“Sometimes I think it’s kind of nice that vampires are accepted in this fictional society,” Glo said.
My attention perked up. That was different. But the response from the rest of our friends was not.
“That would be like chickens living among us and being okay that we eat them.”
“That show is dumb. They have high school at night so the vampires can attend? So dumb.”
“No one said you have to watch it.”
“I don’t understand that concept.”
“It’s when people—“
“No, I understand what it is. I just don’t understand how or why people do it.”
I ignored the rest of the conversation between the others, and I peered at Glo. She was sipping her water with a straw, which was also different. She said she found the straw at the bottom of her lunch bag and was just using it to be rid of it. No big deal. And she seemed a little tired. But that was also no big deal. She’d probably waited till the last minute again to study for our calculus quiz. I noticed all of these little things, but I only noticed them in the middle of my mind, where they were kind of hidden by all the stuff that was spinning around the outsides of my mind. That quiz. My appointment to get my picture taken for my driver’s license. All the planning for my dad’s fiftieth birthday party.
And of course, my recent rewatch of the first season of my current all-time favorite show, “The Last Honest Vampire.”
There were other people at school who watched the show. But Glo was the only friend who watched it and loved it (though maybe slightly less than I did). She had also recently rewatched season one. The plan was to rewatch separately, discuss anything and everything at school, and then get together on the weekend to binge the upcoming season two.
I couldn’t wait. It was only Tuesday. We were going to do season two on Saturday.
But when Saturday actually came, Glo messaged me to say that she was feeling really sick and couldn’t come over.
I was disappointed. She did say I could go ahead and watch and she’d catch up. But I wanted to watch with her. I wanted to experience my favorite show with someone who loved it as much as I did…almost.
I told her I’d rather wait. And she sent me one last message.
Thanks! I’ll need to be at full health to deal with Sophie’s bull.
It made me chuckle.
Sophie LeMorte was the main character of the show.
I’ve never been into vampires. I always agreed with all the people who said that we—society—romanticize them too much. They’re monsters. They suck the life out of people. And some of them—a lot of them—think they’re better than human beings. They’re unnatural. Not alive. Not dead. Undead.
I was a ride-or-die werewolf person. So when I saw the first promos for a show about a teenage vampire pretending to be human because she had a crush on a boy, I rolled my eyes so hard I lost my balance and almost fell over. But trailers can be misleading sometimes. That’s what Glo argued when she convinced all of us to give the show a chance when season one first dropped. I was the only one who agreed to join her (even though I swore I’d never watch anything on the Teen Drama Network).
In the universe of the show, vampires are out in the open. They’re not just a part of human society. They’re a part of high society. They’re so popular and prestigious that some living humans will fake being a vampire just to climb the ladder of success.
In the show, vampires are ashamed of the depictions of blood-suckers feeding from a live human being. After scientists invent an artificial blood substitute that makes the need for blood donations a thing of the past, vampires reach out to human society with a plea for volunteers to donate blood for the cause of sustaining vampire society.
Being a vampire herself, Sophie LeMorte knows that all that talk about drinking blood in a goblet from a human volunteer is a lie.
If vampires could receive sustenance from blood in a goblet, then they should have been able to receive sustenance from the artificial blood that humans invented.
The vampire leaders struck a bargain with corrupt or duped human leaders to provide living human sacrifices in exchange for untold wealth amassed over centuries by vampire society. But that bargain hid the vampires’ true purpose. After all, they didn’t need human sacrifices. They had always managed to find both willing and unwilling victims to sustain them with no problems. Vampire society had revealed itself because of a prophecy.
In the midst of a truce between the living and the undead, a leader would rise who would lead the superior society to dominate the entire world.
Vampires interpreted this prophecy to mean that a hero would rise among them who would spread vampire dominion over the world, and reduce living human society to their proper place as pets, servants, and cattle.
Now that was good stuff. When Glo put it that way, I actually started getting excited.
While all of the major intrigue was going on in the background, the main story was about Sophie LeMorte, a girl who was made into a vampire as a last resort when her doctors couldn’t cure her leukemia. In season one, she moved to a new town and started school at Unified Valley High.
Before her first day, she was helping her human uncle test an experimental drug that he was going to tout as “sunblock” for vampires. What he was actually working on was a cure for vampirism.
Her uncle was the kind of researcher who challenged himself and made Sophie challenge him to ask if what he was doing was just.
