Chapter Four

At lunch the next day, Olivia scanned the cafeteria for her friends. She spotted Camilla and Sophia at a table by the windows, hunched over in intense conversation. Looks like they're still conspiring! Olivia thought, grateful that her friends were continuing to take Ivy's move so seriously.

"I think," Camilla said loudly to Sophia as Olivia trotted up, "that the Scribe should run more editorials."

"I disagree," Sophia replied. "I think two is enough.Why -??Hello, Olivia."

"Hey," said Olivia, setting down her tray. I guess they don't have to conspire all the time, she thought to herself.

Camilla looked at her watch. "Gotta go!" she said. "I have a study session for English."

"Me, too!" said Sophia. "I, uh... I have to go work on a piece for my art exam."

"Really?" said Olivia, trying not to sound disappointed that she was being left alone only a few seconds after she'd sat down. "What are you doing?"

"What?" said Sophia.

"What's the piece you're working on for your art exam?" Olivia explained.

"It's a painting... I mean, a photograph. It's a painting of a photograph?" Sophia said, like she wasn't sure.

"Still trying to figure it out, huh?" said Olivia. "I know the feeling."

"Exactly!" said Sophia, lifting her tray. "See you later, Olivia."

Olivia started eating her strawberry yogurt. She had just pulled out her algebra book and was trying to get some studying done when Charlotte came up with Katie and Allison.

"You're all alone," Charlotte moaned, her lower lip pushed out in an exaggerated pout. "That's so sad!" said Katie and Allison.

Olivia marveled at how well the two of them could speak in unison.

"You know you can always sit with us, Olivia," Charlotte said. "Us cheerleaders have to stick together, right?"

"Totally," said Katie.

"For sure," said Allison.

"I guess so," Olivia said after a moment. "Awesome!" squealed Charlotte. "So you'll sign our petition?" Katie slapped a piece of paper filled with signatures next to Olivia's tray. Allison carefully placed a pink pen on top of it. "Petition for what?" Olivia asked.

"We want to outlaw wearing black to school during the month of December," Charlotte explained.

"Excuse me?" said Olivia, raising her eyebrows.

"Black is so antiholiday spirit," said Katie seriously. "Plus it depresses everyone during exams!"

chimed Allison.

Olivia peered over the edge of the table. "What about your shoes?" she asked, pointing to Charlotte's heeled black loafers.

Katie and Allison gasped dramatically.

"Shoes don't count," Charlotte blurted.

"Really?" Olivia eyed the piece of paper beside her tray. "Does this petition say that? Because my favorite winter boots are black."

Katie and Allison stared at their captain as if they were waiting for her to call a cheer. Charlotte was struggling to come up with an explanation when Ivy and Brendan appeared with their trays and sat down.

"What's that?" Brendan asked, indicating the piece of paper.

"It's a petition banning shoes during December," Olivia answered matter-of-factly.

"It is not!" cried Charlotte, stamping her foot. "Who would sign that?" Ivy wondered.

Charlotte turned bright red. "NORMAL PEOPLE!" she shouted.

Everyone at the surrounding tables turned to look.

"Relax, Charlotte," whispered Katie, totally embarrassed.

Charlotte sneered at Ivy. "I'll be so happy when you move," she seethed, "and I get a regular next-door neighbor instead of a drab bag like you."

"Drab bag," Ivy said, savoring the words. "I sort of like that."

Charlotte hmmphed, snatched her petition off the table, and stormed off with her friends. "You know what they say," Olivia said, bursting out laughing. "If you can't join 'em... "

"Beat 'em!" Ivy grinned. She and Olivia bumped elbows.

"You twins are dangerous," marveled Brendan. "Olivia," said Ivy, "I was just telling Bren about how the next phase of our plan is a go."

"You mean Operation FANGED?" said Olivia.

Her sister blinked cluelessly. "Friends Against Needlessly Going to Europe in December!" she clarified.

Ivy laughed.

"I actually think the acronym for what you just said is FANGTEID," Brendan said skeptically, pronouncing it "fang-tide." Olivia threw a napkin at his head, but he easily batted it away.

