A/N: Happy Holidays! I'm not sure I'll get another update in before Christmas, so I wanted to say it now. We're headed into this chapter in Elena's POV. I enjoy writing in both POV's for different reasons, and I really enjoyed working on this chapter. My muse was happy and it came together smoothly, so I'm happy to get it out there for you.
I chose "To Make You Feel My Love" for the title of this chapter. It was written by Bob Dylan and originally recorded by Billy Joel. Others have performed and recorded it as well, like Adele. But my favorite version is by ortoPilot, who you can check out on Spotify or iTunes.
Your reviews continue to inspire me and I thank you for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 10: To Make You Feel My Love
"And so you just sit out there in a tent, freezing your ass off for hours?" I ask, twirling the stem of my wine glass between my thumb and index finger. It's empty again, and I eye the chilled bottle in a tin ice bucket just a few feet away.
"Yes. That's right," he says with a grin. I can't fathom why someone would enjoy this, so I dig a little deeper and ask a few more questions.
I'm warm and hazy from the local red wine working its way through my bloodstream and I easily lose my train of thought to a fit of giggles when he smiles at me.
"And you do this willingly? Year after year?" I know I'm repeating myself, but I need some confirmation here. Everything he's telling me points to completely insane and I've got to be sure I heard him correctly. "And you just walk right out there, saw a hole in the ice and wait," I add, matter-of-factly. "For fish."
"Yes, baby. That's why it's called ice fishing," his light eyes widen playfully as he grabs my hands and pulls me forward until I crash into him, sending a huge splash of water outside of the bubbling hot tub. I grab onto his strong shoulders to get my balance. "And you don't really just wait. I mean there is some skill involved," he licks his lips and looks up at me through his wet, dark eyelashes and it's like a shot of euphoria right to my veins. He's mine. And I could stare at him like this all night.
"Your glass is empty," he frowns. "We better fix that,"
Honestly, I'm really fuzzy and really don't need even one more sip of alcohol, but I've got the best seat in town when he rises above the water to reach outside of the hot tub to grab the bottle of wine. He pours us refills then sets them on the grey slate surrounding the porcelain tub. His smooth skin is covered in goosebumps and he lets out a sigh of relief when he settles back into the hot water with me. Are we sure I didn't die in that fire? I didn't think it was possible to be this happy.
Maybe it's the alcohol or the fact that he swept me away from everything and brought me here – a cozy little bed and breakfast in Door County, Wisconsin – but I've never felt more treasured than I do right now. We're completely isolated from the rest of the guests, off in our own little hayloft cottage at the edge of the property. We're on the second floor and we've got a killer view of Kangaroo Lake. It's completely frozen over, and I'm memorized by the light snow swirling around just outside our window. The thermometer reads 25F and I'm happy to be snuggled inside with Damon.
We got here around 10 o'clock this morning and spent the day touring wineries and breweries, selecting bottles to purchase to take the memory of this trip back home with us. It's odd, but this is the first time we've actually gone out and done something together. We've spent time with his family and had lots of time together at home, but it's wonderful to get away from it all and celebrate us. Our revival.
Now it's sunset and the the sky is turning from blue to orange to yellow. It's an explosion of colors in the sky, and maybe it's the wine talking, but as I lie across from him watching the clouds shift and fade away, I'm reminded of the simple fact that no two sunsets are alike. Just like no two days with him have been the same. I get to learn something new every day, and while it isn't always easy, it's never short of incredible.
His skin is pink and hot from the water, his hair a little damp from the steam rising around us. I thread my fingers through his thick hair and work it different directions, using the water to make it stay. My heart's on overdrive from the way he watches me. I don't think I could ever come up with the right words to describe how he's making me feel, so I press kisses along his stubbly jawline until his head tips back and he's staring at the ceiling with his fingers dug into my hips. Although I've only known it for a little while, I crave this natural intimacy between us. He kisses me harder and tugs me closer, until I'm nestled in his lap under the hot water, tipsy and falling deliriously more in love with him every moment we're together.
My fingers slide through his hair and my nails bite into his scalp. I'm starting to lose myself to my need when I bump into a little ridge at the back of his head. He continues to kiss me, but tries to pull my fingers away from the spot. Now I'm obsessed. What's with the bump and how did I not notice it before? My head's spinning with questions. I just can't stop worrying. We pull apart and I search his eyes questioningly. It's obvious he knows what I want to ask, and I hope he'll tell me before I have to try. A million terrible things run through my mind, and he must see it in my eyes because his shoulders relax and he kisses my forehead with a sad smile.
"It's just a scar, Lena," he says. A scar. Okay. I'd be a lot more relaxed if his voice hadn't wavered when he said it. Now I'm wondering about the rest of the story. I picture a tiny Damon running around his house with Harlow, knocking into the corner of their kitchen table. Next I imagine the twenty-year-old Damon from my memory, drunk and falling on an icy sidewalk, cracking his head open on the hard cement.
"How'd you get it?" I ask.
