Gym class. It’s required to graduate, and it’s another experience I could easily go the rest of my life without. Lucky for me, I can use my glamour to get out of gym.
But I don’t do it all the time. For example, any sport that’s a solo thing, like jogging or yoga, I attend. Team sports are a dead give-away, though, so I get out of them. You can act clumsier than you actually are when moving slowly. But when I’m playing a game, I tend to move at my natural speed, and my natural speed is way too fast. Other vamps seem to have the same issue. Smart ones skip sports. Ego-mad ones want the glory and flock to football and basketball.
This is one of the reasons I always go to the home games, and also why I take gym, even if I don’t always participate.
Mid-November in Nebraska means we’re doing mostly indoor sports. The football team is still outside, but the rest of us are inside. I join the yoga group and watch the rest of the kids.
All the kids in yoga are girls. I don’t much care about girl vamps. I leave them alone. They leave me alone. For a high school hunt, I’m interested in turning the tables on the boys playing the seduction game. I watch the other girls carefully; none of them are vamps. The gym teacher is pretty serious about this yoga thing, and the girls are flushed and sweating.
I shift into The Archer and watch the basketball game.
Now, we can’t actually fly. At least I’ve never met one of us who figured out how to do it. But, we are awfully strong, so we can jump a good long way. If I put some effort into it, I can jump seventy feet. So, when one of the guys pulls off a jump that would make Michael Jordan burn with jealousy, I’ve got my vamp.
He’s young, sort of. His body looks sixteenish. He’s tall, thin, and gangly. His hair is light brown, and he’s got it brushed into a Justin Bieberish ‘do. My guess is that it’s actually cut into a ‘70s Luke Skywalker shag and he’s just brushing it forward. His eyes are a light, but still pretty natural looking, shade of green. He’s probably less than fifty years old.
The other boys are playing full-out; they’re pink, sweating, and breathing hard. He’s pale and calm. He takes a hard elbow to the face, a shot that would split the lip of a human, but he just shakes his head and retreats to the sidelines for a minute.
He catches me staring at him. I look away, fast, but not so fast that he doesn’t catch me doing it. I sneak a glance back up at him, and he smiles at me.
The guy next to him pokes him gently with an elbow to the stomach and nods at me. I focus my hearing on them and catch a slightly salacious comment about my body.
This one is going to be easy.
I catch sight of him again at lunch. For the number of dead girls in this town, I was expecting to see someone who didn’t really know how to blend. But this one is good.
He’s eating: really eating, looking like he’s enjoying every bite of the third-rate pizza the cafeteria serves. He’s got his arm around a pretty girl and is feeding her bites of his pizza.
“Enjoying today’s edition of America’s Sweetest Couple?” Billy slides into the seat next to me.
I smile, feeling pleased to see him. “Oh yes, nothing like young love to set the heart to skipping with unfeigned joy.”
“He’s Jack Cross. She’s Evie James. They’ve been dating since about homeroom this morning.” Damn! It’s hard to pry a vamp away from a brand new acquisition.
“Lovely. Nothing like the first blush of a new relationship.”
“Yeah.” He rolls his eyes at me. “So, how are you enjoying day two of the glorious adventure that is Jenks High School?”
“I’m having the time of my life.”
“Glad to hear it. How’d you end up here? Not like we get a lot of mid-year transfers.”
I’ve got a few stock answers for this question. “Parents split up a few years ago. On my eighteenth, mom was done with me. She left. Rather than hunt for my Dad, I took out a map, grabbed a dart, and tossed. I wanted to get somewhere she wouldn’t be able to find me when she woke up and decided to be mommy dearest again. So, here I am.”
“Ouch. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” He’s looking at me hard. Really seeing what’s in front of him. It’s the sort of look that makes me glad I’m in one of my fun Goth outfits. This one has a short navy skirt, black and red striped leggings, a black long-sleeve tee, and a dark gray short-sleeve tee over top. To finish the look off, I’ve got a cute little black scarf, with skulls on the bottoms, wrapped around my throat. Without it, he definitely would have noticed my lack of pulse.
“So, what do people do around here for fun?” I ask.
“Tip cows.” He winks. “Nah, we’re not that far into middle of nowhere. This here is the most holy and devout land of First Church of Christ at the Mall. Everyone in school worships there daily.”
“Brilliant. I like malls.”
He looks a little disappointed.
“Well, I like clothing, and clothing tends to be at malls. I could probably take or leave the actual mall part.”
“How about you in specific? What do you do for fun?”
He grins at me. “Morphine.”
The bell rings, and before I have a good comeback, he heads off to his next class.
I don’t see Billy again for the rest of the day. I do see Jack and Evie. They appear to be surgically connected.
This is something of a complication.
