The next day after sunset, I bounded over to the Mansion with a renewed sense of delight. I was eager to see the Mansion return to normalor what Dullsvillians called a nightmare. I was proud that Alexander made the decision to be himselfor at least be as real as he could be without putting his true identity in danger. I knew it was an extremely hard choice for him to makebut either way he was going to be in the story. It was ultimately better that he shared the macabre artist that he was rather than an untrue, khaki-clad version of what he thought the town wanted him to be.
When I arrived atop Benson Hill, the Mansions door was wide open.
I entered the foyer to find the Mansion restored to its original disorder. The scent of lit candles and musty air that Id grown to love wafted through the halls. The brand-new crisp white linen covers were gone, exposing the worn Victorian couches. The silver floor lamps had been replaced with dripping candelabras. And the freshly purchased easel and metal desk with blue locker drawers had been taken from the library and the old desk and library books returned.
Curious, I bolted up the grand staircase. I peeked into Jamesons room to find his new accent rug at the foot of his bed. When I surveyed Sebastians room, the only thing organized was his shiny new desk.
As I drew closer to the TV room, I heard Alexander and Sebastian talking intently.
So havent you thought about it, man? Sebastian asked. You must have.
Of course I have, Alexander answered.
Isnt it difficult to resist? She is beautiful.
It isnt easy.
What were they talking aboutwho were they talking about? I pressed my back flat to the wall and did my best to hear.
She isnt a vampire, Alexander said.
But if she wasman, you could be living the dream. You could sell the bottles in your cellar. Shed quench your thirst for eternity.
They both laughed.
I agree with you that it would be easier if she had been born into our world, Sebastian began. Thats what I think. Then there are no decisionsno conflicts, no pressure.
Its enormous. I try my best not to think about it.
But you do
Of course I do.
I waited with bated breath to finally get a glimpse into Alexanders thoughts. Ones that I knew he was reluctant to tell me about.
If Becky were to go out with me, what would I do? Sebastian pondered. It would be very hard for me not to want to turn her. How do you manage?
I waited an eternity for Alexanders response. I pressed my ear closer to the door. I, like Sebastian, was eager to know how Alexander managed.
If only she were born a vampire, Sebastian said again, then it would be easier.
Then she wouldnt be Raven, Alexander lamented.
I sighed. But what did Alexander think about turning me? I was dying to know more.
So, Sebastian pressed. Whats keeping you from it?
Alexander paused. Not Raven, I heard him say. Not my love for her. Or us being together.
I smiled inside and out.
I do imagine that moment, Alexander continued. Raven and I together on sacred ground. The first time I laid eyes on her, I knew she was what Id been searching for. What I didnt find with Luna or any girl Id ever known. But I never planned to fall for a mortalthe responsibility of it all. But no one said love is easy.
I tried my best not to scream in delight. Listening to Alexander admit to Sebastian that he truly wanted me in his world was what Id been waiting for.
Do you think you ever will? Sebastian asked. Ask her
Would Alexander really turn me? I waited for his answer, but all I heard was deafening silence.
Miss Raven! I heard a voice say from the shadows.
I thought Id jump clear through the Mansions roof.
I didnt know you arrived, the Creepy Man said in his thick Romanian accent. You must have snuck in.
The door was wide
Raven? Alexander called from the room. Suddenly he was standing before me.
Uh, he stammered. I didnt know you were here. It was obvious he was calculating in his head whether Id heard their conversation.
Sebastian was sitting with a gaming guitar in his hand.
Sebastian was just going to show off his guitar talents, Alexander said, changing the subject. Were just missing a gothic rock star.
Uhyeah, Sebastian said. I could use a singer.
They both looked to me.
Sure, I said. Just as long as you both have earplugs.
The following day, Alexander closed the coffin lid on Sebastians and my participation in his interview. We were banished from the Mansion, and just to be safely at a distance Sebastian and I met at Dullsvilles fountain until Alexander could join us.
It was odd, to say the least, to be hanging out with Alexanders best friend without Alexander. What were we going to talk about? Would it be strange to be hanging out with a guy who wasnt my boyfriend? The only other guy I was ever alone with, besides the occasional run-in with Trevor, was my snarky little brother.
There was no doubt Sebastian was charming. His mood was playful and his intentions toward me benign.
What I didnt plan on was anyone seeing us, since there was a soccer game at school and the whole town was going to be there.
Raven, I heard a sweet voice call. Are you two on a date?
It was Becky, the last person, besides Trevor, I wanted Sebastian to see.
Hey, what are you doing here? I asked. I thought youd be at school, cheering for Matt.
Im on my way. Wheres Alexander?
He has an interview with the Gazette. So I was being the tour guideonly Sebastians already seen everything in town.
I know one thing you havent seen: Our schools winning soccer team. Wanna come?
We cant, I said.
Have you ever seen a soccer game? Becky asked naively.
Yes Sebastian replied.
Well, you havent seen Matt play.
True, he said, but Im not sure thats a good idea. Were supposed to meet Alexander in an hour.
Even Sebastian tried to put off my best friend.
Dont be a stick-in-the-mud. I can bring you back here in time.
You know how I feel about soccer, I said, trying to be diplomatic. And especially going to school when I dont have to.
Oh, it will be fun. There arent any tombstones, but youre sure to see a killer match.
Before I knew it, Becky was playfully leading Sebastian toward her truck. He looked to me for help. He was struggling with her touching him, and he was doing his best not to make eye contact with her.
She opened the passenger door and Sebastian reluctantly began to get in.
NoIll sit in the middle, I insisted, squeezing in before Sebastian had the chance to sit down.
I didnt want Sebastian to be too close to Becky. Hed tasted her blood. That meant Sebastian felt even more of a draw to Becky than he had originally. I could see him wrestling with his inner vampire.
Sebastian stared out the window. Becky did her best to engage him in conversation, and he did his best to be polite but remain uninterested.
Dont leave me alone with her, Sebastian pleaded as he and I sat on the bleachers. Becky was at the refreshment stand while we held a seat for her. Alexander will kill me if he finds out Im seeing her again. You know I didnt plan this.
I knowneither did I. We could both get in trouble.
Becky returned with some chips and a container holding three drinks. She handed the tray to me, and as I reached for it, she sat down in between us. Sebastian scooted away.
He took out his cell phone and began texting.
Want some chips? she asked him.
He fiercely shook his head.
Who are you texting?
Just some girls, he said.
Becky dismissed him and took her drink and chips.
There was a time-out in the game.
I received a text again from an unavailable number.
I know where you are
Whos texting you? Becky asked. Im here, and Im the only one who you text.
Im not sure. I think they have the wrong number.
The soccer snobs returned to the field.
How long is this going to be? Sebastian asked with an obnoxiously audible yawn.
Whats wrong with him? Becky whispered to me. Hes acting very strangely.
Im not sure.
Just then Trevor scored a goal and the fans erupted in cheers. Sebastian rose to see what was going on.
Were winning, she said.
Sebastian and Becky locked gazes. They both sat down, and he put away his phone.
Before long, Sebastian had lowered his guard. He was into the game, rooting for Matt, and glowing at Becky.
He took out his cell phone and began snapping pictures of the action. Then he focused it on Becky, who began to get caught up in Sebastians enthusiasm. She posed while I sat as inert as a tombstone.
Cmon, Rave she said, placing her arm around me.
Yes, Raven, Id like some of you, too, Sebastian suggested.
I couldnt even muster a fake smile.
Now let me take one of you, Becky said, retrieving her phone.
NoI hate being photographed. Sebastian shielded his face with the drink tray.
Weird. Alexander does, too, Becky said. Must be something in the water in Romania.
Must be, I said.
Then how am I going to remember you when you leave? she asked, snatching the tray from him.
Sebastian froze. His soft, lovelorn eyes melted even more. Beckys comments had pierced his already aching heart.
All right, he said.
He gazed into the camera intently. He smiled adoringly at Becky. She snapped her camera and the flash went off. He winced as if hed been struck by a soccer ball.
Are you all right? she asked.
I got something in my eye, he said, recovering his composure.
She tucked her phone into her purse and turned her attention back to the game, unaware that she had unwittingly broken his heart. She could never possess his image and he could never possess her love.
Becky waved wildly to Matt just as the buzzer went off.
Final quarter, she said.
We have to meet Alexander, I said. We need to go.
Off in the distance, a shadowy figure emerged over the horizon and began strolling down the grassy hill toward us.
Even from a distance, his presence was intense. A figure like no other. My own breath escaped me and I felt a magnetic and magical connection. For a moment, words eluded me.
Handsome, charismatic, and truly alluring. Alexander Sterling, the perfect vampire.