"I'd like to check out the Historical Society," I requested.

"All that talk about mansions last night with Marshall?" she guessed.

"I think I'll do a report on one for history class."

"During spring break? I figured you'd rather have a picnic in the cemetery," she said, putting down her coffee.

"Great idea! Let's do that afterward."

"I was joking," she responded.

By the time Aunt Libby got ready and I showered and dressed, the morning hours were dwindling. Libby was everything my dad wasn't--while he was an uptight type-A personality, she was a laid- back type-ZZZ. He was fifteen minutes early to a movie, and she was lucky to make it before the credits rolled.

I couldn't convince Aunt Libby to pack a basket of tortilla- wrapped tofu sandwiches and sit by empty graves, but I was able to trade in the art museum for the Historical Society. I grabbed my Olivia Outcast journal from my suitcase and put it in my backpack, and we finally headed out the door.

Dullsville's Historical Society was in an unhaunted late- nineteenth-century church. I had visited it only once on a school field trip and spent most of the time exploring the three tombstones in the cemetery until a teacher discovered my whereabouts and threatened to call my parents.

Hipsterville's Historical Society proved to be more interesting, located in two Pullman railway cars at the old train station.

Inside, I rummaged through pictures of Victorian houses, original menus from Joe's Eats, and letters from early residents. From the second car emerged a woman wearing a lime green pantsuit with matching sandals and a red-hair That Girl do.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

"My niece is visiting and would like to do a report on our historical mansions," Aunt Libby said, peering at black-and-white photos of streetcars that hung next to the emergency brake.

"Well, you came to the right place," she said, and pulled a book from a shelf.

"I'm interested in an abandoned estate near a cemetery."

The woman looked at me as if I were a ghost. "Strange. A man was in here the other day asking about the very same thing!"

"Really?" I asked, surprised.

"Was it Marshall Kenner?" Aunt Libby inquired. "He's starring in Dracula."

"No, Marshall was in earlier in the month. This was a gentleman who was new to town."

My ears perked up.

She pulled out several more books and leafed through them as Aunt Libby explored the museum.

"Here's the Landford Mansion," the woman pointed out. "It's in the far north part of town. And the Kensley Estate, toward the east." I studied all the pictures, imagining which one Jameson would have selected. Nothing remotely resembled the Mansion on Benson Hill.

"Which one was the man interested in?" I whispered.

She looked at me strangely. "You should do your report on what you like."

I looked again at all the mansions, each one statelier than the last. I wrote down their names and addresses on the back of the Historical Society's brochure and realized it would take me several spring breaks to visit them all.

As I was ready to close the book, I noticed the edge of a bookmark peeking out toward the back. When I turned to the noted page, I lost my breath. A black-and-white photo of a gloomy nineteenth-century grand estate stared back at me. A wrought-iron gate surrounded the towering house, and at the top of the mansion was a tiny attic window. I envisioned ghosts hiding behind the curtains, too shy to be photographed.

Underneath, the picture read "Coswell Manor House."

"What's this?" I asked the woman, who was organizing the bookshelf.

She glanced at the picture. "I didn't think to mention that one because it's on the outskirts of town. It's been abandoned for years."

"It's perfect," I said.

"Weird. That's what that gentleman said, too."

The woman jotted down an address and handed it to me. "It's on Lennox Hill at the far end of the road."

I dropped a donation in the "Friendly Funds" jar as we left the museum. "That was nice of you," my aunt said, as we walked through the parking lot to the Nifty Fifties diner.

"I'd have given her my college fund if I could've."

Chapter 8 In a Manor of Speaking

While Aunt Libby gathered her belongings for the theater and the sun made its final descent, I sat cross-legged on her futon and made notes in my journal.

My investigation was almost complete. In only a few hours, I would be reunited with Alexander. Once he understood I loved him no matter who or what he was, we could go back to Dullsville and we'd be able to be together.

Then I wondered what exactly that would mean. Would he want me to be like him in every way I could? And if faced with the choice, would I really want to choose the lifestyle I'd always dreamed of?

To quiet my mind, I made more notes:

Positives of Being a Vampire

1. Save on electric bills.

2. Could always sleep in late--very late.

3. Wouldn't have to worry about keeping a low-carb diet. "Are you sure you want to stay alone?" Aunt Libby asked, holding her makeup bag.

"I am sixteen."

"Your parents let you stay by yourself?"

"I could have been babysitting at twelve, if anyone in Dullsville would have hired me."

"Well, there's plenty of food in the fridge," she offered, heading for the door. "I'll call at intermission to check in."

Aunt Libby may have been laid back when it came to her own lifestyle, but when I was under her roof she was just like my dad. I guess she would have been like my father and left her hippie days behind if she had had kids, too.

I quickly changed into my Hot Gothics fashion merch--black- and-white-striped tights and a torn black minidress revealing a blood- red chemise. I applied my standard black lipstick and dark eye shadow. I barely had enough time to put a red rose body tattoo on my neck.

I checked to make sure the container of garlic was tightly sealed, as I didn't want to expose Alexander to the two-inch weapon I'd use to ward off any lurking vampires. I must have brushed my hair and rearranged my red extensions a million times before I rushed out the door and waited at the bus stop for the number seven.

With every passing number eleven or sixteen, I paced the bus stop. I was considering returning to my aunt's apartment and calling a cab when I saw the number seven turn onto the street and slowly lumber toward me. Anxiously, I boarded the crowded bus, a mixture of granola heads and urbanites, slipped my cash into the change receptacle, and grabbed the slippery aluminum pole. I held on to the pole for dear life, trying to keep my balance and avoid bumping into the other passengers as the bus jolted with every acceleration. As soon as the number seven lurched forward and reached the speed limit, it began to slow down again, stopping at every bus stop in town. I checked my watch. It would have been quicker if I'd walked.

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