Epilogue Part 1: Brave New Girl

I've been working on this for years so I am finally posting it. Enjoy! Part 2 will be out on date TBD.

Thoughts flittered through her brain like butter, soft and dainty and light. She took a breath of the warm summer sun and swore she could feel it at the back of her throat. Sunlight filling her up with peace, and the warbling breeze dancing against her bare arms. She felt calm and ethereal here; propped up against the pillows of the double-seated garden swing, a journal spread open in her lap. Her feet were crisscrossed Indian-style underneath her, despite the fact that she was wearing a flimsy summer dress.

A sudden motion to her left caught her eye, and she swiveled around to see a little white dog racing toward her. She laughed.

"Hello," she cooed, and dropped her pen and leather-bound book in the seat. Abandoning it, she knelt on the grass as the puppy came toward her.

"And who might you be?" she giggled, scratching behind its ears as its tongue lolled out. The little huff-puff-puffing sounds made her smile wider. She just couldn't figure out where the little guy had come from. After all, it was hard to get through here…

Elena raised a hand to shield the dark lenses of her sunglasses, squinting around the garden as she crouched in the grass.

She could feel the green stains on her knees already, and she relished in them. They made her feel young and alive and immature. She knew it was okay to feel that way sometimes. Casting a glance back down at the puppy in her arms, she realized that he had stopped nuzzling her hand. Now his floppy white ears were pert, and the curlicue hairs seemed to stand on end as the doggie focused his attention across the yard.

"What's that?" Elena asked him softly. She knew full and well he couldn't answer, and wasn't surprised when the puppy chose to run off instead. She followed him without waiting to slide on her sandals, racing across the ground barefoot. A lone thorn, or rock, or sharp shred of wood cut into her. She gasped lowly but kept on.

Around the double-tiered fountain she chased the little dog, following him as he weaved between newly planted nursery trees and over flowerbeds. The scent of wet mulch filled her nostrils and the puppy kicked up a splash of dirt, his paws grabbling for traction amidst his run.

Just before completing his circle around the garden—by passing the large prune tree where they'd met—the dog stopped still. Elena slowed down too late and almost slipped on the wet grass, but she caught herself against the gate. The puppy pawed at it, whining feebly.

"Oh." Elena glanced up at the latched entrance. "So that's how you got in here . . ." The puppy kept yelping, standing on his hind legs and desperately scratching against the little wooden fence.

"Hey, don't worry," Elena consoled him, leaning down to scoop him up in her arms. The puppy wiggled to get into a better position, and with her other hand Elena unlatched the gate. She peered out onto the quiet street before her, unsure of what to do next. She'd never really learned the protocol for finding the owner of a lost pet, but she was sure that whomever this puppy belonged to had to be around here somewhere.

Barefoot and cautious, Elena stepped out onto the sidewalk. The bottoms of her feet were hot against the cement, and she wasn't sure quite where to go. She did a hesitant little hop in-place until she stepped over and onto the patch of grass beside the walkway. Her feet were cooled immediately by the remnants of water droplets from the night before.

Now what, she thought. There were several mailboxes lined neatly on the street. Some fallen newspapers were strewn casually across the lawn next door to hers, and of course there were a couple of middle-aged women dressed in workout gear chatting as they made their way down the block. A white Honda minivan was parked on the other side of the road, and a few birds chirped in the hum of the summer air.

The puppy wiggled in Elena's arms, interrupting her thoughts. She tried to shift him higher up on her shoulder, but he wouldn't stay, and started twisting his body frantically in an effort to be placed on the ground.

Elena tried to accommodate him, but realized the futility of her efforts when his nails met with the thin strap of her dress and nearly sliced through it. With a barely audible intake of breath, she gritted her teeth against the tiny stream of blood and dropped the dog immediately. Raising her left hand up to her shoulder blade, she touched it lightly then brought it before her eyes. It came back slathered in watery jeweled-red blood, bright in the sunlight and clearly indicative a cut. Elena had heard about all sorts of infections from raccoon bites, but surely this was just a little scrape. She'd be okay.

She wiped her hands on her dress, not realizing until right afterwards that by doing so, the oil from the gate latch had been smeared on the ivory material. Elena groaned internally. She just kept making mistakes today, it seemed.

"Need a band aid?" The voice came from behind her, and Elena turned sharply at the sound of it.

The woman who she faced was dressed casually in muted colors, from her fitted T-shirt to khaki cut-off shorts. A gleam of sweat shone on her forehead, and she was drinking from a metallic, ice-cold canteen. The precipitation running down the water bottle caught Elena's eye, and for a split second she could have sworn she'd seen something reflecting in the steel bottle.

"Uh, no, thanks," she said distractedly, feeling an urge to brush her hands across the front of her dress once more. Then she cringed at the visual reminder of the stain setting in there, and dropped them to her sides instead.

"Well, you're bleeding," the woman pointed out obviously. And Elena saw more than a trickle when she turned her head to the right this time. More than a trickle indeed.

"I'll, uh, I'll be alright. Don't worry about it." Flustered, she turned away and headed back toward the garden gate. So what if the dog had run away. She was just trying to help find its owner. She wasn't going to hurt it. Is that why the puppy had scratched her? Because it was scared?

Footsteps sounded and Elena knew the woman was following her. Geez, why can't people just take no for an answer? she thought. But when she glanced back from the corner of her eye, she saw that no one was there.

