~4~


~Chapter Four~


We found wonderland
You and I got lost in it (wonderland).

~Taylor Swift, Wonderland~


Place: 22 Broken Arrow Road
Mystic Falls, Virginia
Date: May 1994


Damon is a good cook.

Me, on the other hand?

I probably shouldn't even go near the microwave.

Which makes Damon's talent all the more impressive. And while I was grumpy that he exceled at something when I did not, that resentment disappeared when he places a stack of pancakes in front of me, garnished with berries and paired with a side of bacon.

For a moment, I hesitate. For whatever reason, when I think of pancakes, the frozen kind you shove into the toaster oven comes to mind. I hate those things. I don't know why, because I can't even remember eating them, but it's enough to make me reluctant to give Damon's homemade breakfast a fair chance.

He rolls his eyes at me. "You're still mad that I confiscated the skillet?"

"I'm not mad," I insist, turning my body away from him. "I'm offended that you somehow thought I was a walking fire hazard."

"You are." Damon deadpans, pushing the plate closer to me.

"Am not. And even if I was, I can handle a little fire." I sound overly confident. It's warranted, too, I just wish I had more than a gut feeling to back it up.

Surprisingly, Damon doesn't argue with me. "Probably, but I can't."

"No, I don't think you could," I quip, and I'm no longer trying to get as far away from him without getting up to leave the kitchen. I swivel back around, scooting my chair closer to the table.

Damon is sitting across from me, placemat bare save for a small glass filled to the brim with bourbon. "That's not dinner—are you secretly saying your food tastes like shit?"

"No, I'm not hungry at the moment, but if I was, I would eat because my pancakes are God's gift to the world."

"I thought you were God's gift to the world."

He smirks. "I am—only, I'm stuck here with the only person who can't admit it."

"I don't think it's morally acceptable to lie," I pick my fork up, stick my tongue out at him, before giving in and taking a small bite of the meal Damon not-so-graciously prepared.

Fuck. They are good.

It doesn't erase my previous feelings about frozen pancakes, but I see now that this recipe is on a completely different level. I'm not going to tell him that, of course, but it's nice to know I won't starve to death with my new personal chef around. I won't accidentally give myself food poisoning, either though again, I will never tell him he's the better cook.

When I look over to him, strip of bacon in my hand, I notice that he's downed his drink and is preparing to get up to get another one. "You'll get drunk if you don't eat."

"I'll be fine," he calls over his shoulder, retreating to the other room to grab the bottle.

"Or you'll be completely sloshed," I snip.

"Either one is fine by me." he rejoins me at the table, taking a huge swig from what looks to be an almost empty container.

"How can you drink that and not get sick?" I ask, silently cursing the genuine curiosity in my tone.

Damon sets the bourbon down and regards me with an expression that is half amusement half sardonic. "I'm not a lightweight."

"According to you, you've only eaten handfuls of snacks from the store. How are you not even hungry?"

"I ate," he says, not offering any further explanation.

"When?"

"I had a midnight snack when I went out the other night."

I eye him skeptically. "Whatever. If you get too drunk to stand up, you can sleep on the couch down here. I'm not going to break my neck trying to carry you to your room."

"Boo. You suck the fun out of everything, Bon Bon."

"And you are a constant test of my patience—are we done stating the obvious?"

The glint in his eyes screams of an unspoken challenge. "Depends—are you going to tell me that those pancakes are the best thing you've ever put in your mouth?"

"Only because I don't remember putting anything else in my mouth," I shoot back, and when I hear the double-meaning in my words, I feel my face heat up. And then, when Damon gives me his famous smirk once again, I get defensive. "Oh, shut up! Why do you have to be such an asshole?"

"Because you make it so easy," he replies. "And fun."

"If you think embarrassing me is fun, then there's something wrong with you."

The level of arrogance in his voice goes up several notches. "If loving to tease you is wrong, I don't want to be right."

~~X~~

That night, instead of retiring to his room, Damon chooses to flop down on the sofa beside me, kick his feet up, and stretch his legs across my lap.

It takes me longer than should be acceptable to push him away. And, when he retaliates by putting his bare feet back in the same spot, I decide to just ignore him. All he wants is a reaction from me and I won't give him the satisfaction of letting him know he's bugging me.

