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Vampire Diaries Volume 1
Lisa J. Smith
Something awf ul is going to happen today.
I don't know why I wrote that. It's crazy. There's no reason for me to be upset and every reason for me to be happy, but…
But here I am at 5:30 in the morning, awake and scared. I keep telling myself it's just that I'm all messed up from the time difference between France and here. But that doesn't explain why I feel so scared. So lost.
The day before yesterday, while Aunt Judith and Margaret and I were driving back from the airport, I had such a strange feeling. When we turned onto our street I suddenly thought, "Mom and Dad are waiting for us at home. I bet they'll be on the front porch or in the living room looking out the window. They must have missed me so much."
But even when I saw the house and the empty front porch I still felt that way. I ran up the steps and I tried the door and knocked with the knocker. And when Aunt Judith unlocked the door I burst inside and just stood in the hallway listening, expecting to hear Mom coming down the stairs or Dad calling from the den.
Just then Aunt Judith let a suitcase crash down on the floor behind me and sighed a huge sigh and said, "We're home." And Margaret laughed. And the most horrible feeling I've ever felt in my life came over me. I've never felt so utterly and completely lost.
I was born here in Fell's Church. I've always lived in this house, always. This is my same old bedroom, with the scorch mark on the floorboards where Caroline and I tried to sneak cigarettes in 5th grade and nearly choked ourselves. I can look out the window and see the big quince tree Matt and the guys climbed up to crash my birthday slumber party two years ago. This is my bed, my chair, my dresser.
But right now everything looks strange to me, as if I don't belong here. It's me that's out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there's somewhere I do belong, but I just can't find it.
Meredith picked up my schedule for me, but I didn't feel like talking to her on the phone. Aunt Judith told everyone who called that I had jet lag and was sleeping, but she watched me at dinner with a funny look on her face.
Elena Gilbert stopped writing. She stared at the last line she had written and then shook her head, pen hovering over the small book with the blue velvet cover. Then, with a sudden gesture, she lifted her head and threw pen and book at the big bay window, where they bounced off harmlessly and landed on the upholstered window seat.
It was all so completely ridiculous.
Since when had she, Elena Gilbert, been scared of meeting people? Since when had she been scared of anything? She stood up and angrily thrust her arms into a red silk kimono. She didn't even glance at the elaborate Victorian mirror above the cherrywood dresser; she knew what she'd see. Elena Gilbert, cool and blond and slender, the fashion trendsetter, the high school senior, the girl every boy wanted and every girl wanted to be. Who just now had an unaccustomed scowl on her face and a pinch to her mouth.
A hot bath and some coffee and I'll calm down, she thought. The morning ritual of washing and dressing was soothing, and she dawdled over it, sorting through her new outfits from Paris. She finally chose a pale rose top and white linen shorts combo that made her look like a raspberry sundae. Good enough to eat, she thought, and the mirror showed a girl with a secret smile. Her earlier fears had melted away, forgotten.
"Elena! Where are you? You're going to be late for school!" The voice drifted faintly up from below.
Elena ran the brush one more time through silky hair and pulled it back with a deep rose ribbon. Then she grabbed her backpack and went down the stairs.
In the kitchen, four-year-old Margaret was eating cereal at the kitchen table, and Aunt Judith was burning something on the stove. Aunt Judith was the sort of woman who always looked vaguely flustered; she had a thin, mild face and light flyaway hair pushed back untidily. Elena landed a peck on her cheek.
"Good morning, everybody. Sorry I don't have time for breakfast."
"But, Elena, you can't just go off without eating. You need your protein—"
"I'll get a doughnut before school," said Elena briskly. She dropped a kiss on Margaret's tow head and turned to go.
"And I'll probably go home with Bonnie or Meredith after school, so don't wait dinner. Bye!"
Elena was already at the front door. She closed it behind her, cutting off Aunt Judith's distant protests, and stepped out onto the front porch.
All the bad feelings of the morning rushed over her again. The anxiety, the fear. And the certainty that something terrible was about to happen.
Maple Street was deserted. The tall Victorian houses looked strange and silent, as if they might all be empty inside, like the houses on an abandoned movie set. They looked as if they were empty of people, but full of strange watching things.
That was it; something was watching her. The sky overhead was not blue but milky and opaque, like a giant bowl turned upside down.
