Vampire Crush Page 31

I check my pulse a lot in the days that follow. I check in class, I check at the dinner table, I check at stoplights. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my fingers already at my neck or on my wrist. There is always that moment of panic when I can't locate it, when I think that the fluke is finally over and that I am going to suddenly feel the points of fangs jabbing at the corners of my mouth. But then I find it. I always find it, beating fast and strong and human.

My "side effects" don't go away. Whatever balance was tipped by James's impromptu blood transfusion does not find its equilibrium. My family, teachers, and classmates now glimmer like glowworms, even under fluorescent lights, and I am still a satellite for stray thoughts. I know that this is not normal; I know that I should be looking into what it means and who (and what exactly) I am. Sometimes I watch my father as he putters around the house, wondering how much he knew or knows and finding it hard to believe that a man who owns a snowman tie could have ever been wrapped up in anything remotely supernatural. Occasionally I even try to listen in on his thoughts, before guilt makes me stop. I wonder more about my mother in this week than I have in the last five years, but I am still not ready to crack it open. I tell myself tomorrow, and then tomorrow I tell myself next week.

Mr. Amado doesn't choose me as editor in chief. While there's a moment where it makes me want to pick up and hurl something at the wall - or at least stake Vlad all over again - I know that Lindsay deserves it more than I do, if only because she played the game fair and honest the entire way through. She's already promised me that she'll include any investigative article I want to write. I am tempted to test that with vampires, but I think I'm vampired out. Or at least that's what I'm trying to convince myself of these days.

James does not come to school in the next week, nor does he appear outside my window. I try not to be disappointed, but I won't say that seeing the empty chemistry stool isn't a kick in the gut. Every night I try not to squint at his house, and every night I fail. A part of me longs to confront him, but after my shocked words during the brief time that I thought I was a vampire, thrusting my mortality in his face now seems like the ultimate insult.

But then one night I'm up late working on my French homework, trying to figure out how to tell Pierre, who is always lost, how to get to the boulangerie when I catch a small glow of light in the corner of my eye. Holding my breath, I peer out the window, the tiny flicker of hope shrinking with every second that passes. Come on, come on, I think, willing it into existence. My face is mere inches from the glass when it flares again. I am out of my chair so fast that I stumble over the legs, knocking my knees against the armrests. Lately I've been misjudging the time it takes to complete actions, to get from point A to point B. Right now, however, I don't care. I thunder down the stairs with no regard for who I might be waking.

The night air is cool, crisp; fall has sprung. Kicking up leaves, I cut across the yard and duck through the hole in the fence, expecting to find James waiting for me on the porch, but the porch is empty. Confused, I walk to the side of his house and check the window only to be met with the same infuriating lack of James. This is the proof I've been waiting for. Tomorrow I will call the asylum. "I am losing my mind," I say aloud to no one in particular.

"No, you're not," James's voice says from above me. I look up again to see his face hanging over the eaves of the highest window.

"You're on the roof," I say, stupidly. It's nice to know that whatever other changes I have experienced this past week, my powers of stating the obvious are still intact.

He smiles and holds out his arms. "So I am."

"Are you going to come down?" I ask. I should be much more annoyed with him than I am. I promise to start as soon as my brain stops going happyhappyhappyhappy-happy.


Or I can start being annoyed now. "Well, as fun as it is to stare up your nose, I have French homework to finish."

"I think that you should come up," he suggests.

"And I think you're losing your mind."

"Try it," he insists, walking to the corner of the house and pointing to the roof of the covered porch. "Grab the ledge and then boost yourself up."

I stare at the item in question, which is a good four feet above my head. "I think you overestimate my jumping skills."

James's only answer to that is to smile.

I decide to humor him. Crouching down, I attempt to leap toward the gutter. No one has ever been more shocked than I am when I feel the ridge of metal beneath my fingers and hear the creak of it bending beneath my weight.

"Now pull yourself up. Er, quickly please. You're kind of destroying my house."

Still in shock, I manage to swing a leg up and then crawl onto the roof of the porch. Brushing my hair back behind my ears, I peer over the edge.

"One more to go," James says, and this time I trust that I can make it. It turns out that this is a misguided instinct.

"Can I get a little help here?" I say as I hang with one heel on the roof of James's house and the other one dangling in the breeze.

He grabs my arm and hauls me up, hard enough that I bump into his chest. For a second his arms rest at my waist, and my heart beats fast between us. But then I get a flash of thought - so alive - and I pull back, embarrassed and uneasy. James was right; this new vampire thing is kind of a bitch.

