She smiles with some of the old bubble. "Please. Leave it to me."
And so I do, nodding every time there’s a pause in Caroline’s story about how I found her at Amanda’s and there was a flat tire, and that’s why I’m all grimy. I am distracted by the way I can feel the concern rolling off of my father. By the time I pick up Caroline’s random They are so buying it, I’m rattled enough to beg leave to go upstairs, where I take an hour-long shower. I feel safe there, where the tile is bright white and unchanging, and where I am free of all thoughts but my own.
I check my pulse a lot in the days that follow. I check in class, I check at the dinner table, I check at stoplights. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my fingers already at my neck or on my wrist. There is always that moment of panic when I can’t locate it, when I think that the fluke is finally over and that I am going to suddenly feel the points of fangs jabbing at the corners of my mouth. But then I find it. I always find it, beating fast and strong and human.
My "side effects" don’t go away. Whatever balance was tipped by James’s impromptu blood transfusion does not find its equilibrium. My family, teachers, and classmates now glimmer like glowworms, even under fluorescent lights, and I am still a satellite for stray thoughts. I know that this is not normal; I know that I should be looking into what it means and who (and what exactly) I am. Sometimes I watch my father as he putters around the house, wondering how much he knew or knows and finding it hard to believe that a man who owns a snowman tie could have ever been wrapped up in anything remotely supernatural. Occasionally I even try to listen in on his thoughts, before guilt makes me stop. I wonder more about my mother in this week than I have in the last five years, but I am still not ready to crack it open. I tell myself tomorrow, and then tomorrow I tell myself next week.
Mr. Amado doesn’t choose me as editor in chief. While there’s a moment where it makes me want to pick up and hurl something at the wall – or at least stake Vlad all over again – I know that Lindsay deserves it more than I do, if only because she played the game fair and honest the entire way through. She’s already promised me that she’ll include any investigative article I want to write. I am tempted to test that with vampires, but I think I’m vampired out. Or at least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself of these days.
James does not come to school in the next week, nor does he appear outside my window. I try not to be disappointed, but I won’t say that seeing the empty chemistry stool isn’t a kick in the gut. Every night I try not to squint at his house, and every night I fail. A part of me longs to confront him, but after my shocked words during the brief time that I thought I was a vampire, thrusting my mortality in his face now seems like the ultimate insult.
But then one night I’m up late working on my French homework, trying to figure out how to tell Pierre, who is always lost, how to get to the boulangerie when I catch a small glow of light in the corner of my eye. Holding my breath, I peer out the window, the tiny flicker of hope shrinking with every second that passes. Come on, come on, I think, willing it into existence. My face is mere inches from the glass when it flares again. I am out of my chair so fast that I stumble over the legs, knocking my knees against the armrests. Lately I’ve been misjudging the time it takes to complete actions, to get from point A to point B. Right now, however, I don’t care. I thunder down the stairs with no regard for who I might be waking.
The night air is cool, crisp; fall has sprung. Kicking up leaves, I cut across the yard and duck through the hole in the fence, expecting to find James waiting for me on the porch, but the porch is empty. Confused, I walk to the side of his house and check the window only to be met with the same infuriating lack of James. This is the proof I’ve been waiting for. Tomorrow I will call the asylum. "I am losing my mind," I say aloud to no one in particular.
"No, you’re not," James’s voice says from above me. I look up again to see his face hanging over the eaves of the highest window.
"You’re on the roof," I say, stupidly. It’s nice to know that whatever other changes I have experienced this past week, my powers of stating the obvious are still intact.
He smiles and holds out his arms. "So I am."
"Are you going to come down?" I ask. I should be much more annoyed with him than I am. I promise to start as soon as my brain stops going happyhappyhappyhappy-happy.
Or I can start being annoyed now. "Well, as fun as it is to stare up your nose, I have French homework to finish."
"I think that you should come up," he suggests.
"And I think you’re losing your mind."
"Try it," he insists, walking to the corner of the house and pointing to the roof of the covered porch. "Grab the ledge and then boost yourself up."
I stare at the item in question, which is a good four feet above my head. "I think you overestimate my jumping skills."
James’s only answer to that is to smile.
I decide to humor him. Crouching down, I attempt to leap toward the gutter. No one has ever been more shocked than I am when I feel the ridge of metal beneath my fingers and hear the creak of it bending beneath my weight.
"Now pull yourself up. Er, quickly please. You’re kind of destroying my house."
Still in shock, I manage to swing a leg up and then crawl onto the roof of the porch. Brushing my hair back behind my ears, I peer over the edge.
"One more to go," James says, and this time I trust that I can make it. It turns out that this is a misguided instinct.
"Can I get a little help here?" I say as I hang with one heel on the roof of James’s house and the other one dangling in the breeze.
He grabs my arm and hauls me up, hard enough that I bump into his chest. For a second his arms rest at my waist, and my heart beats fast between us. But then I get a flash of thought – so alive – and I pull back, embarrassed and uneasy. James was right; this new vampire thing is kind of a bitch.
James clears his throat and takes a seat on the highest point. "It will get easier."
"Jumping onto roofs?"
"Sure. That and everything," he says, and I realize that the reassurance wasn’t just meant for me. It was meant for him as well.
We sit in silence for a few moments, and I study the neighborhood from my new bird’s-eye view. The streets are quiet. Every once in a while a car passes with a gentle whoosh, but for the most part we seem to be the only ones awake. The moon is a pale sliver.
"I am sorry for what I said in the woods," I finally say when I work up the courage. "I am glad that you saved me, and I would’ve been glad even if it did turn me into a full vampire. I was just in shock. And I’m sorry because it is unfair, and you have every right – "