When Charity signs up for the Hawthorn School spring break trip to the St. Judas School for Boys in Romania, she has an inkling the trip won't just be all fun and romantic flings. Being constantly surrounded by exotic European boys would be great...if so many of the boys weren't homicidal vampires.
While trying not to succumb to the peer pressure of drinking human blood at one of the vampire parties, Charity and her BFF Louise get tangled up with a boy named Ivan, who may or may not plan on using them in a nefarious scheme to turn all the Hawthorn girls into vampires.
Louise refuses to believe Ivan capable of murder--he's far too handsome! But Charity sees evil in the way Ivan slicks his hair back with such unnecessary amounts of hair gel. Can Charity--in between seducing a past fling, Nicholae, and hiding her late-night wanderings from the trip chaperone, Ms. Van Tessel--save her classmates from becoming bloodsucking fiends?
Kelly Lougheed attended an all-girls high school in northern California. She launched her writing career in freshman physics, the class before lunch, where she crafted heart-wrenching poetry about how hungry she was. Soon she was using novel and short story writing as an excuse to stay up late and not brush her hair in the morning. She is currently studying Classics at Brown University, where she draws inspiration from dashing through the library stacks, pretending a vampire is chasing her, and having near death experiences, such as forgetting to wear a hat outside in the snow.
The reality of the trip only hit her when Charity stood in the doorway of her dorm room, dragging her wheelie suitcase in one hand and clutching her backpack strap with the other.
Sure, Ms. Van Tessel had ranted to them about this trip for months, calling meetings during the lunch hour, annoyingly enough, so she could detail to them the trip itinerary or emphasize once more just how important it was to bring enough underwear.
But Charity knew the real reason behind Ms. Van Tessel’s obsessive planning for this trip.
When ten Hawthorn girls spent their spring break as exchange students at the St. Judas School in Romania, they wouldn’t only be surrounded by the vibrant eastern European culture.
They would also be surrounded by vampires.
When the St. Judas boys had been exchange students at Hawthorn last semester, their stay had culminated in an epic battle in the school gymnasium, with one vampire trying to make a ritual sacrifice out of Charity’s BFF Louise. Even though Louise had risen again as a vampire (like Jesus, only less holy), Charity had managed to escape with her life.
Their English teacher, Ms. Van Tessel, however, had lost her head in an attempt to save them, and become a ghost.
So they were all a bit tense about the trip.
Well, Ms. Van Tessel and Louise were tense. Charity was pretty excited. Vampires? Whatever. They’d beaten the bloodsuckers before. The vampires were probably scared of them now, like how spiders were apparently more scared of her than she was of them (though Charity had never really believed that).
Ms. Van Tessel was so concerned about the whole homicidal vampire issue that she probably wouldn’t have even taken them to Romania if it hadn’t been for the urging of Mr. Edwards, the school principal, who harassed Ms. Van Tessel with words like “global,” “diverse,” and “community action.”
Charity generally tuned out while Mr. Edwards spouted these keywords, but you’d have to be living in the depths of the school library not to know that Mr. Edwards was on a total “global” kick, insisting on popping the “Hawthorn bubble” that kept the girls ignorant of world suffering.
Charity had been perfectly happy inside the Hawthorn bubble. She couldn’t really muster up the appropriate wailing sorrow when the school called assemblies to show movies about AIDS and starvation. She could barely pass Biology lab—what did the school expect her to do about worldwide suffering?
“Um, you’re totally blocking the doorway,” Louise spoke from behind her as they prepared to depart their dorm room at the ungodly hour of 5 AM. Curse transatlantic flights, Charity thought, even though she’d never flown across the Atlantic before. She’d never even left the country—this trip would provide the first stamp on her new U.S. passport.
“Sorry. I was just getting pumped,” Charity explained.
She’d been looking forward to this trip for ages—flying across the country with her friends, chaperoned by her favorite teacher, and maybe reviving her past fling with Nicholae, the Romanian exchange student she’d kissed behind a dining room microwave last semester. Sure, they’d kind of broken up before he’d boarded the van to the airport, but this was Europe—she had to have a fling! Maybe she could take a selfie of them kissing in front of some Romanian equivalent to the Eiffel Tower, and make it her Facebook profile picture so everybody would know what a glamorous life she led...
She’d been having these fantasies about the trip every day during math class, but only now, as she stood in the doorway, loaded with luggage, did she actually feel like the sophisticated European traveler she’d daydreamed of being. She felt like one of those people who traveled the world and then posted YouTube videos of themselves dancing on tropical beaches, in the rainforest, outside the Coliseum...
