Authors: Flynn Meaney
Another reason I stalled in my vampire quest was this: I met a girl.
For my first week and a half at Pelham Public, I didn’t brave the cafeteria at lunch, retreating to my favorite place, the library, instead. Because I was the only junior taking AP Latin with the Pelham Public seniors (which was due to my sadistic Catholic teachers and their love of Latin declensions), I didn’t have lunch with any other juniors. I had lunch fourth period, when most of the sophomores and some freshmen ate.
My first day in the cafeteria, I saw a girl sitting by herself at a table, reading a book. This made me incredibly suspicious. Why? Because I thought it was a Finbar-trap. Mousetraps have cheese in them, and Finbar-traps would have shiny-haired high school brunettes in them, reading
New York Times
Despite my suspicious instincts, I drew closer to this girl. And I felt the way my mother must have felt when she fell in love with my father through all those hockey pads and that face mask. I loved this girl even from the back, when all I could tell about her was that she had a hell of a great shampoo and had passed every scoliosis test she’d ever taken. I had to go up to her. I
to approach her. This need was bigger than my self-consciousness and my lack of experience with girls and my fear that I would spill my cafeteria spaghetti on her, which was basically the worst thing you could spill on someone.
When the girl turned, she was beautiful. She had glasses on, and behind them she had eyelashes you could count one by one like spider’s legs, and brown eyes taking in great big gulps of everything around her. Then she turned back to her book, which, as I walked up to her, I could see was
Life of Pi,
by Yann Martel.
“The guy lives,” I told her. “But Richard Parker dies.”
Life of Pi
is about a shipwreck survivor who ends up floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. He’s stuck there with a giant tiger from the zoo, the tiger being named Richard Parker. The big suspenseful hook of the story is if the guy will survive in the boat, be saved, or be eaten by the tiger. Then he gets to be friends with the tiger, so you wonder if the tiger’s gonna survive. I’d just spoiled the story for this girl.
One side of her mouth curled up. I’m impressed by people who can do one-sided things, like raise one eyebrow. This, on this girl, was even better. She had great lips.
“I know,” she said.
“Oh… I’m, uh, sorry.”
I fumbled for an apology, ironic because she’d just told me I
ruined her ending. But I’d anticipated that she would be surprised by my comment, not me by hers.
The girl smiled, but turned back to
Life of Pi
. I felt the full awkward weight of my own body hovering over her. Say something or leave, Finbar. Fight or flight.
“Read it before?” I asked. I was suddenly obnoxiously loud because I was excited by the possibility that she
have read it before. The only thing better than a girl who read books was a girl who read the same book twice. A rereader. This girl could be a rereader!
“What?” When the girl looked up, her short dark hair fell into her eyes.
“Is that why you knew? The end?” I explained.
“I read the last page first,” she whispered, leaning a little toward me. Then she ducked behind her own falling bangs, like she was ashamed of having ruined the ending for herself.
“Unacceptable.” I shook my head. “I’m ashamed of you, Miss…”
Turning her head to get her bangs out of her eyes, the girl flipped the book so it was facedown next to her lunch tray. That was a big move. I’d officially captured her attention more than a shipwreck and a tiger.
“Gallatin,” she said. “Kate Gallatin.”
Then she placed her hand on the place beside her at the table. And I sat down, as simple as that. Well, first I put my backpack down in an awkward place on the ground, and it blocked the back legs of the chair, so I tried to pull the chair out but failed, so then I moved my backpack, but my legs were in the way of the chair, so I stepped to the side, pulled out the chair, and
sat down. But basically, I sat down.
“I’m Finbar,” I said. “I’m, uh, new.”
Glamouring is very difficult with a gorgeous girl. I narrowed my eyebrows as I locked eyes with Kate for the first time, but then Ashley Milano’s comment about me looking down her shirt popped into my head. I didn’t want Kate to think that!
Luckily, Kate, like everyone else, ignored the intense, hypnotic stare I fixed upon her.
“I’m new, too!” she said. “I haven’t seen you in my classes. Are you a sophomore?”