"An accident," his lips curve up in that smile that says he doesn't want to talk about it anymore. He usually lights up at the opportunity to talk about his past, so I won't push him the one tim he doesn't want to. It does worry me, though, because if it wasn't a big deal he'd just come out and say it. I've got a sick feeling it has something to do with me. It's one of the first times I've felt like he's actually keeping something important from me, and it hurts.
He can't look me in the eye right now, so I know I'm not imagining it. His fingers busy themselves rubbing the tips of my hair as he seems as lost in thought as I feel.
"Okay," I say softly.
I don't want to hurt on our anniversary or any other day, so I close my eyes before they can well up with tears that will certainly take the sweetness out of this otherwise perfect night. I will ask him soon. I hope I'm wrong in thinking it's about me, but if it is, I think I deserve to know. I know he'd never lie to me, but I can see him leaving pieces out of the story if he thinks they'll hurt me. He's protective of me and I'm grateful, but I won't break. I'm not sure what would be worse – him telling me or me remembering on my own.
"Maybe we should get out of this thing. You're wrinkling up like a prune," he teases, pecking me on the nose. I open my eyes and just like that, the sadness is gone. I shiver when my wet skin hits the air as he lifts me from tub and carries me across the room to the bed. I let go of my temporary troubles and get my head back into the sweetness of the moment, enjoying the way he dries me off with the large, plush towel.
If he had his way, I'd never get dressed. But the little heater in this place can only do so much to keep us warm, so I slip on a pair of yoga pants and a thin cotton long-sleeved shirt before settling under the covers. It's too early to sleep, but there's no television and no internet connection. This place wan't built to cater to business people. It's a hideaway from all the hustle and bustle of the outside world, as a place to remember what's really important.
"You ready to head home tomorrow?" He asks, climbing in beside me.
"Yes and no. This place is amazing, but it will be nice to spend Christmas at home. And I've got presents waiting for you," I happily announce. I'm actually really excited about it. I'm not sure what his reaction is going to be, but I went with my gut instinct as I was out Christmas shopping. I couldn't control myself as I threw countless things for him in my basket. I see so many things that remind me of him. But when I saw the one,main gift I'm giving him, I knew I had no choice but to indulge.
Which brings me to my current issue. Not only did I have to find the perfect Christmas presents for him, I also had to shop for our anniversary. Because he's Damon, he told me not to get him anything, but because I'm me, I didn't listen. He's still not thrilled about me driving out on the snowy roads, but we compromised when I agreed to take his pickup instead of the Corvette. I scoured the neighboring towns for days, searching for just the right thing, and I'm still not sure I found it.
What do I possibly get for the man who completely changed my life? There isn't a present in the world that could do justice. I wish I could bottle up these feelings for him and wrap them up with a tiny little bow. Maybe then he could really understand what he's done for me.
"Speaking of presents, I think it's just about that time," he smirks.
"Okay. You said no presents. This trip was enough for both of us," I remind him, even though I've got something tucked away in my duffel bag for him, too. It's fun to push his buttons a little sometimes, just to see what he'll say next.
"You should know by now that I break the rules," he says, reaching to the floor and pulling something out of the pocket of his crumpled jeans. The motion reminds me of the unforgettable hours we spent in this bed before our trip to the hot tub, and my heart slams at the memory.
When he comes back up, he's got something clenched in his fist and I immediately panic. Dear God. It's tiny, which means it's probably expensive. Probably earrings or a necklace or something way more elaborate than I got for him.
I asked Harlow to help me organize something for him, since she knows the kind of things he likes, and we came up with something clever, but I'm not sure it's going to beat whatever he's done. Like I said, this relaxing trip would have been enough.
He's got that look on his face that says he's got an Ace up his sleeve. He's so good at making me smile that I don't even have to wonder how amazing his gift is going to be.
He's also really good at making me wait.
"Do you know," he says, spinning the rings on my finger. "That I love you even more than the day I married you?"
I shake my head slightly and smile. He's sexy and cocky but I know this isn't just a line. I can see in his eyes how much he believes it to be true. This can't be my life. No way. It's too fucking fairytale. Oh, who am I kidding? I love it!
"Since it's our anniversary, we're supposed to think back on our time together. I know you don't remember it, and since I do it's only fair I paint you a picture of now vs. then. Okay?" He presses a kiss on my lips and I nod, gloriously happy to just listen to him talk.
"Us now - totally domestic, right? I mean I'm married to this generations young, sexy Betty Crocker. We're content to eat pot roast at home and hit the bed by 11. And honestly? I couldn't be happier. I'm incredibly happy."
Swoon. I can't help but smile when he really gets going about something. Especially us.
But when his mouth goes slack and his eyes flare up with something entirely different, I'm worried that he's about to tell me something I don't really want to hear right now. I see apology all over him, and before he even says it, I want to pull him in my arms and tell him it's okay.
