By lunchtime the next day, I was so wiped out. My night had been terrible. Every time I would close my eyes and start to drift off, the nightmares would come. I couldn’t really remember what the nightmares had been about, but I knew they had something to do with that guy last night. It was all I could think about in my classes, the irony of it. I was the self-appointed stalker to the Vampire Nicholae, but at the same time, I had someone stalking me. How sweetly ironic.
“Crimson, are you alright?” Reina asked, her brow creased in concern.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.” I answered.
“Last night, you seemed a little shaky. And today you look half-dead. Your eyes are really bloodshot.”
“Really, I’m okay,” I said. “I just didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. Anyway, Robert, we should be going to Physics,” I said to him. “It would be nice to get there early for once.”
“I guess,” he said unenthusiastically.
I pulled him up by his arm, then slipped mine around his and towed him toward the 700 Hall.
We sat at our table and I bent down to pull my notebook out of my bag. When I came back up, Stephen was making his way across the class in my direction. He sat on the other side of the table. Robert was speechless and staring at Stephen, who didn’t even notice.
“You weren’t in class yesterday,” he said coolly.
“You noticed,” I said, surprised.
“You missed a homework assignment. But it’s not due until tomorrow, so you still have some time.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Just some problems in the text book,” he answered. “I was actually hoping we could work on them together.”
“What about your cronies over there?” I nodded to the table of jocks he had come from.
“Eh, they’re all idiots,” he laughed. “I’d rather work on it with someone more intelligent. And you said you like science, right? So maybe you can help me get a better understanding of this stuff.”
I looked at Robert uncertainly. He put his hand over his mouth and pretended to cough as he said, “Go for it.”
I looked back to Stephen.
“Sure. Why not,” I shrugged.
“Cool,” he said with satisfaction. “I’ll give you a ride home after school, then.” He smiled and walked back to his jock table.
He waited for me in the doorway of my last class after the final bell rang, and we walked to the parking lot. His car, parked in the front row, was a racy candy apple red Corvette. The face of the Sunny Mountain Sun Devil was on the center of the grill, flaunting Stephen’s school pride. He pressed the unlock button of his key ring and went to the driver’s side. I went up to the passenger door, staring at it as if, were I to touch it, it would shatter like something delicate. I couldn’t believe I was going home in a car like this!
I opened the door and slid onto the leather seat. It even still had that new car smell. He pulled out of the parking space, peeled sharply around the corner and sped out of the school gates, all just to show off. Was that for my benefit?
I directed him to my house, just a few blocks north of the school. Ross wasn’t home yet, and Mom wouldn’t get here until after five, which was when Stephen and I were due back for band and football practice.
He sat in the living room and started taking out his stuff at the coffee table.
“Do you want some soda or something?” I offered, knowing he came from money and feeling slightly inferior for it.
“Na, don’t worry about it,” he answered, and gestured for me to come and join him.
I sat on the other side of the coffee table and took out my notebook and physics textbook.
“So what are we supposed to work on?” I asked, looking over at his textbook.
“It’s the questions on page 56,” he said.
He waited for me to flip to the right page.
“Question number one,” he read it aloud. “Give the definition of the Second Law of Thermodynamics?” His reading slowly turned into a puzzled question. “Did we even go over that in class?”
“No, but we are supposed to be reading from the textbook along with the lectures,” I informed. “It’s an easy question anyway. You don’t even have to look in the book, and it can just be answered in one word: ‘Entropy.’ ”
“What’s that?” he asked, flipping through the pages.
“It basically means that as energy travels from one form to another, it becomes less useful,” I said.
He nodded and wrote down what I said.
“Number two,” I continued. “Find the instantaneous velocity of…aw, crap, this is calculus!” I moaned. “I hate calculus!”
“What? Come on, this one’s easy.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Look, I’ll show you.” He came across the table to sit by me and wrote out the formula for me. I watched him, but I still didn’t get it. Then he came up with an answer that I surely could not have found.
“It’s no use,” I said. “I’ll never understand this stuff. It just goes right over my head.”
“That’s funny,” he said. “You love science, but you’re bad at math?”
“God must have a twisted sense of humor.”
“I’m just the opposite. I like math, but I can’t stand science.”
