blood orange soda paranormal romance

ISBN: 978-0-9913256-0-3

Copyright © 2014 by James Michael Larranaga

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Printed in the United States of America. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. Contents and/or cover may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form without the express written consent of the Publisher.

Thank You

Thanks so much to Amy Farrar, Aaron Jay, Anna Larranaga, Christopher Noel and my writing friends at West Suburban Writers Group and the Eagan YA Writers Group.

Table of Contents

Friday, November 7

A Month Ago

Friday, October 10

Saturday, October 11

Sunday, October 12

Monday, October 13

Thursday, October 16

Friday, October 17

Saturday, October 18

Sunday, October 19

Monday, October 20

Wednesday, October 22

Thursday, October 23

Friday, October 24

Saturday, October 25

Sunday, October 26

Monday, October 27

Wednesday, October 29

Thursday, October 30

Friday, October 31

Halloween, Midnight

Monday, November 10

Funeral: Friday, November 7
th

Monday, November 17

Friday, November 7

Standing in front of a crowded church, I can’t bring myself to read the eulogy I wrote last night. The altar where I stand smells of the black and white lilies behind me. The church is full of classmates who once thought I was a creep. They don’t think that anymore. My best friend Weezer is sitting in the front with his parents. He’s dressed less Gothy today—no leather and skinny jeans, but a black sweater and khakis. I went full-Goth with guyliner, black lipstick and lots of metal around my neck and wrists. I’m in mourning and it should look that way, right?

Officer Denny, the sheriff who monitors our hallways, stands in the back of the church with his arms folded. My Goth and Emo friends from the Vampire Club are in the back pews—safety in numbers, I guess.

My sharp, sarcastic tongue usually gets me into trouble, and sometimes it bails me out. So I crack a joke. “My mom hates that I wear her makeup,” I say as I nod to her. The laughter calms my nerves, but only for a fleeting moment.

What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.

A Month Ago

Flat on my back along the 20-yard line, I’m looking up at a football player. How much does his battering ram of a body weigh? He’s not wearing any pads and neither am I, because he’s a Jock-turned-bully and I’m the freaky Goth kid who’s playing the role of tackling dummy. His body slam has left me out of breath and praying for sweet death to overtake me, when my Angel of Mercy grabs the bully’s arm.

“C’mon, leave Darius alone,” Angel says.

Yeah, her name really is Angel; but her last name isn’t mercy, it’s Martin. Angel of Mercy suits her better because she saved my ass so many times when we were in middle school. Now that I’m in my freshman year at Stearns County High School, she serves as my sophomore savior.

The Jock-bully, Bao Wang, flexes, smiling down at me, and spits, “Go home, freak.”

Sitting up in the wet grass, I try to obey him. The football stadium looks so much larger when you’re sitting on the field. What a rush it must be for jocks like Bao to play here beneath the stadium lights with fans cheering. I haven’t attended a single game because most of my Friday nights are spent pretending I’m too busy to watch our team, the Corn Cobbers, pop some unsuspecting team like the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles. Yeah, our mascot is an ear of corn. How menacing is that?

Brushing grass clippings from the sleeves of my black hoodie, I stand and realize there’s grass in my mop of black hair and the crack of my ass but I leave it, as Bao photographs me with his phone.

I know, right? Who does that? I flip him the bird.

He laughs at my feeble attempt at anarchy. “Ha! That’s one for RenRen,” he says.

RenRen is the Chinese version of Facebook, followed by all the Asian foreign exchange students at our little school in fly-over land. Welcome to the prairie, suckers!

“C’mon, do you really have to hurt him and then post it online?” Angel says in disgust.

“He’ll live,” Bao says in an Asian-English accent, or what we call Anglish. “You dying? Are you, Darius?”

“Namaste; the light in me honors the gargantuan light in you,” I say with mock respect, brushing off grass clippings as Angel walks over to me.

“Namaste? That’s not a Chinese word,” Bao says.

“Whatever.” I shrug.

“You’re not revenging, Darius?” Bao asks with a thunderous laugh.

Revenging? Is that even a word? I might be
a
venging, or retaliating in the future, but right now I’ve been smacked down too hard to do anything other than stagger home.

