Which Way to Go
"I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was." – Jacob, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)
September – the Autumn Harvest Festival
Although it wasn't her dream job, Caroline absolutely adored working at the city hall. The town council needed someone to liaise with Carol Lockwood, who was chair and president of almost every single charity and event organisation in town. Being the Mayor's wife also helped her with maintaining that position, but Caroline had participated in every single Mystic Falls event since she was ten, and she knew the ropes for every one of them forwards and backwards and with her eyes closed.
So, when she returned from Duke with her double degree, a strong reference from her internship, (and the nepotistic fact that she was from a Founding Family) the town decided to give her a position within the city. She even had her own office and department (she ignored the fact that she was the only one in her department)!
No one bothered her. And if her office was really only the size of a small walk-in closet, it was hers. There was a window (which was the best thing about the box, in all honesty), she could fit a desk in the office, and there were enough outlet plugs for her laptop, a desk fan, and a rather stable internet connection so that when she completed all her work, she could catch up on episodes of the Bachelorette.
Or daydream about Nik and his rather gorgeous abs... No. She wasn't thinking about him and their amazing time six months previous.
The best part of her job was, because she knew all the events so well, she completed her work quickly and with no one coming to check in on her, Caroline was getting paid (peanuts, of course, slightly more than minimum wage for a public sector position) to sit around and play solitaire or stream TV shows.
But with the upcoming Autumn Harvest Festival, Caroline knew she had to step up her game or else she'd lose her position – and that was non-negotiable.
The Autumn Harvest Festival ran the first week of September. It mainly involved apple picking in the orchards on the outside of town, apple pie and turnover baking contests, community spirit and a back-to-school bonfire and carnival for the Mystic Falls students. Caroline was in charge of running between Carol Lockwood and her decisions and the town for approval; she was also given the baking contest portion to organise on her own, as well as the back-to-school bonfire and carnival. It was an astronomical headache from the beginning to the end, but Caroline was given a chance she wouldn't fuck up.
"I'm going to need transport to the Walters farm," said Caroline, into her office phone. It was cradled between her head and shoulder as she typed something on her iMac. "At least three buses rotating on a twenty-minute cycle between the town and the orchard. That way, people can come and go between all activities without clogging up Route 67."
She nodded, despite her contact being unable to see her, and hummed. Finally, she reached for a bright pink pen and began scribbling on a conveniently placed notepad. "Yeah? Thanks. I'd really appreciate it if you could work something out with the town's transportation depo. It would be fabulous if it all worked out. Let me know by Thursday? Perfect. Thanks. Bye."
Caroline released a long, extended sigh, hanging up the phone. A glance at the overly large silver and grey Tag Heuer watch on her left wrist made Caroline smile – it was five and quitting time. She began packing her laptop up into a hot pink protective squishy case, slipped that, along with her notepad and pencil case, into a large black tote, and reached for her chic-looking black blazer.
As she exited her office and locked it, she began scrolling through her iPod playlist, picking a K-Pop artist her roommate from Duke hooked her on. Caroline's smart black stilettos rapped along the smooth tile as she began walking down the hall to the front entrance.
One of the nicest features of the city hall was the large dome skylight in the entrance hall, where the main receptionist, a Fell cousin or niece three times-half removed (there were loads of them in Mystic Falls), usually sat. Instead, the flighty girl had left either before, or immediately at, five, leaving the front desk empty and unattended despite the city hall remaining open until six. Normally, in small town Mystic Falls, that wasn't an issue – but today, there was someone at the desk, flipping through a sign-in logbook.
Caroline immediately noticed that he was around the same height as Nik, and then couldn't stop the comparisons. Where Nik was blond, this man had dark brown hair. Nik had electric blue eyes; he had green, similar to Caroline's own shade. The man was pale, with a classic, European look to him. He wore stonewashed denim jeans with a creamy brown button-down Oxford with the sleeves rolled up.
"Hi," said Caroline, peering at him curiously. "Blair's usually at her desk, but since she's apparently gone home early, is there anything I can help you with?"
The man smiled, holding a bunch of papers in his right hand. "I'm updating my address with the town."
Caroline sighed. "Blair wouldn't have been able to help you out, then. You'll want Hannah Campbell's office, in Human Resources. But they have different hours. You should come back tomorrow morning and try then."
"I guess I will then," he replied.
Caroline noted that his voice remained constant; a strange quality that she didn't quite like or understood, one that caused her to wonder why he didn't add many inflections or tonalities to his voice. She overly used inflections – allowing her voice to jump in cadence to lowering her register; even Nik changed his voice depending on his mood or his words (again!? Why was she thinking of her sexy British hookup in Paris?).
When the man failed to leave the front register, Caroline found herself asking, "You said you're updating your address. Are you new in town?"
"Kind of," he replied. "I used to live her but moved away. I spent some time in Chicago and New Orleans, actually."