I want to reconcile the violence in your heart

Elena hummed along to the music as she turned off the kettle on the stove. Taking a haggard breath, she reached up to the cabinet and took down some teabags. Then she flipped open the lid and began to steep them in the boiling water.

I want to recognize your beauty's not just a mask

Peppermint tea usually relaxed her at this time of night. She needed that. Grabbing a mug from the other side of the kitchen, she poured from the kettle and brought her drink over to the couch.

I want to exercise the demons from your past

But she set it down on the coffee table to cool first. Then she brought her knees up to her chin and looped her hands around her legs, setting her head down and focusing on her thoughts. The cold metal of her necklace pressed against her skin, and she maneuvered a hand to capture it.

A neighbor had given it to her. Without even really knowing her at all. Elena had seen that the elderly man needed help with his groceries, and so she aided him. She'd been doing it every single week since they'd first met. And even though she didn't socialize with a lot of people in her new community, she still wanted to remember who she was. And that simple routine of helping someone . . . . well, it helped Elena, too. She fingered the gold chain around her neck, that simple thank you from the man across the street. The emblem with the cursive melded K. She thought about what it meant. About how it made her feel, and about whom it meant she had become.

I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart

Was she happy? Suddenly, Elena felt like reading her latest journal entries. She wanted to analyze herself from a safe distance. She needed to explore her recent feelings and figure out what kind of future they would evolve into.

Taking a quick sip of tea, she hopped up from the couch and ambled up the staircase to her room. She strode to the dresser on the left side of the room and opened the third drawer, sticking her hand into the far back. Elena pawed around for a while before she realized that her underwear drawer contained just that. Underwear. Her journal was nowhere to be found.

Where'd I leave it last? she asked herself.

She turned over the cushions of her loveseat, but to no avail. It wasn't until she'd leaned down to search underneath her bed that she heard the voice. The one she would never be able to forget. The man whose entire presence had been seared into her mind.

"Elena," he breathed, and it sounded like home. She gasped, and slowly crawled out from underneath her bed. She turned then to look at him, and he was so pristinely beautiful with his dark hair and crystal eyes that she nearly couldn't contain herself.

She almost forgot how far she'd really come in healing from the horrors of her past self. This was quite a surprise that she hadn't been expecting, but she needed to keep her composure. She brushed past him and sat on the chair in front of her vanity. She didn't know what to say or what to do...and then suddenly, she did.

"My name is Katherine now." She reached up to brush away the tuft of hair that had fallen into her eyes. Chin held high, she turned toward her mirror.

Her breathing was labored, false promises and old memories weaving themselves tightly and coiling around her like a snake. She had to keep them separate.

"You should—" she started to say, but stopped.

Something deep down inside of her didn't want him to go. And that part of her teetered on the brink of a horrible thought. That she wanted him to stay instead.

"What, Elena?" his voice probed coldly.

A tinge of irritation bubbled up beneath her surface.

"Stop calling me that," she snapped, and twisted back to face him. She felt like a misshapen puzzle, and the pieces were falling from her grasp. She couldn't contain them with his big blue eyes on her, and she felt as if she was scrambling for control. How hard had she worked to keep this façade? How easy would it be to let Damon in and see it all torn to shreds?

"You're Elena. That's who you'll always be; you've only ever been Elena."

He stepped forward and grabbed her hand, pulling her toward him. And even as he did she felt herself being propelled backward by her own sheer reluctance to face him. She couldn't deal with the conflicting identities. She needed to escape.

"Stop," he said quietly, and she felt her stomach plummet.

Nervously, she considered her options. What alternative did she have to facing this . . . to facing him?

Her fingers clenched around his hand tightly. She could feel her nails digging into his skin as she glanced frantically from side to side. Tears bloomed in the corners of her eyes and a huge sob rose in her throat. She had the distinct urge to run—to just keep running and running as if her feet could carry her away from her problems.

"I can't be here, Damon," she choked out, and even to her own ears it sounded pathetic and broken. Like a dying animal caught in a trap. "I have a new life now, I'm bet—"

"You're better? Are you, Elena?" His eyes found hers and held them. He pushed her shoulder back to stare at her fiercely. "You don't even know what you're doing with yourself. This is no way to live."

She couldn't respond to that. So she just stood there soundlessly as she fell apart inside. How is it possible, she wondered, to be so ostensibly silent with so much noise ricocheting through my heart and mind. . . .

"I want you to think about it," he said, more softly this time, but just as level as before. "I want you to be honest with yourself."

And then his hand left her shoulder and he turned away. It felt like a bucket of ice water dripping down from the top of her head to the tips of her feet. She hadn't realized just how fragile she really was . . . but she needed his body to keep hers from crumpling to the ground.

He paused after taking two steps, not hesitating, but reassuring her that he wouldn't hurt her. That he wasn't just leaving her. That he was just giving her time and space to think.

"I'll be back in a few hours," he told her, and Elena's mind went immediately to feeding. But he didn't stay any longer, and he said nothing further. He just strode forward toward the window ledge, hooked a foot through, and dropped down onto the grass below. Elena's mind barely registered the quiet thud. She wasn't conscious of the fact that it was her own body sinking to the carpet of her room. And for what seemed like a very long time, she lay there curled up on the floor and just thought.