A new beginning…
"Well, this is it," I said because I needed to say something. Mom and I had just finished up my dorm room after a few hours of adjusting and moving. I'd still probably move a couple of things around later, after she left. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the room wasn't absolutely perfect. She'd worked so hard on it with me even though I was more than strong enough to set it up on my own and she knew it. She was struggling enough as it was.
Mom's eyes were shiny with tears. "Where did the time go? Seems like yesterday you were little, chasing me through the house to show me what you did in school with your little pigtails flying and now…"
She was going to make me cry. I knew it.
"All things considered," I said, trying to choke back tears, "I'm actually pretty grateful we're both here to see this day."
Mom grabbed me and hugged me hard. "Caroline, I'm going to miss you so much."
"I'm going to miss you, too." Carefully, I hugged her back. "But I'm not that far away and I'm going see you all the time. I promise."
We held each other for a moment, before Mom pulled away. She smiled and melted my heart, even though the lines around her eyes stood out as little reminders that she wouldn't be here forever. There was a touch of silver in her hair at the roots because she hadn't had time to get to a salon lately. I could hear the sound of her heart pounding in her chest and I couldn't help wonder how many years it would keep beating.
No, I wasn't going to start worrying about the future again. Not right now.
"I'm so proud of you, Caroline," she told me. "I know your Dad would be too."
I nodded. I hoped he would be anyway.
"I'm going to go," she said, grabbing her purse by its strap from my bed. "If you need anything, call me. Call me anyway and tell me how things are going. Come home whenever you want to. If I'm not there…"
"I know. You'll be out doing your sheriff thing."
Her smile faded a little at that. "Just remember something for me. You're my daughter and I love you. I know there were a lot of times I wasn't there when you wanted me to be. I had to support us. But it didn't mean that I didn't love you."
Once I'd been a brat. I used to bitch at her and bitch to my friends about how she was so into that job and I didn't matter. Truthfully, I never really believed it. Did I feel cheated at times? Yes. Had I been lonely? Yes. And that loneliness pushed me to make a lot of bad choices back then. It had made me desperate to find love, friendship.
Time sure had a way of changing things.
"I know that now," I replied. "I love you too."
With another quick hug, Mom left, closing the door behind her.
"This is it," I said to my empty room.
I'd left home. I was about to start college. Another milestone reached.
But as hard as I fought for those milestones, I couldn't help but feel that they didn't carry the same weight now that I was a vampire. As a human, graduating high school, going off to college – they were once in a lifetime events. Now? I could go to college or high school dozens of times if I wanted to.
But it was the first time I'd ever gone to college anyway. Right?
Sighing, I set about adjusting the room a little now that Mom was gone. I moved the bed a little closer to the window. It didn't matter to me if it were centered or not. I enjoyed feeling the sun coming through the windows, wanted to wake up that way when I was able to sleep in. For a vampire, being able to navigate in the sun at all was a privilege and one that I was grateful for. Thanks to my daylight ring, I wasn't a prisoner of the day.
Once I had everything the way I wanted, I found I had two small boxes left to unpack. One was random supplies for my new room – cleaning stuff mostly.
The other box was filled with memories. I smiled as I began to dig into it. A copy of the program from graduation. Movie ticket stubs from times I'd gone out with Bonnie or Elena – or both. A stuffed animal that Matt had given me back in the day when we were an item. A black t-shirt of Tyler's that I'd worn one night and liked so much I'd asked him for it. That I gently lifted from the box and brought to my face, loving how soft it was. I tried to call up the image of Tyler wearing it in my head, how it stretched across the muscled expanse of his chest…
My gaze fell on one last item in the box, a folded piece of paper, and I dropped the shirt to gently lift it out. Carefully, I unfolded it. It was the drawing Klaus had done of me with a horse. I knew I should have gotten rid of it but something wouldn't let me. Vanity? Maybe. He'd drawn me as impossibly beautiful. Next to the horse, I looked like some fairytale princess. Was that how he saw me? For the life of me, I couldn't understand that. Not when I'd used him to get what I needed so many times, for my friends, for myself. And he let me. Always he let me.
"Thank you for your honesty. Klaus" was written at the bottom of the drawing.
I traced the drawn lines gently with a finger as I thought about those words. The humility was… surprising. Klaus was over a thousand years old and no one could kill him. He was half ancient vampire, half werewolf. He was the hybrid. It wasn't lost on me that the mere mention of his name struck fear in most of our kind. I was afraid of him too. Sort of. Not as much as I once had been. I'd faced his wrath before and I'd seen the worst of him.
Yet, he'd saved my life more than once. Okay, two of the times I nearly died, he was directly responsible for, granted. But he was always there to save me. Always.
Klaus was in love with me.
The hum of my phone had me jumping, startled where I sat in the floor. I got up and grabbed my phone from the bedside table.
It was Tyler.
"Hi." I'd been waiting to hear from him all day.
"How did move in go with your Mom?" he asked.
"Everything went great," I admitted. "I'll be all ready to start class."
"Is Elena rooming with you?"
"No, she went for a private room like I did," I explained. "Something about wanting her privacy with Damon."
I'd rolled my eyes when I told him that. I still questioned my friend's choice, I still refused to believe that all the love she once had for Stefan was gone, but decided to stay out of it. If she loved Damon and he made her happy, who was I to judge?
"None of that, Car." It was like he knew I was standing here shaking my head at my friend's love life. "Have you heard from Bonnie?"