James clears his throat and takes a seat on the highest point. "It will get easier."

"Jumping onto roofs?"

"Sure. That and everything," he says, and I realize that the reassurance wasn't just meant for me. It was meant for him as well.

We sit in silence for a few moments, and I study the neighborhood from my new bird's-eye view. The streets are quiet. Every once in a while a car passes with a gentle whoosh, but for the most part we seem to be the only ones awake. The moon is a pale sliver.

"I am sorry for what I said in the woods," I finally say when I work up the courage. "I am glad that you saved me, and I would've been glad even if it did turn me into a full vampire. I was just in shock. And I'm sorry because it is unfair, and you have every right - "

"Stop," he says.

The shortness of his interruption makes my stomach sink; it was too soon to come over here. I peer over the side of the roof as I try to figure out my exit strategy. It's still a little daunting to think that I should ever just leap off a roof. "Maybe we should talk later," I say, but before I can do anything, he grabs my hand.

Idiot, that's not what you meant. The thought cuts into my own, and it takes me a moment to realize that's not my thought - it's his.

"Then what did you mean?" I ask, and I can tell that I've thrown him.

"Okay, that really is kind of annoying," he says before his face turns serious. "What I meant to say is that you shouldn't apologize. I was jealous, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy that you're alive. Never apologize for that."

I look at him, not knowing what I could possibly say through the well of emotion that has decided to gather in my throat.

"And if I ever act like you should," he continues, "you can totally throw things at my head."

I manage a shaky laugh. "Just then?" I joke, but it has no edge at all because I am too busy looking at him. After all these days of being surrounded by slightly neon people, it's nice to be next to someone who is nice and non-shiny.

"You, on the other hand, look like a weather map," he says.

It's all I can do not to pull my hand away; this is not something that I am going to get used to, not the mind reading or the idea that James pictures me as a warm front. "Really?" I ask, more disappointed than I want to be. At least he didn't say that I'm the color of a baboon's butt.

He snorts, and I realize that he's still tuning in.

"Stop listening!"

"Sorry," he says, not sounding sorry at all. After a while he says, "I wasn't being serious. There's just a slight glow."

"Why can't I hear you as well as you can hear me?" I ask, because it's true. I only seem to hear him when we are touching.

"I don't know," he says. "Maybe it's because you're not a full vampire."

Maybe. For all my attempts to drown myself in normalcy, questions are starting to seep in. Lately, I've been trying to remember all of the things Vlad ever said and trying to sort the legitimate from the delusional. I should have taken his dumb book when he offered it to me.

"Then what am I?"

"You're Sophie," James says. "That's all that matters to me. That's all that matters to anyone."

"Do you think the other vampires will stay?"

"Marisabel is already gone."


"She left a few days ago. She said there were too many memories here, and she wanted to try things on her own for once."

"But where will she go?" I ask.

"She said that she'd figure something out."

"So Violet and Neville are staying?"

"You couldn't pry Violet away with a stick. And Neville apparently has some part in the musical. Troy or something? I don't know. He's very excited."

It's a little strange how happy I am to hear that Violet will be staying, even though it means that the Neal problem is still . . . well, the Neal problem.

"What about Vlad?"

"He's dead, Sophie."

"I know that. But aren't people at school going to wonder where he went?" I ask.

"There never were any records. Vlad used his powers to convince people that he should be there, I'll be able to convince people that he shouldn't. And after all, there aren't any parents to report him missing."

"So you're staying?" I ask, because while all signs point to this, I just need for him to say it.

James looks at me, his eyes dark with emotion. So is the rest of his face because, you know, it's the middle of the night. But his eyes are darker. I swear.

"Where else would I go?" he says softly.

"I don't know. I thought you might want to get away from . . . reminders."

He looks up at the sky, at the stars above. "When I came back I thought that living in my old house would make everything feel . . . I don't know, corrected somehow. I thought I would feel like nothing had changed. And then when it didn't feel like that, I hated it. I hated every single brick and shingle. But it doesn't matter anymore."


He looks at me, gaze intent. "Because when I'm with you, I still feel like me. And maybe that's enough."

His words elate me - there is no other good way to describe this - and it causes severe technical difficulties between my brain and my mouth. But maybe that's because I'm not supposed to talk. This time I have no trouble closing the distance. My kiss lands southeast of its target, but he corrects my tactical error. It's not perfect. Sure, his lips are cooler than the average guy's and I think that I may be sitting on his hand, but under the very strange circumstances I think this is a happyish ending.

And you know what? Kissing on rooftops is kind of awesome.

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