"I guess you won't need someone to show you around town," Caroline offered, a smile on her face. Her flirtatious tone didn't overtly suggest her interest in him – she was secretly afraid Nik had ruined her for all other men until the end of time – but a good-looking man was standing in front of her, and Caroline couldn't resist. She did always enjoy the warm fuzzies of a man noticing her and paying her attention – especially now that she was back in Mystic Falls.
The man's smile tightened slightly, and his eyes – a mossy green – darkened as they shielded themselves from her. "Maybe some other time," he said instead.
Caroline felt the sting of rejection, but it didn't cripple her – didn't she have that hot and heavy, steamy, sexier than moulding clay together ala Ghost, no holds barred, best night of her life in Paris just half a year ago? She didn't need some loser in her life when she had those memories. She shrugged.
"Whatever," she replied. "Good luck getting your forms filled tomorrow. Hannah'll be in by ten." With that, she turned on her heels, popped her earbuds back in, and left the city hall for the parking lot and her Ford Fiesta.
Bonnie had text her earlier, asking to meet for coffee at the Grill, and Caroline agreed; she hadn't seen Bonnie in weeks, given how busy she was with the Autumn Harvest. It was also a nice change for Bonnie to send her a text message instead of Caroline doing the chasing – but more likely, Elena was busy.
Caroline parked in a space behind the Mystic Grill, an area designated for all the businesses along the Main Street. The old building used to be the town jail, but was converted in the nineteen thirties into a diner when migrants came looking for jobs in the rural areas of the state. Its long history was something Caroline enjoyed about the small town: almost every building had a past and almost everything in the town looked picturesque or straight out of Pleasantville or Leave It to Beaver.
Bonnie was sitting outside, in the space in front of the doors and front windows, which was turned into a patio during the spring and summer. She was facing Caroline, but looking down at her phone, her left hand winding around a piece of curly black hair.
"Hey Bon!" greeted Caroline, as she sunk into the free seat opposite.
Bonnie looked up, a smile on her face and in her light brown – almost whisky coloured – eyes. "Hi, Care. Did you know that Mystic Falls is going to get a Starbucks?"
Caroline sat up straighter in her seat. "Seriously? That's insane. I knew we had it coming, though, when Whitmore got a Wal-Mart two years ago."
The two fell silent, each looking at the small menu available on a flip board on the tabletop. As they waited for their friend Matt to appear and take their order, Bonnie made small conversation. "Have you heard from... um... the guy from Paris?"
"Nik?" Caroline shook her head. "No. But I knew when I was at the airport that it would be his decision. He's far more neurotic than I am."
"Oh," replied Bonnie, glancing back down and playing with the frayed edge of the menu.
"But," continued Caroline, absently, "I've been thinking about him all day. So maybe that's a sign!"
"Maybe," concurred Bonnie, with a smile.
At that point, Matt exited the front door of the Grill and approached the table in his white button-up and black uniform trousers. A pad and pen were ready once he stopped at their side. "Hey Bon, Care. What can I get you?"
"Hi Matt," began Bonnie, "How's Vicki? Is she any better?"
Matt nodded. "Heard about that, already, did you?"
Caroline's head popped up. "What? What happened?"
Matt sighed. "Vicki was attacked by an animal Tuesday night. She was hanging out with her friends," the word was said with distaste, indicating what type of friends Matt saw them as, "in the cemetery where they hang out by an abandoned mausoleum. It went right for her neck and she bled a lot, but she's recovering in the hospital now."
"I'm so sorry to hear that Matt!" gapped Caroline, surprised she hadn't heard anything while working in the city hall. Small towns were great sources of gossip, and the city hall was where most originated from. "Does she need anything? Spare clothes, favourite snacks, Cosmo?"
"No," laughed Matt, "But I'll ask her when I see her later tonight."
"Thanks," agreed Caroline, and Bonnie also echoed the sentiment.
"Right, so what can I get you Bonnie?"
"I'll take a shot of espresso and biscotti." She said, pushing the flippy menu to Caroline to look at, now that she was done.
"Sure thing," he said, glancing at his pad to write it and then turning to Caroline. "Care?"
Caroline beamed up at him. "Mocha iced coffee."
When Matt didn't respond to Caroline's order, she peered at him from under her lashes in surprise, only to find his eyes locked on something across the street. Caroline and Bonnie shared a confused look, before Caroline turned in her seat and began searching for what caught Matt's attention.
"You have got to be kidding me!" burst out of her mouth before she could censor it.
Standing in the town square, across from the Grill, and at the base of a World War 2 memorial, Elena stood awfully close to the man who Caroline met earlier at the city hall. He was leaning down to her, invading her space and Elena was letting him. Although they were too far away to hear, what was said between the two, Caroline could read their body language – and Elena was flirting.
"Who is that?" asked Bonnie, leaning to the side of her chair to get a better view, her own face half-struck between curious and horrified.