“Well, great, but can we get moving?” Louise nudged her. “We have to be in the van by 5:15, or they’ll leave without us—”
“Louise, they would not actually leave without us.” Charity took one last glance at their room—her side, with the unmade bed and trashy romance novels strewn all over the floor, clashed dramatically with Louise’s side, with the pristine bed and desk neatly piled with textbooks—and then swept out the door.
There was no need to worry about waking up her dorm mates as she nearly skipped down the hallway—most people had already gone home for spring break. Charity had decided she’d much rather have a thrilling European adventure than hide in her room at home, avoiding her parents’ eternal lectures on applying herself in school (they even brandished copies of her comment cards as proof that she most definitely was not applying herself). She’d managed to convince them that the trip to Romania would be educational so that they would sign her permission slip.
How much she’d grown up! In first grade, they’d signed permission slips so that she could visit the tide pools; now, in tenth grade, they were signing permission slips that let her travel across the globe.
They would have never let her go if they’d known she was going to meet up with a guy she’d kissed behind the microwave last semester. Or if they’d known that the Romanian academy teemed with vicious vampires.
“Are you guys going already?”
Esther, an overachiever whose flawless report card made Charity want to hurl, poked her head out the door.
Charity shrugged, and glanced over at Louise, who was locking their door.
“It’s a side effect of having her for a roommate.”
Last night, Louise had taken Benadryl and been asleep by the time Charity got back to their room at ten o’clock. Although Charity had set her alarm to 5 AM, thinking she could dive into her clothes at light speed and then run to the van, Louise’s alarm had start screeching before the sun had even started peeking through the clouds—at 4AM.
Because although Louise could conjugate every Latin verb in the book, she apparently lacked the ability to speed-dress and wolf down breakfast in five minutes, like Charity, who was an expert in oversleeping.
But although Charity was sleep-deprived, at least she wasn’t as disheveled as Esther, who was trying to drag a brush through her hair at the same time as she shoved a shoe on her foot.
You guys can help me pack!” Esther exclaimed with a somewhat insane glint in her eye, reaching her hands out to them like a brain-hungry zombie. Charity and Louise allowed themselves to be dragged into the room. “Should I bring this dress—or this dress?” She brandished two identical black dresses at them. Oh God. Had Charity remembered to bring a fancy dress to impress Nicholae in?
“We have to wear our uniforms,” Louise reminded her, referencing their terrible fate of donning plaid skirts and school sweaters during their exotic European vacation.
“Yes, but not 24/7, obviously!” Esther said, slight hysteria creeping into her voice. Clearly, the question of which dress to bring had become a source of stress nearly as a great as the question of which extracurriculars could get her into Harvard.
Well, after donning the same plaid skirt and plain cardigan every day since sixth grade, decisions about clothing could become as difficult as SAT math questions. Teaching their students to be normal teenagers was one area where Hawthorn failed most miserably, Charity felt, remembering how the librarians had muffled snickers when she had suggested that perhaps the library should subscribe to Cosmo and Seventeen in order to diversify the magazine display, which mostly boasted boring pieces of garbage like TIME and The New Yorker.
She had even used the word “diversify.” No one ever questioned Mr. Edwards when he suggested they “diversify” the student population.
“What if we go to cool Romanian parties to mingle with the boys?” Esther was ranting, whispering “boys” as though the existence of an opposite sex was a secret well-guarded by the Hawthorn administration. “We must dress to impress!”
Charity didn’t really need a dress anyway, she told herself. Her natural beauty would shine through even while she donned the rattiest of sweatpants. Plus, boys would respect her disdain for the fashion world. They would view it as a political stance against anorexia. And if Nicholae was her soulmate, he would love her for her true self, with her fingernails bitten to the quick and her school skirt that barely even revealed her knees.
“Which one?” Esther demanded, shoving the dresses at them again. Although Charity considered herself somewhat of a fashion expert, she really couldn’t tell the difference between them.
“That one,” announced Louise, arbitrarily pointing to one of the dresses. Clearly she had figured out that they weren’t going to be allowed to leave the room without dispensing some fashion advice, however bogus.
And even though Louise was so fashion-blind she actually thought she looked good in the school sweater, Esther grabbed Louise’s arm in gratitude. “Thanks,” she gushed. “You’ve just solved all my problems.”
She threw the dress and a few more clothing articles into her giant suitcase, and then sat on it to zip it up, like a kid going to sleepaway camp. It was almost like they were going to sleepaway camp, Charity reflected, except they didn’t have to go through that awkward process of meeting new people and pretending to be BFFs with whoever shared your cabin, merely out of convenience.
