I didn’t try to talk to Mrs. Rinehart after class ended. I figured it was best to wait until school was over, when there wouldn’t be anyone around to hear me plead—or to see her cave in.
The rest of the day crawled by. Those two words and all the questions they had raised kept ringing through my mind. At lunch, I could barely eat a thing. My last three classes were a blur. I took a test in one of them; hopefully my answers wouldn’t be complete gibberish.
At long last, the dismissal bell rang. I rushed back to the second floor and found Mrs. Rinehart alone in her room. She took one look at me and shook her head as she returned her attention to the textbook in her hands.
“Don’t even try, Mr. Stevens. You knew the consequences when you chose to break the rules.”
The words hit me like a slap on the wrist, but I couldn’t give up that fast.
“I just wanted to make sure it was off,” I tried, and kept it at that. I can’t lie without blushing, but with any luck, she would just think I was upset.
She made a little sound in her throat, set the book on her desk, and sat down, her fingers linked in front of her. She was lower than me now, but somehow she managed to look like she was standing and looming over me. My father did the same trick, and it was never a good sign.
“Admirable that you would try to ensure my class wouldn’t be interrupted,” she said dryly. “Much less admirable that you had a phone with you when, per the student handbook, you are supposed to keep it in your locker.”
It was true that the rule was somewhere in the handbook, but I didn’t know a single student who didn’t keep their phone in their pocket or schoolbag. The teachers knew it, and they had stopped fighting that battle, keeping their ammunition for actual use of the phones during class. I wasn’t out of arguments, though. Maybe pointing out inconsistencies in her rules would soften her…
“But you let us use them when we meet for—”
“Viewpoint is an after-school club,” she cut in coolly. “Different standards apply.”
So much for that argument.
As I tried to decide what to say next, she watched me over the rim of her glasses. Her eyes were blue. I had never noticed before. At that moment, they looked extraordinarily like my father’s—Michael’s—when I did something I shouldn’t. It was the thought of what he would say, how disappointed he would be if I didn’t fix that text message thing and fast that pushed me to argue a little more.
“My dads both work late. They wouldn’t be able to come by before the evening. Maybe you could assign me detention instead. I’ll come in all week. Before and after school.”
I had practice after school just about every day and she knew it, so I hoped she would see how much of a punishment detention was for me. No such luck.
She pulled out a notepad and scribbled something as she said, “If they can’t come during regular hours, they can call me and arrange a meeting when it will be more convenient for them.”
She tore the first sheet off the notepad and handed it to me. I glanced at it, and saw two phone numbers as well as an email address. I dropped my head as I folded the sheet and slipped it in my pocket. Maybe the kicked-puppy-dog look…
She sighed quietly and leaned back in her chair.
“I’m sorry, Vincent. I don’t make exceptions to my rules. You know that.”
The worst thing was, I did know that, and I had known it when I had pulled the phone out. I just hadn’t cared. I couldn’t really be mad at her, not when I had taken a stupid chance. This was my own fault. I only hoped the same wasn’t true about the text message. I hadn’t slipped up, had I?
“I know.” I shrugged. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
A half-smile curled her lips. “Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often. You’re a bright young man; one misstep doesn’t change that. Speaking of, did you think of a topic for tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. I’m going to brainstorm with AJ tonight. Or I was supposed to. We usually talk about it over the phone.”
She snorted and rolled her eyes at me. “I’m sure you’ll do just fine without it. Have a good day.”
Last ditch effort, no result. I had lost this battle, and the war wasn’t off to a good start.
AJ was halfway to the ice rink when I caught up with him after a quick stop by my locker.
“Where have you been?” he asked without slowing down.
He grunted. “Lost cause, huh?”
“Yeah, but I had to try. I don’t know when my dads will be able to come get it.”
Honestly, I was disappointed by his reaction—or lack of it. I would have expected more sympathy from him, especially about losing my phone. He could hardly go more than a few minutes without checking his own—although I suppose he had more sense than me and he didn’t check it in English class.
