"No way."I dropped my backpack and faced him squarely. "You saw who?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Death.You'd better tell those morbid mannequins to go back to the dungeon they crawled out of. I was so repulsed I lost my appet.i.te."
"Funny, you have the same effect on me."
"They're even freakier than you are. Are you sure you aren't their sp.a.w.n, too?"
"What did they do? Who were they with?" I asked.
"Haven't you met them yet?" Trevor seemed as surprised as I had been.
"Of course.Several times."I picked up my backpack and began shoving textbooks into my locker.
"You haven't, have you? I guess I'm not the only one who thinks you are weird. Alexander does, too."
His comments were like a stake in my heart.
"They met someone," he continued. "Mr. Berkley came over to their table. I thought he might faint, but he didn't.
"Mr. Berkley ofBerkley Realtors?"I then realized that his was the last suite in the Emerson building left to investigate.
"RumorIs that they want to buy the cemetery and move in."
I was fuming. Trevor had seen theSterlings before I had. Plus, I was angered that he was ridiculing Alexander's mother and father.
"Maybe they want to buy your house and use your room for landfill," I countered.
My mind raced as to how theSterlings were acquainted with Mr. Berkley. Was he who they really saw at the Emerson building? Were they planning on buying Jameson his own place now that they were home? I'm sure there was a plausible explanation for their encounter.
"Could you hear what they said?" I inquired.
"I think it was 'Can I borrow your blood?' How do I know what they said? So... when are we going to start our essays?"
When I see my boyfriend's parents,I wanted to say. Instead I slammed my locker shut and stormed off.
I'd been kept in the dark long enough.
Everyone in town seemed to have aSterling parental unit sighting but me. I was going to make sure that all that changed. If theSterlings weren't coming to me, I resolved,I'dgo to them.
As the sun set, I took my RBI (Raven Bureau of Investigation) accessories: small backpack, flashlight, and compact mirror. Garlic powder was not necessary and in this case would repel instead of attract the objects of my investigation. It wasn't the first time I'd snuck onto the Mansion's property.
I knew the lawn and grounds better than I knew my own backyard. Still, there was one thing I hadn't counted on: The wrought-iron gate was locked. Alexander had been leaving it open, for my easy entrance. More had changed than I thought.
I was going to have to scale the fence. I reached and tugged and climbed my way up to the top like I was on aMount Everest expedition. I guess sleeping in the coffin for all those weeks during the day didn't do anything for my upper body strength. But I persevered.
I kicked my foot over the top of the gate. A gargoyle stared at me.
I let go and dropped down with a thud. The Mansion appeared to be empty. I was just about to sneak in when I heard a car pull up to the gate and park.
The gate was being unlocked.
I stole behind a bush.
The Mercedes drove through the entrance and up the winding driveway. It parked in front of the Mansion.
Jameson got out and two figures emerged from the car, followed by a third. Was it Alexander? It was so dark I couldn't make out my own boyfriend.
From a safe distance, I followed the shadowy figures as they made their way inside the estate, which became illuminated by candlelight, room by room.
Once again, I was alone.An outsider peering in.In Dullsville, at school, in my own family, and now with my boyfriend's family.
I saw Alexander's attic room light up. I a.s.sumed Alexander was painting or maybe dreaming of me as I was dreaming of him.
Two figures suddenly appeared at a window. I flung myself back into a bush against the gigantic house. I craned my neck and strained to see up to the second story. Two deadly pale faces peered out thecurtainless window-like apparitions searching for something or someone they'd lost. The figures disappeared and the room went black,I had seen Alexander's parents!
I coasted my way home and was parking my bike in the garage when I heard the sound of something hovering a few feet away from me. Cautiously I tiptoed toward the door, my flashlight primed for any maverick vampires.
I saw nothing. Just my dad's parked SUV. I was sure it was a hungry racc.o.o.n foraging for leftovers in our garbage can.
Then I heard a twig snap.And footsteps.
I decided to make a run for it. Our back door was only ten yards away from the garage. All I could think of was Freddy Krueger. Michael Myers.Or hockey-masked Jason. Crazy horror movie stalkers haunted my thoughts. I'd seen far too many scary movies to shake them from my mind,Think kids shows , I thought.Barney .Teletubbies.Dora . Those images frightened me more.
If I had my keys ready, I'd make it safely inside before anything could cause me bodily harm. I took a deep breath and geared up to charge forth. But before I took my first step, I was caught in a surprising trap. It wasn't Trevor blocking my escape in the shadow from the garage, or even the most nefarious vampire of all-Alexander's enemy,Jagger Maxwell. It was Alexander.
"Oh... It's just you. Thank goodness!" I made my way to hug him, but he kept his arms folded.
"Where were you?" he asked. He stood stern as my father had many times when I'd broken curfew.
