I had spent a lifetime as a nocturnal-loving, rebellious, black-on- black-wearing outcast in the pearly white cliquey conservative town of Dullsville. I was relentlessly teased and bullied by soccer snob Trevor Mitchell. I was stared at like a circus freak by Dullsvillians, classmates, and teachers. The only friend I'd ever had was Becky, but we never shared the same taste in music or fashion, and our personalities were polar opposites. When Alexander Sterling moved to the Mansion on Benson Hill, for the first time in my life I felt like I wasn't alone. I was drawn to him before I even met him--seeing him standing in the darkened roadway, Becky's headlights illuminating his fair skin and sexy features. He took my breath away. Then, when he caught me sneaking into the Mansion and I got a glimpse of him again, I had a feeling I'd never known before. I knew I had to be with him.

Not only was he a pale-skinned, combat-boot-wearing goth like me, but as we began dating, I found out we listened to the same music--Bauhaus, Korn, and Marilyn Manson. More important than tastes, we shared the same desires and dreams. Alexander understood loneliness, isolation, and being different. He knew firsthand what it was like to be judged for what he wore, how he looked, for being homeschooled and expressing himself through a paintbrush instead of a soccer ball.

When I was with him, I felt like I finally belonged. I wasn't judged, bullied, or teased for what I wore but was accepted, and even celebrated, for who I was inside.

With Alexander gone and his whereabouts unknown, I felt lonelier than I had before I met him.

I removed the brick that held the broken window open and crept inside the Mansion's basement. The full moon illuminated mirrors covered with white rumpled sheets, carelessly stacked cardboard boxes, and a coffin-shaped coffee table. My heart sank when I saw again that the earth-filled crates were gone.

The last rime I had searched the Mansion uninvited, I had hoped to make chilling discoveries. I unearthed crates stamped by Romanian customs and marked SOIL. I found an ancient family tree, including Alexander's name, with no dates of births--or deaths. Now I was apprehensive about what I wouldn't find.

Upstairs, the portraits that once lined the walls were gone. I followed the hallway to the kitchen, where I opened the refrigerator. Only leftovers remained. Antique china dishes and pewter goblets still lined the cabinets. I spotted an unlit candle and a box of matches on the black granite countertop. I wandered the empty halls by candlelight. The wooden floorboards creaked beneath my feet as if the lonely Mansion were crying.

In the living room the moonlight shone through the cracks in the red velvet drapes. The furniture was once again covered with white sheets. Disheartened, I headed for the grand staircase.

Instead of the music of the Smiths pulsing from upstairs, all I heard was the wind blowing against the shutters.

The ghoulish Mansion no longer sent waves of excitement through my veins, only lonely chills. I ascended the stairs and crept into the study, where I'd once been greeted by my knight of the night, holding fresh-picked daisies. Now it was just another abandoned library--books collecting dust, empty of readers.

The butler's bedroom was even more spartan, with a single perfectly made bed, Jameson's closet cleared of clothes, cloaks, and shoes.

The master bedroom was furnished with a canopy bed with black lace that dripped around its gothic columns. I stared at the mirrorless vanity directly across. The little combs, brushes, and nail polishes in shades of black, gray, and brown that had belonged to his mother were gone.

I'd never even had the opportunity to meet Alexander's parents. I wasn't sure if they even existed.

Tormented, I paused at the bottom of the attic steps. I wondered how Alexander felt leaving so suddenly, after finally being accepted by so many Dullsvillians.

I climbed the narrow attic stairway and blew out the dripping candle. I entered his abandoned bedroom, which only two nights ago he had invited me into. His twin-sized mattress rested on the floor, unmade. Typical for any teenager, vampire or not. The easel in the corner was bare. I gazed at the paint splattered on the floor. All his artwork was gone, even the painting he had made for me--a portrait of me dressed for the Snow Ball, holding a pumpkin basket and a Snickers, sporting a spider ring and fake vampire teeth.

A black letter-sized envelope lay on top of a blood-red paint can, sitting underneath the easel. I held the piece of mail up to the moonlight. It was addressed to Alexander and had a Romanian stamp. There was no return address and the postmark was illegible. The envelope had been ripped open.

Curiosity getting the best of me, I reached my fingers inside and pulled out a red letter. In black ink it read:

Alexander,

HE IS ON HIS WAY!

Unfortunately the rest of the letter had been torn off. I didn't know who it was from or what it meant. I wondered what vital information it held--maybe a top secret location. It was like watching a movie and not seeing the ending. And who was he?

I walked to the window and stared up at the moon--the very window where his grandmother's ghost was rumored to have been seen. I felt a kinship with the baroness. She had lost the love of her life and was left to keep his secret in isolation. I wondered if that would be my fate as well. Where was Alexander headed? Back to Romania? I'd buy a ticket to Europe if I had to. I'd walk mansion door to mansion door to find him.

I wondered, if Alexander had stayed, what would have happened to him. If the town found out his identity, he could have been persecuted, taken away for scientific research, or paraded around as the top act in a sideshow. I imagined what would become of me. I might be interrogated by the FBI, hounded by tabloids, or forced to live in isolation, forever known as the Vampire Vulture.

I turned to leave his room when I saw a small booklet poking out from underneath his mattress. I took it to the attic window for closer inspection.

Had Alexander forgotten his passport? There was an empty spot where his photo had been torn out. I touched the space, wondering what picture a vampire could have taken.

I flipped through the pages. Stamps from England, Ireland, Italy, France, and the United States.

If I had Alexander's passport in my hand, he couldn't have gone back to Romania. No one can travel out of the country without a passport.

Now I had one thing I didn't have before.

Hope.

"Slow down!" my mom said when I burst through the kitchen door. "You're tracking mud all over the floor."

"I'll clean it later--" I said hurriedly. "I'd like to invite Alexander over for dinner this week," she offered, catching up to me. "We haven't seen him since the party. You've been keeping him all to yourself."

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