Most of the team was already there when we entered the locker room. We got dressed then went out on the ice for a few warm-up laps before Coach B told us what he wanted from us for the day.
Usually, when I’m skating, everything else disappears. My mind clears, and my focus turns entirely to the stick in my hands, the other players around me—and of course the puck. Not today.
For just about everything else, my abilities were a pain to hide. Having a vampire for a father meant I was faster, stronger, had better reflexes and sharper senses than anyone—or at least, anyone human. But I couldn’t make use of any of those skills where people might notice. As a kid, I hated it. I could have won every race and every game of tag or hide and seek. I could have stopped every schoolyard bully that ever teased or mocked or hurt anyone. I could have, but I wasn’t supposed to.
My dads—Michael, mostly; he was the worrier—drilled it into me that being special meant being very careful not to draw attention to myself. If I did, their secret might be exposed, and if anyone discovered they were vampires, I would be taken away from them. That was the last thing I ever wanted to happen. So, I sometimes let my friends run faster than me. I let them win games.
The bully thing was different, and I found ways to get around that and teach a lesson or two to a couple of bad kids without ever getting in trouble, but that’s not the point.
The point is, all of that changed when I stepped onto the ice. I was six. I had asked to play baseball like my best friend at the time, but my dads weren’t too excited about the whole ‘sunny outdoors’ part. It was Lucas—my non-bio dad—who suggested hockey. We watched a few games on TV, and I agreed to give it a try. The practical side of it, and Lucas was nothing if not practical, was that it was played indoors, the local ice-rink had a covered parking, and the classes were in the evening. What neither Lucas nor I could have guessed was how much I would enjoy it.
The very first time I put skates on, I was hooked. After a few lessons, it turned into a passion. All of the things I had to hide outside the rink made me an excellent player on the ice, but no one suggested my skills were due to anything more than natural talent. Why would they? They’d have sounded crazy.
At first, Michael looked a little worried when my coaches or other parents raved about how good I was, but over the years he grew used to it. When I joined the high school team, Coach B started pushing me harder than any other player. He’d sworn he’d work to get me a college scholarship, and in exchange he counted on me to win him at least a couple championships. Fair deal from my point of view.
I suppose some people would have said my DNA gave me an unfair advantage if they had known—the same people who, twice this past season, had accused me of cheating and taking whatever drug of the day supposedly helped players perform better. But the thing was, I wasn’t taller or bigger than the average player, and I’d happily submit to doping tests if they’d only stop those stupid rumors. I had a natural advantage, sure, but I worked hard, too. Really hard. It just didn’t feel like work at all.
Or at least, not usually.
“Stevens! Wake up and start playing or I swear by all portals you’ll spend the next game on the bench!”
I flinched when Coach B yelled at me and barely missed tripping over my own skates. My face burning, I caught my balance just in time. Every pair of eyes in the rink was on me; I didn’t even need to look to know. Coach B had never benched me before. He had never yelled at me in the middle of practice, either. He had never needed to yell at me. Was I imagining the whispers behind my back?
AJ skated over to me and knocked twice against my helmet right over my forehead. “What’s wrong with you? Is it still about the fanged phone? It’s just a phone, man. You’ll get it back eventually. I’m sure your sweetie will wait.”
I didn’t reply and turned away, annoyed that he kept treating this like it was just some girl who had sent me a flirty text. I couldn’t tell him it was much more complicated than that. I couldn’t tell anyone: not my best friend, and not my dads. I’d need to tell them something to explain the phone situation, but at least for now, I wouldn’t mention that message to them. It had been sent to me, so I would deal with it myself.
I only wished I had any idea how to do that. But thinking about it while I was supposed to be skating wasn’t helping anything.
I tried to focus on the practice, at least enough to not get yelled at again, but judging from the glare Coach B offered me two hours later when practice ended, I remained less than stellar throughout. For the first time ever, I couldn’t manage to care. Getting benched would be a big deal. A really big deal. But it paled in comparison to the other threat hanging over my head—and my dads’.
I was still thinking about that when I climbed into AJ’s beat-up car. He picked me up in the morning and drove me home in the afternoon, and in exchange I gave him some gas money every so often.