"No." And that was frustrating me.
When he didn't say anything, I asked, "So are you coming over tonight? Help me break in my new bed?"
Tyler sighed on the other end of the line. "Wish I could. I just got back in town and I'm waiting on Matt to get home so I can get moved in."
"Why do you have to wait on Matt? Can't you come over while you're waiting?" I did my best teasing tone. Usually it worked on him.
"I signed the deed over to Matt, remember? I can't go in without him inviting me."
He sounded a little sad at that and guilt clawed at me. It was partially my fault he was forced to leave town. Sure, Klaus wanted to kill him after he turned the other hybrids against their sire – with Hayley's help. But the other reason why he'd been forced out of Mystic Falls was Klaus' feelings for me. He wanted Tyler out of the picture.
"I'm so sorry," I whispered.
"Hey, none of that. It's not your fault that I had to go into hiding, Caroline."
"It's kind of my fault," I said.
"The truth is, you're probably the only reason he hasn't killed me yet."
"Don't say yet, Tyler."
"Then don't blame yourself for anything."
He muttered something to someone on his end.
"Is Matt there?" I asked.
"Yeah, gotta go. Talk to you later."
I hung up. I put everything back in my memory box and sighed. It was early. Only about eight and now Tyler wasn't coming over. Classes hadn't started yet. Elena was out for the next day and none of us had heard from Bonnie all summer.
What to do now?
I did my normal routine. I got comfy in some pajamas. I did my nails, my toes. I streamed a couple of episodes of my shows on the internet, ones I'd missed with the move.
And then it was nine-thirty.
I checked my phone. No texts from anyone tonight.
Here I was in my new dorm room, my first night as a college woman, and I had no one to share it with.
That's when I decided to take glamor shots of my room. With my phone I got some decent shots of my new place, I even threw in a selfie, and decided to post them to my mostly neglected Facebook page. It wasn't the same as having someone here to talk to but it was something.
My phone hummed again and I smiled. Maybe it was Tyler.
"I like the pictures of your bedroom," he said. "Those are cute pajamas by the way."
"Why are you stalking me on Facebook?" I demanded, only half-heartedly sounding angry.
"Why not?" I could picture that smile on his face. "Do you like your room?"
"It's great. It's not as big as I'd hoped but it will do."
"Hmmm," he said in a way that suggested he was looking at my photos at that moment. "You know, it's missing something."
"What's missing something? My room?"
"Yes, it doesn't seem quite right."
I rolled my eyes. He loved his little games and the sad thing was, I didn't have anything else to do at that moment.
"Oh, and what exactly am I missing, Klaus?"
"Why don't you go to your door and have a look in the hallway?"
"What?" What was Klaus up to now?
"Be a good girl and do it. Go to your door, open it, and look in the hallway. It's quite simple."
I blew out an exhale.
"What are you up to?" I demanded.
"When have you ever known me to be up to anything?" The feigned innocence in his voice made me laugh.
"Fine, hold on." I told him, dropping the phone on my bed and making my way to the door.
I opened it carefully. I didn't completely trust Klaus but, in that moment, I didn't think he was out to harm me either.
There sitting to the left of my door was a large white box, perfectly square and heavy. I picked it up easily and carried it into my room. There was a mailing label with my name and new address but no clue as to what was inside.
"What is this?" I asked when I picked up the phone.
"Guess you'll have to open it and find out," he teased.
"That's what I'm doing," I told him as I ripped open the top dug through a ton of white foam packing peanuts. It didn't take me long to find the other brown box inside.
I squealed when I realized what it was.
"You said you wanted one," he explained.
"And I was going to go shopping for one but I guess now I don't have to."
I lifted the brown box out, reading the description there. A compact refrigerator in stainless steel with a freezer too? I couldn't help grinning.
"Do you like it?" he asked. Was that a hint of worry in his tone?
"Yes, thank you!" And I meant it. It was more than I could have afforded.
"You're very welcome." I could hear the smile in his voice. "When do your classes start?"
"Is there anything else you need, Caroline?"
"No, I'm good," I told him. "This was more than I expected on top of your… other gift."
His other graduation gift to me had been allowing Tyler to return to me.
"He's your first love. I intend to be your last."
While I felt the need to remind him of my relationship with Tyler, I still felt a tiny bit guilty for even bringing it up. How weird was that?
"Tyler is back in town," he said, letting me know he knew Tyler's whereabouts. "Why isn't he there with you, Caroline?"
"He literally just got back," I explained weakly. "He has to move in too."
The way he said that led me to believe that he either knew that to be not true – or he wanted me to believe that. I let that go by.
Feeling awkward, I decided to wrap up the call.
"Well, I've still got a little unpacking to do," I told him. "I'd better go. Thank you, Klaus, for this. I really like it."
"Goodnight, Caroline," he whispered. "Keep in touch."
I hung up. It took me about two seconds to squeal again and rip open the box with the mini-fridge so I could set it up. And I was happy about it. It was roomy, lots of space for blood bags there. It would be easy to keep clean, even for someone like me who was far from being a domestic goddess.
I almost missed the envelope that waited inside the fridge door. At first, I guess I assumed it was just a receipt or some extra parts for my new appliance. On closer inspection, I saw my name in Klaus' handwriting on the envelope. Inside the envelope was a lot of cash.
Inside the flap of the envelope, also written by Klaus, were the words "I'm here if you ever need me."
The money forgotten, I stared at the envelope for a long time...