Chapter 1: Good Morning
The elevator doors slide smoothly open and I stumble over my feet and into the foyer of the agency, balancing an armful of manuscripts and a very hot latte. My massive workbag slips inconveniently off my shoulder, causing some of my coffee to slosh out of the tiny drinking spout and onto my white silk shirt.
It's going to be one of those days.
Caroline sees me step out of the elevator through the glass doors separating the entryway from the rest of the office and shoots up out of her chair, moving as fast as her figure-hugging pencil skirt and stilettos will carry her. I don't even bother trying to handle the door. I just flash her a grateful smile, rolling my eyes at my flustered appearance. When she bursts through the swinging monstrosities she is immediately all over me, talking a million miles per minute and grabbing everything out of my hands without my having a chance of getting a word in.
"Oh my goodness Elena you poor thing look at you why you insist on hauling every single manuscript in your queue home and back to the office every single night is beyond me oh Elena is that coffee on your very white super cute shirt who makes that by the way? I really like it! Why don't you just let me run down to the coffee cart and get your coffee in the morning instead of teetering it on top of the million other things you are lugging around? C'mon I'll go get the stain-treatment pen and my back-up shirt and you can borrow it while I work on this one. Why don't you go and get settled and I'll bring in your messages and talk you through your schedule after you've had a second to breathe, okay?"
And then she's off. And my hands are empty.
Of course Caroline makes it look easy. My bag hanging in the crook of her arm, the stack of manuscripts balancing effortlessly on her upturned palm, my coffee steady and upright in her right hand.
I don't know how she does it and I don't want to know. All I need to know for sure is that Caroline is never going to quit, because she is the best damn assistant in the business—probably in all of New York, period. The world? Who knows. She's my best friend, so she'll always be the best everything to me.
Through the glass, I watch her set up everything in my office. Once it is all safely where it belongs, she turns the blinds so I'll be shielded from view while I change. That finished, she heads to her desk, pulls a Tide pen out of her top drawer and a perfectly folded navy blouse out of her bottom drawer. I am more than a little impressed, but not surprised. This is Caroline. She probably has a trap door to a fully stocked bomb bunker hiding under her desk, complete with a mani-pedi station and one or two of those awesome massage chairs we can't resist sitting in every time we pass by them at the mall.
The thought of that chair makes me sigh-I am so incredibly tired and the day hasn't even begun.
I walk over to her desk and hold out my hand, which she immediately deposits the shirt into. "How you do it, Caroline, I will never know. But please, just keep it up. You are the best. Seriously…the best."
"Don't question the greatness, Elena. Just enjoy it. You're welcome," she says with a wink, and reaches for the ringing phone.
I head into my office, enjoying the uncharacteristic privacy of my blinds so early in the morning, unbuttoning my shirt as I reach for my coffee, checking my desk for any notes I might have left for myself that might need my immediate attention. There are none, so I take a delicious, frothy sip and slide my shirt off my shoulders before pulling Caroline's on, buttoning it and slipping the hem into my dove grey pencil skirt.
I inhale into the quiet solitude of my office. The rich taste of the latte is still tickling my taste buds, my phone is quiet, the busy hum of the agency outside my door muted to an almost soothing rumble of white noise.
In this moment, it feels like this day could turn out alright after all.
I walk to my wall of windows, sipping my coffee gratefully as I take in the familiar skyline, enjoying my view of the city from up high. I peek down at the cars and people as they jostle and hurry, so small in a city so big. Manhattan is humming and alive, the day already well underway. I exhale the residual tension of the morning from my mind.
I love this city. I love the way life here ebbs and flows but never truly ceases, its steady heartbeat thrumming and pulsing just as it has since before I was born, as it will continue to do long after I'm gone.
Maybe that's what drew me to this city to begin with: the fact that nothing ends, that I will never have to say goodbye.
Never be left alone.
"Good Morning," I murmur, to the world and to no one.
Time to get to work.
I cross the room to my sleek wooden door, taking advantage of the small shield from Caroline's view it provides as I let a yawn overtake me. The very last thing I need is Caroline catching on to how little sleep I've been getting. I do my best to shake it off and test out a perky smile, pinching my cheeks to bring a little color to them before peeking my head out.
"Ready when you are, Care," I say, and she gives me a nod while she finishes up her conversation with the phone dangling from her ear, scribbling away on her notepad.
I take my usual spot at the sleek black leather sofa on the far end of my room, kitty-corner to Caroline's favored chair, the cushy steel-grey velvet wingback that faces the windows. It also conveniently conceals anyone who sits in it from the prying eyes of the buzzing office behind us, giving us a little more time to enjoy each other's company than is probably strictly necessary.
