Thanks so much for the feedback! You guys rock! I am totally assured now that you're all going to love this story, and I was so excited to hear it that I finished up Chapter 2 real quick. I'll be updating The Only Exception next though, so Chapter 3 for this will be out after that.
You're Gonna Miss Me
2. Fresh & Dangerous
When Caroline sees Stefan walk into the cafeteria and head straight for the breakfast line, to say that she was relieved would be an epic understatement. Why exactly is she so relieved to see her fully grown and completely capable, independent friend Stefan? Well, this would have been Day Four that she hasn't seen or heard from him, if he hadn't just made an appearance in her morning, and that is highly unusual. Since starting college four years ago, they've seen each other or at least talked almost every day. Stefan hadn't even had his phone on, nor had he been online, and no one has seen him. That would be why Caroline is crossing the cafeteria floor right now, to discover the reason for his strange disappearance.
"Stefan, hey!" Caroline calls out as she pushes past the other students in line, not even realizing how rude she must seem. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Care," Stefan greets, nodding his head absently in her direction as he loads his tray up with an assortment of breakfast items: a blueberry muffin, cereal, waffles, yogurt, fruit cup, coffee, and orange juice. Caroline waits semi-patiently to the side while he pays, discreetly taking in his appearance as she does. He's wearing the same clothes he was when she saw him three days ago, only now they're wrinkled and covered in dirt. His eyes are dark and saggy, like he hasn't slept. This is so not doing much to ease her concern.
"Okay," Caroline tugs Stefan towards the glass doors leading out to the patio, and demands, "Seriously, why do you look like you crawled out of a hole? Were you abducted? What the fuck happened to you?"
Without lifting his eyes from his food, Stefan laughs, actually laughs, and tells her to, "Calm down. Of course I wasn't abducted." Then he proceeds to shovel forkfuls of food into his mouth without any other explanation. Assuming that he must be starving, Caroline remains quiet for the six or seven minutes it takes him to clear his plate, and then demands answers.
Reaching across the table, Caroline puts a hand on Stefan's wrist to get his attention. He finally looks at her, and sees how concerned she is. "Stefan, I've been worried about you. Please, tell me where you've been."
"Come on then," Stefan agrees after deciding the patio is too crowded to talk, "I have to go home and shower. I'll tell you on the way."
Caroline nods, her patience wearing thin, and follows Stefan to the garbage as he dumps his trash and leaves the tray in the basket of other dirty dishes. The two head in the direction of Stefan's apartment, which is a five minute walk from the cafeteria. He informs her that what he's about to tell her is confidential and she can't tell anyone else, not even Bonnie or Elena. She assures him his secret is safe with her.
"It was for Psych class," Stefan says, as if that explains everything. To Caroline's blank expression, he continues, "Do you remember I was telling you about my new professor?"
Caroline nods, "The one who insists you all call him Silas, and scared half his class off the first day? Yeah, I vaguely remember you telling me about him." She rolls her blue eyes, urging him to keep going.
"Yes. Well, Silas gave us our first test, and I passed." Stefan again acts as though his revelation holds all the answers.
"Did your test involve murder and grave-digging?" Caroline wonders, "Because if not, I'm going to need a little more detail."
Stefan continues as if she hadn't said anything, his focus on climbing the stairs to his apartment. "Last week, he assigned us a two-page paper on our biggest fear. He said most of us wouldn't write about our real fear, that we'd be too scared to put ourselves in such a vulnerable position; it's a natural defense mechanism, he said. After we turned our papers in, he told us he would make a bet that all of us did write about our real fears, because he is an authority figure and we all have it in us to defy the man. I don't know about everyone else, but I was honest. And I think Silas was right; I did write the truth because I wanted to prove him wrong."
Unlocking the door with the key, Stefan lets himself and Caroline inside his one-bedroom, single person apartment. He isn't really a roommate person, so he opted out of that experience. He likes his privacy, but that doesn't mean he's a hermit. Caroline is a frequent visitor, stopping by to study, harass him into cooking her dinner, or just to watch a movie. She also drags him out to various social events, most of which she planned herself. Stefan would like to think he'd still have as many friends as he does without Caroline, but he doesn't think that's true.