“Are you taking Calculus right now?” I asked hopefully.
“No, I finished with high school math two years ago,” he replied nonchalantly. “I’m taking college math at Pima College—Vector Calculus.” He said the title as if it was something really cool, which made me snort a laugh.
“Well, maybe you could help me,” I said.
“Sure, we can help each other,” he agreed. “You can tutor me on the science stuff, and I can tutor you in math.”
“Ah, thank you so much! If I don’t pass Calculus, I won’t be able to hold onto my college scholarships.”
“No problem,” he said. “Alright, number three…”
After we were done with Physics homework, we got back in his car and drove to the field for the usual evening practice.
“Well, I gotta run to the band room and grab my flute,” I said after I got out of the car.
“Yeah, and I have to go change,” he said. “But wait a second,” he stopped me as I started to walk away. “Do you…have any plans after practice?”
“No, not really. Why?”
“I was wondering if you’d like to grab a bite to eat.”
I stood there like a frog who had jumped into the road and just realized he was about to be run over by a car. Did Stephen actually ask me out?
He waited where he stood, staring at me, no doubt wondering if I had gone into a coma.
“Uh…sure,” I mustered. “That sounds…cool.”
“Cool. See you after practice, then.” He smiled with his award winning teeth and waved at me as he ran off to the football locker rooms.
I dazedly walked to the band room, assembled my flute and walked to the field with the other flute players. The football players were already on their side of the field when we got there. Coach Mendoza was leaning against the fence, looking at his clipboard and talking to himself. The team was scattered about the field, some standing and talking and others sitting on the grass.
I quickly picked Stephen out of the pack. He wasn’t hard to find, because this time for practice, he was shirtless. I watched as he and another guy tossed the football back and forth to each other, and I couldn’t help but notice how pleasing he was to look at. He had a really nice chest, not too muscular like some of the other guys on the team. It was smooth and flat, just right.
Only it turned into a deficit for me after practice started. I kept getting distracted and bumping into people while I was marching. And every time I did, Doyle yelled at me even louder, secretly relishing all the mistakes I was making because she loved any opportunity to ridicule me.
“Tiana, I need you to carve my eyes out!” I grumbled when we sat down during our break.
“Um, Crimson, I really don’t think that will help you march better,” she laughed.
“Well, I can’t help it,” I moaned.
“The football players?” she asked. “I know, they are so fine!”
“Isn’t it distracting?” I said.
“I’ve learned to filter out their hotness,” she said. “I only let myself enjoy it when my attention isn’t needed elsewhere.”
“Hmm, that’s smart. But with my short attention span, that would never work.”
“Well, we can look at them as much as we want now,” she pointed out, letting her head fall to one shoulder and sighing as she gawked in their direction.
I turned around where I sat so I could look at them. They were taking a break, too. Stephen was standing with his hips swayed to one side, moving his hand through his hair. Sweat beads were glistening against his abs in the almost setting sun. His eyes roamed over the heads of the band until he found mine. As soon as he looked my way, I looked down at the ground, pretending I hadn’t been looking. Then I shiftily looked back up, and he was wearing a smug expression, pleased at the fact that I had been staring at him.
After two more hours of practice, we were free to go.
Stephen ran up to me, still bare-chested and getting more handsome by the minute. “Hey Crimson, I’ll be right back after I change,” he said. “So just wait for me by the car.”
“Sure,” I said nervously, and went to lean against the Corvette.
He came back a few minutes later, fully clothed and covered. We got in and, once again, he pulled out of the parking lot with much too much speed. I had to admit it was kind of a rush.
“So what are you in the mood for?” he asked. “Burgers? Mexican? Chinese? Pizza?”
“Oh, uh, I guess pizza sounds good,” I said, surprised that he was letting me choose.
“You like Pizza Hut?”
“Yeah, sure,” I answered.
“Great, then we’ll go there.”
We went to the closest Pizza Hut, ordered a pizza and sat in one of the booths.
“So, earlier, you said you had a few scholarships,” he began. “Where are you going after high school is over?”
“University of Arizona,” I said.
“What are you going to study?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet. There is so much I want to do that I can’t decide. What about you? What are your plans for after graduation?” I asked. “Are you going to play college football?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t want to be known just for my athletic skills. I want to earn a respectable reputation. I might go into business or politics.”