"So you asked if it was okay to have Alice over for dinner?" Olivia asked Ivy.

"Not exactly," Ivy answered. She let her hair fall in front of her face, which Olivia knew meant she was trying to hide. "I told Dad that someone's coming over as part of a final art project that you and I are working on."

"What kind of art requires a waitress from the Meat & Greet?" asked Brendan dubiously.

"Performance art?" Ivy tried.

"The art of romance," Olivia corrected, batting her eyelashes.

"Brendan," said Ivy, pushing her hair out of her face, "do you want to be the waiter? You could wear the tux you wore to the All Hallows' Ball. You looked drop-dead in it."

Brendan frowned. "I can't," he said apologetically. "I promised Bethany I'd take her to see the HB."

"What's the HB?" asked Olivia.

Ivy glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one could overhear. "The Holiday Bat," she whispered. Olivia looked at her sister blankly.

"You know how human kids think Santa Claus magically comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve and leaves presents for them?" Ivy asked.

Olivia nodded.

"Well, we don't have Santa.We have the HB."

"One winter, a bat flew out of my parent's chimney," Olivia remembered. "My dad chased it out the door with a tennis racquet."

"Hmm," said Brendan, "I bet he got lousy Christmas presents that year."

"Actually, I gave him a really nice tie," Olivia protested.

"Does he ever wear it?" Brendan asked, raising his thick eyebrows meaningfully.

Come to think of it, thought Olivia, no, he doesn't.

"Oh, stop it," Ivy interrupted. "The HB is a myth."

"Try telling Bethany that," said Brendan.

"She's been begging me for weeks to take her to the mall so she can sit on the HB's back and tell it what she wants for Christmas."

"That is so cute!" cried Olivia. "I want to see the HB. It'll be my first vampire Christmas."

Ivy shushed her. "Can you lower your voice, or do you want us all to get staked?" she hissed. "And we're not going to the HB," she added. "We're too old."

Olivia started to protest, but Ivy said, "Olivia, we have much more important things to focus on right now. Like going to my house after school to prepare the romantic meal that's going to save my life!"

"Don't you worry about tonight," Olivia said confidently. "Alice is so totally perfect. It'll be love at first bite."

Brendan chuckled, but Ivy still looked skeptical.

"I got the two of you together, didn't I?" Olivia pointed out.

Brendan and Ivy looked at each other. "The bunny has a point," he said.

Ivy stood at the kitchen counter, frantically flipping through her father's Taste of the Night cookbook as Olivia peered over her shoulder. They had only a few hours before Alice arrived.

"How about 'Tortellini with Red Sauce'?"

Olivia suggested. "That sounds good."

Ivy scanned the recipe and shook her head.

"We don't have goose blood."

"Gross," said Olivia under her breath.

Ivy spotted a recipe for rare beef lasagna and asked Olivia to look in the pantry for lasagna noodles.

"Ew!" Olivia cried after a moment. "There's a box of powdered blood Jell-O in here!"

"That's my dad's favorite," Ivy said. She spun around to look at her sister. "Do you think it's fancy enough for dessert?"

"I know how to make a sweet cream topping from scratch," Olivia offered. She came over and plopped a box of lasagna noodles on the counter.

"Perfect," said Ivy. "Now all we need is an appetizer."

"How about a soup?"

As Ivy flipped to the front of the cookbook, she remembered their conversation at the Meat & Greet the previous day. "Killer idea," she said with a grin. "After all, we already have salt and pepper."

An hour later, Ivy had just put the lasagna in the oven when she heard the front door open.

"Ivy," her father called, "I'm home!"

"In the kitchen!" Ivy called back.

When he saw them, Mr. Vega dropped his briefcase with a thud. I can't believe he's still so shocked by the sight of Olivia, thought Ivy. "What have you girls done to my kitchen?" he gasped.

"Hi, Mr.Vega," Olivia said, awkwardly wiping her hands on her apron, leaving bright red stains.

Ivy surveyed the situation. The counter was covered in blood paste and flour, and there were dirty bowls and spoons and pans on every available surface. As if on cue, the pot of water on the stove boiled over with a hissing burst of steam.