The air was stifling, and Elena felt sure that there were eyes on her.
She caught sight of something dark in the branches of the old quince tree in front of the house.
It was a crow, sitting as still as the yellow-tinged leaves around it. And it was the thing watching her.
She tried to tell herself that this was ridiculous, but somehow she knew. It was the biggest crow she had ever seen, plump and sleek, with rainbows shining in its black feathers. She could see every detail of it clearly: the greedy dark claws, the sharp beak, the single glittering black eye.
It was so motionless that it might have been a wax model of a bird sitting there. But as she stared at it, Elena felt herself flush slowly, heat coming in waves up her throat and cheeks. Because it was… looking at her. Looking the way boys looked at her when she wore a bathing suit or a sheer blouse. As if it were undressing her with its eyes.
Before she realized what she was doing, she had dropped her backpack and picked up a stone from beside the driveway. "Get out of here," she said, and heard the shaking anger in her own voice. "Go on! Get away!" With the last word, she threw the stone.
There was an explosion of leaves, but the crow soared up unharmed. Its wings were huge, and they made enough racket for a whole flock of crows. Elena crouched, suddenly panicked as it flapped directly over her head, the wind of its wings ruffling her blond hair.
But it swooped up again and circled, a black silhouette against the paper-white sky. Then, with one harsh croak, it wheeled away toward the woods.
Elena straightened up slowly, then glanced around, self-conscious. She couldn't believe what she had just done. But now that the bird was gone, the sky felt ordinary again. A little wind made the leaves flutter, and Elena took a deep breath. Down the street a door opened and several children poured out, laughing.
She smiled at them, and took another breath, relief sweeping through her like sunlight. How could she have been so silly? This was a beautiful day, full of promise, and nothing bad was going to happen.
Nothing bad was going to happen—except that she was going to be late getting to school. The whole crowd would be waiting for her in the parking lot.
You could always tell everyone you stopped to throw stones at a Peeping Tom, she thought, and almost giggled. Now, that would give them something to think about.
Without a backward glance at the quince tree, she began to walk as quickly as she could down the street.
The crow crashed through the top of the massive oak, and Stefan's head jerked up reflexively. When he saw it was only a bird, he relaxed.
His eyes dropped to the limp white form in his hands, and he felt his face twist in regret. He hadn't meant to kill it. He would have hunted something larger than a rabbit if he'd known how hungry he was. But, of course, that was the very thing that frightened him: never knowing how strong the hunger would be, or what he might have to do to satisfy it. He was lucky that this time he'd killed only a rabbit.
He stood beneath the ancient oak trees, sunlight filtering down onto his curly hair. In jeans and T-shirt, Stefan Salvatore looked exactly like a normal high school student.
Deep in the woods, where no one would see him, he'd come to feed. Now he licked at his gums and lips painstakingly, to make sure there was no stain on them. He didn't want to take any chances. This masquerade was going to be hard enough to pull off as it was.
For a moment he wondered, again, if he should just give it all up. Perhaps he should go back to Italy, back to his hiding place. What made him think that he could rejoin the world of daylight?
But he was tired of living in shadows. He was tired of the darkness, and of the things that lived in it. Most of all, he was tired of being alone.
He wasn't sure why he'd chosen Fell's Church, Virginia. It was a young town, by his standards; the oldest buildings had been put up only a century and a half ago. But memories and ghosts of the Civil War still lived here, as real as the supermarkets and fast-food joints.
Stefan appreciated respect for the past. He thought he might come to like the people of Fell's Church. And perhaps—just perhaps—he might find a place among them.
He'd never be accepted completely, of course. A bitter smile curved his lips at the idea. He knew better than to hope for that. There would never be a place where he could belong completely, where he could truly be himself.
Unless he chose to belong to the shadows…
He slapped the thought away. He'd renounced the darkness; he'd left the shadows behind him. He was blotting all those long years out and starting afresh, today.
Stefan realized he was still holding the rabbit. Gently, he laid it down on the bed of brown oak leaves. Far away, too far for human ears to pick up, he recognized the noises of a fox.
Come along, brother hunter, he thought sadly. Your breakfast is waiting.
As he slung his jacket over his shoulder, he noticed the crow that had disturbed him earlier. It was still perched in the oak tree, and it seemed to be watching him. There was a wrongness about it.
