THIS WASN'T THE FIRST TIME I'd been pulled out of bed for a crucial mission. It was, however, the first time I'd been subjected to such a personal line of questioning.
"Are you a virgin?"
"Huh?" I rubbed my sleepy eyes, just in case this was all some sort of bizarre dream that would disappear. An urgent phone call had dragged me out of bed five minutes ago, and I was having a little trouble adjusting.
My history teacher, Ms. Terwilliger, leaned closer and repeated the question in a stage whisper: "I said, are you a virgin?"
"Um, yes. . ."
I was fully awake now and glanced uneasily around my dorm's lobby, making sure no one was around to witness this crazy exchange. I didn't have to worry. Aside from a bored-looking desk attendant on the far side of the room, the lobby was empty, probably because no sane person would be up at this time of night. When Ms. Terwilliger's call had woken me, she'd demanded I meet her here for a "life-or-death" matter. Getting interrogated about my personal life wasn't quite what I'd expected.
She stepped back and sighed in relief. "Yes, of course. Of course you're a virgin."
I narrowed my eyes, unsure if I should be offended or not. "Of course? What's that supposed to mean? What's going on?"
She immediately snapped back to attention and pushed her wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. They were always slipping down. "No time to explain. We have to go." She grabbed hold of my arm, but I resisted and stayed where I was.
"Ma'am, it's three in the morning!" And then, just so she'd understand the severity of the situation: "On a school night."
"Never mind that." She turned in the direction of the desk attendant and called across the room, "I'm taking Sydney Melrose with me. Mrs. Weathers can argue with me about the curfew tomorrow."
The attendant looked startled, but she was just some college student who'd been hired to sit there overnight. She was no match for the formidable Ms. Terwilliger, with her tall, gangly stature and birdlike face. The real authority keeping girls in my dorm was the security guard outside, but he simply nodded in a friendly way when Ms. Terwilliger dragged me past. It made me wonder just how many girls she'd abducted in the middle of the night.
"I'm in my pajamas," I told her. It was the last protest I could offer as we reached her car, which was parked in a fire lane. She drove a red Volkswagen Beetle with flowers painted on the sides. Somehow, this didn't surprise me in the least.
"You'll be fine," she said, fishing car keys out of her massive velvet purse.
Around us, the desert night was cool and silent. Tall palm trees created dark, spiderlike shapes against the sky. Beyond them, a full moon and smattering of stars glittered. I wrapped my arms around myself, touching the soft fabric of my microfleece robe. Underneath it, I had on full-length striped pajamas paired with fluffy beige slippers. The ensemble worked well in my cozy dorm room but wasn't exactly practical for a Palm Springs night. But then, going out in pajamas wasn't really practical in any place.
She unlocked the car, and I stepped gingerly inside, having to dodge empty paper coffee cups and old issues of Utne Reader. My neat sensibilities cringed at that kind of mess, but it was the least of my worries right now.
"Ms. Terwilliger," I said, once we were driving through the suburban streets. "What's going on?" Now that we were out of the dorm, I hoped she'd start talking sense. I hadn't forgotten her "life-or-death" comment and was beginning to grow nervous.
Her eyes were on the road ahead of us, and lines of worry marked her angular face. "I need you to cast a spell."
I froze as I tried to process her words. Not long ago, this proclamation would've sent me into protests and fits of revulsion. Not that I was comfortable with it now. Magic still freaked me out. Ms. Terwilliger taught at my private high school, Amberwood Prep, by day and was a witch at night. She said I, too, possessed a natural affinity for magic and had managed to teach me some spells, despite my best efforts to resist. I actually had a few good reasons for wanting to avoid anything arcane. Aside from inborn beliefs about magic being wrong, I simply didn't want to get caught up in any more supernatural affairs than I had to. I already spent my days as part of a secret society that kept vampires secret from the human world. That and my schoolwork were enough to keep anyone busy.
Nonetheless, her magical training had gotten me out of some dangerous situations recently, and I was no longer so quick to dismiss it. So, her suggesting I perform magic wasn't the weirdest thing going on here.