“Is it right to abolish an entire society of people?” he would ask himself. “Should vampires even be considered another society or category of people, the way ethnicity, gender, and religion are?”
But Sophie wasn’t much help with these dilemmas.
For Sophie the answer was simple. Vampirism was a disease. And diseases harmed people. Therefore, diseases needed to be eliminated. In conclusion, vampirism needed to be eliminated.
She was all too happy to help her uncle. And she was careful not to be seen in the sunlight, but she was seen. She was seen by one person, a young pizza delivery guy who happened to also go to UV High.
In the first week of school, she introduced herself to him as a vampire, which put him off. He didn’t like girls who pretended to be vampires just to impress people. He told her that he knew she was human because he’d seen her in the sunlight.
So Sophie became the new girl at school, who couldn’t reveal herself as a vampire without getting called out by the one person who thought she was human. But she also couldn’t pretend to be a human forever either. She couldn’t let anyone else see her in the sunlight, because if she was discovered, her uncle’s research and her uncle himself would be in danger.
They had a few different writers for the first season. We noticed that at times, Sophie was awesome. She stuck to her beliefs, struggled with the advantages she got from being a vampire and with wondering if curing her vampirism would mean that her leukemia would return, and was somehow honest even when she wasn’t telling the literal truth. And if she was a jerk to her friends or if she helped the pretty boy she liked to cheat on a test, it all seemed like the natural kinds of mistakes that a girl like Sophie would make. She wasn’t a hundred years old. She’d only been a vampire for a year. She didn’t know any better than the other kids that age. She could just focus and perceive better because of her vampire senses.
But sometimes Sophie did and said things that were just infuriating. Like that one episode where she decided she would do the opposite of everything her parents told her to do, even if it didn’t make any logical sense, or even if they told her to do something she wanted to do anyway. Those writers blamed it on “teenage hormones.” Excuse me. Yeah, I know some people do stuff like that. But not Sophie.
Glo didn’t blame the writers like I did. But she wasn’t as invested in our hero as I was either.
In Glo’s words, “I like her, but she’s also the worst.”
Glo’s favorite characters were everyone around Sophie. There was her seemingly eccentric uncle (he was faking it to appear harmless and incompetent). And her super-sweet parents, who felt guilty for having cured their daughter of one disease by giving her another. Then there was the fan favorite, her long-suffering friend, familiar, and sister, Emme, the living human volunteer whose parents were being compensated for allowing their child to be mildly fed upon by Sophie. Vampires couldn’t feed upon their biological relatives because their blood was almost like poison to the vampire.
Of course we both thought that great leader from the vampire prophecy was none other than the show’s hero, Sophie. But we didn’t know what it meant. There were some hints toward the end of season one, when we saw flashbacks of how and why Sophie was turned into a vampire. Glo and I discussed all the possibilities after we first finished watching season one.
“I think Sophie is a psychopomp,” I’d said one day at lunch, when it was just Glo and me. (Our other friends had club meetings that day.)
Glo had never heard the term before. So I explained how it was a thing from Greek myth, and it meant a being who guided souls to the afterlife.
Vampires had lost their souls to the underworld. But every intelligent creature requires a soul to exist. That’s why vampires had to drink human blood straight from a vein, because when a human being bled, their souls also flowed out of their bodies. Both blood and soul could be healed and replenished in time, unless the flow wasn’t stopped and sealed, or unless a vampire drank it all.
So I figured, Sophie had the power to guide all the vampires’ souls from the underworld back into their bodies, rendering them mortal and alive, and no longer vampires. And I figured the way that Sophie gained this power was through her uncle’s invention somehow.
Glo had a croissant sandwich for lunch that day. A flake that was stuck for her check fell off when she grinned and said, “I…love that theory.”
But that was last year.
This year, I came back to school on Monday to find that Glo was still absent. She was gone that whole week. She didn’t respond to any of my messages or anyone else’s messages. I even tried calling, but she didn’t answer. We were already worried. Then our bio class teacher asked a few of us if we knew if Glo was all right. That pushed me enough to volunteer to call her house. Her mom answered and told me that Glo was getting better much slower than expected, but she would definitely be back to school the next Monday. She wouldn’t let me talk to Glo. And when I asked her what Glo had, she just said that Glo might not want to talk about, so she wouldn’t say anything until Glo was ready.
I hung up and turned to the rest of my friends. I told them what Glo’s mom told me, and one additional detail.