Charity had no lasting friends from summer camp.
She liked to think it was because she was a tortured soul, who simply could not spill all her deep, dark secrets to anyone in the four short weeks that summer camp lasted. She required at least four months to truly bond with anyone.
Never mind that she’d become Nicholae’s sort-of girlfriend last semester within three days of meeting him.
“Come on, let’s move faster,” Louise said worriedly, dragging her suitcase through the hall. Charity sighed and speed-walked after her paranoid friend, making a mental note to recommend Louise see a therapist about her obvious OCD and various other personality disorders.
“Oh good, you girls are on your way.” Ms. Van Tessel had stepped out of her room down the hallway, and was towing her own wheelie suitcase out. Even though she carefully maneuvered herself out of the doorway before slamming the door behind her, Charity knew that Van Tessel could have totally shut the door right through herself—for even though she looked solid, the teacher was a ghost.
Luckily, she still maintained the ability to lug around suitcases, wield stakes against vampires, and type “www.facebook.com” into an internet browser. She stayed true to the traditional paradox of ghosts being wispy, vaporous creatures, yet somehow able to rattle chains. Good thing, too—although she was born at the turn of the century, which explained her insane love of all boring literature, Van Tessel would probably perish if she couldn’t check her Facebook news feed.
Charity had tried to convince Van Tessel to come to her Physics class and walk through a table, just to prove to Mr. Stoneman that Newton’s Laws of Physics were clearly flawed, and therefore they should all just have a free period during Physics from now on.
But Van Tessel had staunchly refused to participate in this plan. Another side effect of being born in the early 1900s was Van Tessel’s inexplicable affection for the rules. Even now, the teacher was looking Charity up and down to make sure she wasn’t expressing herself in any way that might violate the uniform rules.
“Tuck in your shirt,” she told Charity, failing to find anything else wrong with her apparel. “And button your sweater,” she added to Esther. “It’s cold this morning.”
Louise, of course, was immaculately dressed. Charity rolled her eyes, obediently stuffing her shirt into the waistband of her skirt. Louise had confided to her in a deep dark confession once that she actually liked the uniform. Sure, Charity once liked it too—for about twenty-four hours during her first week at Hawthorn, when she was psyched to have a locker and run around to different classes and live in a dorm with sixty other screaming girls.
Then the teachers started assigning homework, and she pretty much got over the whole experience.
Van Tessel peered out the window. “Come on, the van’s pulled up by the dorm,” she said briskly. They followed her down the stairs, their rolling suitcases thumping obnoxiously down each step.
They headed out the door and towards a white van that stood parked near the dormitory. Already a few girls were clustering around the van, clutching the handles of their rolling suitcases or the straps of the backpacks that hung from their shoulders. Despite the ludicrous hour, they bounced with excitement.
A girl named Maude burst out the dormitory doors. “You’re not leaving yet, are you?” she cried frantically as she careened down the steps, yanking her wheelie suitcase loudly across the cement. Several other girls hurried after her, hauling their own luggage along.
Even though she was surrounded by nine hyped-up girls—and one cool customer of an English teacher—Charity loved how abandoned the school felt. There was barely a hint of daylight, and the courtyard was devoid of girls bent over their homework. A light breeze rustled the grass on the nearby green, trampled by not a single Frisbee-tossing girl. It was only them—the chosen ten—who were soon going to board a cross-country flight to New York, which would continue across the Atlantic to Berlin, where they would transfer flights before their final stop in Bucharest.
So many cities! Charity didn’t just want the awesome baggage tags on her luggage, or the bright “TRANSFER” label—she wanted the city acronyms stamped directly onto her suitcase, so when she lugged it around the airport or brought it to school, everybody would know what a seasoned traveler she was. They would catch their breath as they saw the beautiful brunette who had actually glimpsed New York (through a plane window, but who cared?)—who had even been to Bucharest and Berlin—
“And I have a boyfriend back in Bucharest,” she would add to the random strangers who would run up to her to express their astonishment at how well-traveled she was. “We email each other love poems daily.”
“...eight, nine, ten,” Van Tessel was counting them. “OK, everybody in the van!” She hopped into the front seat and unlocked the sliding side door for them. Charity let the others pile into the back seat first—the back was always where the screaming and incessant chatter came from, and she would prefer to sit with Louise and simply daydream about her brooding Romanian boyfriend, waiting to welcome her into his arms. Well, he wasn’t her boyfriend yet, but surely when he caught sight of her face, he would remember the girl he had smooched that one day in the dining hall...and his lust for her would reawaken...