Besides, Damon Salvatore makes a warm—and heavy—blanket.

"Put on Baywatch," he commands, attempting to wrestle the remote control from my hand when I bypass that channel completely.

I yank my arm out of his reach. "Haven't you seen that episode, like, five times already?"

"No."

I look at him, raising an eyebrow as if to say, "you expect me to believe that?"

He sighs. "Try four times."

"That's three times too many."

"No, it's four times too many," he corrects. "But there isn't anything better on."

"What about this?" I ask, pointing to the TV.

A blonde girl is eating pancake after pancake. She can't stop, and she talking to her cat, an all-black feline with glowing eyes. And he talks back to her. Something about this show seems appropriate—Damon seems to agree, because while he makes an agitated face, mouth twisted into an odd frown, I can see the smile fighting its way through.

"It figures you'd like this—Sabrina the Teenage Witch." He snorts derisively.

"What makes you say that?" I had meant to act outraged. Sadly, I know I truly want his honest response. He seemed so confident that I'd want to watch it, though neither of us have seen it before—at least, I think we haven't. I did have to check the TV guide booklet to get the show's name.

Damon shrugs loftily. "I don't know. It just gives off a Bonnie vibe."

"A Bonnie vibe?" I echo, puzzled.

"It looks like it would be something you'd like. Don't ask me why—it just does."

"Well, we can't watch it now," I decide, flipping to the next station.

"Why not?"

"Because." I say. "If I do end up liking it, I'll never hear the end of it."

This time, we land on a movie—another TV guide consultation lets us know that it's called The Bodyguard. And, according to the brief description in the magazine, it's not something Damon would like, which makes me want to watch it even more.

I like the plotline, but an irritated Damon is icing on the cake.

"I bet you can't watch this entire thing," I tell him.

"I hate you," he mutters, but a smile cracks across his face and it's clear he is just joking.

But I want to make sure anyway. "why?"

"Because now I have to watch it," Damon explains as if I should already know his reasoning.

"Why?"

"To prove you wrong."

I grin triumphantly. "But what if that's what I want you to do?"

"Doesn't matter," he says. "I can't let you be right about something—it's sacrilegious."

"You poor thing," I pout, tone of voice mocking. "It must be so tough to be such an arrogant prick all the time."

"I wouldn't know about that, but I can tell you that being this fucking amazing is exhausting. Especially when it's not appreciated."

"Whatever."

And our conversation halts—just like that. I'm silent as I try to follow the story—having missed the first ten minutes of the film. Damon is quiet for the most part, too. Only commenting on something when he thinks the dialogue is cheesy or the scene contrived. He even waits until a commercial break to bring me a bowl of ice cream. My movie-viewing partner must have taken my concerns to heart earlier because he made himself one, too.

Sure, his sundae is more whipped cream than anything else—something he makes lewd remarks about—but it makes me feel good to see that he at least tried to listen to me.

It's even easy to ignore the pointed way he shoves a spoonful into his mouth.

My joy on the subject, however, doesn't seem rational. Of course, Damon would listen to what I had to say—I'm the only other person here. We've been stuck in Mystic Falls for a few days now, and we've yet to see anyone new emerge from the cookie-cutter houses that line the block.

Except, I don't get the sense that whoever was in my life before this, actually considered my opinions or feelings. It's so unpleasant that I squirm a little, elbow bumping in to Damon's side.

When his face registers the pain, he looks more agitated than hurt. But then he looks at me, and I must look pretty weirded out, because he's anger subsides, and he regards me with confusion and worry. "What's your deal?"

"I don't know," I answer truthfully. "I just got a strange feeling."

He nods in understanding. "I've felt like that all day."

"Damn it!" I slump my shoulders in defeat.

"You know, for someone who prides themselves on being a good person, you can quite be hurtful."

"It's not you," I clarify. "I just wanted to blame it all on your pancakes."

"Rude."

"Self-centered."

"It's called self-confidence."

I groan. Honestly, how can someone be so full of themselves all the time? "It's called delusion."

"Oh Bonnie," he shakes his head, tongue clicking against his teeth. "It's only a matter of time before you drop the charade."