Caroline tosses her messenger bag on Stefan's couch and trails after him into his bedroom. He kicks off his sneakers and starts to undress, which she pretends she doesn't notice as she flops carelessly on his neatly made bed. Stefan throws his dirty long sleeved shirt and jeans at the top of his hamper, that is full since he missed his usual laundry day, and takes a clean outfit out of his dresser. He can feel Caroline's eyes on his back, watching him, and he finally turns to look at her, folding his arms across his bare chest.
"You're staring," Stefan points out, his tone light and teasing.
"I'm waiting," Caroline corrects, "There's a difference. And you look like shit, Stef, so sorry if that's a blow to your ego but I wasn't staring like that." Although, if Caroline is being honest with herself, Stefan still looks good even dirty and spent. He has such a perfectly sculpted body it would be hard not to stare, and even though they've been friends for seven years now Caroline still appreciates his bulging muscles and handsome looks. It's just that she's put Stefan in this off-limits, friends-only, non-sexual box, and she refuses to take him out because it would completely ruin their friendship. Besides, Stefan doesn't see Care as anything more than a really close, trusted friend, and she's pretty sure he's in love with Elena, although he hasn't admitted it.
"I am trying to go take a shower," Stefan reminds, "But someone won't let me."
"Unless you want me to follow you in the shower," Caroline warns, "You better start talking, Mister Salvatore." Caroline might be used to seeing Stefan in next to nothing, but she's never actually seen him nude, and while she hopes it doesn't get to that she will follow his ass into the bathroom to get him to spill on this Professor Silas thing. She's not about to wait another twenty minutes, or however long it takes for him to get himself clean. She wants to know the scoop, like, now.
"All right," Stefan relents, leaning his back against his dresser for a moment, but then feeling the cool wood on his skin makes him straighten up again, "I'll give you the short version. Then I get to take a shower. If you want to hear more after that, you can wait."
Caroline wants to complain, but she finds herself nodding and agreeing, "Fine."
"Silas basically challenged us to face our fears. Thursday at the end of class, he passed out our assignment, with instructions to meet Friday night if we accepted. I was the first to show up. I handed over my phone, and waited. Most of the class showed, but not everyone. We got on a bus and drove a couple hours, it must have been South; Georgia, probably."
Caroline interrupts here, "What do you mean 'probably'? You didn't pay attention to where you were going?"
Stefan knew she was going to say something, but he also knows she's going to start freaking out if he tells her everything that happened over the weekend. He tries to remain casual as he explains they were blindfolded, and then he hurries on to say, "It was fine, Care. We all signed releases. We knew what we were doing."
Caroline raises a skeptical eyebrow, but waves him on, "Whatever you say..."
"Anyways," He gives his friend a stern look, silently telling her if she doesn't shut up he won't finish his story, "Once we got to the place - an old, out-of-use hospital - we were split up. I was given a small backpack of supplies and...locked in a, uh, cell in the basement." Stefan frowns when he hears how bad that sounds out loud.
"Please tell me you're joking," Caroline says seriously, sitting up from her previously relaxed position on his bed. She studies his face and knows he's not. Stefan doesn't really joke too often, especially not about things like this. "You're not joking. Your professor locked you in a cell? And you said I shouldn't have been worried."
"Yes, and I'm fine," Stefan claims, "I faced my fear: I was trapped for three days, and I'm still alive. Silas might be radical, but he's brilliant, Caroline. I don't expect you to understand, but he is a master of Psychology, and being in his class is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn't want to waste it."
Caroline isn't convinced, "I'm not sure brilliant is the word I'd use to describe forcing students to face their worst fears, Stef...It sounds more like psychotic to me. And possibly illegal, seeing how he locked you up and practically starved you -"
"He didn't starve me," Stefan insists, restating firmly, "Caroline, I'm fine. Stop overreacting. I'm going to take a shower now, okay? If you're still here after..." He sighs, "Then I'll answer whatever else you want to know."
When he closes the door to the bathroom and Caroline hears the water turn on a few seconds later, she debates leaving simply because Stefan told her she was overreacting. She's so not overreacting. Stefan is under-reacting. But he says he's fine, and Stefan can handle himself. He's smart, and he doesn't usually get himself in trouble. She has to trust him. She's not his mother or his girlfriend, she's his friend, and friends are supportive.
Stefan isn't surprised when he opens the bathroom door thirty minutes later and sees Caroline sprawled out on his bed watching TV. He knew she'd be too curious to leave. He feels the exhaustion set in now that he's filled his stomach, showered, and his bed is in plain sight. He motions for Caroline to scoot over, before falling into the bed with a loud and content sigh, which makes Caroline laugh. He hasn't been in his bed for three whole nights; his bed was a dirty cement floor. It was the worst experience, but he passed the test. He's proud of himself.
Stifling a yawn, Stefan asks, "Okay, what do you want to know?"
Astonishingly, Caroline shrugs, "I think you covered all the basics. I'm not going to give you the third degree. As long as you promise you're not mentally scarred from this experience, I guess I don't have to report to the school administration that there's a looney-bird teaching Pysch." She smirks. Then she realizes, "Plus, you're really tired, so I don't want to be a pain in the ass."
"You?" Stefan pretends to be shocked, "Never." He laughs when she jabs him in the ribs with her elbow. "I'm serious. You're never a pain in my ass. You can stay," He offers, "But I am two seconds away from the best sleep of my life..."
To prove his point, Stefan slides his body under his blankets and fluffs his pillow before resting his head and closing his eyes. Caroline suddenly throws her arms around him and squeezes, "I'm glad you're okay, Stefan." She might have held him a second longer than she normally does, but it's not every weekend that Stefan goes missing.
After leaving Virginia behind, Caroline drives about twelve hours West before pulling over at around eight in the morning, at a motel in St. Louis, Missouri. She is utterly exhausted and thinking entirely too much about Stefan and his crazy Psych professor and that awful nightmare weekend Stefan suffered through his first month with Professor Silas. Stefan had to face his fear of being trapped, by being locked in a cell in the basement of a creepy, abandoned psychiatric hospital for three whole nights and three whole days. Back then, she and Stefan were still just friends, and things were considerably less complicated. She'd thought Silas' teaching methods were unethical and off-base, but Stefan practically worshipped him. Maybe she should have realized sooner that something was going on. She should have known better than to think Stefan's feelings for her actually changed...
To end the cycle of blaming Stefan, blaming Professor Silas, and then blaming herself, Caroline assumes sleep is her best option. She checks into a quiet, but clean, motel and pays twenty-four dollars for the day and night, although she doesn't plan on staying for that long. She has to pay an extra six dollars to get in the room before eleven, but she is too tired to mind. Caroline takes her purse and her pillow into the motel with her, and leaves everything else locked up in her car. She thought she'd fall asleep the minute her head hit the pillow, but she was wrong. After a good, long cry, sleep finally takes her.
Caroline awakens twelve hours later feeling well-rested and anxious to leave. She packs her pillow back into her car, checks-out at the front desk, and continues on her way. She is still far too close to Stefan, so she plans to keep on driving until she finds herself in a place she'd like to be. She is back on the highway by nine o'clock, and drives through the night until morning. When her stomach calls to her in hunger, she answers it by stopping for breakfast at a small but delicious joint called the Egg & I, just inside Denver, Colorado. After eating her fill, she hits the road again, intent on driving straight through until reaching her final destination.
After crossing through Colorado to Utah, Caroline unconsciously merges onto a different freeway, one leading southwest; to Las Vegas. When she is made aware of this fact, she is already nearly there, and anticipation builds up in the pit of her stomach. She really did it, she left Virginia, and she drove across almost the entire country! She always wanted to go on a road trip, but she had hoped it would be in the company of her friends, not on her own. Still, Las Vegas is on Caroline's list of Top Five cities she'd like to visit in the U.S., and she's about to be able to cross it off and boast that she's been to the Sin City.
Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard at close to ten o'clock at night was probably the best decision Caroline ever made, and it wasn't even done on purpose. She just happened to arrive at the peak moment when the whole street is lit up like Christmas and the outrageous nightlife activities have only begun. There is so much commotion, so many cars and taxis and buses on the streets; so much to look at, that Caroline nearly runs over a pedestrian. Luckily, she caught herself, and avoided an accident, but it was a wake-up call that maybe she's been behind the wheel for too long. She avoids the bigger, recognizable hotel casinos, knowing already they're too much for her price range, and instead pulls into a less flashy hotel, one with a bar but not a full casino inside. She checks-in for one-night only, to test the waters here in Las Vegas, before deciding whether or not to stay a while.
The first thing Caroline does once she gets up to her room is call Bonnie from the land-line. Since she threw her cell phone out the window Friday night, she assumes Bonnie is getting a little worried, especially after she insisted she'd call every night and she hasn't. It's now Sunday night, and if tonight is like every other Sunday night, Bonnie just finished watching Game of Thrones with Elena, and they're probably discussing details. If tonight is unlike every other Sunday night, Bonnie could be watching alone, because Elena is with Stefan now.
Caroline nearly hangs up the phone at the thought of Elena and Stefan being at the apartment when she calls Bonnie, but it has already started to ring, so she stays connected.
Five or six rings later, Bonnie finally answers the phone, her voice groggy and sleep-filled, "…Hello?"
Caroline double-checks the clock as she sinks into the hotel bed, and demands, "What are doing? Sleeping already?"
"Care?" Bonnie sounds a little more alert now, but still confused. "It's…it's one in the morning, Care, of course I'm sleeping. Where are you?"
A light goes off in Caroline's head, and she voices, "Ohh, right! I forgot about the time difference…it's only ten here."
"Where?" Bonnie demands, now fully and completely awake.
"Las Vegas," Caroline states almost smugly, "I just checked into a hotel like ten minutes ago. It's amazing here, Bonnie, you have no idea. I wish you were here."
"Me too," Bonnie agrees wistfully, again wondering if she should have left Virginia with Caroline. "I can't believe you're in Las Vegas!" After a short pause, she rattles off the remaining questions she has for Caroline, "What happened to your cell phone? I tried calling a million times. Are you planning on staying in Vegas? Do you think that's a good idea? What will you do there?"
"I threw my cell phone out the window back in Virginia," Caroline admits, chuckling over her hasty decision. She doesn't regret it though, not really. Now there's no way for Stefan to call or text her, no way for him to guilt-trip her into going back, or explaining her reasons for leaving. "I'll get a new one eventually. I don't know yet how long I'll stay, but I figure I'll be here for a little while. I can't exactly see all the sights in one night. I want to walk the Strip, gamble a little, and maybe sneak my way into a Showgirl performance…" She is kidding about the last part, but that would be fun.
"Caroline," Bonnie starts in that responsible, motherly voice of hers, "I don't know if Las Vegas is the best place for you to be right now, especially by yourself. There's a lot of trouble there, and I'm worried for you…I don't want you to get yourself involved in a situation you can't get out of. When are you coming home?"
"I just left, Bonnie," Caroline reminds, albeit a little impatiently, "I don't know when I'm coming back. You don't have to worry about me; I can take care of myself. I'll be fine. Now that I'm here, I'll have a phone to call you, and I'll keep my promise. You'll know what I'm doing, and you'll know that I'm okay. Just trust me, Bonnie."
"All right, Care," Bonnie sighs, "But come home soon. I miss you already. And…"
Caroline senses Bonnie is about to bring up something involving Stefan, or possible Elena, maybe even Stefan and Elena, and that is not something she wants to know anything about. She cuts her off, "I don't want to know, Bon, I don't. Please? I want to go take a shower, change into a sexy, little black dress, and go down to the bar for a much-needed drink."
"Have fun," Bonnie manages to wish her well, "and stay safe. I miss you."
"Miss you too," Caroline returns before setting the phone back on the hook.
Caroline does exactly as she told Bonnie she would; she showers, puts on her sexiest black dress, and slinks down to the bar, where she orders two shots of tequila and drinks them straight up. She's never really been a tequila fan, but she's been told it does wonders for a broken-heart. She's also been told it is the perfect prelude to a night of wild sex, but she doesn't think that will be happening tonight.