“Really? I never pictured you as the political type. Interesting.”
A waitress came by and placed the melty, cheesy pizza between us. We picked out our choice pieces and started eating.
“So, why weren’t you in class yesterday?” he asked between bites.
“My friends and I took the day off,” I confessed.
“Really? Just like that?”
“My friends Amber and Robert called us all in sick, pretending to be our parents. Then we went around town and just had fun.”
“That’s pretty cool,” he praised. “I’ve taken days off before, but never with my friends and never to go out and actually do stuff. I only ever stay home and kick back.”
“Sounds like quite a party,” I teased.
He shrugged and started into his third piece of pizza.
I only had three pieces and he ate the rest. Then he took me home. He gave me a hug before unlocking the doors—no guy, other than Robert, had ever hugged me before, so it left me feeling embarrassed.
“Later,” he called after me.
I walked up the drive and heard the roar of his car as he drove away.
“So what happened yesterday?” Robert asked me the next day at school. “And don’t leave anything out,” he insisted.
“Well, we did our homework at my house and then he took me to band practice,” I said, but I knew he could tell by the sound of my voice that there was more.
“And…?” he pressed.
I sighed, then said, “And then he took me to Pizza Hut and we had dinner. Then he took me home. That was it.”
“Did he at least kiss you goodnight?” Robert asked, flaring his eyebrows.
“No,” I said.
“But you know you would have let him if he tried.”
I was about to disagree, but then I became stumped. Would I let Stephen kiss me? Sure he was very attractive. And he was much more intelligent than I would have given him credit for. And I did enjoy his personality. But did I like him? I didn’t know how to answer Robert now, and he took that as an affirmation and smiled knowingly.
When we went to Physics class, Stephen came to my table as soon as he came in so he could greet me and hug me. But he didn’t go to his jock table after that. Instead, he sat on the chair opposite me at my table. Robert was beaming and would surely begin hyperventilating any minute.
And then, after Physics was over, Stephen walked with me to Art class and sat by me again. The best part about that was when Brianna came in and saw us sitting together. She looked as though she had just watched someone miraculously make two plus two equal five, and honestly it felt like that to me, too.
When I got home, I went right for my computer, as I had been unable to go on it for the past few days. I checked the same old databases, his credit cards, his bank accounts, searched for any new houses he might have bought on a whim…But there was still nothing new. Nicholae had been doing the same thing for a while now, just staying in New York City, and not buying anything too extravagant.
With that eerily perfect timing of hers, Haley sent me an IM.
Cometgirl1: Anything new in the vampire world?
I laughed at her frankness and replied.
Crimson_vampire616: Nope. Nothing new to speak of. He’s getting boring.
Cometgirl1: Hmm. Well, anything new in your world?
Of course, the first thing that came to mind was Stephen, and I just had to tell her about that; she’d get a kick out of it.
Crimson_vampire616: Actually, I’ve started hanging out with a football player named Stephen. He’s cute, smart, funny, and for some reason, he actually asked me out last night.
It took her a moment to respond.
Cometgirl1: That’s pretty cool, although I never imagined you’d be interested in a football player.
Crimson_vampire616: He’s not like most jocks. He’s smart. Hell, he might even be smarter than me…wow, that sucks if it’s true.
I knew that would make her laugh.
Cometgirl1: So you like him, then?
Dammit, I didn’t like this question. It wasn’t like I wanted to get into bed with him like the rest of the girls at Sunny Mountain did. He was simply an anomaly to me, a smart jock, and not only that but a smart jock who was interested in me! How often does something like that happen!?
Crimson_vampire616: I don’t know. I guess I sorta do.
Cometgirl1: Any chance that this means you’ll give up on meeting Nicholae?
I scowled at the message. Like anyone in the entire world, no matter how beautiful or brilliant or perfect they may be, could ever compare to Nicholae in my mind! I was determined to go to his house in New York and absolutely nothing, especially some lame jock, could make me change my mind!
Crimson_vampire616: Nope, not a chance in hell.
I waited for her response, and I knew it would be her last.
I closed the window and, having nothing else to do, played a videogame for a few hours before bed.