“No, uh, a junior,” I told her.
“Oh,” Kate said, grinning. “So you were held back in lunch?”
I laughed out loud. She was so quick. I would have to step up my game from “Uh,” “Oh,” and my own name.
“I just couldn’t graduate to using forks,” I said.
“Some guys can’t handle their opposable thumbs.” Kate shook her head.
Again I laughed, breaking that back-and-forth rhythm of our teasing each other. She picked up the slack, saying, “You’re probably only allowed to eat finger foods. Too bad it’s pasta day.”
“Don’t tell anyone I’m here,” I joked. “Do you mind smuggling a fugitive?”
Kate smiled. Except for the way my ribs were closing in—like they were cave walls and my heart was Indiana Jones—this whole conversation made me feel like I’d known this girl forever.
Except, of course, if I’d known this girl forever, I wouldn’t be a dour and cynical sixteen-year-old virgin who was pretending to be a vampire. But anyway…
“Actually,” I said, “I have lunch this period because I’m taking a weird Latin class. I mean, uh… an advanced Latin class.”
Maybe my knowledge of Latin was a really sexy quality.
“You would have been cooler if you stuck with the ‘failing lunch’ story,” Kate told me.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “But am I cool enough to eat lunch with you?”
“You should,” Kate said. “I’m great with this.” She flourished her fork. “I could teach you a thing or two.”
“We’ll see, sophomore,” I threatened, narrowing my eyes. Then I sat the whole lunch period with Kate, a smart, funny, literate, and incredibly sexy girl. I was so excited, I actually
forget how to use my fork.
For the rest of the afternoon, I was completely distracted. I was thinking about Kate. When Jenny came up to me at my locker, I barely registered that she was inviting me to go somewhere with her on Saturday afternoon. Still dreaming of Kate, fantasizing about doing a
New York Times
crossword puzzle together after blasphemous Sunday-morning sex, I agreed to whatever Jenny had asked me.
“Great!” Jenny said. “Don’t worry, we don’t have to wear costumes. And none of the weapons are real.”
I froze by my locker as Jenny trotted happily away. Either Jenny and I had been hired as entertainers for a
Lord of the Flies
–themed birthday party, or I’d just accepted an invite to an S&M orgy.
Late Saturday afternoon, I picked up Jenny in my Volvo, and we drove to the Seventeenth Biannual East Coast Fantasy Fest. To me, the convention center was like a zoo where the animals walked around free, shaking one another’s hands and taking photographs together and drinking coffee. As I did when I was at the zoo, I wanted to look in too many different directions at once. Just when I’d focus on something new and strange, trying to understand it, some other thing would shimmer or flutter or screech by, and I’d turn my head. As a result, I bumped into about four different people—or creatures—within my first five minutes in the convention center.
There was a guy with horns the color of foreskin curled around his head who jumped out at me first. From a distance, the mask that covered his entire head was so similar to the color of his actual skin that it seemed an outgrowth of him.
Two men with beards down to their knees made peace signs at everyone who passed. A Round Table’s worth of knights in full armor lifted their face guards to sip from cans of Diet Pepsi. An angry little gargoyle with cracking blue-gray body paint was crouching around the ground and I accidentally tripped over him.
“Watch it, bitch,” he snapped.
“Jesus,” I said to Jenny, pulling myself back on my feet.
“C’mon, not everyone’s that mean,” Jenny said.
She was right. A group of girls in cottonball blond wigs and flesh-colored bodysuits blew me kisses.
Awkwardly, I waved back at them.
“It’s not as bad as you thought, is it?” Jenny asked eagerly.
A sweaty mustachioed man in slippers and a green Robin Hood hat lunged in front of us, brandishing a real and rusted sword. His foe was a six-foot-five man in a full-bodied felt dragon costume. The blade missed my aorta by about six inches.
