The remainder of the morning, with constant and at times agonizing restraint, had so far passed without any bloodshed. Every moment around humans, I felt on the precipice of crumbling. Always, the sinister plotting of how to take one of them down without repercussion played at my thoughts. Reprieve seemed unattainable, until my first double art class before lunch.
The art center was a separate and small building. It was located down a quiet path shrouded by a thicket of sassafras trees, and isolated from the main building. Its seclusion and smaller class headcount disturbed me. There’d be fewer witnesses if I lost it, less mess to clean up. It would take more control than I thought I could muster, to keep my mind from planning someone’s bloody demise.
Preparing for a doubled forty-five minute game of ‘ignore and don’t kill’, I walked stiffly through the open door into class. A girl with pixie-like features and sleek fiery-red hair bopped in front of me. My mouth clamped shut, holding my breath.
The girl’s face beamed as she swayed on her much-too-high-for-school stiletto heels. “Hi, you must be Amelia. I’m Vanessa.”
Her bubbly personality floored me. So far she was the only person—apart from the mysterious and tempting Ty—to introduce herself to me. The memory of him tugged at me from within, our entire interaction imprinted on my mind. I could remember every detail of his appearance and the few words he’d said to me. Still, I was no closer to placing him.
Now this girl was watching me, waiting on a reply while I stood reminiscing. “Uh, hi,” I said with caution.
Vanessa motioned to the back of the classroom, where two vacant easels waited. They were the only two left available. “Come on, I saved you a seat.”
With a smile, she turned and led the way past the other students already seated. A broad beam of warm sunlight streamed through the wall, made entirely of glass panels. The light encompassed the two vacant easels and a single paint rack positioned between them. Not nearly a good enough barrier to separate her from me.
The sun’s rays cast a distinct line across the polished cement floor. I paused at its edge, staring blankly past Vanessa and into the lush fernery beyond the glass. Sunlight was supposed to burn vampires. Well, all turned vampires, from what I had been told.
Yesterday I even witnessed it. I had been in the front passenger seat of Mom’s Mercedes SUV, bewildered by the huge mansion before us. The day was overcast, wind-blown clouds sheltering what should have been a pastel-blue sky. Mom slid from the car while Dorian and I stared. Was this monstrous structure really our new home?
Then the clouds shifted. A sizzling and gag-worthy stink of burning flesh reached us. Mom swore—something she rarely did—and dove into the back seat, tugging the door shut behind her. The UV resistant tint provided refuge from the sun’s escaping rays.
“Mom!” I cried, twisting in my seat. “Are you okay?”
Dorian’s arm shot out, collecting her hand and pulling it forward. “Shit!”
A bubbling welt of scorched flesh covered her forearm. “Language, Dorian,” Mom chastised. “And I’ll be fine.” She pulled her hand from Dorian’s. Instantly the redness began to soothe, the bubbled skin smoothing until her arm was totally unblemished.
I turned back to the dashboard, dropping my head into my hands. “Tell me again,” I said, hating the quake of my voice. “Tell me how you’re affected by the sun, when we’re not?”
Mom had gone over this subject many times at the cabin, but I was still unsettled by her explanation. The story just didn’t add up.
Mom flattened her blouse and sighed. “I was turned as an adult. However, it seems the circumstances in which you were both infected has provided immunity.” She edged forward, her posture straight as she rested a firm hand on each of our shoulders. “Now, this is the last time I will repeat myself.”
Back in the classroom, Vanessa had taken her spot and was waiting, watching me with a mixture of what looked like impatience and anticipation.
Shaking the memory from my mind, I stepped into the light. The curve in Vanessa’s smile twitched, her piercing blue eyes blinking.
“Welcome, Amelia.” The sudden voice caused Vanessa to jump, knocking her knee against the paint rack. A thin woman in paint-spattered overalls and a paintbrush holding her hair back in a bun, stood at the front of the classroom. “I’m Mrs. Ruby.” She looked to Vanessa. “Vanessa, would you please explain the project options to Amelia?”
Vanessa nodded, shifting her eyes back to me. Her face was painted with a perfect and what I thought was a faked smile. There goes my paranoia, again.
“So, we have two options,” she said. “Create a portrait of what we see ourselves becoming in ten years, or reveal our hidden selves. The side we keep secret from the world.”