“She sounded tired,” I said. But later that night I kept thinking about what I didn’t say. I did think Glo’s mom sounded tired. But I also thought she sounded…sad.
“The wait it over!” I said on Monday when I saw Glo walking toward us.
We had all reminded ourselves not to pressure Glo about what had happened to her. Whatever it was, it was either serious or maybe embarrassing or a little of both.
Instead someone just said, “How are you feeling?”
“Better, much better,” Glo said. And she was smiling, but she looked pale, and she was fairly light-skinned to begin with. There were dark circles under her eyes too, and she was all covered up even though she was usually one of those people who wore tank tops in the middle of winter.
Someone else commented on all of that too.
“Yeah, it hit me pretty hard,” she said. “I’m still recovering.”
“Was it a virus?” I asked. “Some kind of infection?”
Glo raised her shoulders in an ambiguous shrug. She twisted her face. “It’s kind of gross. I don’t want to talk about it—oh, except just to tell you that I wouldn’t be back if I were contagious or anything. You’re in no danger from me.”
She turned to me and pointed. “Did you watch it without me?”
I straightened and with a little fake cheeriness, I said, “No, I am a good and loyal friend. I’ve waited.”
She nodded. “Lunch time, then. We’re re-scheduling, and…talking theories?”
At lunch time, it was just Glo and me. Our other friends were leaving us alone so we could talk LHV season one (and honestly, so that I might Glo might be ready to talk about her illness, whatever it was).
Glo wore a baseball cap. We were sitting outside and all the morning clouds were gone. The sky was clear and bright. She kept her head down and she tucked most of her hands away into the sleeve of her cowl-necked sweatshirt, even though it was pretty warm out. Glo said her eyes were sensitive to the light because it was a side effect of one of the medications she was still on. So was an increased chance of severe sunburn.
“I’m for sure not going to push you about what you got, but you look really pale, Glo. Are you sure it’s okay that you came back to school?”
“Yeah, I do feel a little weak still, but you should have seen me this past Saturday. I could barely walk around. I’d been puking all through the week. It only stopped on…Friday, I think?”
I eyed the thermos she’d taken out of her bag. “Is that why you didn’t bring more for lunch?”
“I haven’t had much of an appetite, but I need to drink this broth throughout the day to make sure I stay hydrated. Water is not enough.”
I waited for her to open the thermos and pour out some broth while I chewed on my turkey sandwich. She noticed me noticing her thermos.
“It’s some old family recipe,” she said, “and it’s kind of stinky.”
“Oh, well, I don’t care. I’m almost done anyway. And we’re far enough away from the other benches.”
Glo nodded and she carefully opened her thermos and took a single sip before capping it again.
“So,” I said, “I’ve been wanting to ask about something I noticed in the flashback scenes that we didn’t talk about…”
We started talking about our show. And Glo perked up. And it almost seemed like a normal lunch again. Except that she was all covered up and wearing a baseball cap, and whenever she laughed, she kept her mouth closed, and if it opened even a little, she kept putting her hand up to it.
Maybe it was just because she was worried her breath smelled from the broth. But I suddenly had a wacky notion. And for some reason, I got vocal about it.
“Hey Glo, not to be weird or anything, but can I see your neck?”
Glo’s eyes grew big and then she frowned at me. “What? Why?”
“Just let me see?”
“We can get under some shade. I just want to check for something.”
I looked her in the eye and dead serious said, “Fang marks.”
Still frowning, Glo pulled her head back. But then, she stopped frowning. She stared at me for a second. Then she threw back her head and started laughing.
She put her hand up as if it to say “hold on.”
She pulled down the cowl neck of her sweatshirt. “See anything?” she asked still chuckling.
Her neck was pale, but free of any marks—puncture wounds from fangs or otherwise. But I did notice a bandage on the back of her right hand when the cuff of her sleeve dropped a little.
“Do you want to know one of the main ingredients of this broth?” Glo asked tapping a finger on her thermos. “One of the ingredients that make it so stinky?”
She spoke before I could say anything.
“That’s correct. Garlic.” Glo shook her head. “I mean, I know you, so I know you’re joking. But if I didn’t know, you looked…like…in earnest.”
That made me chuckle. I shook my head. “I don’t know. The symptoms matched…”
Glo burst out in a fresh round of laughter.
And then we talked about whether or not we thought Sophie’s uncle might have orchestrated her being turned into a vampire, and how we’d hate that because we wanted her uncle to be one of the tried and true good guys, and because “everything doesn’t have to be connected to everything.”