The stadium feels similar to the Coliseum in Rome, like that movie
Gladiator
with Russell Crow as Maximus Decimus Meridius, taunting the crowd. He has a famous line that I can’t remember, so I turn and spit blood at Bao’s Sketchers and walk away.

As I’m leaving, heading for the dusty prairie along the railroad tracks, I hear Bao laughing as Angel joins me. She’s a loyal friend who hovers easily among any of the warring tribes that exist at our high school. She can hang with Jocks like Bao, Cheerleaders, Theatre Kids, Gamer Geeks, Preppies, Stoners and Goth Geeks like me. And within each of those groups there are the GBLTQ–Gay, Bi, Lesbian, Transgender and Questioning. Whatever your flavor, we’ve got it here at Stearns County High.

Angel walks on water, which is why I’m glad she walks alongside me because my reputation bobs along the surface like flotsam.

“Thanks for sticking up for me, again.”

“Any time...” Angel says with sincere loyalty.

“Not any time, but every time,” I say. “You didn’t have to go out of your way to protect me.”

“It’s not out of my way,” she says. “I always cut across the football field on my way home.”

“You know what I mean,” I say. “I thought high school would be better than middle school.”

“I won’t stand there and watch him bully you, or anyone else.”

“He likes an audience. Every bully likes an audience,” I remind Angel, because I’ve been bullied so many times. “I appreciate your help, thanks.”

She’s shorter than me, and her blond hair frames her face and rests just above her cleavage that emerges out of her tank top and flannel shirt. She’s rural-chic, an organic beauty with hardly any makeup.

Me? I’m the complete opposite, with my Goth-black hoodie and shit-kicker boots and my guyliner running off the corner of my left eye. I want to reach out and hug Angel, but I’m too awkward. We ‘hung out’ briefly when we were in middle school. We’d go to the movies and kiss and grope each other, and then she went off to high school and it got totally weird. She had new friends, and I drifted away on a wave of loneliness and a life raft of melancholy. So I shove my hands in my pockets and continue along the tracks.

“Want to get together tonight after dinner?” she asks.

“Once my mom heads off to work we’ll have the basement to ourselves,” I say.

“What about your sister?”

I almost forgot; I babysit my sister Kira, who is a seventh-grade drama queen. “She’ll be home. She’ll be glad to see you.”

“Should I bring Weezer?” Angel asks.

He’s our mutual friend, another Goth who plays a wicked lead guitar in our three-piece rock band.

“Yeah, we can work on our music,” I suggest.

“Okay, I’ll text you.”

“Don’t use RenRen,” I remind her. “Send me a direct text.”

Humming to herself, Angel balances on one rail, walking like an Olympic gymnast on the beam. She does a perfect dismount and jogs down the small incline into a scrub of red sumac trees up to her side of our neighborhood.

“Darius!” she calls from the woods.

“Yeah?”

“You could’ve taken Bao if you wanted to,” she shouts.

Did I mention my Angel is a pie-eyed optimist?

I walk in the middle of the railroad tracks, a relic of the American west, used only for moving freight and cargo. A Chinese light rail company wants to convert them to a high-speed rail system to connect St. Cloud to Minneapolis in an effort to encourage urban sprawl. Our neighborhood protested so much that the Chinese developers backed off, but families like Bao’s still live here. God, how bad can China be for somebody to want to live
here
?

Don’t let the name fool you; there’s nothing really great about St. Cloud. Here’s what you won’t read about us in
Fodor’s Guide to America’s Small Cities
: We’re a trite prairie town on the banks of the Mississippi River. We’re an hour north of Minneapolis, and most people pass through our town like flies through a broken spider web. Yeah, we catch our share of travelers, but most whiz on by, breathe a sigh of relief, and never look back. Of course, that’s just the opinion of one person. You should really visit to see for yourself.

But as my English Lit teacher says, “Back to the text…”

Under my feet I feel vibrations of the train behind me, right on schedule. The wooden railroad ties vibrate under my boots and I begin jogging, jumping from each tie as the vibrations increase. I pick up my pace to outrun the old train. I’ve done this more than a hundred times, and I always resist the urge to look back. It’s a game I play. I listen and feel the train under my feet. The horn from the train is always my early warning that it’s crossing the road and only a hundred yards behind me.