I made a face at Jenny, like I was thinking,
It’s worse than I thought
. But in reality, these crazy people around us both embarrassed and kind of impressed me. They embarrassed me because I couldn’t imagine walking into a public place with some horned mask or body paint. I would never even tell two hundred strangers that I liked to read, much less that I liked to read books about witches and dwarves. I thought about how the standard high school boy writes “I don’t read” under
on his Facebook profile. Why? Because, whether it’s true or not, that’s the safe, conformist response. But not one of these Fantasy Fest-ers was a conformist, and they impressed me because of that. I was fascinated with the thought and time they’d put into their costumes, with the enthusiasm of Lord of the Rings fans debating metaphorical issues in Elvish, with the warmth of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffys embracing each other after months apart. One dedicated
Dumbledore had grown a beard down to his knees. It must have taken him two years to grow that beard. Of course, he was, like, seventy years old. I guess by the time you’re that old, you don’t really care what people think of you. Or maybe none of these fantasy fans cared what people thought of them. Maybe that was what impressed me—their ability to put the weird things about themselves out in the open.
Speaking of people who put weird things about themselves out in the open, Jenny was tugging me across the convention center. She’d come to the Fantasy Fest mostly to get her book signed by Carmella Lovelace, the author of
. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only
fan in attendance. When we turned the corner, we saw a hundred-person line. About fifteen percent of those people were girls dressed in slutty white dresses to look like Virginia White.
When one Virginia with lame cleavage saw the book in Jenny’s hand, she said, “Better get in line, girl.”
“We’ve been here since noon,” added another, who had ketchup down her dress as fake blood.
Jenny smacked me on the elbow as we headed for the back of the line.
“We should have come earlier,” she admonished me.
“I told you that I have a sun sensitivity,” I told Jenny. “We couldn’t come at noon.”
“It’s not even sunny today!” Jenny told me. “It’s about to rain! And why are you so sensitive to the sun, anyway? What’s up with that?”
A blond girl with hair like feathers jumped out of the line toward me. Because of my recent experience with the sword guy and the felt dragon, it was understandable that I jumped back and kind of shrieked like a girl.
“Hi!” she squealed. “How are you?”
The blond girl pulled me in for a hug, pinning my arms at my sides. Jesus, girls were really friendly at these things. Either that or my mom’s notes were right and I was a stud.
When she pulled away, though, I saw it was the blonde from the train. The girl who had started all of this by mistaking me for a vampire. Apparently she had branched out beyond her own creepy vampire book,
to the more sexy
“How are you feeling?” Blondie asked in a low voice, leaning toward me.
Jenny listened intently.
“Oh, fine,” I said politely. “How are you?”
“I’m sorry I called you out that day on the train,” Blondie said in the same low voice. “I shouldn’t have revealed what you were in a public place. I understand why you got so pissed. I’ll be more subtle from now on.”
“Oh, okay, well, thanks,” I said, hoping Jenny was picking up possible hints from this, but more strongly hoping to escape this psycho.
“Are there any others here?” the blond girl hissed.
“What?” I asked.
“No,” I said quickly. “I mean…”
A boy, probably twelve years old, walked by sulkily with his hands in his pockets. He was dressed like Edward Cullen from
—reddish streaks in his hair, all this powder on his face to make him pale.
ones,” Blondie finished for me, her voice low and intense.
“How do you guys know each other?” Jenny asked, looking up from me to Blondie like a child trying to decode a grown-up conversation.
“Does she know?” Blondie asked me.
Jenny looked up expectantly. I felt intensely awkward. I felt even less comfortable with the idea of telling Jenny my fake vamp status than I had in school. And explaining Blondie would force me to say it.
“We have to go to the back of the line,” I commanded Jenny.
“Finbar!” Jenny wailed. “Carmella Lovelace just got here! I can see her beehive hair!”
“We should really…”
But it was too late. A jumpy brunette had joined my one-girl bleach-blond fan club.
“Is this him?” the brunette asked conspiratorially. She pointed to me, and I was startled to see that a rubber glove had transformed her hand into a large green claw.
“Shhh!” The blonde’s hiss dissolved into giggles.
“This is him!” the clawed brunette called to another girl.
The third girl came towering over with frightening force. She was clearly the only Amazon woman in suburban New York. The girl had me by about five inches. Hell, she had Yao Ming by five inches.