It’s not like I usually show up at just the right time when the vamp is between feeds. Yeah, it’s great if it happens, but it’s only happened twice in ten years.
But most of the time, we’re… fickle is as good a word as any. Look, if you’re as old as we are, teens can be pretty boring companions. Fun for a little while, but over time they just get dull, so, if he’s good at his glamour, he takes care of the girl and goes onto a new one. And look, there I am, new, really new, with no visible attachments, slouching away, looking ripe for Mr. Romance to come and sweep me off my feet.
Most of the time is not all of the time though. And if Jack is anything like most of the other vamps I’ve met who feed on teens, he’s pretty into the new one while she is new. Basically, without a crowbar, I’m not going to be able to pry him off of her. And if he’s really responsible for all three dead girls in this area, he’s averaging eight months before he gets bored.
I’m not sticking around here for eight months waiting for him to get bored.
He’s sitting on the back of a bench, waiting for his ride. She’s standing between his legs. They’re cuddling. He hasn’t looked in my direction since gym class. I don’t see any bite marks on her, but it’s cold out, so most of the obvious parts are covered in clothing.
So, Jack, how to get you…
Home again, for a little while at least. Drop off my stuff, change my outfit, watch some Sherlock, and then, to the mall.
Remember my suck-ass town comment? Okay, so one of the things a town needs before I’ll deign to consider it a hunting ground is a decent mall. And a few good clubs are nice too, but usually that’s too much to ask for in a small suburb like this one.
I like to shop. I like to dance. So, if I am going to grace your town with my presence, you have to be able to provide me with at least one of those options.
Jenks, Nebraska has a good mall.
Back in the dark ages, when I was a girl, clothing worked something like this: mother went to the dry goods store and purchased cloth. That cloth was wool. It was hot and itchy and smelled like sheep and sometimes pee. (Urine was used to fix certain dyes. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in the 1650s?) She then made a dress out of it. The best thing you could say about it was that it fit. She was a competent, but not talented, seamstress. That dress was my Sunday best for about a year or two. Then it would have enough wear to get demoted to my shop dress, and she’d make a new Sunday best dress. The shop dress was worn six days a week while I tended my father’s shop. I also had a nightgown and a dress that had gone past shop dress to chores dress. I had one pair of boots. One pair of shoes, they were worn only to church and were passed down to my little sisters when they got too small. A winter cloak, a few scarves and aprons, a bonnet to keep my hair covered, two pairs of stockings, and a few unmentionables rounded out my entire wardrobe.
In that my clothing wasn’t homespun, and I did have a new dress every year or two, I was a notch or two above most of the rest of the world.
My fortunes rose, and eventually, I had a few closets full of clothing. But the whole made-for-you-from-scratch-thing was pretty much how clothing worked until the 1920s, when suddenly, there were department stores and ready-to-wear clothing.
So, I like clothing. I like shopping for clothing. I like looking at it, touching it, picking it out, and trying it on. I like all sorts of styles, though I tend to go for mostly Goth looks when I’m on a high school hunt.
I’m at the mall, happily petting a selection of silk corsets, when I sense someone watching me. Nothing magic or supernatural about that, just that feeling that someone is paying attention.
I look up.
“Come here often?” Billy asks.
“Every single day.” I smile at him.
“Is this also punishment for pissing off God?”
“Nah. This is my reward for being a good little consumer.”
He steps closer to me and looks at the piece in my fingers. He gives me a very interested look, like he can’t believe I’d ever put anything like that on, and says, “I’d love to see you in that.”
I lift the magenta corset and flip it over. “You and me both.” I point to the price tag. “Too much for a girl on her own.” I do make a note of what store I’m at. I’ll probably order it online tonight. It’s way too cute to just leave.
“That’s a crying shame.” He looks genuinely disappointed.
“Indeed. So, you spend a lot of time shopping for women’s clothing?”
“Nope. I decided I needed a new hobby this morning and this seemed like fun.”
“Wonderful.” I look around and notice there’s no one else with him. A quick mental inventory reminds me there’s never anyone else with him. “I don’t want to be rude, but… most kids are here in packs. I know why I’m on my own, but why are you alone?”
“Wanna take a walk with me?” Interesting non-sequitur.
“Sure. Lead on.”
He takes me to an ice cream shop by the food court. “Want anything?”
“Yeah. Split a milkshake with me?”
He laughs at that. “You got a poodle skirt hiding somewhere?”
I pretend not to get the reference. This is the second out-of-time thing he’s done. Why?
He shakes his head at my blank look. “Never mind. What flavor?”
“Pick your pleasure. I’m good with any of them.”
“Nope. You get to pick. Lady’s choice.”
Interesting. Are you just terribly polite and old-fashioned, or is something else going on here? I scan the menu and order a chocolate malted. There’s something to be said for these little middle-America towns. Sometimes I can get a decent taste of the past.