"Thinking you're an asshole isn't a charade," I insist petulantly, turning back to the movie, bowl balancing on Damon's legs, arms crossed over my chest.

Neither of us say anything for a while, and I'm actually watching the movie. Damon isn't really doing the same—every so often he'll make a noise or poke me in the ribs, trying to cajole me into breaking the strange quiet that permeates the living room.

I maintain my resolve and am able to do so until the credits roll. Damon, annoyed that nothing he did over the course of the past ninety minutes, seemed to bother me, swipes a finger through the whipped cream (he got a second helping when he was only halfway through eating the first one), and puts it on my nose.

Frustrated, I grab a tissue from the box on the coffee table. "Real mature, Salvatore."

"I'm too old to care about my maturity level."

"You're in your twenties," I say wryly. "That's not exactly ancient."

"I don't know how old I really am," he retorts, rolling his eyes.

"You know you have a brother out there somewhere, but you don't remember your age?"

Damon laughs. Loudly, a deep belly laugh that I don't find all that warranted. "That's rich, coming from the person who doesn't know anything about herself."

"Not true—I know my name and I know I think you're annoying—always have."

"That's so sweet Bon Bon, really, I'm touched. But I'm tired—it's late and I need my beauty rest. Feel free to complement me in the morning, though. It'll make up for your lack of breakfast-making skills."

He pats me atop the head, ruffling my hair. I bat his hand away but grab ahold of his wrist. before he can pull away completely. Sleep hasn't really been all that wonderful for me the past couple of nights. Actually, it took a turn for the worse when Damon told me he left in the middle of the night without my knowledge. I'd sooner yank my own teeth out of my skull than tell Damon Salvatore I really do feel safer with him in the next room.

That would be admitting I had been wrong—and he was totally right.

The mere thought of the embarrassment such an admission would cause makes me want to crawl under a rock and die.

But he knows something is up. It's made obvious by how tightly I'm gripping his arm, unwilling to let go, to be alone down here until I get too sleepy to be alert.

"What?" he asks, voice dripping with all kinds of arrogance and snark. "Do you want to come with me?"

I drop his wrist like he burned me. "No—I don't want you messing my hair up."

"But it looks cute like that," he protests.

"Well, I think you're cuter when you don't speak, but that never happens."

"If you change your mind," he starts, still smug. "You know where to find me."

"Trust me," I mutter under my breath as he walks away. "I won't come looking."

He leans over the bannister, and I don't need to look at his face to know he's smiling. "You want to bet?"

I should probably be concerned about the competitive nature Damon brings out in me, but I try not to think about the effect he has on me.

Okay, so I can't come up with a reason for it—and trust me, I've considered every avenue. And what scares me is not the way I react to him—not really—it's how I feel when I respond that's worrisome. And I'm not sure why I feel so conflicted by it either.

That's probably the worst part about it.

But I still reply with, "oh, I do."

"Winner gets to be in charge of the remote for a week," he sets the rules as if he's spent a great deal of time figuring them out.

Also, I'm kind of surprised that the reward for winning has a timetable attached to it. While we can clearly see the days turning into nights, that we try to mark the passage of time with a tally mark system scrawled onto that note we found, it's still hard to keep it all straight. We'd forgotten to make a tally a few times, so our calendar isn't as accurate as it should be.

If that's why Damon chose that parameter, he doesn't say. But I know he's banking on me losing track of the days we spend here. Well, he's going to be shocked when he loses and has to sit through all kinds of romantic movies and TV shows.

"It's a deal," I say with a nod.

"I knew it would be," he replies.

Then, I hear the door to the master bedroom close, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I keep the television on, returning to the late-night marathon of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

I lean back against the couch, pulling a red throw pillow close to my chest. I mostly focus on what's happening in the main character's life, but every so often, the movement of the blue light on the walls catches my eye.

It's just the TV, I reassure myself. Only, the way the blue cast dances across the walls and floor doesn't match the changes playing out on the screen. My intuition tells me that Damon and I are being spied on, but we've yet to see another human being in the neighborhood—and I reluctantly followed him the last time he left (mid-day—he's very secretive about his midnight outings) to search through the other homes on our street.