He started to send a probing thought toward it, to examine the bird, and stopped himself. Remember your promise, he thought. You don't use the Powers unless it is absolutely necessary. Not unless there is no other choice.
Moving almost silently among the dead leaves and dry twigs, he made his way toward the edge of the woods. His car was parked there. He glanced back, once, and saw that the crow had left the branches and dropped down on the rabbit.
There was something sinister in the way it spread its wings over the limp white body, something sinister and triumphant. Stefan's throat tightened, and he almost strode back to chase the bird away. Still, it had as much right to eat as the fox did, he told himself.
As much right as he did.
If he encountered the bird again, he'd look into its mind, he decided. Just now, he tore his eyes from the sight of it and hurried on through the woods, jaw set. He didn't want to be late arriving at Robert E. Lee High School.
Elena was surrounded the instant she stepped into the high school parking lot. Everyone was there, the whole crowd she hadn't seen since late June, plus four or five hangers-on who hoped to gain popularity by association. One by one she accepted the welcoming hugs of her own group.
Caroline had grown at least an inch and was slinkier and more like a Vogue model than ever. She greeted Elena coolly and stepped back again with her green eyes narrowed like a cat's.
Bonnie hadn't grown at all, and her curly red head barely came up to Elena's chin as she flung her arms around Elena. Wait a minute—curls? thought Elena. She pushed the smaller girl back.
"Bonnie! What did you do to your hair?"
"Do you like it? I think it makes me look taller." Bonnie fluffed up the already fluffy bangs and smiled, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement, her little heart-shaped face alight.
Elena moved on. "Meredith. You haven't changed at all."
This hug was equally warm on both sides. She had missed Meredith more than anyone, Elena thought, looking at the tall girl. Meredith never wore any makeup; but then, with perfect olive skin and heavy black lashes, she didn't need any. Right now she had one elegant eyebrow raised as she studied Elena.
"Well, your hair is two shades lighter from the sun… But where's your tan? I thought you were living it up on the French Riviera."
"You know I never tan." Elena held up her hands for her own inspection. The skin was flawless, like porcelain, but almost as fair and translucent as Bonnie's.
"Just a minute; that reminds me," Bonnie interjected, snatching one of Elena's hands. "Guess what I learned from my cousin this summer?" Before anyone could speak, she informed them triumphantly: "Palm reading!"
There were groans, and some laughter.
"Laugh while you can," said Bonnie, not at all disturbed. "My cousin told me I'm psychic. Now, let me see…" She peered into Elena's palm.
"Hurry up or we're going to be late," said Elena a bit impatiently.
"All right, all right. Now, this is your life line—or is it your heart line?" In the crowd, someone snickered. "Quiet; I'm reaching into the void. I see… I see…" All at once, Bonnie's face went blank, as if she were startled. Her brown eyes widened, but she no longer seemed to be staring at Elena's hand. It was as if she were looking through it—at something frightening.
"You will meet a tall, dark stranger," Meredith murmured from behind her. There was a flurry of giggles.
"Dark, yes, and a stranger… but not tall." Bonnie's voice was hushed and faraway.
"Although," she continued after a moment, looking puzzled, "he was tall, once." Her wide brown eyes lifted to Elena's in bewilderment. "But that's impossible… isn't it?" She dropped Elena's hand, almost flinging it away. "I don't want to see any more."
"Okay, show's over. Let's go," Elena told the others, vaguely irritated. She'd always felt psychic tricks were just that—tricks. So why was she annoyed? Just because that morning she'd almost freaked out herself…
The girls started toward the school building, but the roar of a finely tuned motor stopped them all in their tracks.
"Well, now," Caroline said, staring. "Quite a car."
"Quite a Porsche," Meredith corrected dryly.
The sleek black 911 Turbo purred through the parking lot, searching for a space, moving as lazily as a panther stalking prey.
When the car came to a stop, the door opened, and they glimpsed the driver.
"Oh, my God," Caroline whispered.
"You can say that again," breathed Bonnie.
From where she stood, Elena could see he had a lean, flat-muscled body. Faded jeans he probably had to peel off at night, tight T-shirt, and a leather jacket of unusual cut. His hair was wavy—and dark.
He wasn't tall, though. Just average height.
Elena let out her breath.