Ivy gulped. "Olivia and I are working on our art project," she said.

"This is your art project?" her dad demanded. Ivy nodded. "We have to make something for someone else, so we're making dinner."

"Well, then, I'd better leave you two artists to your work," he said tentatively, slowly turning on his heels to leave the kitchen.

Olivia cleared her throat. "Mr.Vega? It's sort of supposed to be a special occasion, so you might want to dress up a little bit."

"What kind of special - "

"See you in an hour!" Ivy interrupted, and before her dad could say anything else, she waved him out the door with the backs of her hands like she was shooing a bat.

Ivy and Olivia were lighting the candles in the middle of the dining room table when the pipeorgan doorbell rang.

"Girls!" Mr. Vega's voice called faintly from upstairs. "The door!"

Ivy was about to go answer it, but Olivia grabbed her arm. "Lesson of Love Number One: interaction is the key to attraction," Olivia whispered. "What does that mean?" Ivy asked.

The doorbell rang again. "He should get it," Olivia said.

Good idea, thought Ivy. "DAD! CAN YOU GET THE DOOR, PLEASE?" she yelled. She snatched a black lacquer plate off the table. "WE HAVE OUR HANDS FULL OF PLATES DOWN HERE!"

A moment later, Ivy could hear the faint patter of her father descending the grand staircase.

Ivy and Olivia peeked around the corner into the foyer just as their father reached the bottom of the steps. His hair was slicked back, and he was wearing pin-striped black pants and a tailored white shirt under a gray blazer. Perfect! Ivy thought.

"Any woman would totally fall for him," Olivia whispered.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," Ivy's father apologized as he opened the door. "Alice!" he exclaimed.

"It's Charles, right?" Ivy heard. "Like the prince?"

Ivy's father stood there, speechless.

Invite her in, Ivy pleaded silently.

"Please, come in," her father said.

"Thanks!" Alice said and charged into the foyer. She was wearing an enormous crocheted sweater dress, black leggings, and silver leg warmers. On her head was a black faux-fur-lined trapper hat. She looks like a dancer in a Russian music video, Ivy thought.

"Creative outfit," Olivia whispered hopefully.

Ivy's father snapped his head in their direction like he'd heard. He locked Ivy in his gaze, and his eyes widened.

We're staked! Ivy thought.

Rather than ducking out of sight, though, Olivia pushed past Ivy and marched into the foyer. "Hi, Alice!" She smiled. Ivy nervously hurried after her. "Thanks so much for helping out with our art project!"

Alice screwed up her lips. "I thought I was here for dinner."

"You are," Olivia said. "We had to create something special for someone else, so we're making dinner for you and Mr.Vega!"

"That's art?" Alice looked confused.

"That was my question exactly," Ivy's father said stiffly.

"I usually work in papier-mache," Alice admitted.

"It's performance art," said Ivy, pulling out the only explanation she had.

Alice's eyes lit up. "Oh! I love performance art! Don't you, Charlie?"

Charlie? thought Ivy. No one calls my dad Charlie. "I once painted my whole body white," continued Alice, "curled up in a ball, and hung myself from the ceiling for a piece. I called it:

The Phases of My Moon."

Ivy's father smiled uncomfortably.

As she and Olivia led the way to the dining room, Ivy heard Alice say, "Wow Charlie, your house is so enormous and ultraconservative modern. You should really consider metallics!"

Good sign, Ivy thought. She's interested in interior design.

Olivia and Ivy pulled out the two chairs opposite each other at the oak dining room table, which was strewn with dead rose petals atop the black silk tablecloth.

"There are only two places," their father said, clearly surprised. "Won't you girls be joining us?"

"We can't," Ivy said firmly.

"It would totally defeat the purpose," added Olivia. "You know, of our art."

Ivy was grateful when Alice brushed past her dad and took a seat. "Did you girls fold these napkins to look like bats?" she asked. "The Japanese say that origami is the purest art form."

"Yes," Ivy's father admitted, taking a seat at last, "that is a lovely touch."