Across the bar, Caroline sees a man staring in her direction. He has raven hair and piercing ice blue eyes. He appears to be in his late twenties, possibly early-thirties, wearing a white t-shirt underneath a worn leather jacket. He sends a sexy smirk in Caroline's direction at the same moment as the bar-tender places another shot of tequila on the bar-top.
"From the gentleman over there, Miss Forbes," The bar-tender explains, tipping his head in the direction of Mr. Hott and Dangerous.
"Thank you," Caroline says, catching eyes once more with the man across the room. She smiles and holds the shot glass out to him in a 'cheers' gesture, and then tosses the drink to the back of her throat. When she looks back, he's not there anymore. She feels slightly disappointed for a moment, like, of course, the first guy to show her attention changes his mind without even talking to her...
"Looking for me?"
She spins on the bar stool and finds herself face-to-face with the blue-eyed man, who is even more attractive up close than he was far away. She smiles coyly and nods, the first effects of the alcohol sinking in and making her feel comfortable and at ease. Not enough to make her forget that she's here to escape from Stefan, but enough to allow her to flirt with a stranger and enjoy herself.
"Thanks for the..." Caroline gestures at the empty shot glass in her hand before placing it on the counter-top of the bar. "I'm Caroline," She indroduces, smile widening to show her teeth off.
"You're most welcome, Caroline," He responds, sliding onto the empty bar stool next to hers, "Damon." After a brief pause, he asks, "How long have you been in Vegas?"
"Actually, I just got here an hour ago."
"No way, so you're fresh off the plane," Damon comments, "And by yourself, too? I have to ask then: Business or pleasure?"
Caroline doesn't correct that she's actually fresh out of her car, not off a plane, but...she figures it doesn't make much of a difference. Normal people would have flown from Virginia to Vegas, and Damon doesn't need to know her whole life story. She does, however, admit that she's here for pleasure, for herself, not for business, or anybody else.
"Sounds like you need another drink," Damon waves over the bar-tender and orders himself a bourbon. He tells Caroline to get whatever she likes, and she decides on a mojito. While they wait, Damon asks her where she's from and what brings her to Vegas.
"I'm from Virginia," Caroline answers, before quickly deciding, "But I don't want to talk about home." She shrugs unapologetically, something she wouldn't have done if she hadn't injested three shots of tequila prior to this conversation. "I came here to...escape."
"Fine with me," Damon agrees to her condition, throwing down a tip for the bar-tender when he slides over his and Caroline's drinks. He takes a gulp of bourbon, watching the blonde beside him as she sips from her mojito through the tiny straw. He thinks she's pretty, beautiful even, and definitely innocent, but possibly with a wild side. He's not sure, but he'd like to find out. He'd like to corrupt her a little. It might be fun.
Caroline feels Damon's hand slide over the leather back of her bar stool as she takes the last sip from her drink. She raises her eyes slowly, surprised to find him suddenly so close to her. In a low and husky voice, Damon offers to take Caroline somewhere much more exciting than the hotel bar. At first, she thinks he's asking her to take off with him so they can fuck, but he assures her he wants to take her out not in for the night. Apparently in Vegas, no one goes to sleep until the sun comes up; at least, Damon doesn't.
Caroline contemplates Damon's offer, aware even in her drunken state that he never said he wouldn't try and take her home with him at some point. She doesn't know if she should put herself in that position, seeing how vulnerable she is at the moment. But then she kind of thinks, Fuck it! she's a twenty-two year old, independent woman. She can have shameless and unattached sex with a hot stranger, if she so chooses. She then wonders if it would make Stefan jealous, and actually grins when she decides that he would be furious. He would, too, even if they hadn't fake-dated-or-whatever-he'd-call-it the past three months. Damon is the exact kind of man Stefan would hate, and that makes Caroline think he's the perfect mistake to make right now.
"Sure," Caroline agrees, taking Damon's out-stretched hand, "Let's go."
Thanks for reading:) Reviews would be awesome, which I know you all already are, soo it would just be adding to your awesomeness;)
FYI: Damon and Stefan are NOT brothers in this story. I was gonna have it be like a 'plot twist' that he is Stefan's brother, and she figures it out, but that just doesn't work for this story. I wanted Damon in it though, so voila, here he is:)