Not a single soul was spotted—not even a squirrel or rabbit.

But it doesn't feel like a trick of the eyes and I can't shake the ominous thought that something very weird is going on in Mystic Falls.


In an effort to cut down on our bickering over what to watch after we eat dinner, I suggest breaking out some of the board games I found in a random closet I had been trying to organize. At first, all I saw was mountains of old books, spines thick and large with strange lettering on them. There were stacks of them; each one just as voluminous as the last. If I had to guess, I'd say every single one is made up of at least a thousand pages.

Yellowing, crinkled sheets of paper, the front covers dusty and adorned with colorful jewels and initials written in beautiful, cursive atop the very first page. The one I opened had the letters E.A.B. and S.L.B. written in the upper corner. I didn't read any further, though. There was so much dust on the book that I sneezed and coughed, effectively ending whatever spark of curiosity I felt before it had time to grow.

I did, however, leave them on the middle shelf, just in case I got bored and needed something new to do. I liked reading, something I discovered on one of the nights I was too keyed up to go to bed. I enjoy it so much that I've almost finished the books that make up the small library in my bedroom.

And every time I go near the closet, my fingers itch, the urge to spend the rest of the day combing through the pages of the book I had opened before both overwhelming and creepy.

That's also the main reason we played Monopoly—I glance at the crappy, hand-written chart sitting beside me—the last three evenings. I, being too apprehensive to retrieve a box myself, decided to let Damon be in charge of picking the game. So, because he's a complete asshole, he gets a thrill out of stealing money from the bank when he thinks I'm not looking.

"Ready to lose again, Bennett?" he asks, entering the dining room with the dreaded board game in his hands.

I narrow my eyes at him. "Nope—get a new game. I'm tired of your cheating—no one lands on Boardwalk and Park Place every time they play."

"You're such a sore loser," he grumbles. And surprisingly, he doesn't argue with me. He turns around and goes back to the closet.

When he returns, he slams Clue onto the table, leaving me once more to get his nightly glass of bourbon. I place the board on the center of the table. Then, just so he can't accuse me of peeking at the cards I set them aside until he comes back.

"That was easier than I thought," I remark, handing him half of the cards to shuffle, along with a little pencil and a record sheet.

"What was easier than you thought?"

"Getting you to pick another game."

"Monopoly was getting boring," he states, writing his name on the bottom of his paper. "I also thought you'd stop accusing me of cheating if I ended up kicking your ass on a game of deduction."

"That's all?" I eye him skeptically. Damon looks tired, like he hasn't slept well either. He probably doesn't have the energy to put up a fight.

"Yes, mom. That's it—I'm not letting the cool kids pressure me. I saw the frying pan commercial—drugs are bad."

I don't know how to respond to that. I'm not being nosy—I'm just expressing friendly concern. I have this innate feeling that I'm supposed to protect someone, and seeing as Damon is my only company, all my odd, unwarranted worry is put squarely on him.

When he sees my dumbfounded expression, his face softens. "Sorry… I'm just hangry."

"We ate dinner forty minutes ago."

"I know," he doesn't offer any further explanation, so I drop it. There's no use in bombarding Damon with questions—if he wanted to tell me more, he would.

Besides, I'm not all that sure I want the whole picture anyway.

~~X~~

We play until the sky darkens and we have to turn on the light on the ceiling fan to see what is in front of us.

"Why don't we pick this up again tomorrow?"

I frown at him. "Is this because I'm winning?"

"No," he says, smirking. "I just need some fresh air. I'll be back in an hour."

"Where are you going?"

"That's for me to know and you to dot, dot, dot." Damon quips, standing up and grabbing his leather jacket from the peg by the front door.

"I don't care that much," I tell him, knowing it doesn't sound that way.

"I'll come home if anything bad happens," he assures me, coming back over to me. He leans on the table, face now inches from mine. "I promise."

Well, I don't know how he'll be alerted to this hypothetical danger, but I believe him. I'm also a little to distracted to consider the logistics, because I'm caught up on the way my stomach flip-flopped when he said the word "home."

"… You better," I say finally, bristling at the obvious tension in the air.