“So what do you want to do for our next article?” he asked after a few minutes of driving. “We’re supposed to propose our topics tomorrow. The K’s are going to corner us like demons if we’ve got nothing.”
The K’s were Kurt and Kristen, respectively editor-in-chief and vice-editor of the school’s newspaper. AJ and I had joined the staff of the Viewpoint on a dare in the middle of our sophomore year, and we’d shared a byline since the beginning. We did the research together, I wrote the actual article, and AJ illustrated it with his own photographs or drawings. Neither of us ever actually said so, but it had gone from just a dare to something we both enjoyed. That, and it earned us extra credit in Mrs. Rinehart’s class.
“No clue,” I said with a sigh. “What about that article about the girls’ rugby team we talked about before?”
AJ had suggested that topic a few weeks earlier, and I knew exactly why. The captain of that team was pretty cute, and AJ had a thing for her. He had a thing for a lot of cute girls, to tell the truth. Unfortunately, the rugby team captain had recently started dating someone; I guess that put a damper on AJ’s interest in rugby, because he shrugged.
“I don’t know. We’ve done several sports articles. Maybe we could write about something else. Something more… serious?”
Like I didn’t have enough serious stuff in my life right then…
“More serious like what?” I asked, distracted.
The guy in the car in front of us was talking on his phone while driving. My usual mental response of ‘what a fanged idiot’ turned to something along the lines of, ‘I wish I had my cell phone.’ How was I going to get out of this mess without access to that text?
“How about vampires?”
My stomach leapt to my throat at AJ’s question, and I could taste bile on the back of my tongue.
“Vampires?” I repeated, choking up a bit.
“Yeah.” AJ didn’t notice how startled I was and kept driving as he explained what he meant, his thumbs beating excitedly on the steering wheel. “Did you know two students from our school volunteered to be turned three years ago? The summer before our freshman year. We could do a feature about them.”
“Volunteered?” Apparently, I was stuck on repeat mode. I tried to order my thoughts and regain some coherence. “I didn’t know people still volunteered.”
“Oh yeah, they totally do. I mean, it doesn’t happen all that often. They’ve got to be crazy to want fangs, right?”
He turned a quick look toward me then, and there was something odd in his eyes, like he wanted me to tell him that, no, I didn’t think only crazy people would want to be vampires. Except I did believe it. Not for the same reasons as everybody else, of course. People thought vampires were monsters. I knew that the true monsters were those who kept vampires in camps.
“Anyway,” he continued when I didn’t say anything, “I don’t think most people even know you can do it, so that could make a cool article.”
He was grinning by the time he finished. After his lack of reaction to my troubles, I had started to wonder what was wrong with him. It was nice to see him act more like himself again. But of all possible topics, why vampires? Why now?
“So?” he said when, after a few seconds, I still hadn’t replied. “What do you think?”
What did I think? I thought people who actually wanted to become vampires nowadays either knew nothing about what the life of a vampire was like in a fighting camp, or had mental issues that went a lot deeper than ‘crazy.’ I thought I’d rather write about anything else in the world when I’d just discovered someone knew about my own personal link to vampires. Mostly, I thought I had no desire to nix the topic right then and have AJ be upset with me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to: he was just turning into my street.
“I’m not sure,” I said as he drove up to my house. “I guess I need to sleep on it. Pick me up a few minutes early tomorrow and we can talk about it before first period?”
He made a vaguely affirmative sound, but his expression was somber again, almost disappointed. Most of the time, I was the one who suggested our topic, and I could imagine he would have liked a bit more enthusiasm from me when he had come up with what, for anyone else, would have been a great subject. For me, it just felt like it hit too close to home.
When I walked up to the front door a few moments later, I added one more line to my to-do list:
- Get one of my dads to get my phone back from Mrs. Rinehart.
- Solve the text-message mystery and convince whoever it was to promise they won’t tell what they know.
- Find an article topic good enough to distract AJ from his vampire idea.
Before all that, however, I was going to have a sword fight.
… Continued in Demon World