There was no Jack or his motorbike in front of the school, and even though it had been a long shot that he would have actually believed me, my heart still plummeted.
It seemed wrong to be back at primary school now that I was an experienced senior, and the darkness didn't really do much to hide the cracked cement paddocks and broken old play equipment.
It was dark enough to be annoying, though.
Inez shushed me. I glared at her back, wondering whether it would take me a couple of centuries to be as graceful as the little vampire. I found the thought unbelievably depressing.
A twig snapped and the both of us froze as something large padded toward us in the dark.
"Oh." Was all I could say as the massive creature stepped out in front of us. It looked... it looked...
Actually, it looked like someone had taken the best bits of every movie werewolf and had blended them together.
It took a menacing step forward and looked me over. We stood staring at each other for a few more minutes until the wolf stuck out its scratchy tongue and licked up the side of my face.
"Jack!" I laughed. There really was something funky going on at the reservation. "You can customise yourself too?"
Inez was eyeing Jack-wolf up and down. "So, this is your muscle?" She asked scornfully. "I was expecting someone... more hominid and less canine."
"Bigot." I snapped. Jack bared his teeth at her, not aggressively, just showing the vampire how big his mouth was.
"Dude needs a Tic Tac." Jack nudged me with his muzzle.
The gym doors were thrown open, spilling light into the street. ACDC blared from inside. Frankly, I couldn't understand why no one else had noticed anything yet. Was everyone in this town so used to weird shit happening that they really didn't give a damn anymore?
I motioned for Jack and Inez to come up either side of me, but stick to the shadows. I was going to walk straight for that pool of light, go right up there and break every fang in Spencer's head. I stood up straight, squared my shoulders, and walked into the hall.
The music was deafening and I winced as my much more delicate eardrums were assaulted by noise. 'You. Shook me alllll night lllong!' Angus and Malcolm Young were shrieking. I scanned the room, and saw him.
Spencer was on the stage, dancing to the music like he was still in his twenties and loving it. The satin cape swished around his bony shoulders and he shook his shock of white hair back and forth like he was being electrocuted.
What a psycho!
And there sitting by the stage near the sound system was Eddie, clutching a leg that was quite obviously broken. He looked up at me, his expression hopeful, but his face fell once more when he saw that I was alone.
Oh ye of little faith.
"Honey, I'm home," I said in a low, sing-song voice.
Spencer's smile almost cut his face in half, and he leapt off the stage. I marvelled at it. It was like a young man trapped in a pensioner's body.
But that didn't explain... He had been young! At the party he was young! Or it was darker and I was much drunker than I had thought.
"Who are you?"
For a second he actually looked hurt. Then his smile returned. "Of course you remember me!" Spencer crowed. "I mean, I was with you all night. You looked so sexy in that black dress." He stuttered it out like a nervous teenager.
Spencer brushed his hands down his front. "I apologise for the change in decor. Drank some contaminated blood. There were... unforseen side effects."
"You-" My throat felt like it was constricting. I could hardly talk. "You son of a bitch."
"All I wanted to do was be with you." Spencer's amber eyes were wide and more just a little crazy. I wondered how long he had been stalking me, even before I had become a vampire. Because I smelled nice? "And you kept brushing me off. So I made you mine. For all eternity."
I snarled and lunged for him. But Spencer was older than me and faster. He seized my wrist and spun me around in a circle, throwing me against the wall.
It was a moment before my head stopped ringing. Underneath me the bricks had crumbled into dust. All I could taste was mortar.
"Do you know what torture it was to see you give yourself to that mortal? To smell him on you?" Spencer screamed, outraged. My eyes flickered to Eddie's corner.
He was gone, apart from a slight blood trail. Part of me was relieved to know he had taken my distraction to get himself the hell out of there.
I pushed myself upright, leaving imprints of my hands in the wall.
"You. You made me-"
"I made you better!" Spencer insisted. "Faster. Stronger. Better."
"You stole my life from me!"
