The next morning, Elena felt light and joyful, as if she was hugging an enormous, wonderful secret to herself. Damon was stil alive. He had been in her room last night. Right?
She'd been through so much, she could hardly trust it. She climbed out of bed, noting that the clouds outside were stil pink and gold from the sunrise, so it must be very early. She careful y moved toward the window. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she went down on her hands and knees and scanned the floor careful y.
There. A tiny piece of dirt on the squeaky board, fal en from someone's shoe. And there, on the windowsil , the long scratches of a bird's claws. That was proof enough for Elena.
She stood up and gave a funny little hop of joy, clapping her hands together sharply once, an unstoppable grin spreading across her face. Damon was alive!
Then she took a deep breath and stood stil , wil ing her face into blankness. If she was real y going to keep this secret - and she supposed she would have to; she'd promised, after al - she was going to have to act like nothing had changed. And real y, things were pretty bad stil , she told herself. If she thought about the facts, she shouldn't be celebrating just yet.
Damon's return hadn't altered the fact that something dark was after Elena and her friends, or that Stefan was acting irrational y and violently. Her heart sank a little as she thought of Stefan, but stil a bubble of happiness went through her. Damon was alive!
And, what was more, he had an idea of what might be going on. It was exactly like Damon at his most infuriating to play this idea close to his chest and not let her know what he was thinking, but stil , his glimmer was more hope than anyone else had been able to offer yet. Perhaps there was light at the end of the tunnel after al .
A pebble pinged against Elena's window.
When she looked out, she saw Stefan, shoulders hunched, hands in his pockets, watching her from the lawn. Elena waved to him to stay where he was, threw on jeans, a lacy white tank top, and shoes, and went downstairs to meet him. There was dew on the grass, and Elena's steps left footprints. The cool of dawn was already being replaced by dazzling hot sunshine: It was going to be another sticky Virginia summer day.
As she approached Stefan, Elena slowed down. She didn't quite know what to say to him. Since last night, every time she had thought of Stefan, she had involuntarily pictured Caleb's body flying through the air, the sickening crunch as he hit the marble monument. And she couldn't stop seeing Stefan's savage anger as he had attacked him, although Damon had been sure there must have been a reason. Damon. How would she ever keep Stefan from guessing the truth about his brother?
From the pained look on Stefan's face, it was clear he sensed her apprehension. He held out his hand. "I know you don't understand why I did what I did yesterday," he said,
"but there's something you have to see."
Elena stopped, but she didn't take his outstretched hand. His face fel a little further. "Tel me where we're going," she said.
"I need to show you something that I found," Stefan said patiently. "You'l understand when we get there. Please, Elena. I would never hurt you."
Elena stared at him. She knew without a doubt that it was true that Stefan would never hurt her.
"Okay," she said, making up her mind. "Wait here for a minute. I'l be right back."
She left Stefan on the lawn in the early morning sunshine as she retreated into the quiet dimness of the house. Everyone else was stil asleep: A quick glance at the clock in the kitchen told her it was barely six o'clock. She scribbled a note to Aunt Judith, saying she was going to grab breakfast with Stefan and would be back later. Reaching for her purse, she paused and made sure that a dried sprig of vervain was stil tucked inside it. Not that she thought Stefan would ever do anything to her... but it never hurt to be prepared.
When she came out of the house, Stefan ushered her into his car parked at the curb, opening the passenger-side door for her and hovering over her as she fastened her seat belt.
"How far away is it?" Elena asked.
"Not far," Stefan said simply. Watching him drive, Elena noticed the worry lines at the corners of his eyes, the unhappy droop of his mouth, the tension in his shoulders, and wished she could put her arms around him and comfort him, raise her hand and wipe those lines by his eyes away. But her memories of the rage on his face the day before held her back. She just couldn't make herself reach out to him.
They hadn't driven for long when Stefan turned onto a culde-sac of expensive houses. Elena leaned forward. They were pul ing up to a large white house fronted by a spacious pil ared porch. She knew that porch. After junior prom, she and Matt had sat on its steps and watched the sun rise, stil wearing their clothes from the dance. She had kicked off her satin sandals and laid her head against Matt's tuxedoed shoulder, listening dreamily to the music and voices coming from the afterprom party in the house behind them. It had been a good night from a different lifetime.
She stared at Stefan accusingly. "This was Tyler Smal wood's house, Stefan. I don't know what you're planning, but Caleb's not here. He's in the hospital."