"Make yourselves comfortable," said Olivia.

"And we'll be back in a moment with your first course," added Ivy.

As her sister ladled soup into black lacquer bowls, Ivy peeked into the dining room. Her father and Alice were chatting amicably. Alice was leaning forward, her chin resting in her hands, her eyes upturned toward Ivy's father.

It's working! Ivy thought.

Everything's going perfectly! thought Olivia.Through the crack in the dining room door, she could see the candlelight flickering warmly on Alice and Mr.Vega's pale faces. Both of them were wolfing down their cream of plasma soup. As she ate, Alice talked about waitressing at the Meat & Greet - the enormous walk-in freezer ("Like a cave!"), how hard it was to find comfortable shoes ("If people like us can live forever, why do we still have back pain?"), how tips were divided ("Evenly"). Mr. Vega smiled and nodded attentively. "Anyway," said Alice, "I think Ivy and Olivia are absolutely, one hundred percent right on. Serving food is an art!" Mr.Vega continued to nod.

He didn't say anything as Alice finished the last roll.

Uh-oh, Olivia thought. Silence. She turned and bumped right into her sister, who'd been peering over her shoulder the whole time.

"How come no one's talking?" Ivy whispered.

"Lesson of Love Number Two," Olivia replied softly, "never let an awkward moment linger." She rushed to the counter, grabbed the bottle of sparkling white wine that was chilling there, and slipped into the dining room.

"So," she said as she topped up the wineglasses, "you're both actively involved with the Franklin Grove Art Museum. I've never been." "You've never been?" Mr.Vega and Alice both repeated incredulously.

"Olivia, you must go," Mr.Vega said. "It is an excellent museum, one of the best in this part of the country."

"When Charlie's right, he's right," Alice said, raising her glass in the air before taking a gulp. "Really?" said Olivia. "What's your favorite piece of art there, Mr.Vega?"

Her father's eyes shifted as if he was imagining that the piece of art was right there in the room with them. "There is a piece of sculpture on the first floor that takes my breath away," he said. "Which one?" asked Alice.

"It is a late work by Carlos van Thacter, a Transylvanian artist," Mr.Vega replied. "An enormous black granite spike rises from the floor, as if from the center of the earth. And then it bends gracefully, almost like a blade of grass. For me, it illustrates the struggle between the natural and the unnatural."

"You mean that big black thing by the elevators?"

Alice said. "I've always found that cold and boring."

"Cold and boring?" Mr.Vega repeated. "Well, it might not be one of those cartoon collages on the second floor that everybody - "

"My friend, Marie, made those," Alice interrupted. Olivia slipped back into the kitchen.

"Why are they fighting?" Ivy demanded.

"They're not fighting," Olivia said, though she wasn't sure. "They're having an intellectual debate."

"Well, you have to stop them!"

"What do you want me to do?" Olivia asked.

"Clear their plates and change the subject," Ivy commanded and pushed her sister back through the swinging door. Olivia almost stumbled right into the back of her father's chair.

"May I take that?" she panted, gesturing to Mr. Vega's bowl. "So, Alice," she said, searching her mind for a harmless subject for conversation, "how long have you lived in Franklin Grove?"

"Three and a half years," said Alice. "I used to live in Paris. I just love Europe!"

Olivia couldn't help wincing. A pan clattered in the kitchen.

"It's nothing!" called Ivy.

"Oh?" said Mr.Vega to Alice, clearly interested in hearing more.

The two of them spent the entire main course talking about Europe, pausing only to rave about Ivy's lasagna. In the kitchen, Olivia whipped heavy cream with sugar and vanilla in a ceramic bowl. "It's fine, it's fine, it's fine, it's fine, it's fine," she chanted to herself as she whipped.

"Will you please stop saying that?" Ivy said in a deflated voice.

"It's true," Olivia answered. She was determined to remain optimistic.

"If the whole purpose of tonight was to convince our father not to move to Europe," Ivy said, "how is them talking the whole time about Europe fine?"

"Because it shows just how much they have in common," said Olivia. If they like each other, she thought, he'll stay. He has to!

