It wasn’t until I got to the cafeteria that my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was early morning, early enough that the sky was still dark. Who could it be, especially when I was going to see all of my friends in the next few minutes? Maybe it was from Haley. I was still avoiding my computer, so it might be.
I cautiously dug my phone out of my pocket and flipped the screen on.
It was a text message, not a phone call, and, the biggest surprise of all, it was from Nicholae. With anxious fingers, I opened the text, wondering why on earth he would be texting me now.
I DON’T WANT YOU TO GET TOO UPSET OR CONCERNED, BUT I WON’T BE COMING OVER TONIGHT.
I began to text him back to ask what was going on, but the sky outside grew light blue. How very clever of him to text me right before dawn, when he would be unable to answer any of my questions.
Maybe this was about the vampire who was stalking me. Maybe he had a lead. He had probably sent the message this late so that any vampire who might be watching wouldn’t be able to see my reaction, wouldn’t have enough time to speculate or find anything suspicious because they, too, would be asleep.
I didn’t have any more time to think about it, though, because Amber and Reina came in and started talking to me. And just like every other morning, soon after they entered, a hundred more students came pouring in and filled the cafeteria with their noise and chatter.
I wafted through breakfast, joining in the bubbly conversations of my friends, who had apparently forgiven me for my negligence of the last week.
The rest of the morning went by quickly. In band, we were starting to play Christmas music because, of course, Doyle wanted to put on a Christmas concert; a little early, though, considering it was barely a week till Thanksgiving.
I was grateful when it was time for Psychology. The class was basically just a review for the upcoming exam, and I knew enough of the material to not be worried about it. So I used this time to think more about all this business with the stalker. Nicholae had told me not to think about it when we came back to Tucson, but I was certain that my thoughts would be safe during daylight hours, just as long as I completely abandoned my speculations by nightfall.
Why would this vampire be stalking me? With Benny, I could understand. He was just curious about what the great Nicholae would want with a mortal girl, that’s why he’d followed me. He had even talked to me that day at the mall, like a normal person.
But this other vampire. He didn’t make any real contact with me, and he actively tried to conceal himself from me. I had known since the night I saw him at the football game that there was something menacing there. Whoever this vampire was, he was no friend of mine.
So that left the question open: what did he want with me? Did he know that I was an Amarant before Nicholae did? Was he out to hurt me? But if that was the case, he should have made a move by now. It would have been a simple thing for him to kill me that night. So maybe he didn’t know. Then what else could it be?
All sorts of zany, colorful ideas danced in my head, fed by TV shows and scifi books I’d read. They kept me distracted through to lunch. I didn’t snap out of it until Reina caught me in the lunch line.
“Hi Crimson,” she said, smiling like always.
I smiled and nodded in response.
“You seem kinda detached,” she said. “Whatcha thinking about?”
“Oh, um…nothing,” I said. “Just tired, I guess.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Mondays are always the slow days.”
“Yup,” I yawned. “Hey Reina, are you doing anything after school today?
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“Well, I’m gonna be pretty much alone today, so I was wondering if you wanted to come and hang out, maybe do some homework together.”
“Okay, I haven’t worked on homework with you in a while,” she said. “My grade is going down.” She laughed. “So, what about Nick? You aren’t going to see him today?”
“No, I guess he has something to do tonight,” I said.
“Wow, so this is going to be the first night in a week that you guys are going to spend apart,” she mused.
“That’s alright,” I said. “We need some girl time.”
After school, Reina and I walked to the parking lot.
“Wow, I still can’t believe how pretty this is,” she said as we came to my motorcycle.
“Yeah, I know,” I said happily, getting on. I kicked the stand and looked at her expectantly. “Well, what are you waiting for? Come on.”
“I’ve never been on one before,” she said with a tremor of apprehension.
“Don’t be nervous,” I said encouragingly. “It won’t bite.”
She climbed slowly on behind me. I took her wrists and pulled her arms around my waist.
“You have to hold on tight,” I said. “It can give you a real kick, and you don’t want to fall off the back.”
She hummed in understanding and locked her arms around me. It made me realize how softly Nicholae had kept his arms around me when he was on the back, like gravity wasn’t tugging on him at all. It probably wasn’t.
“Whoa, that was awesome!” Reina said as she stumbled off the bike and up to my front door. She gasped when she saw her reflection in the window. “Oh, but look at my hair,” she groaned, trying to smooth it down, as I snickered under my breath.
We went inside and I hopped on the couch.
“We should get math homework out of the way,” she said. “So we won’t have to worry about it later.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” I said. “I don’t have any reason to put it off if Nick won’t be coming. I usually wait to do it with him, so he can help me.”
“I remember when we used to do homework with Stephen. He was a lot of help.”
I hadn’t thought about him in what seemed a very long time. Ever since Nicholae came into my life, I completely forgot about Stephen, like we were never friends at all. I felt suddenly guilty.
My mind flashed back to the last time I saw him, upstairs at his birthday party. I clenched my fists involuntarily, even though I no longer blamed him for it. He wasn’t a bad guy, he had just done something stupid under the influence of a ridiculous amount of alcohol. I knew that, despite that incident, he really had had true feelings for me. And look where it got him. He was dead and his girlfriend could hardly even spare a passing thought on his behalf.
I wondered how things might have been different if that night had never happened. Nicholae would have come into my life while Stephen was still here. Would Stephen have tried to fight for me? Or would he have just moved on, maybe gone back to Brianna, who wasn’t really such a horrible person after all. She really did care about him. Ever since he died, she’d become somewhat reserved. They should have been together, and I should have never gotten in the way, even though I hadn’t really meant to.
“Do you miss him?” she asked when I remained silent.
I felt a lump grow in my throat. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”
There was that pitiful look in her eyes again. I could almost hear what she was thinking by the crease in her brow. What would she think if she knew the truth about Stephen’s death? She would think I was heartless…
I cleared my throat. “Well, let’s just get started on that math, huh.”
It took us hours to finish our work. Without Nicholae to give me an actual incentive for keeping focused, my interest faded and my attention wandered.
I noted when dusk came, then remembered again that he wouldn’t come.
“I should probably get home soon,” Reina said after Mom came home.
“Sure, I’ll take you,” I said.
“Yay! I get to ride on the motorcycle again!” she triumphed.
“Oh, Crimson, be careful,” Mom said. “Don’t turn too sharply, and stay out of people’s blind spots.”
“Yes, mother,” I muttered, rolling my eyes and rushing Reina out the door.
We got on the bike with much less resistance on Reina’s part and sped to her house, taking the long way. I felt much safer driving at night, if that made sense. I could swerve boldly around cars and feel invisible while doing it, like I couldn’t be caught. I could be reckless without fear of being stopped.
“Thanks for the ride,” Reina said when I let her off at her house. “Hey, do you think you could teach me to drive it someday?”
“Sure. Someday. But for now, any time you need a ride, I got you covered.”
“Thanks.” She started to walk up to her door. “Bye, Crim!”
I revved the engine for her, then waved goodbye and drove off.
I stopped at the end of her road where it met the busy mainstream road of Campbell Avenue.
I could go home now, but why? There was nothing to do there, nothing that sounded worthwhile anyway. And why go home and laze around when I could stay out on the road and be a true rebel?
I turned right on Campbell and kept driving north. There weren’t many cars out right now, so I didn’t have many people to race or annoy or cut in front of. It was nice, though, cozy in a way, especially when I drove over the bridge, where all the street lights had gone out a long time ago. Driving under cover of pure darkness with nothing but my small headlights to light my path.
For the first time, I was truly, completely alone, and there was nothing inherently frightening or stressful about that. There was power in being alone, in having only oneself to depend on. And I could stay out all night if I wanted to, just driving wherever the hell I felt like going.
I pressed the bike up to ninety as I rounded the curve uphill, and it felt like I was plunging forward at the speed of light, racing with the photons my headlights released. Ninety was awesome!! And still not a single car around.
I stopped at a gas station somewhere near downtown to fill up. When I got down, I felt my cell phone ring.
It was Mom’s number.
“Hello?” I said innocently.
“Where are you?” she asked in that accusatory maternal voice.
“Oh, just driving around.”
“You’ve been driving this whole time?” she asked. “Geez, Crimson, it’s almost ten o’clock!”
“Ten o’clock? Oh, I had no idea it was so late.”
“Well, are you coming home soon?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered indifferently. “I’ll be home in, like, fifteen minutes or so.”
I finished at the gas station and made my way leisurely home, in no great hurry.
When I finally did get home, I lovingly patted the head of my motorcycle as if it was a cherished pet, then, my fatigue catching up with me, I went to my room and just crashed in my bed.
Nicholae didn’t come over again on Tuesday or Wednesday. I was so stark-raving bored! I had no homework, there was nothing good on TV, and all the old things I used to find pleasure in weren’t enough anymore.
I finally decided to just spend my nights out riding, venturing a new part of town each time. I did get lost a few times, but not in the panicky way; it was more enlightening than stressful.
On Thursday morning when I got to the cafeteria, I checked the sky to make sure the sun had not yet risen, then opened my phone to send Nicholae a text:
WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK? I MISS YOU
I knew he wouldn’t respond. It was actually more of a rhetorical message than a question, just something to express my desperation and longing.
After school, I went home alone on my bike and quickly got my math and science homework out of the way. Then I went into my room and doodled while flipping through channels on TV.
Suddenly, there was a soft tapping on my window. I looked and saw Nicholae waving at me. I unlocked the window, as he had cautioned me to keep it locked from now on, and let him in.
I hugged him. “I feel pathetic for how happy I am to see you,” I admitted.
He laughed and kissed my forehead.
“Any news about…” I didn’t finish the question, unsure whether or not it was safe, even though it was too late if it wasn’t.
“The stalker?” Nicholae finished for me. “No sign of him. And besides, William is watching outside. I figured it was safe enough to come in here and spend some time with you.”
“So are you done with your investigating, then?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. “I won’t be finished until I have all of this settled and all threats against you are dissolved.”
“Then you won’t come back tomorrow?”
“No,” he said. He kissed my cheek. “But I will make sure to be available this weekend.”
I smiled, remembering what our plans for the weekend were. That was worth having to spend a few days without him.