"Was it really that much of a life?" He asked shrewdly. "Waiting outside in the cold until your mother's boyfriend-of-the-moment was too stoned to hit on you? Three jobs just to stop the house from being repossessed? Postponing your HSC to get your mother into rehab?"
For the first time I felt tears stinging at my eyes.
"It was a wreck, my life." I admitted. "But it was my life. And you took it away from me." Spencer seemed stunned that I didn't fall at his feet and thank him for relieving me of my humanity. "This is not a 'gift'. I'm going to outlive anyone I've ever known or loved. My whole life is going to be nothing but one long funeral."
A terrible sadness welled up inside me. Screw immortality!
Spencer's face hardened. "I am sorry you feel that way, my dearest. I had hoped we would be able to face forever together."
For a moment I could have sworn I could feel my heart pounding.
"I will not let you slip away from me again." He snarled. I knew what was coming next. The if-I-can't-have-you-no-one-else-can tantrum. "Especially not into the hands of a mortal."
That was when he charged at me, his hands wrapping around my throat. It felt like he was trying to pop my head off. The rational part of my mind told me that he couldn't kill me by strangulation. Unless he really was trying to pop my head off. I hit back, but Spencer's grip kept tightening.
Until a sudden impact jolted through his body. He stared down at the javelin protruding from his chest long enough for me to slip from his grasp. While the older vampire had been busy with me, Eddie had somehow managed to pull himself across the floor and into the sports storeroom to arm himself.
In that moment I felt fiercely proud.
Until Spencer pulled the javelin from his chest, a sneer on his face.
"You missed." He snapped, rounding on my ex, holding the javelin like a spear.
That was about when Jack crashed in through the skylight, showering us all with glass. Spencer stared in shock.
In that moment all I could seem to think was how the headmaster was going to be really pissed off.
Jack smiled a big doggy smile before snapping off Spencer's offending hand with one chomp of those powerful jaws, grinding the javelin into toothpicks. The vampire screamed, swiping Jack across the eyes with his good hand.
As Jack yelped, Spencer hauled Eddie to his feet. Even with only the one hand, he was stronger than the three of us combined. I heard something crack, and the light in Eddie's blue eyes began to get dimmer and dimmer. Spencer's eyes blackened and his fangs seemed to lengthen as they brushed Eddie's throat.
"Move and he dies!"
"You're going to kill him anyway!" I shouted.
Spencer shrugged a shoulder. "Hey. When you're right, you're right."
The fangs sank deep.
Then Inez struck, barrelling into Spencer like a creature possessed. The little vampire sprang onto his back and began biting and tearing at Spencer's head and shoulders. The vampire roared and dropped Eddie. I caught him before his head smashed against the floor, pressing my hand firmly against the tear in his jugular.
"Help me!" I screamed. In moments Jack was human again. He ran barefoot across the glass and rubble to the phone in the corner.
"Hello? I need an ambulance..."
I pulled off my shirt, pressing it against Eddie's throat. The material turned red with blood and didn't really help to stem the flow.
Inez was thrown from Spencer's back, and he took a halting step toward the doors, looking almost like his head had been blown up. The sounds of more sirens could be heard in the distance. The emergency services were being kept busy tonight.
"Don't let him escape!" I screamed. Inez took off running, but with his long legs Spencer easily outpaced her.
Right into the path of a semi-trailer, which had no hope of stopping in time to avoid him.
I was eighteen. Another year older, though it wouldn't show on my face. It never would.
Spencer had impacted with the truck with enough force to push the engine back into the cabin.
His body was nowhere to be found.
Eddie was still in hospital. He had broken bones and acute blood loss. Each time I visited I was curtly turned away by his family. I had no idea what Eddie had told them considering none of them tried to outright attack me since. I counted myself lucky that they didn't stab me with a syringe, or try to gauge out my eyeballs with a scalpel.
I needed to see him. To explain. To apologise.
One day I came home to a message on the machine, short and to the point.
'I don't want to see you.'