The image of me devouring a blood-baggie that morning, with greedy drops of crimson escaping the corner of my mouth, intruded on my thoughts. Not pretty. Bile threatened to rise up at the back of my throat. I swallowed in an attempt to push it back down. Then I grasped a tube of paint from the rack to mask my discomfort. “Sounds interesting…”
Vanessa leaned closer, eyes sparkling. “So, what do you see yourself becoming in ten years?”
I clung tighter to the paint tube. The lid popped and a squirt of green shot at the ground. A murderer, I thought. Though I doubted ten years would pass before I did finally lose control. “Um…” Needing to evade her watching eyes, I snatched paper towel from the rack to clean up the mess. I searched my mind for a normal response, before hesitating and coming up blank. “I really don’t know.”
Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, what about the second option? Got any deep dark secrets I should know about?”
Yes. I’m a vampire and drink blood, I thought, but had the better sense to respond with. “Nope… What about you?”
I attempted to keep my voice level, even though I was lying through my teeth. Teeth? I did a double take, running my tongue over my teeth. They were completely level and human. My fangs aren’t extended? And that’s when it hit me, or should I say, didn’t hit me. I couldn’t scent her blood.
My eyes shot up to Vanessa, who shrugged. “Well, I am kinda a fashion Nazi, which sucks for me. Unlike almost every kid at this school, I’m on a scholarship. Even with a part-time job I’m reduced to shopping online.”
“Where do you work?” I looked her over while sniffing the air. Diamanté-studded stretch jeans and a fitted, red-leather jacket. No scent.
“Nowhere, really. It’s more of an errand-based gig.” As I kept staring, a frown pinched Vanessa’s brow. “What?” A look of horror transformed her expression. “Oh my God, don’t tell me I have body odor!”
Wiping the primal look from my face, I shook my head. “No. Sorry.” I held up my hand that still clung to the paper towel smeared with green paint. “It’s the paints,” I said, drilling my brain for a normal excuse. “They, uh…smell the same as the ones from our old school. Kind of like toe-jams and toothpaste.”
“Oh, good,” she said, voice hesitant, “as long as you can’t smell me.”
Forcing a smile, I began squeezing different paints onto a pallet. I should have been figuring out what I planned on painting. I should have been doing anything and everything to appear normal. But my mind was elsewhere. Yes, I felt relieved to have met someone I didn’t want to drain, to drink from until they were lifeless in my arms. Still I couldn’t get my head around her lack of scent. Who was this girl?
“Hey,” Vanessa said, breaking my train of thought. “What’s your mobile number?” When I frowned, wondering why on earth she’d want my number, she said, “You do have one, don’t you? I mean next to lip gloss, it’s the one accessory a girl can’t live without.”
Puzzled, and trying not to stare at her heavily-glossed lips, I pulled my iPhone from my jeans and handed it over. It was personalized with a Three Days Grace case.
Vanessa snatched the phone and dialed from it. Then she pulled her own mobile, sporting a cover speckled with diamantes, from her jacket pocket. It chimed and her fingers glided over the glass screen. “All done,” she said handing mine back. “I texted you my number too.”
“Oh, thanks.” The phone chimed and I stuffed it back into my pocket. The interaction left me feeling even more confused. She’s just being friendly, I tried to convince myself. But my suspicion didn’t agree.
After that I stared at my blank canvas for what felt like forever. I was trying to force myself to think about the project, but my mind kept wondering about the unusual girl sitting beside me. When the bell rang, I realized my efforts had been useless. I had spent the entire class staring at my canvas and tapping a dry paintbrush against my thigh.
Vanessa rose to her feet and looked down at me. “Got any plans for lunch?”
“Uh, no,” I replied. Where she was going with this?
“Great! You can sit with us.”
Eat in a cafeteria full of humans? Yeah, that’ll end well. “I can’t,” I said quickly, thinking up a lie. “Math quiz tomorrow. I need to study.”
“Study can wait.” Vanessa strung her arm through mine and yanked me forward. “Besides, I’m not taking no for an answer. Oh and don’t worry, my friends don’t bite,” she said flashing me a wicked grin, “unless provoked.”
Free until 30 September 2013
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Genre – YA Paranormal Romance
Rating – PG-13+