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Watching a vampire make out with an idiot is kind of like going to the farmers' market and noticing just how many farmers have lost fingers in on-the-job accidents. Even though it's kind of disturbing, it's impossible to look away.
Right now, two lunch tables over from mine, Fred (a vampire) is making out with Michelle (an idiot). And everyone in the cafeteria is watching the show.
"My God," says my friend Trinity. "It's like he thinks her head is a Tootsie Pop."
"Keep watching," I say. "Maybe we can finally find out how many licks it takes to get to the candy center." I'm not just being my usual, devastatingly witty self here. I actually think that the only thing between Michelle's ears might be some sort of chewy candy.
"I've lost count already," says Peter. "He must be about halfway through her skin by now. You'd think he'd just bite her and get it over with. That's what I always do with Tootsie Pops." "They don't really bite people," says Sadie. "Not anymore."
"So what does he have to do to make her into a vampire?" asks Peter.
"It's a secret, but it's probably nothing he can do in a high school cafeteria," says Sadie.
They're already doing several things they aren't supposed do in a high school cafeteria, the lunchroom monitors are all too chicken to tell a vampire to knock it off, even though everyone knows they're not really dangerous.
It was quite a scandal a few years back when it turned out that Megamart was bringing corpses back to life to work as zombie slaves in their stockrooms. When word got out, all the other post-humans (vampires, werewolves and all the undead types that turned out to have been living among us for centuries) got really offended and decided to "come out of the coffin" to lobby Congress to close all the loopholes that let Megamart get away with that.
There was wall-to-wall coverage in the media for months. Every news station had stories of "The Vampire Revelation" like "How the Vampire Invasion Is Threatening Your Family" and "How to Protect Your Newborn from Werewolves." But after a while, everyone figured out that nothing had really changed--vampires and stuff have always been around. Now we just know about it. And they aren't nearly as scary as they'd been made out to be; they're a lot faster and stronger than regular people, and they're apparently more or less immortal, but they don't really drink blood anymore (there's some kind of vegetable compound that's more satisfying and easier to get), and they don't get their "powers" from anything supernatural (it's something to do with protein mutation or something. I forget). Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and zombies turned out to be regular scientific phenomena, and life went pretty much back to normal.
The teenage vampires are a pain in the ass--they never actually mature, no matter how old they get, since their pituitary glands are sort of frozen in time--but dating one has become the ultimate status symbol. Most girls in school dream of having a loserlike Fred fall in love with them and turn them into a vampire. I guess living in Iowa does make life as a corpse seem exciting.
"Dead people have no reason to live," I say. "Shouldn't we have stopped thinking vampires were awesome when we found out they spend most of their time acting all emo?"
"You're just jealous, Alley," says Marie. "Can you honestly tell me that if some guy rose from the grave and spent a hundred lonely years looking for just the right person, then fell for you, you wouldn't think that was totally romantic?"
"I'd think he was a stalker," I say.
"It's true love!" says Marie.
"Get real," says Sadie. "It's hot, but it's just lust. Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Sadie is my oldest friend. She kind of falls for the whole vampire thing, but at least she's realistic. She likes dead guys, just like every other girl in school, but Marie loves them. She isn't even interested in dating living guys. She's, like, necrosexual.
"You guys are just prejudiced," says Marie. "I would kill to date a vampire. I mean, he's crazy strong, but not strong enough to stay away from her. How romantic can you get?"
"Right," says Peter. "I think that's on page one of How to Get Teenage Girls to Fall in Love with You."
"And her parents probably think he's a monster, but she truly understands him," I chime in.
"See?" asks Peter. "Textbook."
Everyone at my table is on the staff of the school paper. Trinity Pearl, who sits to my right, is the editor in chief. She's wearing a formal ball gown (she's into tango) covered in safety pins (she's also into punk). Next to her is Peter Woolcott, the most transparently gay teenager in the greater Des Moines area. On the other side of him is Marie Beecher, the necrosexual fashion editor who doubles as our pet idiot, then Ryan Deeborn the film critic, then Sadie, who covers local news (she drew the shortstraw). Peter's gossip column, "No Siree," is really just a report of all the witty things we say at lunch (and occasionally, the dumb things Marie says. She's a little dim, but we love her anyway). Our skill at making fun of things has made our table sort of famous; around school they call us the Vicious Circle.
Two tables over, Michelle is making noises that sound like they're coming from a wounded animal and saying "Oh, Friedrich, Friedrich" loudly enough to make sure we all hear her. It's kind of annoying. I mean, if you so much as hold hands with someone who isn't a vampire, you get detention for public display of affection. It's a total double standard.
"God, if I ever get like that, just drive a stake through my heart or something, okay?" I ask.
"No danger of that," says Peter. "Eight days till prom and you've still never had a second date?"
"Who needs a second one when you get everything you want on the first?" I ask. And I give him my most self-satisfied smirk.
It's not that I'm inexperienced; I've made out with plenty of guys. But I just make out with them, send them on their way and then make fun of them without naming names later on. It's not very nice, I know, but guys know what they're getting into when they make out with Alley Rhodes, the Ice Queen of the Vicious Circle.
A lot of people think I hate guys or something. I don't, really; I just hate the idea of getting stuck in this town, so I don't have any desire to get involved with a guy who lives here. And it's not that I don't want to go to the prom, but there's only a month till graduation, and three months till I'm outta here altogether. No point complicating things by having a big expensive date. I'm just going to go with Sadie and make fun of everyone else.