At this point the game of chicken is on, but of course, the train cannot veer off its track, and it’s too late for it to slow down. If I don’t move soon it will smash me like a bug. I sprint to its rhythm and when I hear the horn again, I shout all my anger about Bao into the storm cloud of noise bearing down on me: “Ahhhhhhhh!” And I jump off the tracks.

I count the number of seconds until the engine reaches me…One, five, ten, fifteen and the rush of wind and angry horn blows—close, but I’ve been as close as ten seconds before.

Me suicidal? No. Me as an adrenalin junkie? Affirmative!

A blur of freight cars whizzes past me. Was Angel right? Could I have defended myself against Bao? He has to be at least 180 pounds of muscle to my 135 of pale skin and bone. I learned martial arts—it’s required in our gym class—but he knows it better than I do.

Living a “revenging” life isn’t how I roll. Sure, I could’ve bitten Bao, but that would only get me in a heap of trouble. I brush it off as just another awkward start to my freshman year and I wonder, what’s for dinner?

My mother, Virginia, is thin and pale like me, with dark-brown hair that she usually pulls back into a ponytail and chip clip. She works nights, which means she sleeps all day when my sister Kira and I are in school, and awakens as we arrive home in the afternoon. Like other days, I enter through the back door into the kitchen, where my mom is making breakfast for herself and dinner for Kira and me.

“Hi, honey. Breakfast or dinner?”

She always gives us a choice. Toast and eggs smells better to me than the macaroni and tomato soup my mom has prepared. I ask for breakfast.

My sister is at the table, already sipping her soup as I take off my sweatshirt and hang it on a hook by the back door.

“How come your jacket is full of grass?” Kira asks.

“I dunno,” I shrug. “How come you reek of Justin Bieber perfume?”

“Were you in another fight?”

“Why not focus on the real question? Did you douse yourself in Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift?”

Mom turns the eggs and studies me from the stove. “Darius, what happened?”

“Nothing. How do you know I wasn’t rolling around in the grass making out with a girl?”

“What girl? Angel? Yeah, right,” Kira says. “You wish.”

She’s right. Affection from Angel or any girl at school would be great. I ignore my sister with a, “Whatever,” as I sit at the table.

Mom continues stalking me with her eyes. She knows my moods, and my defense mannerisms, even better than my sister does.

“You dressed very Goth today,” my mom says to me.

“So?”

“You went heavy on the eyeliner,” she says.

“It’s
guy
liner.”

“Take it from my purse? It’s eyeliner,” Mom says with a smirk.

“I was in a dark mood when I woke up this morning,” I reply. “It’s no big deal. Why are you two attacking me as soon as I walk through the door?”

“We’re not attacking you, Darius. We care about you.”

Mom slides two eggs onto a plate and hands them to me. These should’ve been her eggs, but she always feeds us first, even if it means she’s late for work. I would protest and insist that she take this plate, but we’ve been through this routine so many times, it’s gotten old. She serves the eggs watery, just the way I like them, and I slurp them down with toast.

“Angel might stop by later,” I say, to fill in the silence. “Maybe Weezer, too.”

“Oh, good,” Kira says.

“That’s fine. Make sure you two do your homework.” Mom sits at the table across from me. She’s decided on the macaroni and soup, which is an odd choice for breakfast. In her hand is a glass of water and a red pill, or what’s commonly referred to as a “Red,” and drops it into the water. The Red sinks to the bottom of her glass, dissolving into a watery, pinky hue of bubbles rising and popping at the surface. She drinks half of it with one long swallow, and I can almost taste the bitterness myself. Mom used to grill me every morning about my dose of Red. Had I taken my morning pill? Yes, I always insisted. Now that I’m fifteen and more responsible, she never questions me about it.

Reds are to Vampires what methadone is to heroin addicts—an analgesic to relieve cravings. Where addicts crave heroin, Vampires crave blood, and a Red is the only substitute that allows us to live mostly “normal” human lives, or what we call living as a “Normal.” Mom has been on Reds since I was born, fifteen years ago. I started once I entered puberty. Kira isn’t on the drug yet.