The next few days at school were status quo. Glo and I spent most of our lunches alone. A few of our friends were on field trips for away games. And we suspected that two of them might have started secretly dating before Glo got sick and were off somewhere being alone. I didn’t even try asking Glo any actual questions. I just kept asking questions that made it seem like I was insinuating that she definitely had vampirism.
But I kept watching her too. She was still so pale and she’d definitely gotten thinner. Then on Thursday, when we were talking outside after school waiting for her mom to come pick her up, a bruise appeared on her chin. I just watched it appear while we were talking. A patch of her skin got darker and darker until it was blue. I’d never seen anything like it.
I pointed it out and reached into my bag to pull out a mirror. But Glo stopped me. She said it had been happening, and that was another reason she was coming to school in long-sleeved shirts and wearing her hair down. She didn’t want anyone thinking she was being abused at home or anything. It was all part of her illness.
“Everything is fine,” she said. “I mean, it’s not fine yet, but I’ve been feeling better, much better than I look.”
“Maybe it’s time for me to ask you about it,” I said. “I can’t promise I won’t look at you weird while I process whatever you say. But I’ll do my best to get over it as quickly as I can.”
Glo smiled. “Just be patient. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m on some new meds, and I’m hopeful. That’s all I’m going to say.”
When Glo came in to school on Friday, she looked like a new person. Her cheeks were rosy, which could have been due to make-up. She hadn’t been wearing much lately, but maybe she felt up to it that morning. But no make-up could have hidden or contoured away the fact that she wasn’t as thin as she’d been the day prior. She walked with a pretty powerful stride. She didn’t cover her mouth when she laughed. She brought a small but decent lunch of chicken and rice. The tank tops were not quite back, but she did have exposed forearms for the first time since she’d gotten back.
I was happy to see it, to see Glo…well, glowing. And maybe if it had happened over the weekend, I wouldn’t have been so suspicious. But the change was so drastic.
“I don’t know if stuff like this happens, but I’ve never seen anyone recover overnight like that,” I said as we walked to first period.
“I didn’t recover overnight. I’ve been recovering. I’m just showing it more today.” Someone yelled out that she was looking good. Glo returned a “thanks.”
I peered at her. “You’re wearing make-up though, right?”
Glo sighed and turned to me. “You think I ate a few people didn’t you? Finally broke down after weeks of starving myself and just sucked a bunch of necks?”
I pressed my lips together and smiled that “okay, I know I’m acting a little wild” smile. “Well, I have to come up with wild theories. You haven’t really told us the details of how you got sick and what you actually had.”
Glo started turning away.
“I’m not trying to pick on you, honest,” I said. “I just want to know enough of what’s going on so I could help if you need me to—however you need me to.”
“We’re still on for Saturday, right?” she said, looking ahead down the hallway.
“For season two? Absolutely we are.”
“Come a little bit earlier. Before we start, I’ll tell you what’s going.” As she said the words, her shoulders seemed to slump a little. Her words dragged a little.
I almost told her to forget about it if it was that hard. But then I thought that maybe talking to me might help. If it didn’t, if it looked like talking to me made her feel worse, then I would stop her.
Saturday came. And this time, I went over to Glo’s. I had breakfast with her parents who had always liked me but seemed extra happy to see me that day.
Then we went down to the basement, to her dad’s den. Her dad had surrendered his “man cave” to us for the day. The screen wasn’t any bigger than the living room television, but it had a better sound system, and it was private.
Glo took a deep breath. She reached out and turned the tray of dips around so that the guacamole was closest to me. Then she wiped her hands on her jeans. She didn’t look at me. And again I thought about telling her to forget about it. I thought about telling her that we could just watch our show and forget all about it.
But I decided to wait, maybe just a few minutes. I didn’t take a chip. I didn’t want to be crunching when my friend told me some serious heartfelt thing. But I reached over and picked up my glass of green iced tea and took a sip. I sat back. I kicked off my shoes, and pulled one of my legs up onto the sofa.
And Glo turned to me and looked me in the eye.
“I don’t know what I have,” she said. “They haven’t figured it out yet.”