I was avoided. I had gone from the popular new kid to the school freak, and somehow it felt like things were going back to normal. There was no elation when I completed my HSC, only an impossible heaviness that I couldn't seem to shift. I wasn't sad. I wasn't happy. I seemed completely numb, and I wasn't exactly sure why.
Nothing would ever be the same. And I knew it now. I wasn't going to wake up from this dream.
The bell rang, signifying the end of another school day. I rose from my seat and wordlessly left the classroom. No one tried to stop me. No one called out to me. As I passed her desk, Ally Collins looked like she wanted to say something to me, but reconsidered.
I walked out into the grey afternoon.
"Hey, beautiful lady."
I turned. Smiled, for what felt like the first time in years.
Jack Black was leaning against his Harley Sprint, drawn up beside my car. He smiled at me, and I felt some more of the angst slip away.
"I thought you'd be busy making a play for my ex," I teased as he sauntered across to me.
"Best friend code. Thou whilst not date the best friend's ex until a sufficient grieving period has elapsed."
He blinked at me, looking startled. "Hey, you and me faced down a homicidal vamp. We should probably be swapping BFF bracelets by now." He gave a sly sideways grin. "Besides, looks to me like you could probably use a best mate. Well, at least 'till I hook up with Eddie and it all turns into a face-slapping, hair-pulling fiasco that ends up on YouTube."
I grinned. Werewolf shape shifter mutant thing, it didn't matter. He'd stuck with me. "Yeah."
"So, it'll be formal soon." Jack said casually. "For your year, anyway. Big prom rite of passage type thing."
"Yeah, I really don't think I'll go."
He looked at me incredulously. "Come on. How many times do you get to go to prom?"
I thought back to Mike and Jessie, who had been repeating high school for a couple of centuries now.
"You never know."
"Nuh, I'll tell you what to do. I'll be your wingman for the night, and we'll make Ed Collins insanely jealous." His grin was just a little bit wicked.
"You're a real bitch, aren't you?"
"You seriously don't know how dead sexy you are? I can see that, and I'm not even on a normal guy's wavelength."
Dead sexy. I smiled.
"I don't know, Jack."
"You're graduating. Do it with a bang." Jack grinned, and not for the first time I thought of how it was such a shame that he batted for the other team. "Ella Swain, will you be my cliché?" He asked dramatically, and the metaphorical thundercloud above my head seemed to lift.
"Year 12! Year 12!" Our year advisor rushed out into the carpark, waving handfuls of paper. She saw Jack and sniffed disapprovingly.
"Non-students are not to be on school property." She said primly.
"He's with me, Miss L." I said quickly, before either of them could come up with a snappy retort. My dad called Miss L 'the Devil in plaid'. She behaved like she was thirty going on three hundred. I tended to avoided the redhead whenever I could.
She sniffed and handed me a permission slip. "End of school excursion." She said. "Just sign it and hand it back in." The rest of Year 12 were cautiously beginning to mill around Miss L.
"Those of you still under eighteen will need your parents consent. All other details of the departure are on your forms." The teacher was saying. "Itineraries will be handed out on the plane."
"We did crappy fundraisers all year for this." I whispered to Jack. Since there were only a handful of people who had actually stayed for their final year of school and had sat through their leaving certificates, it was decided we'd go somewhere classy, that the teachers would approve of.
Jack read the form over my shoulder.
"Oh my God. Italy? Take me with you. I'll sleep in your handbag."
"You sounded so gay just then."
I scanned the consent form.
I (insert name) (parent/guardian) hereby give permission for (student name) to attend the Year 12 excursion. Chaperone will be Miss V.O. l'Turi.
AN: Many thanks to my readers and reviewers for sticking with me. You're all much appreciated. I suppose I should thank Stephenie Meyer, for giving me the inspiration for Ella Swain, in the form of the downright depressing Bella Swan.
And thanks to Abrasive for pointing out the ultimate love triangle, the beauty of which had me staring at the computer for a few minutes going 'why the hell didn't I think of that?'
Here's hoping I've put a new spin on the 'tortured vampire', and Ella might be back soon.