"I just went out for a ride," I said truthfully.
"By yourself?At night?"
"It's still early. My bike has a light on it." All true.
"Then what's that for?" he asked, pointing to my flashlight. "Were you searching for something?Or rathersomeone?"
"It's always good to have extra light. I'm not like you: I can't see in the dark." I grimaced, hoping he'd grin back. His stony expression remained fixed.
"I went to your house," I confessed. "Everyone in Dullsville, including Matt, Becky, and Trevor, has spotted your parents. All I had was a vague memory of a portrait you'd painted of them. I wanted to see them for myself."
I felt awful. My impatience had gotten the best of me once again. I'm not sure how I'd feel if Alexander was sneaking around my house, trying to ogle my parents as if they were subjects in a sideshow. I was no better than the local gossipmongers.I waited what seemed like an eternity for Alexander's response. I was so ashamed of myself I barely made eye contact.
My boyfriend took my wrist and gently drew me to him.
"I think I might have to place you under arrest for trespa.s.sing. But I always go easy on pretty girls who confess," he said ominously.
"You knew, didn't you? I'm that predictable?"
"It was just a matter of time before I spotted you hiding in our bushes."
"So you're not mad?"
"I'm not through with you yet. Are you prepared to accept your punishment?"
I nodded reluctantly. I wasn't sure what a vampire's punishment might be. But I was ready to find out.
"I sentence you to a thousand kisses," he said.
"Can I begin now?"
He finally smiled. I pressed my lips to his and snuggled against him.
When we broke away, I apologized again.
"It's okay. It's time that you meet them. But for tonight, you'll have to settle for me." Alexander winked.And for the next hour I continued to fulfill my sentence.
Another letter arrived mysteriously-only this time it was at my house.
"You have mail," my mom said when I got home the following day. "It's on the kitchen table."
I wasn't used to receiving cards when it wasn't my birthday or a holiday. Even if it was a college
brochure, I was excited something was addressed to me.A deep purple envelope lay next to our pastel blue salt and pepper shakers.
In beautiful black calligraphy it read:Miss Raven Madison. Like Alexander's mail it was devoid of postmarks or stamps. On the back it had a candle-waxed pressed seal of an S.
I almost tore into it when I remembered how Alexander opened his mail.
"Mom," I called. "Do we have a letter opener?"
"I think there's one in your dad's desk."
I opened the French doors to my dad's office. He had a dark oak desk topped with family pictures. I scanned the desk for any sharp objects but didn't find anything other than a few pens and a golf tee. I was growing antsy and rifled through his desk drawer.
Finally, underneath a file folder, I found a gold letter opener, the end in the shape of a tennis racket. I carefully slit open the envelope.
I pulled out the note card and read: Mr. and Mrs. Constantine Sterling request the pleasure of jour company for dinner this Friday at sunset TheSterlingMansion Benson Hill It was official. I was finally going to meet Alexander's parents, and I had the invitation to prove it!
What do I wear to meet parents?" I asked Becky in my bedroom later that day. "I don't have a thing! It's way different than trying to impress a guy. It has to be something striking yet appropriate."
"h.e.l.lo! You have a whole wardrobe that screamsmansionwear !"
"Really?You say the kindest things!" I exclaimed.
Becky was stretched out on my bed reading one of her teenmags while I mixed and matched several outfits and modeled them.
"They all look good to me."
"But I have to look great! This one is too s.e.xy," I said, holding a black bodice. "And this one is too casual," I said, holding up a HIM T-s.h.i.+rt. "How am I going to pullit off? This could make or break my relations.h.i.+p with Alexander."
"Thismag is full of great styles." Becky opened to a spread.
"For me?Are the girls modeling tattoos and tongue piercings?"
"I don't think so. But that doesn't mean it can't help inspire you."
"Alexander would drop dead if I showed up in a polka-dotted dress."
"Just give it your spin. If they're showing stripedKeds sneakers-then choose skull and crossbones Vans "
It was great to have a best friend who understood me.
But the models were beautiful and glowing in their candy-colored outfits. I guess I couldn't hide my slight jealousy of their perfect bodies.
"Hey, everyone can be gorgeous with airbrus.h.i.+ng," Becky remarked. "And we are fabulous without it!"
"You really expect me to put my hair in a ponytail with plaid ribbon?"
"No. You'd wear pigtails with an uneven part and black lace bows. Or better yet, Wednesday Addams braids."
"You are onto something. Maybe we could start our own magazine.Something where the models dress like me.Gothicgirl!"
"I'd buy it, I'd totally not wear anything in it, but I'd buy it," Becky a.s.sured me.
"I'll be the editor, and we could have articles about music and fas.h.i.+on and we'd interviewCriss Angel," I said excitedly. "And in every issue I could be on the cover-like Oprah, but wearing all black."
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