~5~


~Chapter Five~


(When) When I was younger (when I was young) so much younger than today
(I never need) I never needed anybody's help in any way
(Now) But now these days are gone (these days are gone) and I'm not so self-assured

~The Beatles, Help!~


I feel as though I might have entered another dimension when I find my mother standing by the island, elbows propped on the white countertop.

I had just turned around from getting a cup of yogurt from the refrigerator, and she is one of the last people I'd expect to be home at this time. I check the clock on the oven and see that it's already five past nine in the morning—on a Wednesday, at that. Abby Bennett should be at the museum delegating which unlucky guide has to take to take the kids from space camp on a tour.

And I'm supposed to attempt to eat something, before wallowing in self-loathing, while somehow trying to convince myself that I shouldn't (can't) be scared to go see Amelia by myself. That I've had far more experience at being rational than Damon, who can't come with me because he has a checklist of things he needs to get done before his looming departure.

Things that I encouraged him to do on his own, because if I'm along for the ride, it'll take much longer than it would if he were alone. We'll end up bickering over something, then laughing, only to realize we've wasted a solid thirty minutes on completing a task that really could've been taken care of either of our ways.

And, well… I thought spending time apart would prepare me for later on, but I'm kicking myself for it now. What if something goes wrong when I'm alone with her? What if something goes wrong and I'm not with her?

If something terrible happens and I miss out on being with her because I'm a neurotic basket case that can't get her shit together.

On top of that unending conundrum, I now have to deal with half of the anti-Bonnie fan club.

"Mom, what are you doing here?"

"I live here, Bonnie."

Not really, I think. I live here. Alone most of the time—and this includes before I blew up the massive amount of trust you had in me. "I know, but—" I turn back to the fridge, take the memo pad off the door, and show it to her. "It says right here—Wednesday, 8:30—Mom needs to be at work for the space camp field trip."

"Phyllis offered to oversee it for me," she explains, waving her notes away.

Phyllis—my mother's best friend and co-worker. The woman I'm supposed to call in case of an emergency and Mom and Dad can't be reached. Really, I just always call her first, as it's more efficient that way. Or I used to—before I turned sixteen and got my driver's license. I haven't really needed her assistance since then. And the last two times I personally ended up in the hospital, Damon had been the one to call my parents.

And, who knows? He may have spoken with Phyllis first for all I know.

I grab a spoon and tear the lid off of my meager excuse for breakfast. I'm not all that hungry anyway. "That's nice of her… are you and Dad doing something?"

"No," she says, an edge in her voice.

"Oh… uh, what are you planning on doing?" I try to act as if I care, as if I'm not still hurt over her lukewarm reaction to Amelia, as if their visit weren't a pathetic attempt at extending an olive branch.

She sounds a little unsure of herself when she answers. "Hanging out with you, I hope—you and Damon aren't going out?"

Well, seeing as he isn't here (which he typically is when Abby and Rudy are out), and our "going out" lately has mostly just been to the NICU, occasional dinner date aside, that's a definite no. She knows it, too. She's just looking for a plausible reason for why I would decline—one that doesn't involve the giant crater that's always been the center point of our relationship.

"He's running errands today," I say casually, not wanting to put an ounce of emotion into my reply.

"That's nice," she sounds much happier now. "I mean, that leaves time for us to do something together."

I cringe inwardly. Mom's never been one to wallow, and I've really taken to it. "Mom…"

"You have every right to be upset with me, Bonnie Bear—with both of us—but we're trying. I promise we are! We want to make things better."

I sigh, "it's not you…" and in a very un-Bonnie-like way, add, "it's not just you and Dad, I mean."

"You're not mad at us anymore?" she asks hopefully.

"I am," I state flatly. "I'm just…" tired, scared, sad, anxious, unsure. "I'm staying strong—that's what you guys told me to do when Grams died; that's what I'm doing now."

"That's not fair—you know we didn't mean it like that. You were fifteen, Bonnie. You were capable of understanding what we intended to say."

"I don't know how to handle this, Mom. I want to scream and cry and then, I don't feel like it. And, when I finally do, I can't control myself. So, this is what you get."

She pauses. "… That's normal, you know."

"I know. That is what all the brochures tell me."

"You can't control everything, sweetie," she reaches out to me. I don't take her hand, but I don't move back either.

Mostly because the part of me that isn't hyper-sensitive feels like a zombie.

"You sound like Damon," I force myself to finish the yogurt, twirling my spoon around the empty container when I'm done.

"How are you two?"