Stefan sighed. "I know he's not here, Elena. His aunt and uncle haven't been here either, not for several days, at least."
"They're out of town," Elena said automatical y. "Aunt Judith talked to them yesterday."
"That's good," Stefan said grimly. "Then they're safe." He cast a worried glance up and down the street. "You're sure Caleb won't be out of the hospital today?"
"Yes," said Elena acidly. "He was too injured. They're keeping him for observation."
Elena got out of the car, slammed the door, and marched toward the Smal woods' house, not looking back to see whether Stefan was fol owing.
He caught up to her instantly. She cursed his vampiric speed in her head and walked faster.
"Elena," he said, circling in front of her and forcing her to a stop. "Are you angry that I want to keep you safe?"
"No," she said scathingly. "I'm angry that you almost kil ed Caleb Smal wood."
Stefan's face sagged with exhaustion and sorrow, and Elena instantly felt guilty. Whatever was going on with Stefan, he stil needed her. But she didn't know how to deal with his violence. She'd fal en in love with Stefan for his poetic soul, for his gentleness. Damon was the dangerous one. Dangerous looks much better on Damon than it does on Stefan, a dry observing voice at the back of her mind said, and Elena couldn't deny the truth of it.
"Just show me what you wanted me to see," she final y said.
Stefan sighed, then turned and led her up the drive of the Smal woods' house. She had expected him to go to the Smal woods' front door, but he cut around the side of the house and toward a smal shed in the backyard.
"The toolshed?" asked Elena quizzical y. "Do we have a lawn mowing emergency we need to address before breakfast?"
Stefan ignored her joke and went to the shed door. Elena noticed that a padlock that had held the double door shut had been wrenched apart, pul ed to pieces. A half loop of metal hung uselessly from the shackle. Stefan had clearly broken in earlier.
Elena fol owed him in. At first, after the dew-bright morning outside, she couldn't see anything in the dimness of the shed. Gradual y, she realized that the wal s of the shed were lined with loose papers. Stefan reached out and shoved the doors wider, letting the sunshine stream into the space.
Elena peered at the papers on the wal s and then stepped back with a sharp gasp: The first thing she had been able to make out was a picture of her own face. She yanked the paper off the wal and looked at it more closely. It was a clipping from the local paper, showing her dressed in a silver gown, dancing in Stefan's arms. The caption under the picture read: "Robert E. Lee High School prom queen Elena Gilbert and prom king Stefan Salvatore."
Prom queen? Despite the seriousness of the situation, her lips curled up in a smile. She real y had finished high school in a blaze of glory, hadn't she?
She pul ed another clipping from the wal and her face fel . This one showed a coffin carried through the rain by pal bearers, grim-faced mourners standing by. In the crowd, Elena recognized Aunt Judith, Robert, Margaret, Meredith, and Bonnie, lips set, cheeks streaked with tears. The caption here read: "Town mourns local high school student Elena Gilbert."
Elena's fingers tightened unconsciously, crumpling the clipping. She turned to look at Stefan. "This shouldn't be here," she said, a note of hysteria creeping into her voice.
"The Guardians changed the past. There shouldn't be any newspaper articles or anything left."
Stefan stared back at her. "I know," he said. "I've been thinking, and the best guess I can make is that maybe the Guardians just changed people's minds. They wouldn't see any evidence of what we asked the Guardians to erase. They'd just see what supported their new memories, the memories of a normal smal town and of a bunch of ordinary teenagers. Just another school year."
Elena brandished the paper. "But then why is this here?"
Stefan dropped his voice. "Maybe it doesn't work on everybody. Caleb's got some notes scribbled in a notebook I found, and it seems from them as though he's remembering two different sets of events. Listen to this."
Stefan scrabbled through the papers littering the floor and pul ed out a notebook. "He writes: 'There are girls in town now that I know were dead. There were monsters here. The town was destroyed, and we left before they could get us too. But now I'm back and we never left, even though no one but me remembers. Everything's normal: no monsters, no death.'"