Aside from the heavy onslaught of emotions, I'm also bothered by the feeling we are being observed again. I hadn't gotten that sense in days and it suddenly came back with a vengeance when Damon mentioned leaving the house.

"I will—I don't want to face your wrath, Bennett. You are a pain in the ass when your angry."

"Am not!"

"Are, too." With that, he backs away, heading for the door.

I stay right where I am for a few minutes, staring out the window idly, trying to tell myself that if someone else is really hanging around this tiny town with us, we would've run into them by now.

But, as logical as that sounds, it isn't the least bit comforting.

So, I decide I need to stop allowing my imagination to run away from me, that I should take advantage of Damon's absence and read in peace and quiet. It works for a bit, but my dark thoughts rear their ugly head again before my best—and only—friend gets back.

I'm curled up in bed, underneath my favorite blanket, reading a dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights (of which I only have two chapters to go), when I am startled by the sound of something falling off a shelf and crashing onto the floor.

I jump, losing my grip on the book. It slips out of my hands and ends up on the ground beside my bed, cover up, and current page lost amongst the others.

Chill Bonnie—it's probably the wind. Or maybe the house is settling.

I wish I could relax, but my fight-or-flight instinct has kicked in. I suppress my desire to run to my bedroom door, to lock it and barricade myself inside, maybe take up refuge in my walk-in closet while I wait out my fear, praying for the brief commotion to be caused by Damon carelessly knocking something over upon entering the house.

Only, it can't be him. If it was, he'd have called my name by now—probably have even barged in here unannounced, demanding that I entertain him until he feels like going to his own room.

Crash!

I flinch, shrinking against the upholstered bedframe, before gathering all my courage to get up and investigate. Taking several deep, calming breaths, I open the door, forging my way downstairs, head swiveling form left to right, body poised to attack if I encounter a threat.

The living room is perfectly empty, not a single thing out of place. Nothing is lying on the floor, the pictures are still mounted on the wall, the remote and tissue box are still on the coffee table. Nothing appears to be broken on the bulbous television or the wooden entertainment center it sits on.

Same thing with the kitchen—the pots and pans are still hanging above the island, there aren't any broken plates on the floor, no cracked glasses or mugs to be found. All the appliances are plugged in but turned off—except for the fridge.

The game board and its pieces are exactly as I left them, something I check three times before I exit the dining room, turning the light back on and heading for the stairs. I grab the lone purple umbrella sitting in the rack just outside the archway before I go upstairs—just to be safe.

I check the bathroom first, taking a sweeping look around, opening the linen closet. Once I'm satisfied that only towels and toiletries are inside, I shut the closet door with my foot and walk to Damon's room.

It's clean—save for a pair of boots sitting on the floor and an unmade bed, the white-and-orange comforter pushed all the way back, exposing the soft, pastel orange sheets underneath. I take a small step inside, listening for that crashing sound, searching for anything that may have fallen.

"What are you doing?"

I jump again, frightened, dropping the umbrella and whirling around toward the sound of the voice.

Of course, I register the fact that it is Damon before my eyes land on him—I'd know his voice anywhere, as he is the only person I have to talk with. Relief floods over me, but embarrassment follows on its heels.

Here I am, acting like an umbrella-wielding lunatic, when Damon emerges from the bathroom, tossing his coat on the foot of his bed.

He's cool, calm, and collected.

And less tired, it seems. The exhaustion I noticed earlier is gone, a fresh, energized expression in its place—along with that stupid, shit-eating grin.

"Scared of something?" Damon presses when I don't reply.

"I thought you were an intruder!" I exclaim, irritated. "What happened to letting your roommate know that you are home?"

He shrugs nonchalantly. "I thought surprising you would be funnier—and I was right."

"It's not!" I huff angrily.

"That's a matter of opinion," he retorts with a laugh.

"I'm going to walk away now," I tell him, backing out of the room.

"And I'll meet you in the living room—it's my turn to pick the movie."

"Oh joy," I mutter, rolling my eyes.

"I know—this time, it won't suck!"

"That's a matter of opinion," I call over my shoulder, as I enter the hall.

But at this second, I'm too happy to see Damon to actually form a legitimate opinion on anything.