"Who is that masked man?" said Meredith. And the remark was apt—dark sunglasses completely covered the boy's eyes, shielding his face like a mask.
"That masked stranger," someone else said, and a babble of voices rose up.
"Do you see that jacket? That's Italian, as in Roma."
"How would you know? You've never been farther than Rome, New York, in your life!"
"Uh-oh. Elena's got that look again. The hunting look."
"Short-Dark-and-Handsome had better be careful."
"He isn't short; he's perfect!"
Through the chatter, Caroline's voice suddenly rang out. "Oh, come on, Elena. You've already got Matt. What more do you want? What can you do with two that you can't do with one?"
"The same thing—only longer," drawled Meredith, and the group dissolved into laughter.
The boy had locked his car and was walking toward school. Casually, Elena started after him, the other girls right behind her in a close-knit pack. For an instant, annoyance bubbled up inside her. Couldn't she go anywhere without a parade on her heels? But Meredith caught her eye, and she smiled in spite of herself.
"Noblesse oblige," Meredith said softly.
"If you're going to be queen of the school, you have to put up with the consequences."
Elena frowned at this as they entered the building. A long corridor stretched before them, and a figure in jeans and leather jacket was disappearing through the office doorway up ahead. Elena slowed her pace as she walked up to the office, finally stopping to glance thoughtfully at the messages on the cork bulletin board by the door. There was a large window here, through which the entire office was visible.
The other girls were openly gazing through the window, and giggling. "Nice rear view." "That is definitely an Armani jacket." "You think he's from out of state?"
Elena was straining her ears for the boy's name. There seemed to be some kind of trouble in there: Mrs. Clarke, the admissions secretary, was looking at a list and shaking her head. The boy said something, and Mrs. Clarke lifted her hands in a "What can I say?" gesture. She ran a finger down the list and shook her head again, conclusively. The boy started to turn away, then turned back. And when Mrs. Clarke looked up at him, her expression changed.
The boy's sunglasses were now in his hand. Mrs. Clarke seemed startled by something; Elena could see her blink several times. Her lips opened and closed as if she were trying to speak.
Elena wished she could see more than the back of the boy's head. Mrs. Clarke was fumbling through piles of paper now, looking dazed. At last she found a form of some kind and wrote on it, then turned it around and pushed it toward the boy.
The boy wrote briefly on the form—signing it, probably—and returned it. Mrs. Clarke stared at it a second, then fumbled through a new pile of papers, finally handing what looked like a class schedule to him. Her eyes never left the boy as he took it, inclined his head in thanks, and turned to the door.
Elena was wild with curiosity by now. What had just happened in there? And what did this stranger's face look like? But as he emerged from the office, he was settling his sunglasses in place again. Disappointment coursed through her.
Still, she could see the rest of his face as he paused in the doorway. The dark curly hair framed features so fine that they might have been taken from an old Roman coin or medallion. High cheekbones, classical straight nose… and a mouth to keep you awake at night, Elena thought. The upper lip was beautifully sculpted, a little sensitive, a whole lot sensual. The chatter of the girls in the hallway had stopped as if someone had thrown a switch.
Most of them were turning away from the boy now, looking anywhere but at him. Elena held her place by the window and gave a little toss to her head, pulling the ribbon out of her hair so that it fell loose around her shoulders.
Without looking to either side, the boy moved on down the hallway. A chorus of sighs and whispers flared up the moment he was out of earshot.
Elena didn't hear any of it.
He'd walked right by her, she thought, dazed. Right by without a glance.
Dimly, she realized the bell was ringing. Meredith was tugging her arm.
"I said here's your schedule. We've got trig on the second floor right now. Come on!"
Elena allowed Meredith to propel her down the corridor, up a flight of stairs, and into a classroom. She slid into an empty seat automatically and fixed her eyes on the teacher at the front without really seeing her. The shock still hadn't worn off.
He'd walked right by. Without a glance. She couldn't remember how long it had been since a boy had done that. They all looked, at least. Some whistled. Some stopped to talk. Some just stared.
And that had always been fine with Elena.
After all, what was more important than boys? They were the mark of how popular you were, of how beautiful you were. And they could be useful for all sorts of things. Sometimes they were exciting, but usually that didn't last long. Sometimes they were creeps from the beginning.