fine," I say, reluctantly agreeing to lay low but leaving out the most important thing: I've always been horrible at chess.

Chapter Sixteen

I call Mark Echolls on Sunday to ask if he can cover the soccer game on Monday because I'm going to be out for "personal reasons," aka crazy vampires. The crushing silence that follows my request does not bode well.

"Look, Mark," I say, "I know that you're mad - "

"Do you know what the musical people made me do last week? They made me try on a basketball jersey, sing a song with them, and then attempt to harmonize."

"I'm sorry, but - "

"I don't even care about journalism!" he says, loudly enough that the phone buzzes a little. "Having an excuse to talk to those girls is the only reason I take that dumb class in the first place. Without the paper angle, I'm just the creepy dork who sits on the sidelines."

"So . . . you'll do it?" I ask hopefully.

There's a long pause, but eventually he mutters yes. "What about Thursday's tennis match?" he asks.

That would mean that two of the stories on my page were written by someone else. One is acceptable, two could make me look like a slacker when it comes time to count the bylines.

"I'll let you know," I say.

"Whatever," he says and hangs up before I can even say thank you.

Ten years of being a perfect-attendance nut makes faking sick on Monday a breeze. Even though I'm still on her bad side, Marcie doesn't question me when I tell her that I'm too nauseated to go to school, just sends me back upstairs with Sprite and a packet of crackers. Monday passes without incident, but when the doorbell rings on Tuesday night, I'm gripped with fear that it's Vlad reneging on our agreement. Caroline's glower when she comes up to tell me that I have a visitor doesn't help.

"James Hallowell is here," she says and then makes a point to stomp loudly down the stairs. I've obviously violated some secret sister rule, but right now I'm too relieved to worry about it; if James is here, it has to mean that the vampires are stocked up and ready to plan. Since the "Hey! It's my birthday" T-shirt I got on my last trip to Se?or Miguel's with a chocolate stain over one boob is not my most flattering outfit, I wiggle into jeans and a gray hoodie and then hop downstairs. I find him on the couch in the living room, doing his best to fend off Marcie's offers of leftover lasagna. It's never a battle anyone wins.

"I'll tell you what," Marcie is saying, her head poking out of the kitchen. "I'll put some in a Tupperware container."

"Really, don't worry abou - nope, nope, she's gone," he says and lets his head fall back against the cushion in defeat. But he smiles when he sees me. "Hey. Want to come over for some lasagna?"

Considering Marcie has been allowing me nothing but Saltines and some oatmeal that she found at the back of the cabinet, yes, I do. But I have a feeling that will hurt my case if I have to finagle another day at home.

"Using the doorbell," I say. "I'm impressed."

He shrugs. "It was time. Next, car horns."

I plop down on the cushion next to him. "So do you have a plan?"

"Sort of," he says. "There's a drive at a high school a couple of hours away, but it's not until Thursday and we need a car."

"You can take mine," I say even as my stomach twists into a tighter knot of worry. Thursday is the day of the tennis match, which means that I'll have to ask Mark Echolls to cover for me again. I try to reassure myself that there are other things I can do to impress Mr. Amado, but it's getting harder and harder to believe that I can possibly have a chance after all of this.

My thoughts are interrupted by James asking me what is wrong, and for once I don't talk about the journalism assignments - it's not like I can ask people to donate blood sooner. So instead I get up to grab my keys off the helpfully labeled hook on the doorway. "You should probably get it after nine," I say. "My dad will already be gone and Marcie spends most of Thursday mornings doing errands. But if anyone notices, I'll figure out some kind of excuse."

"Got it," he says, and then comes to meet me at the doorway. "See you Thursday?"

"You're leaving?" I ask, fighting off a twinge of disappointment as I hand the keys over.

"Marcie told me you were sick and that I couldn't stay long. I don't want to blow your cover," he says, but he leans against the door and looks around. "Your house is exactly the same. It's nice."

The low light of the front hallway is making him look very warm and touchable. I don't know if it is because I am going stir-crazy, but I suddenly wonder if I was insane not to take all of my kissing chances when I had them. Amusement flickers over his face.

Dammit. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" he asks innocently, but I notice that he moves a little closer. Before I can decide what to do, however, a disgusted huff sounds from my left. Caroline is standing at the foot of the stairs, looking like she's caught us rolling around on the hardwood floor rather than standing side by side.

"Seriously?" she says. "Seriously."

This time she stomps up the stairs.

"I'd better go before your sister explodes," James says, and the moment is lost.

Wednesday night brings another visitor. I'm sitting in front of my computer, hoping for a last-minute miracle that will keep me from having to contact Mark about subbing in, when a knock sounds at my door. I open it to find Lindsay Allen with a stack of books balanced on her hip.

"I figured you wouldn't want to fall behind, so I come bearing homework," Lindsay says and then peers around the corner. "Cool room. Can I come in for a second? Sorry for not giving you a warning."

"Uh, sure. Ignore all the socks. There was an explosion." And by that I mean an explosion of boredom that led to me organizing them by print and holiday.

Lindsay walks inside, shutting the door behind her with a deliberateness that makes me nervous. "I have to ask you something," she says as she takes a seat at my desk and crosses her legs. "Did something happen with you and that guy Vlad at that party Friday night?"

Dread creeps over my skin. "Why?"

"Hmm, okay. I don't really know how to put this, but . . . well, he was telling everybody today that you guys are dating and that you're his soul mate and that you're going to get married."


Lindsay gives a solemn nod.

"What?" I feel like I'm in one of those teen shows where a caring friend lets her naive schoolmate know that the popular guy in school is spreading rumors about her. Of course, those usually end with everyone finding out they have chlamydia instead of a vampire husband, but the concept is the same.

"I thought it was weird," she says. "I didn't really think that he was your type. He's kind of smarmy. That's why I didn't go to his party."

"We're not even dating," I say. "What is the opposite of dating?"

"Not dating?" she tries. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I just thought that you should know."

It's obvious that I've made Lindsay uncomfortable. She is looking everywhere but at me, rolling a few pens around on my desk and studying an old Happy Bunny poster I tacked to the wall when I was feeling boo-hiss about the world.

"Don't apologize," I say as calmly as I can. "What exactly is he saying?"

She relaxes a little, which means she returns to her usual habit of talking in hyper-speed. "He's saying that you two hooked up. Only he's not saying 'hooked up.' He's saying that you 'sported,'" she says, complete with air quotes. "You know, I'm all for fun with vocabulary, but that's just weird. He gives me the creeps. I don't really know why, but he does."

Probably because he tried to make her his lunch. At least I can make sure that Lindsay isn't drawn back into it again.

"He is creepy," I confirm, "and you should stay away from him." Now that my caveat has been signed, sealed, and delivered, it's time to get back to the real problem. I move across the room and collapse on the bed with a bounce. "Do people believe him?"

"Pretty much, yeah," she says. "Well, those who know who you are. The others just asked if you're new or in the special classes. A few people asked if you were the person who wrote that article calling out teachers who don't care about plagiarism." She pauses. "Those kids looked kind of mad."

"But a lot of people were at Friday's party," I insist. "They should know that it's not true."

"They're saying that he dragged you and James Hallowell out of the pantry, and then kicked everyone out in a jealous rage."

There are no words for how twisted the people at my high school are. I fall backward on the bed and put a pillow over my face.

"Smothering yourself is not the answer," Lindsay says.

Lifting up a corner, I peer out from beneath the fringe. She's busy rearranging the pens on my desk into some sort of order. When she notices me watching, she colors and then tells me there's something else.

"What else can he possibly be saying? That I am carrying his love child?" I joke and then sit up. "Oh God."

Lindsay shakes her head. "Nothing like that. Mr. Amado's been asking me if I know when you'll be back. He's going to be out for personal reasons starting on Monday, so he's going to pick the editor in chief early because he wants someone who'll make sure that stupid sub doesn't accidentally erase the whole issue again," she says. "I thought it was only fair that you know."

I look at her, wondering what I would have done if our places were switched, whether I would have taken the time to give the competition a heads-up about the new deadline or about the fact that she's the victim of vampire rumor-mongering. I don't think I would have. Suddenly, I want to apologize for lying again, but she'd just think I'm crazy. So I apologize for what she'll remember.

"I'm sorry that I didn't call you back this summer."

Her eyes widen a little at the non sequitur, but she just says, "That's okay. I was busy with the animal shelter. To be honest, I smelled like dog most of the time and probably shouldn't have hung out with anyone. Anyway, I'd better get home," she says as she swoops down to pick up her bag. "My mother works late at the hospital on Wednesdays, which means my little brother is home alone. Last time I was late he watched enough HBO to make him sound like Tony Soprano." She stops when her hand is on the doorknob. "Your articles were really good, by the way."

"Yours were better," I say, and it's not a lie. Her article on James captured him perfectly, and the ones on Devon and Ashley reached some sort of Hellen-Keller-Miracle-Worker level that my articles on Violet and her love of the color purple didn't even come close to matching. She even made Andrew and his dirt bikes interesting. But Lindsay just shakes her head.

"No way," she says. I think that she's humoring me, but when I check her face for signs of sarcasm I come up empty.

"Do you want to maybe get together some weekend?" I blurt.

"Oh. Sure! There's a midnight showing of Nosferatu this Saturday at the Main Street Theater - "

"No!" I say sharply, before making an effort to tone down the crazy. "I mean, I don't really like vampires. Let's talk about it tomorrow at lunch."

"You'll be at school?"

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