"Some new guy," muttered Caroline. "I saw him not even thirty minutes ago at work. Needed to update his address since he was living outside of Mystic Falls for a few years. So I asked him if he needed a tour guide, 'coz things change. Turned me down flat. Guess he was just waiting for Elena."
The bitter tone didn't hide the disappointment and annoyance that Caroline felt. Once again, she was second best behind Elena and she didn't even know it. Maybe that's why she was thinking of Nik all day; he was the only man in her life who picked her first and she was subconsciously preparing herself for the inevitable heartbreak that Mystic Falls would deliver.
"Caroline..." chastised Bonnie quietly, with a flicker of her eyes up to Matt, who was still looking at the two in shock.
"Come off it, Bonnie," snapped Caroline back, her tone visibly shaking Matt, whose eyes darted between the two girls. "It's always Elena. It always has been."
"It's not some competition between the two of you," argued Bonnie gently.
"Really?" snorted Caroline, reaching down and grabbing her tote. "You could've fooled me. But then again, you are her best friend. Not me." She stood, and yanked the bag up and onto her shoulder, a dirty glance thrown over it as she eyed the man and Elena again. She paused briefly, but then muttered, "Sorry, Matt," to him and to Bonnie, "I've lost my appetite. See you."
With that, she turned and left the Grill, walking back towards her car. She didn't need this. She didn't need the shit that was Elena drama. Yeah, she lost her parents; it was tragic. Once again, the world revolved around her and Caroline was sick of it.
Over the course of the Autumn Festival, and from her position as the event show runner, Caroline had very little time to dwell upon Elena's new friend and Matt's heartbreak. Caroline was sure that he was thinking they'd get back together, after enough mourning time passed for Elena... but perhaps there was more to Elena and Matt's breakup than what Caroline and Bonnie knew.
Regardless, Caroline focused on creating a fantastic back-to-school and autumn even, one that went off without a hitch and led to an event promotion.
As the previous Miss Mystic Falls for three years in a row, Carol Lockwood decided to hand over planning of the Founder's Party to Caroline, when the nominees for Miss Mystic Falls were announced. The honour was huge, considering the event took place in the Lockwood mansion and was the first big "adult" event of the season.
Caroline immediately started on it, working straight up until the twentieth – what would be her twenty-second birthday. She took the day off as a present to herself.
The morning of September 20th, Caroline woke to sunshine, bird chirping, a fresh breeze on the air that signalled the coming of winter, and an empty house.
No card, no cake, no note from her mother, other than she was patrolling and would be back late.
Caroline plastered a smile on her face, ignoring the tug in her chest from her absent mother. Instead, she picked up her phone as she nursed a tea in the kitchen and checked for messages. She had a lovely animated card sent from Steven, her father's husband and their adopted twelve-year-old daughter Melanie, and a quick message from her father wishing her well, but that he wouldn't be by to see her due to business.
Matt sent: Happy 22nd Caroline! XOXO
No one else did.
Feeling rather sorry for herself, Caroline took in a deep breath, firmed her jaw and muttered, "Fuck it," before reaching for her car keys. Some serious retail therapy was required. With that in mind, she drove from Mystic Falls into the nearest, larger town which had a shopping mall and spent nearly three hours wandering up and down the indoor mall, looking at shirts and dresses and shoes. She finally ended up in a spa, receiving a mani/pedi combo and ranting at the poor woman who sat on a stool before her, making sympathetic tsking noises in all the right spots.
Two hours later, Caroline was back in Mystic Falls, her stomach grumbling for her forgoing of breakfast and lunch. However pretty her nails were, and however awesome the new dress she bought looked, it didn't make up for the fact that Elena and Bonnie couldn't be bothered to wish her a happy birthday, or that her own mother forgot about her.
The Grill it is, she thought and parked her car behind the building. She entered, eyes darting left and right to try to spot either Elena or Bonnie, but neither were in. Matt was cleaning a glass from behind the bar, so Caroline headed over.
"Did you get my text?" he asked, coming around and drawing her into a tight hug. "Happy birthday, Care!"
"Thanks, Matt," whispered Caroline, into his neck as she squeezed tightly and took a deep breath of his cologne in, comforting her in its familiarity.
"So what did you get?" he asked as they drew away from each other.
Caroline bit her lip, unsure if she should lie or not. Luckily, a patron at the bar caught Matt's attention and he apologetically left her, standing by the bar without giving an answer.
Sighing, she moved to a two-person table and took a deep breath. Surely numerous people were alone on their birthdays?
From inside her purse, her phone beeped, alerting her to an incoming text. Caroline twisted in her seat, digging through the tote bag and pulling the phone out with little fanfare. It was a bit late for someone to remember her birthday now!
However, the long, unknown number scrawled across the screen had her pausing, before opening it.
