Vampire Crush

By: A. M. Robinson

Chapter One

“Sophie McGee, Editor in Chief.”

I have to say, it has a nice ring to it. I say it again just for kicks, only this time I use a whimsically French accent, the kind you only see in zee bad comedies. Then, since I’m on a roll, I launch into a few others—Southern (great), Australian (hot), Swiss (breezy and natural, but a person from Switzerland should probably be the judge). Mr. Amado, my journalism teacher, should really give the position to me now. I’m just about to attempt Human Who Is Secretly a Robot accent when someone knocks on my bedroom door.

“What are you doing? Are you talking to yourself?” asks a muffled voice that’s curious and impatient all at once—a trademark of my stepsister, Caroline.

“I’m on the phone,” I say loudly, before remembering that last night I left my phone on the coffee table downstairs. I add “Lie Better” to this year’s to-do list.

“You’re doing the name thing again, aren’t you?” she asks. “I don’t think your teacher will make you editor in chief if you are crazy.”

It’s a fair point. Still . . .

“What do you want?” I ask.

“Mom says she’s going to eat your first-day French toast if you don’t come downstairs for breakfast now.”

Not wanting to waste time when there’s powdered sugar involved, I thank Caroline for warning me and return to packing my bag as I hear her skip down the stairs. Pens? Check. Schedule? Check. Journalism notebook with article ideas for this year? Triple check. Name perfection aside, there are a lot of reasons that I deserve to be editor in chief. I’ve done everything I can to make sure that it’s me—writing filler articles, taking extracurricular photography courses, and even going to a summer journalism camp where we were all forced to wear lime green T-shirts and work on a fake newspaper called Teen Issues Today.

After checking to make sure that my hair isn’t doing anything too experimental, I clomp downstairs to the kitchen to find my family halfway through the McGee breakfast routine.

Caroline sits at our round table, dressed to the tens as she picks suspiciously at the remains of her fruit plate. Marcie gave her three slices of cantaloupe again, and as usual, one sits smiling and abandoned on the placemat while she taps her grapes as if they might be tiny purple grenades. They don’t pass the test. Abandoning the fruit altogether, she crosses her tan legs and sets to picking invisible lint off of her outfit. Today it is a short denim skirt and a series of layered candy-colored tank tops, all beneath a wispy excuse for a cardigan that’s designed to make our matronly principal’s head spin. Caroline won’t admit it, but her favorite hobby—after watching reality television—is flirting with wardrobe malfunction.

My father sits across from her in a banker-blue suit. For the first nine years of my life, I steadfastly believed that he wore a tie to bed. This morning’s selection is red, striped, and currently peeking out from beneath the local business section. Every so often his head shakes as he mutters something about the NASDAQ and the depressed real estate market.

The only thing missing is my stepmother, Marcie, eating my food (lies!) and asking when I’m going to try out for tennis to fulfill her vicarious need for high school sports. Instead she’s peering out the window that faces our neighbor’s house, or what used to be their house until they moved out six months ago. I slide into the last empty seat and drag some French toast onto my plate with as much stealth as possible; no need to attract her attention.

“I think the house next door finally sold,” Marcie announces to no one in particular. “There’s a light on upstairs . . . but I haven’t seen any moving trucks.”

She leans over the sink, not caring that the pink belt of her silk robe is dangling down the drain. If there’s one thing Marcie likes more than being our family’s judge, jury, and cruise director, it’s keeping tabs on the neighbors.

“It’s probably an early morning reflection,” my father says.

“The sign’s gone.”

“Then they moved in late last night.”

Marcie looks doubtful, probably because she was spying last night at dinner, too, but she drops the curtain and takes her place at the table next to Caroline.

“I wish it were the Hallowells,” she says sadly, reaching over to steal Caroline’s neglected cantaloupe slice. “Sophie got along so well with their son.”

I shove a bite of French toast in my mouth so I will be saved from responding. Marcie used to think that their son, James, was my soul mate because one time we managed to get through a picnic without starting a ketchup war or calling each other “snotbucket.” In reality our relationship consisted of hair pulling (age six), doll vandalism (age eight), and relentless teasing about my freckles (age eleven). Not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but try telling Marcie that. Luckily he moved away to New York before either one of us had to drink poison or kill a cousin.

“I hope they have a teenage son,” says Caroline, who’s gone back to scraping the seeds off of her strawberries. “A cute one,” she adds before glancing up to study my outfit. “Seriously? That’s what you’ve decided to wear on the first day of school?”

I look down at my faded green T-shirt, low-rise jeans, and classic Converse sneakers. No reason to go cry in a corner. “What?” I ask. “Is my butt supposed to have something written on it?”

She ignores my joke. “If you want to borrow something, just ask. You know, like a skirt. Or something not made out of cotton.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say, shrugging it off. It might sound mean-spirited, but Caroline’s concern for the fashion victims of the world is genuine. I once caught her sniffling over People’s “Worst Dressed” list. She claimed it was allergies, but I suspect she was momentarily overcome by a star’s debilitating case of quadra-boob.

After Caroline returns to inspecting her fruit, my father lowers the corner of his newspaper and winks at me, his traditional bonding gesture. Before I can wink back, Marcie leans across the table and taps me on the wrist with a manicured index finger, waiting for my full attention before she asks her question.

“Have you given any more thought to tennis this year?”

And with that, I know that it’s time to grab my backpack and leave for school.

Thomas Jefferson High is on the edge of town, a location normally reserved for insane asylums and industrial plants that leak hazardous waste. I arrive in plenty of time to snag my usual parking spot at the far end of the lot, right next to the woods that border it to the west. The towering pine trees ensure that the sun does not make my Jeep a sauna, which in turn makes sure that I won’t have to kill myself in the afternoon because the car is too hot. For this reason, I like the woods. My classmates also like the woods, but more because they can sneak off and kiss behind the trees.