What had been going on with her over the month before she disappeared for a week was tests, tests, and more tests, while she continued to get worse. She was given antibiotics at first, because there seemed to be signs of a bacterial infection. Then she was given anti-inflammatories and some other stuff, in the hopes of treating her symptoms. Her actual illness wasn’t any kind of infection. She didn’t have any of the things her doctor thought it might be, so they started digging deeper, looking at rarer diseases and conditions. They looked at metabolic diseases, did biopsies to test for cancers, and did more sophisticated allergy tests to see if she had a subtle allergy that was interfering with her life.
They still didn’t know what it was, but they put her on a new drug recently, something she and her parents had to sign a mountain of documents to get a chance to try. She’d been taking it for a few days and had noticed that a few aches and pains went away. And then one day, this past Friday, she woke up feeling very different. She had stopped noticing how hazy and weighed down her whole body had felt for the past few months. But Friday morning, her body felt “bright” all of a sudden.
“But your cheeks were all sunken in and now they’re not. How did that happen?” I asked.
Glo smiled, her cheeks—her rosy cheeks—puffing up. “Maybe you weren’t paying as close attention to my cheeks as you think.”
I shook my head at myself. “I’m dumb. I don’t know why I’m talking about your cheeks.”
Glo nodded and neither of us said anything for a minute.
“I’m still worried,” Glo said. “Because I still don’t know what’s wrong with me. I mean, I could have something that I just have to deal with for the rest of my life. You know, like make some adjustments and then I can live almost normally. Or I could have something that just happened and will go away. Or…I don’t want to…to say it, but I could have something that’s like…fatal, you know?”
Her voice got tight at the end. And her eyes began to tear up a little. She looked down at her hands.
I scooted up on the sofa and did something I’d never done before. I took her hands in mine. “Glo, I’m so sorry that you were dealing with this all by yourself.”
She gave a little shrug and tears dripped down her cheeks. She wiped them away. “Well, you didn’t know. I didn’t tell you.”
“No, but I—we knew it was something serious. I mean you were gone for a week. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with being scared and with worrying, not knowing what you have and how to treat it, or even if it could be treated.” I winced a little. “And I’m sorry for being dumb and thinking you could be a vampire.”
That made Glo’s shoulder shakes in a little laugh. She looked at me again just when I was wiping away a tear I couldn’t quite hold back.
I reached over and hugged her. I rubbed my hand on her back.
“Are you trying to see if you can feel my spine?”
I pulled away. “What? No!”
Glo laughed again. And another tear dropped from her eye.
Now I reached over for a chip. I dipped it in some salsa and crunched away. Then I ate another one. I was getting the hang of this technique of not just jumping in with something to say but letting the other person take their time.
Glo started telling me about some of the tests and treatments she had endured over the past few months. She told me about how she was sick and tired of blood draws. And about how she switched doctors because her old one kept telling her there was nothing wrong with her, until her mom got furious and yelled at the doctor for “gaslighting my daughter.”
“I think part of maturity must be when you switch from being embarrassed when your parents do stuff like that to thinking your parents are badass when they do stuff like that,” Glo said.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“I’ve been feeling pretty good for the past two days, but I don’t want to get complacent. I want to keep on top of it.” She reached over to get the remote control.
“If you have to take meds when you’re at school, I can help remind you,” I said.
“I might take you up on that.”
Glo turned the television on and queued season two.
I made her tell me what times she needed to stop for treatments or medication, so I could set the timers on my phone. She didn’t want to stop mid-episode, so we timed it. And it turned out we’d have to wait about twenty minutes. Then we could watch two episodes before we had to take a break.
So we shifted the conversation to a more light-hearted tone.
“If you ever did become a vampire, you would tell me, right?” I asked.
“Probably not. You didn’t take it well when you thought I was.”
I thought of all the arguments about why it was logical and reasonable and acceptable to freak out upon finding out that one of your best friends is an undead monster.
But I didn’t say any of them.
I sighed. “Yeah, that’s fair.”
“Should we watch one of these trailers?”
“No way. Too many spoilers.”
“You’re right. Need a bathroom break?”
I shook my head. “Not yet.” I sat back again, and pulled my leg up onto the sofa.
Glo did the same. “Tell me again about this psychopomp theory of yours. How did you even come up with that?”
“Guess what? I didn’t. I thought I did, but when I rewatched, I noticed that someone actually says the word. I guess you didn’t catch it?”
“I did not.”
“Okay, so remember when Sophie thought her uncle might have been there when she was turned?”
Glo nodded. And I kept talking, and she listened, and then it was time for us to settle in, dim the lights, start the show, and begin the adventure.
Together, this time.
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel