I WALK ONTO the school grounds moments before the bell goes. The school sprawls across an immense piece of ground. It starts up on the hill in the pre-school grades and then every year you work yourself down the hill toward the high school. I walk past the garden in front of the administrative offices and the wild, white roses are all in bloom. The branches of the large trees reach over me like a huge umbrella.
This morning I tied my long red hair high up behind my head, so it swings every time I move my head. My navy check-patterned school skirt comes mid-thigh, just long enough to escape any gossip, but short enough to expose my pale legs.
Decades ago being this pale drew curious looks, but in recent times people are concerned about the damages the sun may cause to their skin, so being white and insipid is in fashion. All the students around me have sun-kissed skin, though. You cannot live under the African sun and not tan. My body, however, does not produce the necessary pigment, melanin which would cause my skin to turn a caramel brown. I cannot even apply fake tan because my skin does not change with the pigmentation in the colouring cream. It is only recently I wished my skin were not so pale. I look sickly compared to all the healthy-looking people surrounding me.
The only reason I do not fizzle and sizzle when sunlight touches my skin is because, during the past century, Joseph, a member of our internationally extended community developed a serum. A serum, if taken every single day, builds immunity in us against the sun. Many vampires died during the process of developing this life-changing medicine.
I smile as I remember the first morning Amanda allowed me to walk into the dawn. I felt the sun on my skin and it was refreshingly strange. It felt like little pinpricks. As if I could feel the beads of light, penetrating my skin.
I do not know where the notion comes from that we, vampires, are murderous or cruel. I can walk past all these delicious people without even thinking about feeding. When I feed and if it is a decent feed, a whole serving, I can go for an entire month before having to feed again.
Being a student in high school is not good for my self-confidence because so many insecurities always inhibit me. I am usually self-assured and confident, but when I walk onto a school ground, I inescapably become unsure of myself.
I walk past the area where Andrew and his friends always gather. The main reason for all my insecurities is Andrew. I noticed him the very first day I started here at this private school. The fact that he does not give me a second look, makes me feel ugly, makes me think there must be something wrong with me. I can feel my heart, or whatever that feeling is that constitutes a heart, pull toward Andrew painfully whenever I see him.
Classes are boring, and I have done it all before. I never pay attention, yet when a teacher calls on me, I know the answers because if I have not experienced it personally I have heard it all previously. I doodle in my notebook all day long. It is a repetitive cycle, bell rings—class - break. Seeing Andrew breaks the monotony, though.
Later that day, when the last bell echoes through the corridors and I walk to my car, I hear someone call my name, “Susie.”
I turn to the voice and see it is the perky, bouncy Carmine. I stop and wait for her, wondering what she wants.
She reaches me and then she says breathlessly, “There is a party at Andrew’s house on Friday. Do you wanna come?”
I frown briefly and then smile friendly. “Okay?” I might as well start integrating, or networking, as Amanda likes to call it.
“You know where he lives, don’t you?” Her curly blonde hair distracts me; she looks like a blonde Annie. Her eyes are huge and blue, and she has freckles across her tanned nose.
“No, I don’t know exactly where.” I do know he lives somewhere in the same security estate as me. I have seen him drive in through the security gates and have seen him race past on his red motorbike. By now, I knew the sound of the thunderous engine and I often saw it parked in front of Carmine’s house.
“I’ll make sure you get a formal invitation then.”
“Okay. Thanks for inviting me.” I did not really have anything else to say to her, so I turn to walk away, but she falls into step next to me. She walks with me to my car and I remember her parents usually collected her from school. You cannot miss Carmine; she is always happy and bubbly. In a crowd, you would always notice her first.
She asks suddenly, “Can I get a lift with you?”
I turn back to her and she starts to explain, “My mum’s too busy to fetch me today. You are going in my direction anyway, aren’t you?”
Briefly, I consider I might have been going to a mall or some place else before going home, but I agree friendly anyway.
I get into the car and then I wait for her while she walks around to the passenger door and gets in. When I start my car, the stereo automatically loads the CD player. Carmine turns the volume louder and the bass reverberates through the car. I usually feel old in the company of young people, although I myself am only sixteen, as well. The youthfulness of Carmine rubs off on me though and by the time I stop in front of her house, I feel youthful again. I have a sense of childishness wrap itself around me.
When she gets out of the car, she leans in and asks, “Do you wanna come in?”
Impulsively I reply, “Ya, sure. I’ll go and leave my car at home though and walk back.”
She sits down again. “I’ll come with you.”
Laughing amused, and after she closes her door, I drive down the hill to my house, on the other side of the block.
I stop the car in the driveway in front of the garage and then we both get out of the car.
Politely I ask, “Do you want to come in? I have to change first.”
“Sure,” she agrees and follows me up to my room. When we walk into my room, she looks impressed, but for some peculiar reason I feel embarrassed at the blatant display of wealth.
I walk to my closet while Carmine immediately swoops down on my music collection. I select an outfit and then excusing myself, I walk to my en-suite bathroom to change my clothes.
When I get back wearing a floral dress which hugs my body tightly and then flares out over my hips, Carmine is paging through my closet. She notices me walking in, smiling over her shoulder and then she exclaims, “That’s a pretty dress you’re wearing.”
I smile and say, “Thank you,” while looking down at the soft material.
She turns back to the cupboard, and she asks, “Would you mind if I tried this on?”
I try to see what dress she is talking about, but she is blocking my view, so I say, “No, I wouldn’t mind.” I honestly did not mind what she wore from my cupboard. Just like Amanda, most of the clothes in my cupboard I have never worn. Boredom drives us to the shops, and then we buy things we think are pretty but never get the chance to wear.
She pulls the dress from the hanger and I notice it is a simple mauve slip dress. She starts to dress in front of me and I look away uncomfortably. After she slips it over her head, she smooths the dress over her hips with her hands and the dress fits her perfectly. She decides to keep it on. The dress looks nice on her and it almost matches the purple, blue colour of her eyes.
She turns to me, her golden blonde hair bouncing around her face. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“No. I don’t think I have ever worn that dress anyway.” It had a little shine to it and I did not like the formal look of the dress. I liked to be comfortable.
She suggests, “I look so pretty and it would be a waste if nobody saw me in it. Let’s go to the mall.”
I am not usually this impulsive, but I need to make friends. Even though the dramas of people bore me, I like to be surrounded by their excitement and enthusiasm. Sometimes it rubs off onto me and I find a glimmer of exhilaration myself—living through them.
We walk out to my car again and then we drive the short distance out of the estate toward the mall. The music is loud and Carmine sings along at the top of her voice. Some words, especially the hip-hop songs, she does not know, but she makes them up as she goes along and I cannot help smiling amusedly.
At the mall, she leads me to a café. The café is in the middle of this lifestyle mall. The restaurants and cafés surround the centre square, with a fountain in the middle. Trees line the perimeter of the square, so it does not feel as if you are in the middle of a bustling mall. Someone wrapped Christmas lights around the trunks of the trees, so at night they light up and make it fairy-magical.
When I walk into the café, the first thing I notice is Andrew.
Carmine looks over her shoulder at me, as she says, “Andrew is always here. He might as well have shares in the franchise.”
I smile nervously.
He is sitting with his back turned toward us. I am hoping to avoid them, but Carmine takes me by the hand and then she leads me to that specific table. We reach the table and Carmine blurt out, “Hey.”
I am standing close to her and I see Andrew notice me, but then just as quickly he looks at Carmine and a smile lights up his face. My stomach drops. I feel a weird sense of loss, a feeling I last experienced leaving Francois behind. A feeling I have forgotten.
Carmine slides into the booth across from Andrew and I slide in after her. I am sitting in front of Andrew and for me, time stops. His hands are resting on the table mere centimetres from mine. It feels weird, all these feelings rushing through me. I have never felt like this before, this total awareness of my entire body of another person I did not want to feed on.
I hear Andrew talk to me from a distance and clearing my mind, I hear him say, “You are Susie?”
“And you are Andrew?”
He nods and smiles. “I have seen you in class. You are new?”
I am either a fool or crazy, or both because I move my hand away from his quickly. Although his hand does not touch mine, I still feel a weird magnetism between us. To get away from the feeling which seems to consume me, I bump against the glass of orange juice standing near the edge of the table accidentally. We both go for it and obviously, I am faster. With lightning speed my hand folds around the glass and without the contents even being disturbed, I place it back on the table.
Andrew looks at me shocked while I decide to stop being such an idiot. I always thought love would be simple, but this is complicated. I realise that although he is my first, my perfect crush, it would be too difficult to have a relationship with someone outside of my community and now he is looking at me as if I am a freak.
Drinking my juice silently, I notice Andrew looking at me every now and again with puzzlement in his eyes. I can see the questions burning in them.
Carmine chatters non-stop with Peter and Martin, not including Andrew and me. The silence between Andrew and me is awkward and I see him become restless. For some stupid reason, I feel so sad. It comes from the general direction of my stomach.
I lean closer to Carmine. “I have to leave. Will you get your own way back?”
She turns her head to Andrew and then she smiles sweetly. “Andrew will give me a lift home.”
He laughs suddenly. “You cannot just assume.”
She pouts. “But you will, won’t you?”
He smiles brightly, and I see their eyes meet.
I say goodbye, but Andrew only looks up at me briefly without saying a word.
Carmine slides into the space I just vacated and she asks, looking up at me, “See you tomorrow at school?”
I smile down at her. “Okay.”
“Bye, Susie,” she calls after me. The good thing from all of this is that I made a friend, at least.
As I walk away, I hear Andrew say to Carmine, “Nice dress. Did you just buy it, because I’ve never seen it before?”
I have lived so long and never before have I ever felt this total, absolute sense of hopelessness.