My mom swallows another sip and I wait for her to take her other medication to combat HIV2. She doesn’t disappoint, and reaches into her shirt pocket for two pills that she washes down with the Red. Mom is terminally ill, and courageously fighting to stay alive. She’s only thirty-eight years old, and stricken with a disease that has no cure.

“What time is Angel stopping by?” she asks.

Before I can answer, Kira and my mom launch into a side conversation about Angel, what a great babysitter she is, and how much they enjoy her company. Then Kira takes my mom off on a tangent about how cruel middle school is, and soon my sister is in tears and storming off to her room.

Mom takes a bite of her dinner and turns her attention to me.

“How come you weren’t so dramatic in middle school?”

“If you only knew how bad it really was,” I say to her. “I’m moody, but I’m a quiet moody.”

“Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’m cool.”

“Were you bullied again?”

“It’s nothing,” I say, knowing that she’ll still think it’s a big deal.

“Tell me, did he hurt you?” She rests a hand on my sore shoulder.

“A kid shoved me, that’s all.”

“Should I call—”

“No, do
not
call the school. It’ll only make it worse.”

“If you’d rather talk with Uncle Jack...”

This is actually a good idea. Mom’s older brother Jack is one of those cool uncles, not clueless and fake like most adults I know. Somehow, Jack has maintained his youth and passion for life, and he watches over our family ever since my dad ditched my mom when I was a toddler.

For me, Jack has been the surrogate dad who handles all the guy stuff, like the sex talk, how to drive a car, how to pick up girls, etc. Before I can answer, my mom pulls her phone from her purse and leaves him a voicemail.

“Hey, it’s me. If you have time, can you call Darius? Thanks!”

“I could have done that,” I say to her.

My phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s a text from Jack.

Jack:
You in trouble?

I reply:
No, it’s bully stuff. Got time to hang on Saturday?

Hardly a beat goes by before he replies:
Come to my place at 8 p.m. Don’t be early!

Jack is nocturnal, and rarely wakes up before 6:00 p.m. When he says not to arrive early, he means it.

I reply:
See you at 8:30.


Well?” Mom asks.

“Yeah, we’ll get together.”

“And? What else did he say?” Mom asks.

“Nothing, just be at his house after eight.”

“Jack knows how to handle bullies. He was a lot like you as a boy. He can help. But don’t listen to him when it comes to the Reds.”

I nod to ease her concerns. For the Vampire community, which has been dwindling steadily over the past twenty years, taking the Red has become a topic of debate. We suppress our bloodlust by swallowing the government-subsidized Red pill. Is it discrimination to ‘encourage’ a small subset of the U.S. population to take a daily medication? Yeah; but it pays well, and my mom collects $12,000 a year as long as we’re on the Reds, and as long as she holds a part-time job, which for her is at the local power plant.

“You’ll be late if you don’t leave soon,” I remind her.

She tosses the phone into her leather purse. “Try not to stay up too late. Keep daytime hours.”

“I’ll be in bed before 2:00 a.m.,” I promise.

“And check on your sister once in a while tonight,” Mom says before stepping out the back door.

The dishes are piled in the sink, the clock is ticking, and my mom’s counter-top TV is on the local news covering a story of another bank robbery. I walk over, turn up the volume, and watch as a male reporter describes the incident. Two masked gunmen stormed into a blood bank and robbed them of their inventory. While meth is the scourge of some towns across America, blood is the drug worth stealing in Vampire communities like St. Cloud. In fact, the DEA is more concerned about blood trafficking than drug trafficking, now that the government has made bite feeding illegal. All Vampires are required to register and receive a free monthly pint of feeding blood instead of biting for it.

Sounds like a perfect solution, right? Wrong! Many traditional Vampires refuse to drink the government’s
synthetic blood
. It’s not natural, and not fair to force it on Vampires, they claim. The only other solution is to take the Reds, which suppress your desire and need for blood. Buy real blood on the black market—or just bite for it.

