What Kills Me, p.1Wynne Channing
What Kills Me
By Wynne Channing
Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Leong
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of quotations in review, without permission in writing from the author/publisher.
Published in the United States of America by Jet & Jack Press
Cover design by Liliana Sanches Davis
Table of Contents
About the Author
For my parents who let me watch scary movies then comforted me when I had nightmares.
A human girl will be re-born a vampire. She will shed the blood of all who walk in darkness and bring about the death of the entire vampire race.
—Ancient vampire prophecy
The sun’s down. I am so dead.
I walked out of the bakery with a box of cannoli balanced in my hands and when I saw the dark sky, my smile faded. I shouldered my way through the crowds and rushed into a piazza. The clock on the church tower read 9:25 p.m. I rounded the fountain in the center of the square, my flip flops slapping at my heels. I shifted my box of pastries so that it was under my arm like a football and quickened my pace.
Sofia is going to kill me. When I left the house at 7:30 p.m., I had told her that I’d be only twenty minutes. But I’d lost track of time wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, snapping pictures. So far, I wasn’t being a good guest in her home. Two days ago, I had accidentally used dishwasher soap in her laundry machine, producing a titanic bubble bath. This was not the way to redeem myself.
A few people sat on the stone stairs around the fountain. A bearded man plucked at a guitar and nodded his head. A woman reclined against her boyfriend, her hands on his knees as if they were the arms of a chair.
One young man stood alone on the top of the stairs. His hands were in the pockets of a charcoal coat with an asymmetrical zipper that cut across his chest. His face was backlit against the street lamps, but I knew that he was staring at me. He had such rigid posture that nothing but his head moved as he watched me cross the square.
I dropped my gaze. The straps of my backpack dug into my shoulders and shifted my T-shirt. I tugged at the hem so that the Canadian flag was centered in the middle of my chest. He probably wants to rob me. My father had warned me about pickpockets in Rome. A few days before my trip, he had come into my room with a bulgy blue fanny pack: “To keep your valuables safe.”
From the corner of my eye I could still see the man’s face pointed in my direction, and I heard my best friend’s voice in my head. Zee, he’s checking you out. See if he’s hot. Ryka had encouraged me to have a summer fling. The only fling I’d ever had with a guy was when Felix Lewis flung me in the air during cheerleading tryouts. “Find someone and have fun,” but avoid the bad guys, she had said. She wanted me to keep my other valuables safe.
Pretending to look back at the clock, I glanced at the fountain. The guy was gone. I searched the piazza but didn’t see him. Too bad. He might have been cute. Would his trying to pick my back pocket count as second base?
I turned down a lane sandwiched between two square buildings and wove through a group of men in soccer jerseys. An old man in an undershirt and house slippers stood in the street with a dusty poodle, and I returned his sullen glare with a smile and a nod.
After walking several minutes, something seemed wrong. Okay, I remember passing this restaurant with the row of people eating on white linen tablecloths under white umbrellas. I remember this tight street with the parked cars on my left. But I don’t remember the street opening into a parking lot and this giant purple bush.
A mass of fuchsia flowers cascaded down the side of a building, like a purple monster arm, reaching for the ground with its branchy fingers. I would have remembered this. I doubled back through the dim streets but then couldn’t find my way to the piazza. Don’t panic.
I took a mental inventory of the contents of my bag: a journal, my wallet, my passport, my digital camera, a bottle of water. Of course, I didn’t take the note card with Sofia’s address and phone number on it. It’s on my dresser. Of course, I didn’t take a map. I could see Sofia’s round face, scrunched with disapproval, the creases on her frowning forehead. I performed a frustrated pirouette.
“Come on,” I said, exasperated with myself.
“Excuse me?” A voice said behind me.
I spun around, and there he was in the middle of the road. The guy from the fountain. I recognized his jacket and his tall, stiff stance.
“Sorry. I was talking to myself,” I said.
He took a step toward me and his face shocked me. He had high cheek bones and clean-shaven, pale skin. His deep-set blue eyes were in shadow under thick, dark eyebrows, but they were luminous.
I realized then that I was staring with my mouth ajar.
“You’re American?” he asked in his Italian accent.
“No, I’m from Winnipeg. It’s in Canada,” I said, pointing to my T-shirt. I glanced away, feeling weird that I had just directed his attention to my chest.
He nodded. “You are on vacation?”
“I’m living here for two months studying Italian.”
“Well then, welcome to Italia,” he said, and his pale pink lips smiled. “Do you like it here?”
“I’ve only been here for about a week and I love it.”
“What do you love most?” The word, “lah-ve,” filled his mouth thickly.
“I love the architecture, the food,” I said. “If I could eat gelato every day for the rest of my life, I would.”