"Hmm." Elena took the notebook from him and scanned through the pages. Caleb had lists there. Vickie Bennett, Caroline, her. Al of them. Everyone who was different in this world than in the other one. There were notes about how he remembered them - how he thought Elena was dead and what was going on now. She turned a few pages, and her eyes widened. "Stefan, listen. Tyler told him about us: 'Tyler was afraid of Stefan Salvatore. He thought he kil ed Mr. Tanner and that there was something else strange about him, something unnatural. And he thought Elena Gilbert and her friends were tangled up in whatever was going on.' And there's an asterisk referring back to Mr. Tanner being dead in one set of memories and alive in the other." Elena quickly scanned a few pages. "It looks like he focused in on us as the cause of the changes. He figured out we were at the center of everything. Because we're the people the most changed - other than the vampire and kitsune victims - and because he knew Tyler was suspicious of us, he's blaming us for Tyler's disappearance."
"Two sets of memories," Stefan repeated, frowning.
"What if Caleb's not the only one remembering both realities? What if supernatural beings, or people aware of the supernatural, weren't affected by the spel ?"
Elena froze. "Margaret - I wondered if she remembered something. She seemed so upset when she first saw me. Remember how she was afraid I was going to go away again? Do you think she's remembering me dying along with the memories the Guardians gave her?"
Stefan shook his head. "I don't know, Elena. Do you have any reason to think Margaret is anything other than a perfectly normal little girl? Little kids can be very dramatic without needing a reason. Margaret's got a lot of imagination."
"I don't know," Elena said in frustration. "But if the Guardians just covered over the old memories with new ones, that would explain why my old journal was stil hidden in my bedroom just where I left it, and everything that had happened up until I left home written in it. So you think that Caleb suspects something is going on because he is a werewolf after al ?"
"Look," Stefan said, gesturing around the shed. For the first time, Elena took in the whole scene and its implications. Pictures of her. Pictures of Bonnie and Meredith. Even pictures of poor Caroline, ranging from the haughty green-eyed debutante to a feral half monster, heavily pregnant with Tyler's... baby? Pup? Elena realized with a shock that she hadn't thought of Caroline in days. Was Caroline stil pregnant? Was she stil transforming into a werewolf because she was carrying Tyler's baby? There were, Elena remembered, an awful lot of werewolves in Fel 's Church. Powerful, important werewolves, and if that hadn't changed, and if the pack remembered everything, or enough of everything, then they were probably just biding their time.
There were not only clippings but original photographs around the room. She saw a picture taken through the boardinghouse window of herself leaning forward excitedly to talk to Meredith, who was caressing her deadly hunting stave. Based on her outfit, it had been taken right after they picked up Alaric and Celia. Caleb had been not only researching the two sets of memories over the last few months but also spying on Elena and her friends. Then she noticed something else. In the far corner on the floor was a huge bunch of roses. "What... ?" Elena said, reaching for them. And then she saw. A pentagram was drawn around the roses. And encircling the pentagram was a bunch of photographs: herself, Bonnie, Meredith, Matt, Stefan, Damon.
"Those are the same kinds of roses as the one Caleb gave you, aren't they?" Stefan asked softly. Elena nodded. They were perfect, delicate blooms in a dark luscious red that made her want to touch them.
"The rose that started it al ," she whispered. "It pricked Bonnie's finger, and her blood spel ed Celia's name. It must have come from here."
"Caleb isn't just a werewolf," Stefan said. "I don't know exactly what he did here, but it looks like pretty dark magic to me." He looked at her pleadingly. "I discovered it al yesterday," he continued. "I had to fight him, Elena. I know I scared you, but I had to protect you - and everyone else - from him."
Elena nodded, too stunned to speak. Now she understood why Stefan had acted the way he had. He thought she was in danger. But stil... she couldn't help feeling sick when she remembered the arc of Caleb's body as he was thrown. Caleb might have attacked them with dangerous magic, but his notes sounded confused and frightened. Elena and her friends had changed his world, and now he couldn't tel what was reality.
"We'd better pack up al of this and bring it back to the boardinghouse," she said briskly. "Are there more notebooks?" Stefan nodded. "Then we'd better look through them careful y. If he cast a spel on us - some kind of curse - it could stil be active, even though he's confined to the hospital for now. The spel he used might be in one of the notebooks, or at least we might find some kind of clue as to what it is and exactly what it's doing. And, hopeful y, how to reverse it."
Stefan was looking a little lost, his green eyes questioning. His arms were held out very slightly, as if he had been expecting her to embrace him and hadn't remembered to put them down when she hadn't. But for some reason she couldn't quite put her finger on, Elena couldn't bring herself to hug him. Instead, she looked away and said, "Do you have any plastic bags or anything in the car we can use to move it al ?"
P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com