But when Charity finally scrambled into the van—after tossing her luggage in the ever-growing pile in the back—she took the last seat, forcing Louise to take the front seat beside Ms. Van Tessel.
Charity was somewhat jealous that Louise got such an up-close-and-personal view of Van Tessel’s driving skills. People’s driving skills were always analogous to their personalities. For instance, Charity never noticed when the light turned green, demonstrating that she was so deep and artistic, she couldn’t possibly pay attention to trivial things like whether or not she might accidentally kill somebody with her car.
The trip to the San Francisco airport was brief, considering that Hawthorn stood on the outskirts of the city. Once they hauled all their luggage into the airport security line, Ms. Van Tessel said, “I hope you all brought books like I told you to, because we’re going to be waiting in this line a while.”
Charity thought she might impress Ms. Van Tessel with her social skills (since her academic skills were largely regarded as “nonexistent”) by striking up a scintillating conversation with the foreign-looking couple that had just joined them in line. They were babbling to each other in a strange language. Well, Charity could steamroll language boundaries and communicate in mime.
But no. She felt too inhibited at this early hour of the morning. Perhaps after a cup of coffee...
Charity took in the largess of the San Francisco airport, with its high ceilings and endless lines of busy people. She was glad they were all being shepherded around the airport on this trip—once when Charity’s parents had sent her to visit a relative in Nebraska (not even somewhere cool, like New York), she’d tried to check in with the wrong airline. So awkward.
Louise had her face stuck in Great Expectations. Charity squinted incredulously at the author—Charles Dickens?
“Aren’t you bored?” she demanded of Louise, hoping they could have an enthralling conversation that would pass the time as they lived and died in this line, barely shuffling along.
Louise lowered her book and fixed Charity with a hostile stare. “No.” Then she put the book in front of her face again.
Well, that was a snub. Charity fished her iPod out of her bag and bobbed her head to “Bad Romance” by Lady GaGa, fantasizing about having her own tempestuous romance with Nicholae. They were both tortured souls—Nicholae was tortured about sucking other people’s blood while Charity was tortured about always failing math tests—and therefore their relationship could never be exactly idyllic. It would always be a little rocky, to reflect their unsettled souls. But at least they would never get bored of each other and divorce. (Because they would, of course, be married. In a meadow. With lots of daisies.)
At last, they went through the motions of the security line (Charity made a concentrated effort not to do anything stupid, like forgot to take her cell phone out of her pocket or remove her shoes) and they slumped into their seats by the gate. The adrenaline buzz of earlier had worn off and a few girls had pulled on their hoods, letting their heads loll to the side as they tried doze off before boarding the plane.
“I’m never going to be able to sleep on the plane,” Charity moaned to the general vicinity, remembering that their flight to Europe was technically overnight, since they were moving nine hours ahead in time. “I can’t sleep while sitting in a chair!”
“Really?” said Van Tessel skeptically from beside her. “I would have thought you’d be an expert, getting practice in math class, history class...”
Charity would have smacked Van Tessel with her boarding pass if the piece of paper wouldn’t have gone straight through her. The fact that Van Tessel was a ghost would have made going through security super awkward, so the teacher had conveniently vanished and then reappeared in a storage closet, and had apparently already caught up with her charges. So in lieu of expressing her feelings with violence, Charity merely bugged her eyes out indignantly.
“I brought melatonin,” said Louise from her other side, lowering her Charles Dickens novel from her face. “You can have some if you want.” Charity gave her a blank look. Was this some weird sort of science thing? “It helps you sleep,” Louise explained.
Wow. Even though she looked innocent, Louise was actually a drug dealer.
“Are you offering me drugs?” Charity said accusingly in an unnecessarily loud voice.
“Melatonin is not a drug!” Louise exclaimed defensively. “It’s a hormone naturally produced in your body to signify the start of biological night—”
“Whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better,” Charity said airily. Louise huffed and brought her book up over her face. “But I would like one,” Charity added. “If you don’t mind.”
Louise silently zipped open her backpack and, with a reproving expression, dropped a tablet in Charity’s hand before raising her book back in front of her face.
“Thanks,” Charity said, slipping the tablet into her own bag and feeling deliciously illegal, even though melatonin was just as over-the-counter as Tylenol.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that,” Van Tessel announced, focusing on her own book.
“Whatever makes you feel better,” Charity assured her.