I can tell whoever was in charge of decorating this place was directed using words like "modern" and "industrial". It is all glass walls and polished concrete floors and exposed ceiling vents. All the furniture is made of either leather or steel or glass. But I love how the brick on the windowed wall warms the space, gives it some history. How the smooth redwood office doors add a sort of "Mad Men" feeling. I have no idea how that cozy velvet chair ended up in here, but—as a wise woman once told me—I'm not going to question the greatness. Whenever I have any reading to catch up on in the office, it's my favorite place to curl up.
She bursts in, all pep and purpose, her planner clutched against her chest in the same way I'd imagine she carried her binder in high school. It doesn't surprise me that she won local beauty pageants and was the head of the cheerleading squad and was class president and prom queen—she's the only person I know who could balance it all. I don't imagine she even broke a sweat or sullied a nail on a single perfectly manicured finger.
I smile in spite of myself.
"What are you smiling at?" she asks me, her brow furrowed because she is in full-scale business mode and my grin is ruining it.
"Nothing, Care. Just admiring your organizational tenacity so early in the morning. I love this shirt by the way," I say, motioning to the lovely navy blouse over which I am currently plotting thievery.
"Thank you," she acknowledges crisply, though I see the pleased smile attempting to break through her professional facade. "Feel free to admire away but let's get down to business while you're doing it. I want to get through this as fast as possible so I have time fill you in on the latest deets for my wedding!" At those last few words, her whole demeanor changed from super-assistant on a mission to squealing schoolgirl with a newly acquired quarterback prom date.
"Fair enough," I laugh. "Proceed."
She clears her throat and attempts to settle, but she is still bouncing a little on her toes with barely contained excitement.
"Okay," she starts with a little nod. "So, in order of importance, you have a meeting with Klaus at 11 to discuss some of your clients and check in about some of the new manuscripts you've been reading."
I groan and scrub my face with my hands, feeling the tightness re-settle over my shoulders like a lead blanket. "You know what that means if he's carving out time beyond the regular Monday morning check-ins to pester me, Care. He knows that buzzy new manuscript I got my hands on is perfect for BigLittle and he's going to try to take it from me before I mess up the deal."
"You don't know that Elena," she says, reaching for my leg to reassure me. "I'm sure he just wants to check in with you at the end of the week. You're his best agent and he knows it."
"Yeah. His best agent, whose name happens to be dirt at the biggest publishing house in the industry."
"Well you haven't let it stop you yet, Elena," she says firmly. "You'll crack that bitter old beeyotch Sharon White someday, I know it." She winks and flushes a little at her harsh words. She tries to be tough but I know she never uses words like that. "A great manuscript is a great manuscript, period. And Klaus would be a fool not to back you up."
I roll my eyes. "Maybe you should tell him that, Care. You know he listens to you a lot more than he listens to me," I singsong at her.
Caroline blushes brighter and her eyebrows knit together. "That is just silly," she whispers fiercely, as if she's afraid his ear is pressed against my office door. "He knows I'm getting married in a few months so I'm sure whatever…thing he was harboring for me has run its course by now, thank you very much," she finishes with a huff, smoothing her hands over the fabric covering her knees.
I know she used to have a teensy weensy crush on him that hasn't quite gone away and Klaus has been as obvious about his attraction to Caroline as a superior can be about his feelings for someone working under him. It may even be possible that if Caroline hadn't met Stefan when she did, things between her and Klaus could have taken off.
But thank goodness they didn't. Klaus and Caroline's connection may simmer, but Stefan and Caroline's sizzles.
"Alright, alright Caroline," I placate. "Sorry, I couldn't resist." I smile guiltily, and she pokes a teasing tongue out at me. "Manuscript thieving boss-man, 11 o'clock, check. What else?"
"I have your list of messages here," she says, handing me a piece of notepaper covered with her tidy handwriting. "I put a little star next to the more urgent ones, so I suggest you start with those. Turner/Grant is pushing back on your extension request for the Lannister novel, but I'm sure you'll sort them out." She smirks conspiratorially at me. "And Julie from Waxman & Dean wants to talk about the tour dates for that female Stephen King-type-author and her Vampire trilogy? I think they want to add a few more dates, since they seem to be such a success. That'll all be coming up soon so that'd be my recommended call-number-one this morning. Oh, and McFarren wanted to set up a lunch meeting with you to talk about his most recent editing pass…"
I roll my eyes.
"I know, I know," she soothes. "I told him you were available for an office meeting next Tuesday. Poor fool wants to be on you so bad."
"Care!" I say, reaching out to smack her leg, but she dodges me.
"Elena," she mocks, smiling mischievously.
I throw her one last sarcastic glare before lowering my eyes to glance quickly over the list. "Looks great, Care, thank you."
I scan the list, but in my peripheral vision I can see her foot bouncing up and down impatiently.
"It all looks pretty self-explanatory from here," I say, a little too casually, looking up. Caroline is barely concealing the gigantic grin threatening to break out across her face, and her whole body looks tense, like it will literally burst if I don't ask her about her wedding very soon.
I decide to be kind and put her out of her misery.
Before I can even utter another word, Caroline is gushing a string of them out on the breath she was holding. "The invitations arrived yesterday evening and oh my Goooood Elena you won't even believe your eyes they are so incredibly gorgeous I can't wait for everyone to get them!" She flashes me a bright smile before reaching into the back of her planner to pull out a pristine white envelope. I actually brought you yours today," she says, handing it to me proudly. "Can't have my Maid of Honor falling out of the loop…"
I grin wide at the excitement on her face and then carefully pull the invitation from its thick, gold-lined casing.
Inside is a fine-grained yet tastefully simple piece of substantial white cardstock. There is a lovely silhouette of a tree in a buttery champagne color and the intricate calligraphy font overlaying it is embossed deeply into the thick paper, giving it an almost three-dimensional effect. All of the writing is in black except for the names of the hosts of the wedding and the names of the bride and groom, which are a delicate gold:
Giuseppe Salvatore and Elizabeth Forbes
Invite you to celebrate in the marriage of their children
Caroline Forbes and Stefan Salvatore
Saturday, the 14th of May
Two thousand and fourteen
At six o'clock in the evening
The Palm House
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Brooklyn New York
There is a tiny gold butterfly perched on the final looping flourish of Caroline's name.
It is hands down the most exquisite thing disguising itself as paper that I have ever seen.
I feel a pang of something sweet and lovely squeeze my heart and an ache behind my eyes. I am so incredibly happy for her.
"This is beautiful, Caroline," I say honestly, swallowing against the emotion tightening my throat, testing the pleasant weight of the cardstock in my hand.
"I know, right?" she says, clapping her hands excitedly. She exhales a deep breath and flops back into her chair. "I just can't believe it's actually happening," she says, her eyes far away and her voice hushed with awe. "All this planning and plotting and waiting…" she trails off. "And Stefan," she sighs, her face lit up with a lovesick grin as she snuggles further back into the velvet. "I can't wait, Elena," she says, looking at me with an almost pained expression of joy. "I just can't wait to be his wife."
She is beaming at me, and I can't help but beam back at her.
I met Stefan at the coffee cart about a year ago. He is an undeniably handsome man, and I was thrilled when he wanted to exchange numbers. At the time, I couldn't help but find myself attracted to the mystery of his lovely green eyes, his square jaw and light brown hair, the unwavering focus of his attention. He had a way of making you feel like you were the only girl in the room.
But after a few dates where the conversation came easier than the chemistry, we agreed that we were happier just being friends.
And then I brought him to meet up with Caroline at our usual post-work dinner and drinks spot, The Square, one Friday night.
As they say—the rest is history.
In retrospect, I should have known my two best friends would be perfect for each other. Caroline's bubbly personality and fun-loving attitude towards life proved to be the perfect antidote to Stefan's brooding intensity, and Stefan's patient compassion was the perfect salve for some of Caroline's more compulsive tendencies.
Their connection was so easy and pure, inevitable as a happy ending in their very own live-action rom-com. It was clearly only a matter of time before they ended up walking down an aisle somewhere. But it was lovely to watch their dating and courtship unfold, so new and exciting to them and such a foregone conclusion to anyone who saw them together.
I reach across the small space between us to squeeze her leg. "I could not be more happy for you, Caroline," I say, because it's true.
"Thanks, Elena," she says, and grabs my hand.
We just smile at each other, both our eyes bright with unshed tears.
I squeeze lightly and blink a few times before I pull my hand away, sighing reluctantly as I stand up. "So do you want me to come by this weekend and help you stuff and stamp them?" I ask, walking to my desk and propping my invitation up against my desk lamp where I will be able to admire it throughout my day.
When I glance up again she is standing up and smoothing her skirt out, looking fidgety and guilty.
I gasp. "Caroline! You didn't!"
"Ummm…" she starts, shuffling her feet.
"Oh my goodness, Caroline!" I exclaim. "You stuffed and stamped 400 invitations all by yourself? Are you crazy?!"
"Well, I just thought I'd start in on it, and then…I got kind of carried away." She shrugs sheepishly. "You know how I get with an unfinished task. I just can't leave it alone. I should have known that before I started," she says with a furrowed brow, all self-deprecating contrition. I want to hug her. She is so adorable when she underestimates her own neuroses.
"So I guess you had a pretty late night last night, then," I say with a smile. I half-lean, half-sit on the front edge of my desk that opens to the rest of the room, crossing my arms and lifting my eyebrows in mock disapproval. "And just how late were you up, might I ask?"
She narrows her eyes and wags her finger accusingly at me as she stalks forward. "Well I should ask you the same thing, Little Miss Stack-O-'Scripts. Don't think I've missed how many manuscripts you've been carting in and out of here everyday. Or how distracted and forgetful you've been lately."
Her whole demeanor switches from playful censure to concern as she reaches a hand out, squeezing my arm before running it down to wrap my hand in a light but insistent grip.
"Are they happening again, Elena? The nightmares?" She searches my face for the answer, but she already knows. "You know I want you to call me right? It doesn't matter what time of night. You're my best friend, Elena. I don't want you going through that…yuckiness…alone."
"I know, Care," I say, forcing a light smile onto my lips and squeezing her hand back. "If it ever gets too bad, I know I can call you."
She is not fooled by my creative wording. "I want you to, okay? Not just when it gets 'too bad.' Just call me, will you?"
She squeezes my hand tightly one more time before releasing it.
"Don't make me start calling you in the wee hours just to double check you aren't in the middle of one," she says, slapping my shoulder and giving me a pointed look before crossing to the pulley system that controls my blinds.
"I'm watching you Gilbert," she glares playfully at me, pointing to her eyes with two fingers and then turning the little vee toward mine.
"Noted, Forbes," I say, pasting on the most natural smile I can muster. She finishes with the blinds and moves to exit my office.
She turns back with her hand on the door handle. Her planner is pressed up against her chest again, a sure sign that the beginnings of business-mode are starting to overtake her again. "We're still on for meeting up with Stefan at the Square later?"
"Of course!" I say, hoping she doesn't catch the slightly forced edge to my too-eager response. "Is it Friday, or is it Friday?" I smirk, recovering.
She grins easily at me and shuts the door behind her with a wink, letting me off the hook.
I stand up and start moving around my desk. I wait until she is seated at her own and engrossed in a phone conversation, less likely to see me from her spot on the other side of glass, partially obscured by my door.
I slouch into my chair and finally rest my weary head into my hands.
And God love her, she's just not capable of dropping a scent once she's gotten wind of it.
Somehow, her knowing—my singular support system through all of this—makes it more real. It won't be long before I'll have to fess up, and admitting it out loud means that it wasn't just a fluke—or two. It means that they are actually happening.
The nightmares are back.
And where there are nightmares, there are the attacks.
I sigh heavily and pick up the phone, dropping it on the cradle again when I notice my shaking hands. I squeeze my eyes closed and curl my fingernails tightly into my palms.
"Deep breaths," I say out loud, willing my body to obey.
And for now, thank God, it does.
Author's Note: Hey folks. So this is happening. My very first fic. I've been a long-time reader of fanfiction, but I've never been inspired to write one. Until one day when a scene from this story popped in my head and wouldn't stop torturing me till I wrote it down. And then two more popped up and I wrote those too. And with the help of my magnificent, stupendous, fantastical, incredible beta, Trogdor19, my amateur writing skills and hazy ideas became a fully fleshed out story. She is literally the only reason any of this is worth reading. If you love fanfiction, Delena, Steroline, and just AWESOMENESS period, you MUST check out everything she has ever written. And RUN DON'T WALK to Amazon to purchase her Delena story, Desperate Love.
Trogdor19, there aren't enough skittle-tear-producing magical-lightsaber-weilding ice-pack-hat-wearing rainbow unicorns in the world to thank you for everything that you have done for me and for this fic. So just...thank you.
I hope you like this story, and if you do, PLEASE put me out of my misery and comment/PM me because I will be hiding under my covers wondering why I did this until you lovely people tell me it doesn't suck!
I've got the first 5 chapters written so click Follow (and maybe Favorite? Okay maybe it's a little early in the relationship. Maybe soon though?) so you don't miss the excitement and Delena hotness to come!
PS. Thanks to Arabean for the cover shot icon!