Happy birthday, sweetheart. Sorry the wishes are so late – got caught up in some business. Here's to twenty-two amazing years and many, many more to come. – Nik
A smile broke across Caroline's face. The first contact in six months and he sent a birthday message! They had never spoken about their birthdays. She could only assume that he either Googled her with her full name and found out her birthday from a Facebook page, or from the Mystic Falls High School alumni page the town set up. Either way, he looked her up.
Quickly, despite what was likely to be a horrifically expensive message, Caroline typed back: Thank you so much, Nik! I LOVED hearing this from you. XX
The smile remained on her face, despite the melancholia she felt about her family and so-called friends. Matt delivered her a complementary cocktail for her birthday, on the house, and she appreciated the gesture more than she could ever say – especially as his eyes softened when they realised she was alone and no one was going to join her for dinner or drinks.
"I'll see you when my shift is done, okay?" he said softly, before moving away to bus a table.
Alone again, she began playing with her straw, swirling it around the drink and sighing heavily. No more messages from Nik came through; Bonnie and Elena sent nothing; and her mother didn't call or text to indicate what time she'd be done work. Once again, Caroline wasn't first in someone's life and she hated that Mystic Falls reminded her of that.
Her eyes slowly rose from her pity drink, looking around for Matt to let him know she was going to go home and not to wait, when she stopped on a man sitting directly opposite her, several tables away.
Incredibly handsome with dark black hair and brilliantly blue eyes (like Nik's, only, not as nice), wearing a black jacket and black shirt underneath it, raised his tumbler at her with a small smirk as a mocking salute.
And Caroline felt her lips stretch into a small smile. Maybe she wouldn't be alone on her birthday night, after all.
Elena jumped, glancing over her shoulder at Jenna as she threw her popcorn bowl at the TV screen in a fit of rage.
While her aunt was hardly a calm person, her temper tantrums weren't normally this explosive. As a guest lecturer at Whitmore, she needed to keep her temper around her students or risk an early suggestion of dismissal without reference.
"What's up?" Elena asked, moving from the kitchen into the room, and leaning on the back of the couch as she peered at her aunt, who had taken up living in the Gilbert house since her sister and brother-in-law's deaths.
"Logan Fell, that's what," muttered Jenna, absently smoothing a wayward strand of brown hair as she snarled at the screen.
"I figured. What did that TV ever do to you, though?" teased Elena, moving away from the back of the couch to sit next to her aunt.
"Ugh," began Jenna, rolling her eyes. "He's the reason I left Mystic Falls to study. Well, him and a leggy blonde."
"For shame!" gasped Elena, though her eyes were scrunched up in merriment. "Doesn't matter anyway, you're dating the sexy history teacher, Alaric Saltzman, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah," muttered Jenna, turning away from the TV to look down at the box in Elena's hands. "What's all that, then?"
"Mrs. Lockwood," began Elena, smoothing the edges of the box as she looked down at it. "Mom promised her some of the Gilbert antique pieces for the auction at the Founder's Party tomorrow night. I was going to bring them over this afternoon."
Jenna reached in and began playing with the smooth, silver, and round Gilbert pocket watch Grayson used to carry around.
"She shouldn't have them."
Elena and Jenna tilted their heads up to look at Jeremy, standing behind the couch and staring hatefully down at Elena. He was griping his Coke bottle tightly, knuckles turning white and his entire jaw was clenched tight.
"No, Elena," the young man snapped, his nostrils flaring. "Those are ours and Mrs. Lockwood shouldn't have them for the auction. They're our families, and they're not meant to leave it."
"It's what mom wanted," argued Elena, standing from the couch to stare at her brother.
The two siblings glared at each other, both flushed as the heated words raised their ever-present anxieties and emotions. Jeremy hadn't handled their parents passing well, retreating in his room once the school semester – his first at his art school in Colorado – was over, and rarely leaving it. As an eighteen year old, neither Jenna nor Elena had any control over when Jeremy did leave the house, which was usually between the hours of eleven and twelve in the evening, and barely returning before sunrise; Jeremy was often out all night and most of the day, crashing on his bed around two, only to repeat the action.
The doorbell interrupted the two; Jenna rose, murmuring, "I'll get it," and leaving them heatedly staring.
"It's just a pocket watch, Jeremy!" snapped Elena, her brown eyes meeting his.
"It's dad's pocket watch, Elena, and he promised to give it to me for my eighteenth birthday, which if you don't remember – and you don't since I didn't get a happy birthday from you – was three months ago!"
Elena reeled back, shocked. Both her and Jeremy's birthday were a month apart – hers in June, and his in July – but with the death of their parents in May, neither felt like celebrating and she hadn't even mentioned anything on his birthday after the massive fuck up that her twenty-second birthday party was (she spent the majority of it crying in the Grill bathroom, thoroughly annoying Caroline who planned it as a means for her to leave the house; upsetting Bonnie, Matt and Jenna; and Jeremy never showed).
Elena turned, her eyes still wide from her surprise at Jeremy, to face her aunt and the guest. Standing next to her in the hallway was Stefan Salvatore, Zach's nephew. Elena met him a few weeks ago, near the town square. He was having car trouble when she walked by, and his cursing and moody frown caught her attention.
She'd asked if everything was fine; he replied that his engine blew up and now he was stuck walking to his uncle's. She suggested Peter Harding's car shop and gave him the phone number, and after he called, he asked her out for a coffee in thanks. She said yes, and then they were suddenly talking about anything and everything and Elena had never felt so alive (although a part of her said, yes you were; remember your friend in the cemetery?).
She and Stefan spent the last two weeks texting and calling each other back and forth, getting to know each other more. She was falling for him, interested in his grave, still personality and the secrets of his past continued to haunt him, just as her past haunted her – but she wasn't naive enough to think that they were equal. For someone just out of college, Stefan's shoulders were heavy with something dark.
None of that mattered. She was attracted to him – ready to move on from Matt and her friends' constant attention and ready to take some "me" time. So she did.
Making out with Stefan on her bed was like being back in high school. His weight crushed against her, covering her entire body and warming her from the inside. His hands never strayed though – they remained at her waist, clenching and unclenching against her hip, smoothing the fabric of her top that rode up back down, or skimming the curve of her hip but never venturing farther.
His lips were like lightning, though; firm, hard, demanding and then suddenly soft, fluttering, barely there as they moved against hers, tasting her breath and stealing it, down to her neck where they lightly pressed and skimmed.
Elena was in heaven. Her eyes were closed and her head tilted back, breathless sighs escaped her mouth and she arched her back to press tighter against Stefan. Then, his warmth and presence disappeared and he was half-way across her room, his back facing her and his hands up by his head.
"What is it? What's wrong?" she asked, glancing mindfully at her half-closed door. "Did you hear something?"
Jenna had taken Jeremy out for Aunt-Nephew bonding in an attempt to get him to return to Colorado for his art program.
"No, no," rasped Stefan, before taking a few more deep breaths. He then turned around and smiled at Elena. "I'm fine, sorry about that. It's a bit quick, though."
"Sorry!" Elena gave an embarrassed titter. Normally she'd be slowing the men down, not speeding them up.
"No problem," smiled Stefan, rejoining Elena on the bed, who sat up at his approach. They shared easy, if not embarrassed smiles.
"Hey, are you free tomorrow night?" asked Elena, suddenly.
"Tomorrow night?" Stefan's brows furrowed. "Yeah, I am."
"Great!" enthused Elena. "Did you want to be my date at the Founder's Party? I know it's short notice and all, but I was planning on going alone since I need to represent my mom."
Stefan slowly nodded. "Huh. I didn't realise they still do that."
"Do what? The Founder's Party? Have you been to one before?"
Stefan's lips twisted into an awkward smile that immediately made Elena feel guilty. "Salvatore's don't get invitations anymore. It's been a long time."
Elena's doe eyes turned flirty and sly, and Stefan took in a sharp breath as he peered at her. "Maybe we'll have to refresh your memory then," she murmured, the mood instantly changing.
"Maybe you'll have to," he murmured back, eyes dark on hers as they leaned back in for another kiss.
Bonnie was sitting on Elena's bed, watching Elena as she primped, tucked, and fluffed in front of her dresser mirror. The girl was spending far too much time on pushing her breasts up than Bonnie was thinking was acceptable for a first date.
"Seriously," Bonnie groaned, "If he's looking at your boobs instead of your face, he's not the type of guy you should be dating, Elena."
"Maybe I want him to be that type of guy," she absently responded, tilting her head to the side, and pursing her lips. "Matt was all... American and clean-cut and the football quarterback. Perfect. Predictable. Stefan's all broody and mysterious and it's different in a kind of exciting way. Maybe I want a passionate, dangerous relationship for a change."
As soon as she said the words, it wasn't Stefan's face that flashed in front of her, but rather the tall, handsome black-haired and blue-eyed stranger from the cemetery. She mentally shook it off and fiddled with an earring.
Bonnie rolled her eyes and flopped back on the bed, looking at the ceiling.
"So what was this big secret of Stefan's you wanted to share with your best friend?" Elena asked, turning from the mirror. With a smile, she raced over and flopped onto the bed, landing next to Bonnie. The girls shared a giggle.
"So," began Bonnie, in a low voice. "It turns out that Stefan has a brother. And that both of them were interested in the same girl, but she chose Damon over his brother and Stefan has since then been on his case and driving him batty."
"Really?" asked Elena, sceptically. She frowned as her eyes travelled to the ceiling. "That doesn't sound like Stefan. He's really... calm. Laid back. Who told you this?"
"Caroline," answered Bonnie. "You know she hears everything and anything where she works, and the guy she's seeing knows Stefan."
"She's seeing someone?" Elena gapped, sitting up quickly and looking down at Bonnie in shock. "What happened to her Parisian hottie?"
"He sent her a birthday message but that was it," answered Bonnie, who then, also sitting up, flushed with shame and glanced away from Elena. Both she and the Gilbert girl had forgotten about Caroline on her birthday, instead spending the time together and Elena introduced her to Stefan over a homemade dinner at Elena's. Caroline never said anything, but Matt had cornered Bonnie the day after, chewing her out and since then, the two girls were grovelling to Caroline's good graces.
"Oh," replied Elena, just as quietly. No matter how much she had resented Caroline's peppiness during the summer, Caroline had been there for her; Elena just wasn't there in return. She cleared her throat. "You know, that's only Caroline's guy's side of the story. We don't know that it's true."
"We don't know that it's false, either," commented Bonnie pointedly. "Until you hear it from Stefan, you'll need to be open that he might not be who you think he is. He might have secrets."
"Please," said Elena, with a very Caroline eye-roll. "This town is a secret. Vampires? Werewolves? Witches," she finished with a pointed look. "I wouldn't be surprised if someone said that Bigfoot exists."
Bonnie hummed in agreement, and then asked, "What are you going to do about the pocket watch?"
Elena sighed, standing and smoothing down her dress, ruffling the wrinkles free. Bonnie also stood from the bed and copied her. "I think I'll just leave it. I'll make up a lie to Mrs. Lockwood. If dad promised it to Jer, then Jeremy should have it. I won't take that from him."
Bonnie smiled at her best friend.
Elena took a deep breath, threw her hands out at the side, and asked, "Well? How do I look?"
"He's gonna look at you like you're Little Red and he's the Bad Wolf," commented Bonnie with a leer, making Elena laugh.
"Well, hopefully he's not!" she chuckled. "I don't know how I'd get a werewolf boyfriend past Jenna or Ric, to be honest."
"Well, it would be better than a vampire," joked Bonnie, and the two left the room to wait for Stefan to pick her up; Bonnie would take her car, which she drove over to Elena's. "Then Ric would have to stake him, and then where would your relationship be at?"
The Founder's Party was a work of art, Elena had to admit. Caroline really knew her stuff when she was planning high school prom or when she did the decades dances, but ever since she returned from Duke, Caroline's parties were far superior to her high school dreams and aspirations.
The Lockwood ballroom looked as though it was out of a painting; the large, glass-lined windows were thrown open and gauzy, white drapes swayed in the gentle, cool October breeze, which was soothing for the numerous couples dancing on the polished marble floor to the nine-piece orchestra band. The band was on a raised platform, out of the way and tucked into a corner where their music bounced off the walls and could be heard from anywhere in the ground floor and Lockwood gardens, just outside the ballroom.
Gold and silver streamers hung from the two large chandeliers in the ballroom, coiled, twisted, and crisscrossed over each other before meeting at the corners of the room and snaking halfway down the wall. Helium-filled silver and gold balloons floated and bounced gently off the tray ceiling.
A modern-looking, glass bar at the opposite end of the orchestra was stocked and filled to the brim with a multitude of alcoholic beverages and mixes, and numerous black-jacket clad men and women with silver trays floated around the ground floor and gardens with gold-tinted champagne, h'ors devours and finger foods.
Caroline had already arrived, Elena noted, and was dancing close to the open garden windows with a tall, black-haired man, wearing all black, who had his back to her. Caroline was wearing a white knitted cardigan over a white top-dress with a silver leaf-design, one that matched the silver colour of the decorations. Caroline's hair was beautifully done up – a braid wrapped around the crown of her head while the rest of her wheat-coloured hair flowed naturally and loose; the only strange addition to her outfit was the light-blue scarf around her neck with the large white flower decal.
Elena glanced down at her tight, red-orange-yellow and gold-highlight floral dress, and its sweeping décolleté, tightly hugging her breasts and presenting them obviously. The locket Stefan had given her hung low and had the neckline been higher, Elena could've tucked it into the dress instead; she was suddenly second-guessing her decision for the tight, revealing dress after noticing Caroline's conservative, sweet look that screamed "mature adult here!" versus her "I'm totally trying to get laid" look.
Fighting a grimace, Elena tapped Stefan on the arm, and nodded in Caroline's direction. "Let's go say hello," she suggested. "I want to tell Caroline how amazing this all looks."
Stefan shrugged, and began leading them around the edge of the dance floor until they came to an abrupt halt before the laughing couple.
"Damon?" gapped Stefan.
"Hi, Elena," chirped Caroline.
"Brother," purred Damon, his eyes firmly fixed on Stefan.
"Cemetery guy!" gapped Elena, making everyone turn to her in disbelief.
Damon's eyes widened before they narrowed. "Elena. The girl who isn't Katherine." His eyes turned back to his brother. "Of course you would be escorting her to the Founder's Party, since you missed the opportunity the first time."
Both Elena and Caroline looked confused at the conversation, while Stefan's jaw was clenched tightly.
"Stefan, right?" asked Caroline, turning to the other man. "How about a dance?"
