There are few things that vampires loathe more than fangirls. It was bad enough when Ann Lentils popularised the genre, simultaneously transforming the respectable bloodsucker into a circus of existential angst and sexual ambiguity, but when that Oscar Meyer person added guilt, glitter, and raging teenage hormones to the mix, the Great Game began to feel the strain of a threat.
The threat did not take the form of a sudden proliferation of well-informed slayers armed with the Eucharist, or the Magen David, or even with pointy things. The threat took the form of a spate of homicides driven, it seems, by the sheer bloody desire to make the tweenaged victims shut their traps.
Daniel Leland tended to ignore the plight of his people, just as he tended to ignore his own condition and authors who thought they had something to say about it. He avoided Italian food and Dutch medical professors, left plates of fruit out for the neighbourhood bats, and kept his shoes and his half of the duplex spotlessly tidy. He taught high school British Literature, a subject for which he was singularly well-prepared, having once-upon-a-time screamed censure at a neighbour who was in the habit of shooting holes through the walls and playing the violin late into the night. And when he could no longer cope with the dark urge to wring the apathy out of his gum-popping students, he would sometimes drive into the country of a weekend and envision their faces appended to every raccoon he flattened beneath his antiquated Continental. More practical murder was never an issue, as sheep are ridiculously plentiful in the Texas Hill Country, and they are stupid enough not to move even when they find themselves playing the rôle of juice box.
Daniel could ignore the somewhat violent norms of his kind. He could ignore their tuts and clicks and their headshakes, and he could ignore the rather less subtle stigma that human society attached to being dead. In fact, he was very pleased to discover that both societies were just as happy to ignore him as he was to ignore them.
Lucinda was harder to ignore.
There was no accounting for Lucinda. She was not especially bright, or enlightened, or Sensitive, or pure of heart. She was not even blind, which might have made possible the heightening of her other cotton-stuffed senses. She was not part fey, or djinn, or whatever Other is currently sleeping around with Mankind for reasons only It can fathom. She was not a medium or a wizard or even moderately clairvoyant. She was not descended from those racist busybodies, the van Helsings. In fact, her surname was Ortega.
In spite of all those nots, Lucinda Ortega still managed to figure out that Daniel Leland belonged to that particular demographic characterised – as she put it, in a hoarse whisper that no doubt was intended to be sultry – by the V word. A flummoxed Doctor Leland offered her a Halls drop and asked her what she had against vegetarians.
"No, vampires!" she protested, dropping the affected accents. Her voice, when she was not attempting seduction, was somewhat reminiscent of the whine produced by a rewinding VHS tape. She accepted the cough drop and slurped at it.
"Oh, no," said Daniel, "you've found me out. Perhaps you'd like to speak to the school counsellor about it?"
Lucinda giggled and purred. "No," she said, swallowing the subtext whole. "Don't worry. I'll keep your secret." She kept purring. Like a cat.
Daniel suspected that she might have read something once about a purring seductress and had thoroughly misinterpreted the meaning. On the other hand, he thought, it was possible that she was allergic to cough drops and would require an impromptu tracheotomy. He reached for a pen.
It took effort and an uncoordinated and unromantic lunge across the desk, but Lucinda managed to reach the pen first, forcing an excessively contrived unexpected-hand-touching scenario. Somehow, she managed a blush to top it off. And a giggle.
"You're not a monster," she breathed at him, pressing a dramatic hand into her cleavage at the tears she perceived welling in the tortured depths of his prismatic silver eyes. Then she left.
Daniel shuddered violently and wiped her menthol-breath from his glasses while he waited for his damaged vision to clear. It was concrete proof, he supposed, of the warning on the package: FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY. AVOID CONTACT WITH EYES. Somehow, he doubted that a poison control centre would be particularly sympathetic.
There was no incident the next day, for which Daniel was grateful. He supposed that the behaviour of adolescent females was likely to be as fickle as it was bizarre. He could deal with a one-time thing.
Wednesday, however, at some point between fourth and fifth period, a black silk rose appeared on his desk. It smelled of industrial-strength solvent, and the petals had begun to eat a hole through the wood laminate. The note attached read: "this rose is 4 our eternal dark love. ps its fake so it will nvr wilt. bloody kisses, ur Lucinda."
Daniel deposited the entire bundle in the bin and bathed himself in hand sanitizer up to the elbows, wondering whether Lucinda might really be enacting a clever plot to see him fired.
If so, she also seemed bound and determined to go down with him. Being dead did have its advantages, he was forced to concede, since it prevented him from suffering catastrophic heart failure when the giggling pestilence appeared on his doorstep with a litre of Coke and a litre of clotting pig's blood from the carnicería down the street. It was a sweet gesture, but nauseating.
He slammed the door and fled to the water closet, there to contemplate a transatlantic voyage. Surely a teenager of limited means, however determined, would be unable to follow him to Finland. He wondered what the weather was like in Antarctica, and how hard it might be to blend in with the Sherpas. But Daniel did not like the cold, and he did not like the Finns, and he did not speak Sherpa.
And after twenty minutes or so, the broken sobbing from the front porch began to irritate the neighbours, and against his better judgement, Daniel was forced to bring the girl inside and ply her with tea and tissues. Lucinda took this as a hopeful sign.
"You don't have to shut me ooooout!" she wailed, speaking both figuratively and literally – Texas had given her a sunburn.
"Please leave me alone," he pleaded, but he could hardly expect to be taken seriously while dancing backward to escape her outstretched arms.
"But I want to be your Beatrice!"
That sparked a flicker of hope, but Daniel sadly thought it more likely to be a pop culture reference than evidence of an interest in the classics. "Er," he said.
"I want to be a bomb for your flatulated heart!"
The spark guttered and died. "I'm doing tolerably well on my own, actually..."
Lucinda hit the table and went down. So did the table. So did the tea. Daniel's obsessive compulsive disorder flailed wildly.
"Just one question," he said, carefully maintaining his distance. "What tipped you off?" Clearly, there was a telltale behaviour that called for immediate alteration.
"I knew," the Lucinda dribbled. "From the moment I felt our souls connect..." It continued in that vein for some time.
Somehow, he got her to go home without having to touch her. Somehow, he avoided an aneurysm or a nervous breakdown. As he understood matters, Lucinda Ortega had wished so hard and so long for a vampire romance that she had actually succeeded in annoying the Powers That Be into capitulation. That made for a dangerous situation. If Fate Itself never had a chance against the girl's persistence, what hope had Daniel Leland?
That very night, he hopped a plane to Florida, where teenagers are outlawed.