My ribs are sore from Bao Wang’s abuse. Why does he stalk me so much? It’s not because I’m gay or a Stoner. He beat me because I’m a Goth on the Red pill. I’m not fully human and I’m not fully a Vampire, either. By now, everyone knows that gay people are born gay. It’s not a choice they make. But Goth kids are exploring their Vampire identities. We’re all on the Red pill, fighting our urges to bite, but showing the world that we have a big decision to make—and that’s what frustrates bullies like Bao Wang. He is who he is because his parents cast his genetic dice upon conception. I still hold my dice in my hand. If I stay on the Reds, I can live as a non-Vampire—a Normal. If I choose to stop taking the Reds, I’ll carry on the family legacy as a Vampire.

Which would you choose?

I grab my phone and go online to RenRen, where I search for Bao Wang’s profile page. I struggle with reading Chinese, even after three years of studying the language in school. Bao’s photo album is public so I browse through it, sifting through photos of him with his family in China. But then I come across a familiar American face. It’s a Goth kid with a bloody lip and a smirk on his face, flipping his middle finger. I like that photo. I like it so much I download it to my phone and repost it to Facebook.

The day wasn’t a total loss after all.

Angel and Weezer show up at my house after nine, both in a peculiar mood. They act as if they’ve been smoking something, but neither of them is a Stoner. Weezer, whose real name is Derek Wincer, got his nickname because he makes a wheezing sound when he laughs, and he laughs often. He’s another Goth struggling with what he’ll be when he grows up. He’s a self-proclaimed anarchist.

Weezer stumbles in behind Angel, laughing and wheezing. He’s wearing skinny jeans and a wifebeater. “Fuggars it’s cold,” he says.

“Wear a jacket next time,” Angel says.

“Not until it snows,” Weezer says. “Darius, what do you got to eat?”

Weezer pretends to hate everything and he’s always making up his own words, just to confuse people or piss them off. I take the bait. “Fuggars?”

“Yeah, as in, what you got to eat, mother-fuggar?”

“Mac and cheese. Why do I always feed you?”

“Fuggar, please! I’m a starving artist,” Weezer says, as he darts for the kitchen. “Carbs are my best friends.”

Angel and I head down to the basement where we store our band’s gear. The basement is unfinished, with a low ceiling and exposed pipes. It’s the perfect place for a garage band that doesn’t have an empty garage. I use this space as my room and my personal bat cave, away from my mom and sister.

Angel takes her seat at the drums and picks her sticks up off the rug. She spins the drumsticks around her fingers. She could’ve been a cheerleader or a baton thrower, but chooses to make music in my basement. How cool is that? I grab my bass and power the amp by flipping a switch with my bare foot.

“Let’s go, Weezer!” I shout.

“On my way,” he says from the top of the stairs.

“Grab your frickin’ guitar,” I call again.

“Oh, yeah.” He disappears for a few seconds and reappears, bounding down the steps with his guitar case, which is plastered with decals of skulls and his favorite bands: The Misfits, Gene Loves Jezebel and Skinny Puppy, to name a few.

What most Normals don’t understand about Goths is that we’re not all the same. And our differences are defined by our musical influences. Weezer and I are DeathRock Goths, not Metal Goths and not Glam Rock, either. Our music ranges from dark and ominous to campy and upbeat. DeathRock is really a post-Punk subgenre, and it should never be confused with Grunge or Emo music. Angel, like most Normals, leans toward garden variety Gothic Rock with bands like The Cure. But I digress…

Weezer sets his guitar case on the rug and opens it as if it’s a gift he’s unwrapping for the first time. It’s a black and blue Fender Strat, nothing particularly expensive, but how Weezer swings that axe makes it sound far more premium than the hundred bills he paid for it. He slides inside the strap and adjusts the guitar low on his bony hips.

“She’s cold,” Weezer says, caressing the guitar’s neck before he sets it back into the case. “Way too cold to play.”

Angel thumps the bass drum. “Oh come on—”

“It’ll warm up soon enough,” I say, picking a few bass lines.

“No, I won’t ruin the neck playing her when she’s ice,” Weezer says. “Wait a few minutes, jeezus.”

“You freaking prima donna,” Angel says, throwing one of her drumsticks at Weezer. He deflects it with his forearm, laughing and wheezing, then picks up the stick and chases after her.