Looking vaguely trapped, but accommodating, he nodded and swept Caroline onto the dance floor, leaving Elena and Damon to look at each other.
"Are you going to bid on anything?" asked Damon, finally, and gestured towards the front of the ballroom where a table, lined with items, including some Elena brought over the day previous, stood.
Elena shook her head. "I'm not interested. Are you?"
The two began walking over to the display, which included a framed copy of the original Founding Families and their signatures at the first Founder's Party. Elena bent at the waist to examine it closer.
"Oh, look," she said, pointing, "There's my great-great-great-grandfather. And Caroline's ancestor, William Forbes. Oh! And the first mayor, Benjamin Lockwood." She peered closer. "And hey, isn't that... Damon and Stefan Salvatore?"
"My ancestors," replied Damon blandly. "Stefan and I are named after them."
"I know family names are popular, but wow, talk about it," said Elena, with a smile on her face. Inwardly, an alarm was blaring loudly. Two men who shared the same name over three generations? Men who were part of the Founding Families of Mystic Falls, who knew about vampires and werewolves? Mistaking Elena for someone else? Her bullshit alarm began ringing louder.
She glanced at Caroline, who was standing next to Stefan at the bar. He handed her a drink, and with a smile, the blonde accepted. Elena uttered a muffled squeak of horror at the sight – what was Caroline thinking, taking a drink from him? Didn't her parents tell her about the Founding Families when she turned eighteen?
Damon turned to see what caught Elena's attention, and then frowned. "You don't need to worry about Stefan making a move on Caroline. We might be cursed with sibling rivalry, but you can be certain that he's interested in you and not her."
Oh, like that made Elena feel better.
As calmly as she could, Elena ventured, "You never did say... how old was Katherine when she passed away? It was TB, right?"
Damon gave her a strange look. "She was young, barely eighteen. And it wasn't tuberculosis; she died in a fire in a church, along with twenty-six others."
Elena swallowed heavily. The only fire she knew of, in Mystic Falls' history that involved twenty-six others, was the Battle of Willow Creek... that was the Founding Families' alternate history of the burning of twenty-six vampires.
Elena did her best to not hyperventilate. Damon and Stefan were the same Damon and Stefan Salvatores from the 1800s. They were vampires. The girlfriend they were fighting over was a vampire. Holy fuck.
"Well, let's go rescue our dates, then, shall we?" asked Elena, instead of the "OMG HOLY SHIT THIS IS UNREAL!" that wanted to escape her mouth.
Damon gave her another strange look, but offered her his arm. She took it, almost gingerly, but gave him a tight smile and they made their way to Caroline and Stefan, who were awkwardly speaking. Stefan look relieved at their arrival, making Elena flush with hurt anger for her friend, whose scarf was beginning to make sense, given her date was a vampire. Caroline didn't deserve that treatment; not after her dubious dating history, and her amazing Paris hookup.
Everyone treated Caroline poorly. Elena included. And she was now paying for it with the knowledge of who and what Caroline's date was and unable to say anything without tipping them off and possibly killing her, or Caroline in a fit of anger.
"Shall we dance?" Elena asked instead, turning to Stefan, who gave her a wide smile and led her to the dance floor.
The moved gracefully – that was the Miss Mystic Falls training she and Caroline had – but Elena was unable to relax as she kept an eye on Caroline and Damon, who was leading the blonde from the ballroom.
"Is everything okay? I apologise if my brother said anything upsetting," said Stefan, but Elena barely heard him. Her eyes were wildly searching the ballroom, hoping that Bonnie was there. It wasn't like it was difficult to miss the pretty girl – she was wearing a white dress after Labour Day and was the only person brave enough to do so.
"Um, yeah," Elena absently replied, her eyes finally catching Bonnie, who stood near the doorway with a champagne flute in her hand. "Sorry, Stefan, I've got to go to the toilet."
Stefan gallantly released Elena from their dance, and she practically marched across the dance floor, regardless of whom she bumped into, until she reached Bonnie's side and tightly wrapped a hand around her wrist.
"What the hell, Elena?!" bit Bonnie, frowning as her friend dragged her into the nearest toilet, shut the door, locked it, and then turned the hot and cold taps on full blast.
"Bonnie," began Elena, a wide-eyed look on her pale face, making Bonnie shut up immediately. "Stefan and Damon are vampires."
"Shut the front door."
"I'm serious," continued Elena, clasping Bonnie's shoulders in her hands. "I saw their names on the Heritage Document. They're the same people. And Caroline came with Damon! She's got a scarf around her neck, Bonnie!"
Bonnie began breathing in heavily, flapping her hands. "Okay, okay, oh shit, oh shit. What are we going to do? I don't know any spells to take down a vampire! I can barely light a fucking candle!"
"I dunno!" Elena nearly shrieked back. "Caroline can't go home with Damon, she just can't. I haven't been that good of a friend for her lately, but I won't let her be some vampire's snack!"