“Then you must be sweet.”
His smile widened and I felt embarrassed. To quash my anxiety, I thrust my hand at him. “I’m Zee,” I said.
He seemed startled, tucking in his dimpled chin to gaze at my hand. “Zee?”
“My name is Axelia but everybody calls me Zee.”
“Paolo,” he said.
He slipped his smooth, cool hand into mine. I gripped his palm and shook it vigorously.
“Eggs-ee-lee-ah?” he said, pronouncing every syllable of my name. “I like it.”
“Thanks. I like it too. It’s spelled A-X-E-L-I-A; but the X is soft. Though I hated it when I was young. In kindergarten, someone spread a totally untrue rumor that ‘Zee likes pee,’ and then, you know, at recess, it was always ‘Zee likes pee, Zee likes pee.’”
I laughed and when he didn’t join me, I cleared my throat to silence myself. “And I have no clue why I told you that story, since we just met.”
Oh, Zee. Always babbling when you’re nervous.
He cocked his head and studied my face. “Zee, would you like to go with me for a gel
Whoa. Is this beautiful man asking me out? Ryka would be celebrating with corniness: “He doesn’t want to steal your wallet. He wants to steal your heart.”
“Uh, thank you, Paolo,” I said, relishing the opportunity to use his name. “But I actually need to get home.”
“Where do you live?”
“Good question. I mean, I’m not sure. I’m a bit lost,” I said with a shrug and something in between a grin and a grimace. “It’s on a narrow street around here. There’s a café on the street. There’s a pizzeria. I know—every narrow street has a café and a pizzeria. And I don’t have a map or an address. I might just have to live on the streets, survive on cannoli, and sing for coins.”
“Yes but I’m sure people will pay me to stop.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I will help you.”
“Oh, I remember!” I exclaimed. “There’s a white church on my street.”
“Via della Scala has a white church,” he said. “And a café and a pizzeria.”
“Via della Scala, that’s it!” I said.
He put his hand over his heart and bowed slightly. “May I have the honor of walking you there, Zee?”
“That would be lovely.”
As we walked back to Sofia’s apartment, I chattered to fill the silence. I told him about the laundry fiasco and about my Japanese housemate, Miyuki. At one point, I realized that I was nervously swinging the box of cannoli while I walked. Paolo kept his eyes on me while I looked everywhere else. His suede coat sleeve would brush my bare arm, giving me goose bumps.
“How old are you?” I said.
“How old are you?”
“Me too,” he replied.
“I start university in the fall. I’m going to take general arts courses for now because I’m not sure what field I’d like to get into. My father’s an aerospace engineer and my big sister is studying mechanical engineering. But I almost failed physics and math in high school. So for the safety of mankind, I don’t think I should get a job building anything. I love taking pictures so maybe I could be a photographer. What do you do?”
“I’m a student.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’m a student of life,” he said. He pursed his lips when he smiled.
Was that code for unemployed?
“I see,” I said, instead. “And what have you learned so far?”
“I’ve learned that treasures present themselves when you least expect them,” he said. “And you? What has your life taught you?”
“That I shouldn’t walk around without a map,” I said. “And that dish soap doesn’t go in washers. Actually, I’m here because I want more life experience. I feel like I’ve been pretty sheltered in Winnipeg.”
“I’ve never been there. Is it nice?”
“Yes, but it gets cold.”
“Cold doesn’t bother me.”
“This cold would. Our winters are brutal. It’s so cold sometimes that my eyes water and then my wet eyelashes freeze together.”
He chuckled. His teeth were small and perfect. For a moment, I imagined walking with him through these streets, laughing and holding hands. I imagined him teaching me Italian. I imagined him kissing me. Then I could add “kissed a hot guy” to my experiences, right after “traveled outside of Winnipeg.”
Suddenly I recognized the square planters in front of Sofia’s apartment farther down the street.
“Thank God, we’ve found it!” I blurted. Then I turned to Paolo. “I didn’t mean thank God because I don’t like your company. You’re wonderful company in fact.”
“I also enjoyed your company.”
“Thank you so much. I owe you my life for helping me get back to Sofia’s.”
One side of his lips curled up. “Then repay me,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. I channeled Ryka’s boldness. “I could buy you a gelato?”
“Yes. Let’s meet tomorrow at nine fifteen.”
“Where?” I asked. I could feel my cheeks flushing.
“Right here,” he said, pointing to the pizzeria to his left.
“Done,” I said. “It was nice meeting you.”
Sofia was waiting for me in the foyer. Her arms were crossed over her blue robe, her weight on her left foot so that she could tap her right. Her white hair was pulled back in a thick navy headband, and I could see the angry lines in her forehead.
