She makes her move during lunch period on Friday morning.
Juliette’s body language is tense and Cal can see her squirming from across the room, can see Ben’s casual check-in gesture and Juliette’s eager nod, and wonders how everyone in this damn room doesn’t know a whole starving-ass vampire is sitting among them. She’s not sure what pisses her off more—Juliette’s audacity, or their classmates’ ignorance.
Both are equally dangerous.
She flips the page of her book just as Juliette gets up from her table, slipping out of the cafeteria a little too quickly and without Ben at her hip; Cal follows and reaches the exit just in time to see Juliette shove through the door to the locker room. Who’s she planning to pick off? Are these her go-to hunting grounds? Cal feels like she knows everything and nothing about this monster as she enters the room carefully, quietly, eyes peeled for movement in the darkened space. She assumes Juliette killed the lights for cover, and Cal’s not stupid enough to give away her own presence just yet, instead focusing on each step forward.
Waiting for sounds of struggle; waiting for a scream.
Stake out, aimed, and ready.
Footsteps nearby. A grunt of pain. Did Juliette work that fast? Is this her latest victim, left to die? Left to turn? Cal presses back against the nearest row of lockers, takes a deep breath, then peeks around the corner, steeling herself for blood…
But it’s Juliette, forearm braced against the wall, breathing heavily as she staggers toward the showers. Her palm leaves behind a faint trail of crimson, and Cal knows what she has to do. She waits for her target to reach the first stall, then steps into the open.
“Stop right there.”
Juliette doesn’t react, just casts the shower curtain aside and leaves behind a bloody handprint.
“I said stop.”
She just leans sideways against the tiled wall, reaches for her backpack—
Digging for something. A weapon?
Cal doesn’t want to find out, doesn’t have time for this, and surges forward, easily catching up to the vampire and even more easily taking her by the neck and pinning her to the wall. Her stake is already at Juliette’s sternum, but underneath all the adrenalin, she realizes something isn’t right.
Juliette’s eyes are hazy and unfocused, her cheeks are streaked with red, and she’s shaking from head to toe. Her hands find Cal’s wrist and squeeze, but not in a defensive or disarming way—she’s holding on. The thought is both disgusting and intoxicating and Cal lets go like she’s touched something scalding hot; Juliette collapses to the floor but doesn’t make any attempt to move away, just grimaces as she tilts her head back and presses the heels of her palms into her temples.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cal asks, and she hates how soft her question sounds.
Juliette’s chest heaves. “M—migraine,” she manages before a big gulp of oxygen.
Cal scoffs. “I thought vampires didn’t have to deal with human ailments.”
“It’s—because—I haven’t…” She trails off as she forces her eyes open and finds Cal’s, seeming to get lost in them for a moment, then pulls her knees into her chest when Cal crouches down to her level.
“Because you haven’t what?” Cal repeats loudly.
Juliette turns her head away and covers her ear. “Killed anyone,” she whispers, fresh tears of blood brimming over. “Things are gonna s-suck for me until I…” Her lungs stutter mid-confession. “Just be quiet,” she pleads, her voice cracking on the last word. “I just needed—quiet.”
Cal scans her from top to bottom: the blood, the aches, and the tremors. “You’re stuck with all of this until you drain someone?”
The room is silent for a beat as Cal reaches out with her free hand and gently turns Juliette’s face toward her, being careful to avoid the blood. “So why haven’t you?”
“I don’t want to.”
Juliette looks her square in the eyes as she says it, and Cal’s bullshit detector remains impossibly silent, and she feels her stomach drop, clench, explode.
She lets go of Juliette and pushes up to her feet, then wets a paper towel at the nearest sink and returns to her previous position. Juliette’s head lolls back and forth as she tries to track Cal’s movements, and Cal squeezes her shoulder. “Hold still.”
Juliette’s sigh of relief is audible as Cal cleans off one cheek, then the other, and she lets Cal work on each of her hands in turn.
“Why are you doing this?” She wets her lips and swallows hard. “Killing me would’ve been easy.”
Cal shrugs. “And where’s the fun in that?”
As she finishes, Juliette’s fingers weakly snag hers. “Thank you.”
“How’s your head?” Cal deflects.
Cal looks down at their loosely connected hands, then tightens her grip. “Trust me for a second, okay?” She waits for Juliette to look at her. “Scoot forward,” she instructs, and helps Juliette move away from the wall before slipping into the space behind her, then rests her hands on Juliette’s shoulders and lets her adjust to the contact. She finds the halfway point along the top edge of each shoulder blade and uses the tips of her thumbs to press firmly into the muscles.
Juliette gasps in surprise and pitches forward until Cal catches her. “Pressure points,” she explains as she begins to move her thumbs in tight circles. “My mom taught me as a kid.” Cal switches to the hollows where Juliette’s neck meets the base of her skull and feels Juliette all but melt against her, one of her palms resting so casually on Cal’s thigh that she has no idea if Juliette even realizes it’s there. “How often does this happen?”
“Less since I met you,” Juliette mumbles as if it’s not the most unfair statement Cal has ever heard in her life.
Juliette’s fingers twitch against Cal’s leg. “Yeah.”
Cal lets out a long sigh and switches back to Juliette’s shoulders.
She almost doesn’t answer. “Now you got me thinking you’re an idiot for not doing anything to avoid all this suffering.”
Juliette shrugs a little. “That’s what the pills are for.”
“Yet here you are, sitting on a shower floor for half your lunch period.”
No response. She goes to Juliette’s neck again.
“Cal? How long till lunch is over?”
She pulls out her phone to check the time. “About twenty minutes.”
Juliette reaches back to stop the motions of Cal’s hands, then slowly turns just enough so she can look at Cal over her shoulder. “Will you stay? Until the bell rings?” Her eyes dip for a beat, but she forces them back up again. “Can we stay?”
Cal cups Juliette’s face from the opposite side, then kisses her cheek, and Juliette takes the gesture as permission to tuck her head under Cal’s chin, against her chest.
“Just so we’re clear,” Cal says, “you do not have permission to eavesdrop on my heartbeat again.”
“Afraid I’m gonna figure out all your secrets?”
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, but still tucks Juliette’s hair behind her ear. “Not everything about me is also about you.”
A soft, satisfied chuckle somewhere against her ribcage.