"Doesn't anyone remember what a loser Fred was before people knew he was a vampire?" Peter asks as Fred slides his hand up Michelle's leg under the table. I swear I see Fred glance around to make sure people are watching.
"He was my lab partner for a while," Trinity says. "He'd act like a jerk half the time and mope around the rest."
"Yeah," I say. "I didn't think it was possible, but the guy is both a wiener and a dick."
"Yeah," says Trinity. "Kind of cocky, too."
Peter scribbles that down for his column.
When I was a freshman, back when everyone except a handful of conspiracy theorists thought vampires were just fictional characters, our cafeteria was like any other. There was the jock table, the prep table, the drama table, the band geek table and a table full of kids who were into role-playing games. But now it's just one goth table after another. When the guys saw how the girls just melted over the vampires, they all started trying to be goths. It makes our yearbooks really depressing. Looking across the cafeteria today, I see so many people in black that you'd think Cornersville Trace High School was a Transylvanian biker bar or something. But we're just another school in the post-human era.
That's what we're living in, by the way, according to all the news blogs. The early post-human era. I suppose it beats living in the disco era.
But as for me, I'm only into one dead guy: Cole Porter, the greatest songwriter who ever lived. He wrote show tunes like "I Get a Kick out of You," "It's De-Lovely" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" back in the 1930s, when guys really had style. I'd totally have his babies if he wasn't dead and gay and staying both ways, as far as I know. I sang his song "Love for Sale" at a talent show when I was six. I lost, but at least I lost with style.
"Uh-oh," says Marie. "Show's over. Here comes Smollet."
Mrs. Smollet, the guidance counselor, wanders up, making a face like she's sucking on about nine lemons, and taps Fred on the shoulder. She can deal with him better than the other teachers, since she's a vampire herself.
Fred pulls his hand from under the table, and he and Michelle straighten themselves out. Most girls would probably blush if they found out that everyone, including a teacher, had been watching them getting felt up, but Michelle just looks around proudly, soaking up the jealous glares.
Mrs. Smollet is one of those guidance counselors who go on and on about abstinence and "old-fashioned values." I was shocked when it turned out she's a vampire, but I guess it makes sense, if you think about it. Women in the Victorian era, when she grew up, couldn't even say the word "toes" out loud without blushing unless they were hookers, so it's no wonder that she gets freaked out by anything remotely related to sex. She was the one who made the school change the name of my music column from "Going Down a Dark Alley," which she thought was "too suggestive and urban," to "On the Beat with Alley Rhodes." Lame.
"Okay," says Trinity. "Now that the show's over, we have stuff to cover. Peter, do you have your column ready?"
"Almost," he answers. "I just need to throw in Alley's line about someone being both a wiener and a dick at the same time, and her thing about dead people having no reason to live."
I smile proudly. Two in one column! None of us wants to admit that we don't make up our one-liners on the spot, but I've been waiting to use that "dead people have no reason to live" line for days.
"And Alley," Trinity continues, "I hate to tell you this . . . but you're going to have to cover the Sorry Marios tonight."
"I knew it," I say with a groan.
"It's big news," says Trinity. "They just hired Will to play drums."
The Sorry Marios are a bad local band featuring Nat Watson, the star of the basketball team, as lead singer and guitarist. Nat's not a bad guy, but he is a bad singer. And Will is one of the other vampires in school. He's an even bigger jerk than Fred.
"I understand," I say. "But I'm not happy about it. They suck."
"Maybe they'll be better with a vampire on drums," says Sadie. "Aren't vampires, like, musically gifted?"
"Some are," says Marie.
"It'll take more than that to get them not to suck," I say.
"Well, skewer them if you have to," says Trinity, "just make it funny. It's not like you aren't at the Cage every other Friday night anyway."
"Anyone want to go with me?" I ask.
"I'm going with a bunch of other people," says Marie. "Will doesn't have a prom date yet."
Marie goes to every event in town that might have a post-human present. If she thought a vampire would be there, she'd go to the opening of an applesauce jar.
"I'll go with you," says Sadie. "Are you getting in without paying the cover?"
I look up at Trinity.
"You took care of that, right?"
She nods. "You and a guest are on the list, and you get free pizza. Eddie promised me."
Another sigh. "Somehow, the idea of free pizza at the Cage doesn't make this sound any easier."
"Live with it," says Trinity. "And bring your laptop with you. I'll need your review by nine."
"Fine," I say.
We're still called the "newspaper" staff, even though the whole thing was moved online last year. It's just a blog, really. But we still have deadlines and stuff.
I'm already writing the review in my head. Maybe I'll open by saying "The Sorry Marios should really be called the Sorry Excuse for a Band." Or maybe "There's never been a 'scene' here. No one talks about 'the Des Moines Sound.' And on the basis of the Sorry Marios, I suppose it's just as well."
Suburban Des Moines isn't really all that bad, honestly. I've been to worse places. Like Nebraska.
But once I graduate, all that's going to be left of me here will be an Alley-shaped hole in the door and a collection of witty zingers that will stay online and make me and my friends legends in Cornersville Trace for years to come.
The pool of datable guys is sure to be much larger in Seattle, where I'm going to college.
I'll only have to be this lonely for a few more months.