“Sofia, I am so sorry,” I said, with one foot in the door. “I got totally lost and I didn’t remember the street name. This guy had to help me find my way.”
She clucked her tongue. “Axelia, we were so worried,” she said. “It is not safe for a young girl to be walking around at night. I sent Giuseppe out to look for you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make trouble. It won’t happen again.”
“Miyuki always carries our address and phone number in her purse.”
“These are for you and Giuseppe,” I said, hanging my head and presenting her with the box of cannoli.
“We will talk about this tomorrow,” she said.
I retreated to my room, where Miyuki was sprawled on her bed watching a Japanese show on her iPad.
“Where were you?” Miyuki said in her child-like, halting voice. “Sofia was so worried.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said. “I got lost.”
“Lost? What happened?”
“I lost track of time and then when I tried to rush home, I guess I took a wrong turn somewhere. And of course, because I’m a moron, I didn’t bring this,” I said, snatching up the paper with Sofia’s address and slapping it back onto the dresser.
I walked into our shared bathroom and bent over the sink.
“So, I was wandering around,” I said in between splashing my face, “and I ended up meeting this gorgeous guy. He walked me home. I told him about that white church down the street and he knew where it was…”
I looked up in the mirror and Miyuki was beside me. “Guy?”
I laughed. “He’s Italian. We’re going out again tomorrow night.”
I examined her happy face in the mirror. Our dark hair was the same length, down to our chests, except hers was straight and mine was curly. All of her tiny, doll-like features were concentrated in the middle of her milky face. I imaged that she looked like this when she was twelve. When I was twelve, it seemed like my eyes and lips were too big for my small, thin face. A few of the boys started to call me “Fish Face”; they’d follow me around with wide eyes, sucking on their cheeks. I also had braces because my teeth were crooked and crowded together. By the age of sixteen I was friends with Ryka, who had biting criticism for anyone who tried to tease me. Eventually, my braces came off, my cheeks filled out, and everyone just called me “Zee.”
“Zee?” said Miyuki. “What time are you going to see that boy?”
I paused in the middle of rubbing my face with a towel. “What do you mean, ‘uh oh’?”
“Sofia says that we have a curfew now.”
“What? What time is the curfew?”
“Nine? Every day? But it’s the weekend!”
I strode back into our room, gesturing wildly.
“That is ridiculous,” I said, hopping into purple monkey-print pajama pants. “We’re seventeen. We’re almost adults.”
“No way. She never said anything about this when we first moved in. She can’t just spring this on us. Did she say this was every day?”
What if I couldn’t see Paolo? How would I get him the message? I couldn’t just leave him to wait.
“If I stand him up, he’ll forever think that Canadian girls are evil,” I told Miyuki. “I have to date him to protect Canada’s reputation.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll talk to Sofia about it in the morning.”
I went to bed practicing my speech and picturing Paolo’s face. I had never seen anyone with such bright eyes. I had never met a boy who was so confident and cool. But clearly, Italian guys were different. More mature. More gentlemanly.
I liked that he knew nothing about me. He didn’t know that I wasn’t the summer fling type. He didn’t know that my only friends were Ryka and her boyfriend, Raj. I was a blank canvas and I could create a new image in his eyes. I could be fun, exciting, and adventurous. I could have stories to tell. I could become the person that I was meant to be.
At breakfast the following day, Sofia was unbending.
“It is not safe for young girls to be out after dark,” she said.
“I appreciate your concern but I am seventeen and…” I started.
“You’re here in Rome to study, yes? You should stay at home and work and wake up early for classes like Miyuki.”
I looked at Miyuki, who was silently eating her frittata across the table.
“I always get my homework done before dinner. I have the same deal with my father and he lets me stay out until midnight on weekends,” I said.
“Axelia,” Sofia said. “I can’t have you girls coming in at all hours of the night. Giuseppe and I need to sleep and if you are not home, we will just worry.”
I drew a breath to speak but exhaled as if I was letting the argument leave my body. What could I say to that? I had to be considerate of my hosts.
“I understand, Sofia,” I said. But for the rest of the meal, I tortured myself, fantasizing about the summer romance I could have had. Sofia rested her hands on my slumped shoulders.
“Here,” she said, putting the box of pastries beside me. “Eat some cannoli.”
“Good morning, Zee,” he said.
“Dad, it’s dinnertime here.”
“Right. Daddy forgot,” he said. My father often referred to himself in the third person with me. “How are you?”
“Good. How’s the family?”
“We found a bird’s nest outside of Tiffy’s window. Yesterday, these birds kept flying back and forth around the yard so I figured they built a nest in the tree. Daddy looked, and sure enough, there was a nest with three baby birds.”
What Kills Me by Wynne Channing / Actions & Adventure have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes