"Could I get the blueberry pancakes please, Elena," said Stefan as he squinted at her name badge.
"Anything to drink?" she said tapping her pen against her notepad.
"An orange juice please."
"I'll be right back with that." She smiled at him before turning on her heel and walking towards the counter.
Stefan reclined back into his seat and tapped his slender fingers against his jean clad thigh. His pocket vibrated. "Damon," he said pressing the phone to his ear.
"Where are you brother?" he replied.
"I can see that. Where have you gone?"
"Somewhere you wouldn't think to look," replied Stefan. A steaming plate of pancakes was placed in front of him along with a cold glass of orange juice. "Thank you," he said to Elena. She nodded at him before she turned on her heel and walked towards a couple who were entering the café.
"Where are you brother?" repeated Damon.
"I thought you'd be happy I left."
"Let's get one thing clear. I'll never be happy, you've ensured that. What made the pain easier to live with was watching you serve your punishment. You can't do that if you're not here. So tell me, brother, where are you?" Damon's words came out more as a growl and were heavily laced with malice.
"What we're doing, it's not healthy."
"It might not be, but it's making me feel a whole of a lot better," said Damon.
"Use my absence as a chance to move on. I won't come back, I won't contact you for anything. I'm giving you a chance at the life you were supposed to live."
"You robbed me of the life I was supposed to live!"
"I cannot spend my whole life atoning for that," said Stefan a little louder than he meant. The family of four on the table beside his stared at him wide eyed. He shot them an apologetic look before covering his mouth with his hand. "Goodbye brother."
"For now," said Damon. "Because I will find you."
Stefan placed the phone on the table and removed the back. He slipped out the sim card before snapping it in half and replacing it with a new one. He slipped the phone back into his pocket before taking a fork to his pancakes.
He managed two bites before his stomach refused to let him consume anymore. He picked up the glass of orange and tipped half down his throat before he set it down. A low rumbling sound caught his attention. He looked out the window to see a boy, who couldn't have been much older than him, parking a blue motorbike into available space beside Stefan's black truck. The boy pulled off a black helmet revealing a bed of unruly brown curls. He swung his legs off the bike, tucked the helmet beneath his armpit and strode into the café.
His eyes scanned the room before he settled on Elena leaning against the counter. "Hey," he said stooping to envelope her in a hug.
"Matt," she said with a grin. She punched his shoulder playfully when he toyed with her brunette locks. "I thought you weren't due back in town until Saturday."
"Plans change," he said with a tense smile. "Have you seen Jeremy?"
"He went down to the station, he said Alaric needed his help on some case," said Elena. "Are you hungry did you want me to get you something?" she jerked her thumb towards the kitchen.
"No I was just passing through; I'll see you later alright?" he tapped his hand against her shoulder before he left the way he came.
Elena raised her eyebrows before, slowly, as if she could feel Stefan's eyes on her, she turned to face him. "You don't like the pancakes?" she said her eyes drifting towards his plate.
"I'm not very hungry."
"You looked it when you came in," she said sliding into the seat across from him. "You don't mind do you?"
"No," said Stefan.
"You're new to town aren't you? I haven't seen you around before."
"I lived here when I was younger. My mother moved me and my brother away when my father died."
"I'm sorry," said Elena.
"Don't be," said Stefan. He titled the remainder of his orange juice down his throat. "Have you lived here all your life?"
"God no," she said. "I don't know how I would have survived if I did. Lumberton isn't exactly an evolved town. I moved down here after my aunt's husband died and she needed the help."
"Your parents didn't mind?"
"They've been dead for years," said Elena. "My brother Jeremy raised me the minute he turned eighteen. He moved down here too."
"I'm sorry," said Stefan.
"Don't be." The corners of her lips turned upwards in a small smile. "So, you here for a visit or back for good?" she peered over her shoulder when she heard the bell over the door ring, but turned her attention back to Stefan once she saw another waitress rush towards the two teen girls entering.
"Time will tell," replied Stefan. He glanced at his wrist. "Speaking of time, it was lovely to meet you but I have somewhere to be."
"Elena," she said sticking her hand out as he rose. "But you already knew that."
"Stefan," he replied taking her hand. It was smooth and warm. "You didn't know that."
"You're back Mr Salvatore," said Anna. She was curled up on a red sofa in the front room, holding a steaming cup of tea. "I didn't think you would make it home tonight."
"Home?" said Stefan.
"This could be your home if you wanted it to be," said Anna. She picked up the remote off the black table beside her and muted the TV. "I haven't forgotten all you have done for me this past year. Besides, I get lonely in this big house."
"Don't you have better company to keep than me?" said Stefan.
"If I find some, I'll let you know," she teased. Her smile dropped from her lips when she saw him grimace. "Come here," she said patting the empty space next to her. "Quickly, we haven't got all night."
"Sorry," said Stefan.
"Promise me something," said Anna. "Promise me, you'll let the past be the past."
"That's easier said than done."
"No, it's not. You just have to stop wallowing in self-pity. You screwed up. You know that, I know that, hell the whole of Westwood knows that. But it's been three years it's time to move on. Even if others can't. Besides, it's not as if anyone is going to find you here," said Anna.
"Damon said he's not going to stop until he finds me."
"Damon needs a hobby," said Anna. "Besides torturing you." The corners of her eyes crinkled as her mouth widened and she let out a small yawn.
"I'm keeping you up."
"I'm keeping myself up," said Anna. She glanced at the clock that hung over the brick fireplace. "I meant what I said about you making this your home. Although if you do decide you want this to be your home, I have some rules number one being no muddy shoes on my floors." She pointed at his feet. "The mop and bucket are under the stairs," she said as she gripped the sides of the chairs to hoist herself up. She gripped her brown walking stick before she limped towards the door. "Stefan?" she called. "You've paid the price for your crime, don't subject yourself to any more punishment. This is your chance to begin something new."
Stefan said nothing and instead gave Anna a tight nod. Once he heard the soft click of her bedroom door, he rose to his feet and approached the fireplace. Sitting in the centre, in a silver frame, was a picture of him, Damon, and Anna's son Tyler. It had been taken about four years ago on a trip to Lake Destra. It was the last photo they'd taken together as Tyler died a few weeks later. But Stefan couldn't feel guilty about that, it wasn't his fault Tyler died and for that he was thankful. Being the cause one person's death was hard enough to deal with, he doubted he would have been able to cope if he was to blame for another.