Angel kicks her hi-hat cymbals over as she flees, giggling, and he tackles her onto my bed, which already has a pile of dirty laundry on it. They’re rolling around, laughing and flirting, and I’m feeling like a creepy voyeur. The moment is not CraigsListy-weird, but certainly what my sister would describe as “totes awkward.” I watch them flirt, and continue playing my bass.

Is he really hitting on her? Is that why those two were in such an odd mood when they arrived? Watching them makes me jealous.

“That’s enough!” Angel cries out through belly laughter. “I’ll pee my pants if you don’t stop tickling me.”

“Don’t pee my bed!” I shout.

“Yeah, Darius already has the bed-wetting covered,” Weezer says.

“Good one,” I reply. “At least I sleep with the light off. Whoever heard of a Goth afraid of the dark?”

Weezer sits up, embarrassed, and scratches his spiked black hair. “I’m still hungry. Darius, you can pick up where I left off.” He runs past me up the stairs, and I can hear him rummaging through the kitchen cupboards.

Angel remains in my bed, with her head on my pillow. She’s watching me. “Keep playing.”

I play, mostly portions of scales, which seems to relax her. This won’t look good if Kira comes rushing downstairs, so I keep my distance from the bed and solo on as the lonely bass player.

“I saw my photo online,” I say.

“What photo?” Angel asks.

“The one Bao took of me after my slap-down.”

“He’s such a jerk! I’ll get him to take it down,” she says in frustration.

I play more up-tempo. “Actually, I kind of like the photo. I reposted it to my page.”

“Seriously?” She reaches in her jeans for her phone. She’s online within seconds and laughing. “Ohmygod, it’s your profile photo; that’s killer!”

Angel sits up and scoots to the corner of my bed as I continue playing a dark, slow beat. “What’s wrong? You look more depressed than usual,” she asks.

“Oh, it’s my mom. She looked tired,” I say. “She’s sick again; should’ve skipped work tonight.”

“She’s had it a long time, right?” Angel asks.

“Eight years.”

“But people are living longer today with all the new medications,” my friend says, apparently to give me hope.

“People with HIV live longer, but Vampires with HIV2 don’t live beyond ten years,” I say before changing the subject. “You see there was another blood bank robbery?”

“Yeah, on the west side this time.”

“It’s frustrating, you know? How can Vampires expect to be treated like Normals when they rob and steal from Normals?”

“I know, it’s very sad.”

Angel is a Normal, a non-Vampire. People put you into boxes and categories. And she’s definitely in the non-Vamp category. I wouldn’t expect her to have any great insights into Vamp behavior, but it’s interesting that she finds all the stealing
sad
. She’s at least sympathetic instead of angry about it.

Weezer jumps down from the staircase. “Did either of you meet that new Goth girl at school yet?”

“Shelby Rork?” Angel asks.

“Yeah,” Weezer says. “She’s hot.”

“Is she a V-Goth?” I ask.

“She’s not a wannabe who dresses the part, if that’s what you mean,” Angel says. “Half the guys in school want her. If you want her too, get in line.”

If this new girl is a real, pre-Vampire Goth, that would be big news in our school. A lot of kids dress the part, but only a small minority of us are on the Reds and have the potential to transform into Vampires.

“What class is she?” I ask.

“Sophomore,” Angel says. “A lot of the junior and senior football guys are already stalking her.”

“Fresh meat,” Weezer says. “Why can’t those mofugs date girls their own age?”

“Mofugs?” I ask Weezer.

“Mother-fuggars. Duh.”

“High school guys always date down,” Angel says. “Sorry, it’s the truth.”

“I don’t date down,” I respond sarcastically, thinking about the summer I’d dated Angel.

“We don’t date at all,” Weezer says with fake pride, but I know he regrets it as much as I do.

“All I’m saying is don’t underestimate upperclassmen,” Angel says. “Girls like Shelby date older guys.”

Weezer nods at me, because neither of us has had a girlfriend in a while. We’ve admitted to each other that we’d kill to have one, but I never thought we’d compete for the same girl. It just never crossed my mind.

Now there’s a new girl in school, and that could change everything. If she’s Goth, she’s probably on the Red pill like Weezer and me, which means she’s deciding if she wants to be a Vamp. And it also means she’s holding back raging hormones like the rest of us. I can’t wait to meet this Shelby Rork.