"As good as can be expected, I guess." I keep my eyes on the counter.

"No, I mean, as a couple… how are you two in that respect?"

"Great," I answer. And that single word has more emotion in it than anything I said prior.

"You like him a lot."

I feel like she missed her opportunity to have this conversation with me, but I find myself speaking aloud before I actually know how I want to respond. "I do."

"You guys are being safe, right?"

My cheeks flush. She's entirely to late on that one. "Mom! Seriously?"

"I'm just checking… I'm sure you two have spent the night together when your father and I are away for a trip." Oddly, she doesn't sound accusatory nor is she expressing disapproval… Abby sounds genuinely interested in the goings on of my life.

If only it wasn't an aspect of my life that I still wanted to avoid discussing with her.

"That's not really a priority right now," I huff irritably.

"Oh."

I don't tell her that it's mainly because I haven't gone to the doctor since that ill-fated day I helped Elena. I hardly think she cares about the why as it is. I'm also still a little freaked out she's bothered to talk with me for as long as she has.

"Do you want to talk about why you seem so forlorn, then? Amelia's still doing well, I thought."

"Not really," I mumble.

"Okay… well, I want to go out to lunch," she stops to see if I'll take the bait and ask to go with her before she has to ask me. "Would you like to come with me?"

No. Though, somehow I don't think that's an option. She has that look in her eyes—the one she reserves for when she's working. The expression that says, "I'm in charge here." Grams had the ability to do it, too. However, she only pulled it out when I threw a tantrum or if she truly and passionately believed in something.

I've seen her use it far more than I saw Mom try the same tactic—somehow, it meant something else to me entirely when my grandmother did it.

"Okay, I'll go, but I want to try to make it to the hospital by two-thirty." It's weird how much harder it is to mope when you're faced with a much scarier, more undesirable scenario.

Because, despite all the turmoil, being with Amelia is all I truly want to do.

"Great!" my mother claps her hands together, like she's just sealed a business contract. "If we leave the house by eleven-thirty, we should make it to the NICU in plenty of time."

We? I furrow my brows. Out of all the twists the universe could have thrown my way, that one is the least likely. And I really don't know what to think about it. It seems stupid to think it will be any different than last time or the time before that or all the times she awkwardly declined my invitation.

"I don't know. You seemed uncomfortable the other day—are you serious about going with me or is it something else?"

"What else could I be?"

I study her face, searching for a grimace, watching to see if she averts her gaze or fiddles with the pendant around her neck.

Not a single movement is made—not even a twitch or a blink.

"Listen, Mom. I'm not kidding, I feel like crap. If you're going to make this harder than it needs to be—"

"I won't!" she cuts me off, there's a certain insistence I haven't heard from her before. About anything. "Give me another chance."

I tell myself that I'm only agreeing because I'm tired of talking in circles, saying the same thing over and over again to someone who probably won't listen to me anyway. "Okay, you can come."

"Thank you, Bonnie Bear." Abby walks around the island and wraps me in a hug I awkwardly return. "You won't be disappointed. I promise."

I remember all those times when I was younger, when she would say she'd play with me, only to have her rush to the museum when someone called her with the smallest issues. Dropping me off at Elena's house and kissing me goodbye as if I'd forget about how she couldn't spend time with me. Again. What I can't recall is the exact moment I stopped believing it. And I assumed most people did the same thing. It took Grams months of promising she'd pick me up from school or bake cookies with me—showing up on-time, every single time—before I realized promises actually meant something.

They just didn't mean anything to Abby and Rudy Bennett.

But Grams voice echoes in my ears, as if she were standing next to me, giving me words of wisdom. "You have to let me show you that I'll always be here for you—and I will be. Always. Nothing will ever change that."

I know Grams would want me to try to let my mother in, because she was also a big proponent of being the best you can be, even if others don't do the same, but I also don't want to add more sorrow to a situation that feels like it's making me unravel from the inside out.

Only, I never really understood how important everything Grams had told me is. Oftentimes, I would end up brushing her advice off, not really sure anything in my life would go as deep as her words did.

Boy, I was sorely mistaken.

"Okay, Mom." I say, giving her a pat on the back.

I can't bring myself to tell Abby that I believe her. I wish I could, as it would relieve some of the tension between us. And, if I only had to worry about myself, the words would fall so easily from my lips; I wouldn't think twice about it.

"Don't worry—I'm fine."

"Really, it's okay, how do you need me to help?"

"Don't worry about it—there wasn't a problem."

It used to be so simple. Those are my stock answers for when anyone needed anything from me. Because I'd much rather be reliable than the one who needs to rely on people. You don't get hurt that way.

The only one I've been able to be semi-open with is Damon, but he's also the only other person who I trust, and who understands the true gravity of everything we've been through.

Together.

I never thought I'd have someone directly by my side when the going got tough, and it's so amazing to have that kind of support, inviting others into my world is just asking for trouble. Especially since the person asking for trust is my mom—but, someday, Amelia might need her for something.

So, I won't burn that bridge completely—no matter how much I think I should. I can't deny Amelia the chance to have a relationship with her grandmother like I had with mine.

That's why I'm doing it—and it'll be enough to get me through a painful lunch date, perhaps it would even make my visit with Amelia less daunting—because if I over-think it all, I might not ever pluck up the courage to see her without Damon.


Abby has decided she wants to take me to the Grille. I'm not sure why at first, as the atmosphere and menu doesn't appeal to her, but then she says it's because I love onion rings so much. I was too taken aback by her explanation, that I fell silent, mulling over her words while she made the short drive to Mystic Falls most popular bar and only restaurant that isn't part of a chain.

I am still pinned back by the seatbelt when my mother parks the car and gets out, patiently waiting for me to join her.

She comes over to the passenger's side and opens my door. "You okay in there, sweetie?"

"How'd you know I like onion rings so much?" The question would probably sound silly to an outside observer, but my mom hates to cook and isn't a huge fan of takeout. That coupled with her frequent absences means that she's never had that great of an idea of what foods I love and which ones I hate.

She gives me a funny look. "You left a receipt on the table awhile back—it said you bought three orders of them one day. I was going to ask you if that's all you ate, but I forgot about it. Knowing what I know now, I'm guessing it was a pregnancy craving."

"You'd be right," I admit, cringing.

"… And I also figured it would be a good conversation-starter."

I'm puzzled. Since when did she care about anything to do with that time in my life? "Oh…"

At least she's trying… I tell myself, but it doesn't really reassure me that much.

"We should be open with each other, I think. All of us—your father included. And to do that, we need to be able to communicate."

"About onion rings?"

"No," she laughs. "About everything that's going on with our family."

Okay, that's new verbiage. "You and Dad want to be more open with me?"

"Yes," she says earnestly. "We do."

"Since when?" I ask, finally climbing out of the minivan.

"For awhile now. We're just on different pages on how to go about it."

"Really?" I don't know what else to say, how to respond to that, because it certainly doesn't look, sound, or feel that way most of the time.

I can still hear the whispered disagreements that have at night when they think I've gone to sleep. What they've yet to acknowledge are two very important things:

One, the walls are—and always have been—paper-thin.

And two, since that scare at the hospital what decent sleep I've been able to get has all but disappeared. I'm worried about how many times I'll see that scene play out in my dreams, how it will feel like my heart stopped, only to wake up feeling like I've run a marathon.

It's so awful that I'm beginning to wish they would leave me by myself again, so Damon could come over, and we could fall asleep to one of his nightmare-inducing horror film picks, Star Trek, or my personal favorite: The Bodyguard.

But their memos haven't included any business-related trips or romantic getaways, so that isn't exactly a viable scenario. Dad wouldn't go for it. And Mom… well, I don't know what's going on with her.

"Really." She takes my hand, pulling me across the lot toward the front of the restaurant.

The Grille is busy.

Not jam-packed, but the seats at the bar are filled and the section closest to the pool table only has two booths and a single table available. My classmates make up three-quarters of the crowd. I see some people who graduated with me, like Camille O'Connor and some of Klaus's friends, but no one I really spoke with on a regular basis. And farther away, at the tiny table Enzo and I occupied all those months ago, are Jeremy and Anna.

I'm glad to see that they're still going strong, that the boy I think of as a little brother looks so happy. He's grinning from ear to ear, holding his girlfriend's hand, listening intently as she tells him something.

But I don't feel joy in the way I usually do—it doesn't give me a sense of contentment that it once did. Seeing my friends in such a good mood means a lot to me, but… I don't feel it as strongly as I thought I might.

I care, but I'm also forlorn. Damon and I haven't been able to have a relaxed night like that since the time we ran into Elena and Stefan. It feels so wrong to be happy when our world could come crashing down on us.

"Bonnie, we're going this way." My mother tugs on my arm.

I turn to see her following the hostess to a booth on the other side of the room. I forget about my listlessness for a moment to give myself time to catch up to them. In the few seconds it took for Mom to alert me to the fact that we were being seated, they had already made it to the table.

Once I make it over to her, thank the hostess for the menu, and slide into the upholstered bench, Abby looks up at me, sliding her own menu to the end of the table.

When she doesn't look away, I decide it might be best if I made small talk. That's the only kind of talk we are good at having. "Did you figure out what you're going to order?"

"Roasted brussels sprouts," she tells me, smiling wistfully.

I wrinkle my nose in distaste. Grams always tried to get me to try them—just once—but I refused. They looked weird and smelled funny. "You like brussels sprouts?"

"Yes—you grandmother made them for dinner all the time when I was younger. I used to hate them, but one day, I finally gave in and ate a few and then I ate Marshall's and Calla, who was pregnant with Emily at the time, gave me her helping and…" she shrugs. "I've always been a terrible cook, so I haven't had them… well, since Grams passed away."

"She always told me I'd like them," I admit, "but… she never convinced me to eat one."

"That doesn't surprise me—you've always had a secret stubborn streak.

I give her a wry look. Before now, she told all of her friends how agreeable I am, bragged to Uncle Marshall when Sasha was grounded for something as funny as accidently pressing the alarm button on her keys, letting the whole block that she'd snuck out after her curfew.

"Bonnie has never done anything like that," she'd say. "She's too level-headed for that."

"Not about everything," she explains hastily. "Just the things you're passionate about… the things you really want—like Whitmore."

I turn my attention to the menu, pretending to seriously consider all the options even though my stomach is still in knots—I don't even think I'd be able to enjoy an order of onion rings, which will probably disappoint my mother.

"And Amelia."

My head snaps up, and I study my mom suspiciously. She's always had a problem with being direct. Her words often made me dizzy as my thoughts circled around, trying to grasp what she was trying say.

Today, though, she's pulling no punches.

I shut my menu, placing it on top of hers. "I couldn't be anything else—I tried. But you know that. You've known it for about as long as I have."

"I don't know where you got that other trait from," Abby says, shaking her head from side to side, her curls falling in front of her eyes.

"What trait?"

"You're such a people-pleaser, Bonnie Bear, you are always so concerned about anyone else—I've yet to meet another eighteen-year-old who puts everyone else first all the time. My mom… she was helpful, but you take it to the extreme."

I frown—that doesn't sound like a compliment. My mom, with her business-chic attire and work-oriented mind thinks about how she can reach her goals, implements her ideas, and doesn't worry herself with the collateral damage.

"Everyone has limits, Bonnie, even you—but you spent three going along with our plans without saying anything about doing anything different."

"It didn't matter, then."

"But why?"

Because you never asked or sat down to talk to me about it, because you weren't there for me to approach you, because a biophysics degree from Yale seemed like the only thing you cared about. "… I don't know."

"I think Damon helped you figure it out," she muses thoughtfully.

"We weren't exactly responsible about anything," I point out.

The waitress, Pam, stops by our table and asks what we want to drink.

"Coffee, please." Mom answers.

"Just water—" I say quietly. "No lemon, please."

"Are you ready to order food?"

Mom says she wants brussels sprouts and I reluctantly place an order for onion rings. My stomach churns when I say the words.

Pam takes our menus and promises to return shortly. Abby continues speaking, as if we never paused to deal with something else. "No, but that doesn't mean you can't be. And I think it ultimately forced you to make a plan. You; not me or Dad or even Elena or Caroline."

Yeah, because that worked out so well.

She sees that I'm not swayed by her explanation. "Your father and I are starting to see that we may have handled things… too harshly. And we're working on not acting that way, but you have to understand, babies are such hard work, honey. We just wanted the best for you."

"I'm not mad at you because you were disappointed. Not even because you were mad at me—I get that. But I don't know what I'm doing, and I thought Damon and I would get the hang of it before he left… and I'm starting to think she won't come home before he has to go."

And, you know, she could've died when her lung collapsed, but I keep reminding myself that she's been okay since she had that procedure.

"How about we try to figure it out together—the four of us?"

My immediate instinct is to tell her no, that I should do it on my own, that expecting Dad to tolerate my boyfriend is asking for far too much.

However, I'm saved from voicing my thoughts when Pam comes back, carrying a tray of drinks in one hand, a waiter trailing behind her with our food.

Thankfully, Mom seems to forget about our conversation when she gets her brussels sprouts. She takes one, pushing her plate my way. "Try one."

And, instead of declining vehemently, I pick up a sprout and pop it into my mouth.