The guy behind the counter gives Billy the shake. Billy grabs two straws, and we find a bench in a somewhat quieter section of the food court.
He puts the straws in, holding it toward me. I take a decent size sip. He takes a tiny one.
“Don’t like the flavor?”
“It’s fine. Nothing tastes right to me these days. It’s a side effect of the chemo.”
I nod at him. Something else, indeed. “I figured something like that had to be going on with you. Not too many bald high school kids. That why there aren’t a pile of kids trailing around with you?”
“One of the reasons. I’ve actually only been here for a year. The local hospital has a really good specialist for what I’ve got.”
“And what do you have?”
“A neuroblastoma.” I give him a blank look, even though I do know what a neuroblastoma is. He continues explaining, “Brain cancer. It’ll probably kill me in less than six months.” He sounds surprisingly upbeat about it. “What’s up with you?”
I really wasn’t expecting that question. I take another sip of the shake. “I just moved here…”
“No. I mean, what’s wrong with you?”
“Ummm… What do you mean?” He now has my entire attention, and he’s once again watching me very closely.
“You’re room temperature. Ever since they started me on this last round of chemo, I can see heat. Everything that’s warm has a glow to it. The warmer it is, the more intensely it glows. You’re not glowing.”
Well, that’s something I’ve never run into before. I think frantically for a good lie. Finally, a word springs to mind. “Hypothyroid. Gives me a low body temperature, makes me tired and pale. They’ve got meds for it, but I don’t like the side effects.”
“Oh. I was hoping you were a vampire.” See, here’s the thing; we don’t live in the open, but these days, there are enough of us around that a lot of people believe in us, ‘proof’ to the contrary notwithstanding.
I snort at that and look amused. “Why, did you want me to eat you?”
“I’d love it if you’d eat me. Even better if you’d let me do you, too.” He grinned again, a lovely touch of amused lewdness on his face. I was beginning to think I could really get to like this kid. What can I say; I’m a sucker for gallant snark in the face of adversity. “However, I was hoping you’d turn me.”
“Oh, please, Buffy much?”
“Well, yes, that episode did cross my mind, but really, what else do I have to look forward to?”
“You’ve got a point.”
“I suppose being a demon isn’t much fun.” This kid has seen way too much Buffy.
“I don’t buy the demon thing.”
“Because, if there are vampires, humans would have to make them seem bad. It’s natural. But they wouldn’t have to be evil or anything, just hungry. We aren’t evil for eating cows. But, if cows could talk, don’t you think they’d have stories about the evil, cow-eating humans?”
He takes a sip of the shake. “You’re a very odd girl.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“We call the principal Wanker, and sometimes, if we’re feeling respectful, Mr. Wanker.”
“I did not know that.” A genuine smile creeps across my face.
“Good. I like the idea of cows sitting around a campfire telling stories about the evil humans. It’s a good image.”
“I’m glad you like it. Really, when you think about it, the idea that there’s some sort of special evil that goes with killing other people is all about maintaining some sort of functional society. But really, the universe is amoral, and I think, so are vampires. I mean, I’m sure there are some out there who get off on fear and pain, but most of them probably just want a good dinner.”
He doesn’t look like he really believes me. “If you say so.”
“I probably spend too much time thinking about stuff like this. I write vampire stories sometimes.”
“Cool. Could I read them?”
“Not yet. Maybe when I get a good one done, I’ll let you see it.”
“You better write fast, then. So, if you can’t make me a vamp, how about eating me?”
I snort a brief laugh and very gently shove him.
“You know, I tell most people I’m dying and usually they get all pity party on me.”
I need to deflect that line of conversation pretty quickly. In addition to my eye color, my ability, or lack thereof, to produce the correct emotional response at any given time can be a dead giveaway that I’m not human. “Well, it seems like it’d be odd to be more upset about it than you appear to be. You’re really quite upbeat.”
“It’s remarkably freeing. I mean, I never have to do anything I don’t want to. What happens if I skip my homework? Oh right, nothing. Not like not getting into Harvard is going to napalm my future. And, it’s not like being sniffly and tragic makes anything better.”
“I guess that’s true. Might make girls more likely to sleep with you.”
“Not interested in pity fucks. I know I’m not gorgeous, but I like to think I’ve got enough personality to interest a girl without pulling the ‘I’m dying’ card.”
“I like your personality.”
“Thanks. But not enough to have sex with me?”
“So, there’s some hope?”
I smile at him. “There’s always hope.”
He grins back at me, checks his cell, and says, “Gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be sitting there at school.”
I circle the mall twice more, slowly sipping the remains of the shake. Jack is there, with Evie at his side.
Screw this! He hasn’t looked at me more than the one time in gym. I need to go home, think, and come up with a better plan.