Bonnie and Elena stared at each other, ignoring the rushing sound of the water in the sink and the low murmur of party guests outside of the toilet.
"They can't know that we know what they are," said Elena lowly, firmly. "We'll just need to stay ahead of them."
Bonnie ran her hands through her hair. "Jesus Christ, I thought Caroline was from a Founding Family. Shouldn't she know?"
Elena rolled her eyes. "You've met her parents. Her father is never around, and her mother is a workaholic. It's no wonder what she left Mystic Falls as soon as she could, Bon. And since she went away to college, we can assume Sherriff Forbes never told her when she was eighteen, the age Jer and I were when we were told. She rarely came back after her first year, too, remember?"
"So, what's the plan?" asked Bonnie.
"Let's find Caroline and then take her home. Girls' night, we'll say," suggested Elena. "You've got your car, right?"
Elena took a deep breath. "So we'll leave as soon as we get her. Even if she doesn't want to go."
The two girls shared a look, a nod, and then Elena turned off the taps and Bonnie opened the door, both of them smoothing their dressed and hair, fussing as they exited the bathroom.
Stefan stood across, leaning against the wall casually. "Why women go to the bathroom in pairs will always be a mystery to me."
Elena and Bonnie both forced a laugh. "Hey, have you seen Caroline?" Bonnie began, her eyes sliding from Stefan to the crowd down the hall. "We kinda need to apologise to her."
"Apologise? What for?" asked Stefan, standing straight and offering Elena his arm as they wandered down the hall towards the ballroom.
Elena sighed. "We were pretty bad friends and Bonnie reminded me I still haven't apologised for forgetting her birthday a week and a half ago."
Stefan looked incredulous. "You forgot your friends' birthday? How?"
Elena blushed and Bonnie looked away. "I got caught up in you, actually," muttered Elena.
When she glanced up at him, his face was unreadable. When he caught her look, his face changed to understanding. "I think she and Damon wandered out to the gardens, last I saw."
"Let's go find them," said Elena with a false smile on her face. Stefan noticed, but didn't comment.
The three were quiet as they wandered out of the ballroom and onto the cement deck; fairy lights and tea lights were either strung from trees and bushes, or were floating in the large fountain feature the Lockwood's had on their property near the base of the deck stairs. Tables for couples to sit at were covered with either gold or silver tablecloths, and a cozy, intimate gazebo hid any occupants from view with the same gauzy white curtains in the ballroom.
"Overkill," Bonnie muttered under her breath, but both Elena and Stefan heard her. "Caroline never does anything by half. When she goes, she goes all out."
On any ordinary day, Elena would agree and then she and Bonnie would list all the other times Caroline went perfectionist on them; but tonight, Elena was too stressed.
At her side, Stefan suddenly stiffened, and his head turned to the far field of the property near the parking spaces for the cars, where there was little light. His head was tilted as well, as if he was hearing something they couldn't.
"Let's try this way," he suggested, and Elena and Bonnie shared a look. Did vampires have super hearing too?
When Stefan suddenly took off running, Elena and Bonnie were right behind him. In the dark, they spotted two figures on the ground, one writhing in pain and groaning, the other motionless.
"Ohmigod, CAROLINE!" shouted Bonnie, dropping to the dewy grass next to the young woman, whose white dress was grass-stained.
Stefan was beside his brother, who was cursing him soundly. "What did you do?" Damon moaned, gagging.
Stefan looked triumphant. "You'd notice vervain in your drink – you did earlier with the scotch – so I slipped vervain into Caroline's champagne instead."
He clearly didn't want to say anything else with Elena and Bonnie by Caroline's side, who, with wide, dazed eyes, was clutching a bleeding wound at her neck.
"Bonnie? Elena?" she murmured, her face pale and pulse fluttering rapidly underneath the hand Bonnie pressed against, hoping to stem the bleeding.
"It's going to be okay, Care," whispered Elena, going to the woman's other side and help her stand. "We'll get you somewhere safe, promise."
"Okay," she murmured back, her head lolling against Elena's shoulder. Bonnie was about to rise from her knees when a glint in the soft light caught her eyes – a crystal pendant lay on the grass near where Caroline fell. Frowning, Bonnie grabbed it and tucked it into her clutch, then rose and supported Caroline.
When she looked forward, she asked, loudly, "Where did they go?"
Elena looked up at the sound of Bonnie's question, and her mouth dropped open. Both Stefan and Damon were gone, with the only indication they'd even been there, was the trampled grass at the three girls' feet.
Elena was sure, however, that that wasn't the last time any of the three had seen of Damon and Stefan Salvatore.
Authors Note: I finished my thesis! More time to write, once I finish my quick paper for October's conference. :) Hope you enjoy the changes from 1x4... things are going to start to snowball... ALSO: I am on Tumblr. I don't quite get it, but follow me, for updates, etc.: writing-as-tracey