Friday, October 10

I’m late for school, which is really my
modus operandi
, according to the security guard at my school. Jogging along the railroad tracks, I trip on the rocks with my backpack slung over my shoulder.

In this digital age, why are textbooks getting heavier?

Winded, I slow to a fast walk so I don’t sweat too much before class. Mom is angry because she had to wake me up after her shift, and she knows I ignored Kira last night because Kira admitted she’d been up until dawn reading another Vampire novel. How come girls read that trash? It’s all fantasy, and none of the reality of what it’s like to live as a real Vampire. Transforming is hard. It’s not all love and romance like you might read in a book like
Twilight
or see on TV. If I run into another Normal girl named Bella, I swear I’ll lose my freaking mind!

The open field, which is more prairie than a useable practice turf, crunches under my boots from early morning frost. I like how the sun warms my skin, yet I pull my black shades off my head to protect my eyes. I’m not yet a Vamp who fears daylight. If I choose to stop taking the Red pill and transform, then the sun and I will be enemies; but for now I enjoy its radiant warmth. These are the kind of trade-offs Vampire Goth consider as they decide on whether to live as Normals, or to stop taking the Reds and transform naturally into a full-blooded Vampire.

Security at Stearns County High is tighter than a choke collar, and I should know because sometimes I wear one. I run my backpack through a scanner while an old sheriff’s deputy named Denny glares at me. I nod politely as I remove my metal bracelets and my skull and cross necklace, but it’s the rosary I pull from my pocket that surprises him.

“Hey, Denny, ‘sup?” I say.

“Late ‘cause you were at church this morning?” Denny asks, with forced sarcasm.

“Yep, Our Lady of the Bedside.”

“How about that blood bank robbery the other day?”

I shrug. “What about it?”

“Couple of Goths stealing blood. Any idea who them thugs are?”

Officer Denny retired from the Minneapolis Police Department and works part-time as a deputy here in St. Cloud. He’s probably reliving his old good cop interrogation methods.
I know, right?
Like I have time for this every morning!

“I don’t know every freak in St. Cloud,” I respond, annoyed. “Hell, they could be gangs from Minneapolis.”

He nods and scratches his soft, corn-fed belly. “No need to get all riled up. You hear anything, you know where to find me.”

“If I hear any real details, I’ll call a real cop.” I grab my backpack and all my random metal jewelry.

“Stop by the office for your late pass. You’d better have a note,” Officer Denny says.

In the office I give the secretary a note from my mom and I’m out the door again, jogging with my heavy backpack to English Lit. When I arrive and walk through the door, all eyes turn to me. It’s something I’m accustomed to because of the way I dress, and I’m the only freshman in this class full of sophomores. Ms. Andreesen has adorned her classroom with pictures of famous Minnesota writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. None of them wrote a single word about Vampires. What about Amanda Hocking
?

The protocol for lateness is to hand the hall pass to the teacher upon entering the room, so I walk right up to Ms. Andreesen and do so.

She glances at the note. “Better three hours too soon than a minute late,” she recites from Shakespeare.

The empty desk in the front row is mine, and I slump into my seat with my backpack dropping to the floor. “Better a witty fool than foolish wit,” I reply.

She’s surprised at my quick Shakespearean rebuttal, and she returns to lecturing about Hamlet. This is one of my favorite classes because I like reading, writing, and anything English. And the Renaissance is my favorite period in history. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the outlandish clothing and men in tights. It was cool to be a freak back then.

Something’s different about the classroom this morning, and I thought I sensed it as soon as I entered; but when all eyes turned to me, I locked my attention on Ms. Andreesen. Now I can’t ignore what I sensed a moment ago. I taste something, or some
body
, different in the air.

I don’t even have to look over my shoulder to know that there’s somebody new in this classroom. I have that sixth sense that tells me the person is a female, and she’s sitting three seats behind me and to my left. Weezer and I have used it at the mall and movie theaters to avoid certain bullies, or to follow girls from a distance. Aside from that, I’ve never found any other practical use for our pheromone GPS.

