“That’s the one.” Bridget pointed with her fork. “That’s the guy who says he’s a vampire.”
Jennifer, who had been picking distractedly at her tuna salad, looked up at her friend and frowned. “Who’s a vampire?”
“The new kid. What’s his name. No, don’t look,” hissed Bridget, who lived in mortal fear that one day a boy in the cafeteria would catch her or one of her friends looking at him, and the outcome would be—well, Jennifer wasn’t sure what Bridget thought the outcome would be, other than some sort of unspecified disaster. “The one with the dark hair and the weirdo clothes.”
Gabrielle, who was staring openly across the cafeteria, raised her eyebrows. “Oh yeah. I think his name is Colin.”
“It is,” Bridget said. “He said so in English class. He just got up and said: ‘My name is Colin, and I just moved here. And oh yeah, I’m a vampire.’”
“He just said that? I’m a vampire?” Jennifer stared across the cafeteria, fascinated. The boy with the dark hair was sitting alone at a table, wearing a long black leather trenchcoat over a black shirt and black pants. He had black gloves on his hands, too, the fingertips cut off. He had a lunch tray in front of him, but there was nothing on it. Under the black, black hair, he was pale as blank paper. “What did everyone else do?”
“Mostly laughed. Then Mr. Brandon made him sit down.”
“He’s a poser,” Gabrielle said, and grinned. Gabby had a bright, white grin that had never needed braces. Jennifer often wondered how it was that the two of them were cousins who shared genetic material, and yet Gabby had gotten the perfect teeth and the blonde hair, and Jennifer had wound up with dishwater brown hair—something no one else in the family had—and four years of orthodontics.
“He never eats,” Bridget said, ticking off her points on her fingers. “He wears sunglasses everywhere. He’s super pale. And he never speaks to anyone. Maybe he is a vampire.”
“Or maybe he’s just a misanthrope,” said Gabby. “Anyway, if he was a vampire, wouldn’t he burn up in sunlight?”
“Oh, there’s no such thing as vampires anyway,” Jennifer said. “He’s just some crazy goth kid.”
“Oh yeah?” Bridget said. “Well, he’s looking at you.”
Startled, Jennifer glanced back in the boy’s direction. He had something balanced against the edge of the table, a sort of book, open as if he were writing or drawing in it. He shook his head as she looked at him and even at this distance she could see the green of his eyes.
There was something else, too. A feeling that as he looked back at her, something zinged through their gazes, some kind of connection—
Jennifer turned around and looked back at the other two girls at the table: Gabby with her eyebrows up, Bridget chewing nervously on the end of her red braid. “You’re blushing,” Gabby said.
Jennifer shrugged. “He is cute.”
Bridget grinned. “All vampires are.”
On the bus ride home, Jennifer thought about vampires. She didn’t know much about vampire legends: certainly less than the other girls in her school, who loved vampire romances and horror movies. She’d seen one vampire movie, once, when she was fourteen and over at Bridget’s house. For the next week after that, she’d dreamed about beautiful people with pale faces who would swoop through her window and take her away from her boring parents and her boring life. She would live in Paris instead of Pennsylvania and drink blood out of wine glasses, except it wouldn’t taste like blood—hard and metallic—but like something sweet and thin. Fruit punch, maybe, or black-cherry soda.
Not long after she’d been in a bookstore and asked her mother to buy her a copy of a teen vampire romance novel. Blood Desire, or something like that. She should have known better. Vampires and supernatural creatures and magic didn’t fit with her parents’ strict conservative worldview. Her mother had taken the book out of her hand and shoved it roughly back onto the shelf. Vampires, Jen was told, were not something girls her age should be thinking about; they were monsters made up by pagans and Satanists and had no place in a child’s bedroom.
What her mother really meant, Jen realized later, was that vampires were sexy, and she wasn’t supposed to think about sex, or boys. Unlike Gabby, Jen was never allowed to date—not even with a chaperone, not even a date to go to the mall in the middle of a Saturday with a million people around. She was forbidden to bring boys home, much less have them in her room. Sometimes Jen thought it was a wonder she was allowed to go to school at all, considering that there were boys there.
At home, Jen slipped in through the side door to find her mother in the kitchen, stir-frying onions in a pan. Jennifer slid onto one of the kitchen stools, twirling her backpack by one strap and watching her mother, thin and efficient-looking with her graying brown hair tied back in a braid and an apron cinched around her waist. None of the mothers of Jennifer’s friends, even when they did cook, wore an apron—not Bridget’s, whose mother only followed macrobiotic recipes she got off the Internet, or Gabby’s, whose crazy artist mother didn’t know how to make anything but Hamburger Helper. But Jennifer’s mom stayed home all day—she disapproved of her sister, who worked—so Jennifer figured she had nothing but time to cook.
“Hey, Mom,” Jennifer said. “I was just wondering …”
Jennifer’s mom half-turned, brushing a lock of hair away from her face and smiling. “About what?”
“How come Gabby gets to date,” Jennifer said. “You know. And I don’t.”
“Oh.” Her mother stood for a moment, poking at the onions in the pan. “Look, you and Gabby—you’re different.”
Her mother had said this before, and it always annoyed Jennifer. “Different how?”
“Well—Gabby can handle herself better.” Jennifer’s mother had her lips pressed together. Jen knew how much her mother hated having this conversation, but she couldn’t help it. It was like poking at a sore tooth. Of course, it was true that Gabby was more confident and self-reliant than she was, but how could anyone become confident or self-reliant when their parents kept them in a glass cage and never let them go anywhere or do anything?
“I can handle myself fine,” Jennifer said. “I’d just like to be able to—maybe—go on a date.” She held her breath.
She might not have bothered. “You know that’s out of the question,” Jen’s mother said. “Don’t be ridiculous.” She gave a little shriek as a puff of smoke wafted up from the pan. “Oh! My onions!”
In the library the next day, trying to research a book on Norse mythology, Jen kept feeling her gaze drawn to other books—books that had nothing to do with the topic of her essay. Books with the word vampire in the title.
There were more of them than she would have thought:
The Encyclopedia of Vampires, and The Massive Book of Vampire Myths, and Vampires through History. Jennifer was just reaching for the last one when a voice spoke from behind her:
“You know, most of those aren’t very accurate.”
She whirled around. Colin was behind her, leaning against one of the low shelves of books. Up close, his looks were even more striking. He had one of those sharp, bony, delicate faces, like a British film star. His hair was pure black, his eyes a bright and feverish green like a cat’s. There was a ring on one of his fingers. He couldn’t be married, she thought. But no, it was on the wrong finger. She thought of what Bridget had said—that he wore weirdo clothes, but she thought they suited him.