After she cleared their main course plates, Olivia prepared to bring out dessert. "Lesson of Love Number Three," she announced, "set the mood." She turned down the lights in the dining room and put some harp music on the stereo.

Then she carried out a big bowl of grapes, plus the two dishes of blood Jell-O, topped with her special whipped cream.

"Dessert is served," she said smoothly, placing the dishes carefully on the table.

"You girls have really outdone yourselves," Mr. Vega said, seeming genuinely impressed. He took a bite, and his eyes lit up. "This topping," he said. "It's cream, with sugar and vanilla, right?"

"Made it myself," Olivia answered proudly.

Mr. Vega looked at the dessert longingly. "I once knew someone who would have loved a sweet topping like this. I haven't had anything like it in years." He fixed Olivia with a pained smile. "Thank you."

"Enjoy your desserts," Olivia whispered. She knew, somehow, that he had been talking about her mother.

She took a deep breath as she reentered the kitchen.

"How's it going?" Ivy asked.

"They're totally falling for each other," Olivia said, trying to convince herself. "There's no way he's going to want to move now."

Suddenly a huge crash sounded from the dining room. Olivia and Ivy looked at each other and rushed through the door.

Mr. Vega was standing behind Alice, his arms wrapped around her in a bear hug. Alice's eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head.

Is this some strange vampire hugging ritual? Olivia wondered.

Mr. Vega squeezed, and Alice emitted a sickly sound that culminated in a pop. A small purple orb the size of a marble sailed out of Alice's mouth and splatted on the wall behind Olivia's head.

Alice breathed deeply. "If I were human, you would have just saved my life!" she said, turning and throwing her arms around Mr.Vega's neck.

He looked at Ivy and Olivia over her shoulder. "Alice choked on a grape."

"Are you okay?" gasped Olivia.

"We never should have served grapes," Ivy blurted.

"No, no," Alice said. She shifted Mr.Vega awkwardly, her arms still around his neck. Now she was facing them over his shoulder. "I'm not upset." She smiled beatifically. "This man is my hero!"

Olivia exchanged openmouthed looks with her sister. We did it!

A half hour later, she and Ivy were peeking around the corner at the foyer, spying on Alice and Mr.Vega again.

"Thank you, Charlie," Alice cooed. "I had such a terrific time. You have very strong arms, you know."

"It was certainly an eventful evening," Mr. Vega answered.

"Maybe some time we can go to the museum together and I can teach you a thing or two about art," Alice suggested.

Mr. Vega gave one of his close-lipped smiles. Alice came right up close to him.

Kiss her! Olivia wanted to yell. Kiss her! Instead Mr. Vega said, "Bye now," and gently pushed Alice out the door. Beside Olivia, Ivy slumped to the floor in defeat.

Mr. Vega turned toward where they were hiding. "You can come out now, girls," he called.

Uh-oh, thought Olivia. She recognized the tone of his voice: it was the one used by parents everywhere to indicate when you're in big trouble.

"Thanks for participating in our art project, Mr. Vega," Olivia said hopefully as she and Ivy came out into the open.

He walked toward them. "If this were an art project," he said, "you two would get an A. Tonight was creative, unexpected, and memorable. And really, Ivy, the lasagna was superb."

"Thanks, Dad," Ivy said.

"But as a date" - he sighed - "I would have to give it an F. Even without the Heimlich maneuver."

He looked at them sternly. "This wasn't an art project, was it?"

Olivia and Ivy both shook their heads.

"Alice is a lovely person and a talented artist, but I am perfectly capable of choosing my own dates. In any case, there's no point in my starting a relationship when we're about to move."

"But that's exactly why we - " Ivy began to say, but Olivia stopped her with a look.

It's no use, Olivia thought sadly.

"Olivia, I'll drive you home now," Mr. Vega said. The conversation was over.

During the car ride, Olivia sat staring straight ahead, thinking about how miserably her plan had failed. Next to her, she could hear Mr. Vega occasionally sighing as the streetlights illuminated his pale face.

This sucks, she thought, and she didn't mean it in the good way vampires did.

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