Whoever she is, she’s caught my scent, too. I’m not sure how I know this, either, but for the first time I feel like somebody is scenting
me
! I busy myself by pulling my notebook out of my backpack, pretending to take notes from the lecture, but I can feel her studying my body. It’s a thrill, but also unnerving, as if somebody were right over your shoulder, smelling your neck and hair.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to turn around, so I drop my pen. When I bend over to pick it up, I look back and I see her. She’s Goth. This must be Shelby, the girl Angel and Weezer talked about last night. Our eyes lock and I see her pupils constrict for a moment. She smiles before blushing and looks up at Ms. Andreesen.

The room is silent until Ms. Andreesen interrupts my comatose state. “Darius?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you met Shelby Rork?”

“Uh, no, I, uh...hi,” I say with a quick glance back, before returning my attention to Ms. Andreesen.

“Shelby, this is Darius Hunter.”

“Hey there, Darius,” Shelby says.

I turn back again, this time playing it cooler. “’Sup?”

“If you came to class on time, Darius, you could’ve been more formally introduced like the rest of the class,” Ms. Andreesen says.

Snickers and whispers from the other students fill the room. I’m embarrassed, and still coming down off the euphoria of Shelby watching me from the back of the classroom. It’s an odd introduction, for sure, and well worth the gawking and whispering. I don’t feel anything from her at the moment, so my guess is she can turn it on and off as needed.

For the next thirty minutes I wait for the bell to ring and when it does, I’m one of the first students out of his chair. Ms. Andreesen hollers over the shrill sound, “Remember the homework: your Hamlet essays are due next week and you should write daily in your journals. Soon you’ll write your memoirs!”

I make a mental note about the assignments and I’m out the door, into the crowded hallway. Shelby is nowhere in sight after class, and I head straight to the bathroom. I never go here during school, not even to take a leak, because the Stoners hang out here as if the bathroom is their smoking lounge. Too many Goths have been dunked head first into the shitter to make it worth a trip to the bathroom. But today I’m sweating so badly from English Lit that I duck into the first bathroom I find.

It reeks of urinal cakes and Axe Body Spray to cover the cigarette smoke, or maybe my Goth nose is sensitive to that stuff. I grab paper towels, run them under cold water and wipe my forehead and neck. Two Stoners are sitting on the radiator chewing tobacco and spitting into cups, bragging about a party they were at last night.

“Hey, Batman,” the skinny one with the black “Metal Fest” T-shirt says to me. “You wanna bite something?” He grabs his crotch for added effect. His pants are so low he reaches down to his knees.

Goths hear the word
Batman
all the time. It’s more common for a Goth to call another Goth Batman. When a Normal calls you Batman, it’s like a racial slur. I ignore it.

“Cooling off,” I say, wiping my neck with a wet paper towel. “I’ll be out of here in a sec.”

“You gonna toss your cookies?” the heavier one asks.

My stomach feels fine. I’m actually hungry but I bluff, thinking they might clear out and leave me alone. “Yeah, I’ll hurl any minute.” And I gag.

“Let’s go,” the heavy one says, spitting his chew into the trash.

They walk past me and Skinny shoves me into the sink. I fake another gag and both of them run out the door. In the mirror I notice my pale complexion. Nothing new there. My brown pupils look dilated, but that could be the dim light in the bathroom. I tease my black hair and re-apply my guyliner, thickening the edges around my eyes. That’s better—makes me appear stronger, tougher, and it gives me more confidence. Adjusting my backpack, I open the door and step into a crowd of sweaty teens and pheromones.

Weezer is around here somewhere, either in the classroom to my right, or he’s around the corner. Wading through a group of cheerleaders, I see him standing by his locker.

“Hey, Weez,” I say.

He looks up from his phone. “Whoa, what happened to you?”

“What do mean?”

“You look uber-pale,” he says, glaring at my face. “You sick?”

“I met Shelby.”

“And she had that kind of an effect on you?” Weezer asks.

“Yeah, it’s as if she zapped me.”

“Zapped you?” Weezer asks. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“I’m not sure....”

The rest of the day is a blur. I’m already looking forward to hanging out with Uncle Jack tomorrow and enjoying the weekend, away from here.

Angel stops by my locker, as she usually does after seventh hour. “Where you been all day?”

“Here and there.”

“I heard you met Shelby. You two have a class together?”