As for the building itself, nothing has changed since last May; it could still double as a penitentiary, albeit a penitentiary with a lot of jail spirit and a streamer budget. The narrow windows are more suited to a castle turret than a place of learning, and on a gray day it’s difficult to distinguish brick from sky. Unless it benefited from a surprise makeover this summer, the inside isn’t any less gloomy.

The front sidewalk is peppered with clumps of students desperate to soak up the final seconds before the last bell spurs a mad stampede toward the front door. Usually I cut through the gauntlet of chatter and make my way to class, but today I’m not hearing the normal buzz about summer pool parties, new cars, and mean bosses at Dairy Queen. Instead it’s about a group of new students who tried to shake everyone’s hands in the hallways.

“I heard they were foreign exchange students,” says Danny Baumann, his sunny, all-American head towering above the cluster of football players to my right. “From Bulgaria, or someplace else in South America.”

No one would be surprised to learn that Danny Baumann spent the entire semester of World Geography planning his fantasy football league. I know this because I spent the entire semester studying Danny Baumann. Ours is a secret love. I lean in to hear more, but Lindsay Allen cuts my eavesdropping short by hopping in front of me.

“Hey! Good to see you again,” she says, startling me with a hug. Five-foot-nothing, she’s a red-haired dynamo who reigns over Student Council and anything involving wind instruments. She gives a mean rendition of Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy at Speech meets, and the rumor is that it once made the drama teacher cry. More frightening? She moved here less than a year ago, but she’s my competition for editor in chief. When she pulls away, she’s already talking a mile a minute.

“So Mr. Amado wants to see you before the bell if you have a chance. He thinks we should get a head start on the welcome-back issue of the paper,” she says and then readjusts her thick-framed glasses.

Great. She’s beaten me to the newsroom, aka Mr. Amado’s journalism classroom. Her glasses also look very editorial. I’m losing this thing already.

“What does he want us to handle?” I ask, dreading the answer.

“The new student profile thing,” she says. “It’s gonna be fun! And a little annoying. Hey, I called you a few times over the summer, but you never got back to me.”

“Oh. Right. I was . . . busy.” As excuses go, it’s fairly lame, so I try to make it better by explaining that the leader of the journalism camp was in love with homework. The truth is that I meant to call her—I did—but something always seemed more important. Thankfully the ten-minute bell rings, and Lindsay makes panicked noises about having three more teachers to see before running off and saving me from digging a deeper hole.

When I get to the journalism room, Mr. Amado’s busy writing his name and an “inspirational” quote in small, spiky letters on the whiteboard. The room is a haphazard jumble of desks, article clippings, and computers, many of which are so old that their keys have only the ghosting of letters. I love this place. I take in a deep breath and then start to cough. It also smells like rubber cement, even though they switched to electronic layout years ago.

Mr. Amado drops the marker in the tray and turns around. “Sophie! Nice to see you.”

“Lindsay said that you wanted to discuss the welcome-back issue?” I say when I’ve recovered.

“Right!” he says, clapping once as he moves behind his desk. “But first, have a seat in the front row and let’s go over what our goals are for this year.”

He points toward a desk in the front row. I sit, taking a moment to study the deranged art scratched across its top, including a sketch of what is either Mr. Amado in drag or an attractive female Bigfoot. I’m still debating when he rolls over in his chair, brow furrowed like he’s going to tell me I have brain cancer.

“I hope that you know what a great journalist and writer I think you are,” he says. “Your work last year was exceptional. If my grade book didn’t tell me otherwise, I would have thought you were a senior. I’m honored to have you back on my staff.”

Well, this is a step up from cancer. “I know that you want me on the new-student thing, but I actually had a great article idea for the first issue,” I say, tugging at my backpack’s zipper and pulling out my story notebook. “Have you ever wondered how many of our library’s books have never been checked out? I bet if we compare our percentages to the state average you’ll see just how illiterate the student body really is. I mean, you can already see it, but just think—”

“Sophie,” Mr. Amado interrupts gently and then tells me to listen. “Like I said, I love everything you’re doing, but our school paper is generally supposed to be less investigative and more . . .”

“Fluff?”

“Celebratory.”

“Oh.”

“It’s not that your article on the health code violations committed by lunch ladies in the cafeteria wasn’t stellar—it was—but I think we are ruffling too many feathers. I also think they spit in my soup when I’m not looking.”

I have a snappy comment ready about progress and how it can’t happen if you’re afraid of lunch ladies, but I swallow it. Seeing that no response is forthcoming, Mr. Amado sighs, rolls over to his desk to grab a folder, and rolls back.

“We have a lot of new students this year. Eight in the junior and senior class alone,” he says, handing over the folder. “I want you and Lindsay to handle them for the ‘Getting to Know Our New Tigers’ feature. You have four; she has four. Frame the profiles however you like, but just make sure it’s a human interest piece.” The corners of his mustache lift in amusement. “You’re not trying to get them to confess their innermost secrets. If they shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, good for them. We don’t want to know about it.”

This assignment sounds about as fun as naked paintball. A part of me thought being a junior would mean that I could stop scouting out the mall’s best frozen yogurt or asking random students if they liked the new Saw movie.

“Everything okay?” Mr. Amado asks.

“So we’re talking favorite foods, hobbies, colors, movies, pets, and hair products, right?” I ask, doing my best to stop sulking and fake excitement.

“It’s up to you,” he says just as the warning bell rings. As he walks me to the door, he tries to be reassuring. “You’ll do great, don’t worry. And hey—I promise that your next story can be about how the members of the Green Team don’t recycle.”

One can only hope.

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