"Back then we were just a couple of kids high on love and possibilities. But I didn't cherish you the way I promised I would in my vows, because I don't think I really understood. I wanted you, forever, but I was selfish to believe you'd really be content staying on the road for years. And you weren't," he says honestly. "But I was addicted to winning and I ignored all the signs. For awhile, you didn't come right out and say you were unhappy and it was easier to just pretend I couldn't read between the lines. I think you were afraid of disappointing me, but I'm the one who let you down. Us down," he tells me apologetically. "I should've listen to you the first time you asked me to stop racing."
I'm taken aback by this bit of information. I've been wondering what made us settle down, and if the end of his racing was directly related to me. I'm hit with a pang of guilt knowing I may have ended his dream, but he tells the story like an apology, so there must be more to it than a selfish request.
My eyes widen as I remember just a flash of what he's referring to.
"Stop. Stop and listen to me. Please, Damon. Just come back and listen. Don't do this..."
It's not vivid, just a recollection of exchanged words and a feeling of desperation to get him to stay. Looking at him now, it's hard to believe he'd ever make me feel that way. He must see a bit of recognition in my eyes, because he suddenly looks a little worried.
"Do you remember?" He asks sadly. As hard as it is for me, I'm sure it's hard for him, too. He's trying to be honest but I know he doesn't want to relive it. He's torn between being real and keeping me blissfully happy, but what he doesn't know is that I'm hungry for the past. I want to know all of it, even the hard parts. Because we were strong enough to overcome it and end up here today.
"No. Not really," I say honestly. "If you loved it so much, why would I ask you to stop?"
"Because you loved me and were afraid. It was dangerous, but I didn't want to believe it. I was running with the wrong guys, doing illegal street racing and blowing our money on bets I'd never win..." he admits, and I close my eyes and try with everything I have to remember.
"I'll be fine, baby. You worry too much. It's not a big deal. I always win..." I think I can hear him say.
I close my eyes and search inside of my heart for a deeply rooted ache I didn't realize existed. It's frustration and devastation at the thought of him getting hurt. But it's not anger or resentment, the way he makes it seem. If anything, I was swimming with panic at the mere thought of losing him.
It gives me just a glimpse of what he must have felt when he almost lost me.
"And you were right, baby. I should've stopped," he says, reaching back and rubbing the back of his hair. "It was dangerous. But I didn't stop until I had no other choice. And you stuck by me the entire time, without even one I told you so."
I'm firing on all circuits, trying to figure this out. Trying to remember. I get the feeling it's going to make me sad, and I really don't want that today. So I do the unthinkable. I ask him not to tell me about it tonight.
Stupid? Maybe. He's been really sensitive about the whole racing thing this whole time and I should nab the opportunity to talk about it when he's ready, but we've got a long time to sort through all of that. Besides, it won't change the way I feel. And he'll know that soon.
"Today is all about us. Nothing is as important as us," he reaffirms. "Which brings me to this," he announces as he opens his fist to reveal my gift.
"Happy Anniversary, Lena."
He hands me the box and my hands tremble as I take it. It's small and wrapped in shiny silver paper with a perfectly looped metallic red bow. Once the wrap is off, I realize I'm holding a black velvet jewelry box. I look from him to the hinge then back, then spin it around so I can crack open the front. My breath catches in my throat when I see it. It's not a necklace or pretty earrings or a bracelet. It's a ring- solid white gold with little diamonds running around the band.
"I always thought you got kind of cheated, you know, getting both an engagement ring and a wedding band on the same day. Two birds, one stone...all that," he smiles. "I bought this one a few months later and wanted to give it to you on our first anniversary. I even brought it to the hospital room, but I couldn't bring myself to put it on you when you were sleeping and wouldn't know. I needed to see your eyes. I get to now, and it was worth the wait."
Said eyes are leaking like an old faucet. He's gorgeous behind a sea of emotions. I'm trying to focus. I promise I am. But this is the kind of romantic gesture I've only seen in movies. I never thought it would happen to me. It's the kind of love my Mom said didn't exist in real life so I shouldn't waste time looking for it. But she was wrong, obviously. And although we didn't really get along, it's sad believing she probably didn't love my father this way.
Maybe I'm just one of the lucky ones.
He reaches over to pull it from the box, then takes my trembling hand and slides off my engagement ring so he can slip the new ring on to sandwich it between my others. His warm fingers stay on mine, and I keep my eyes focused on the diamonds. I know if I look up at him I'll really lose it, and I also know that would be okay. He hasn't said anything in awhile and I realize that while I've been doing a celebratory dance in my head, he's still waiting for a reaction.
"It's amazing. Thank you, Damon. I love it."
"It's a new promise. A promise that I'll never let you down again. That I want you as much as the day I asked you to marry me and I'll only want you more as the years pass. I want these years with you, Elena. I can't ask you to marry me because I already did. But I can ask you to believe that I'll make good on my promises and I can tell you I'd go back and marry you all over again if I could. And we'd move into our house sooner than we did and we'd have as many babies as you wanted..."
He stops quickly like he's said too much, but I'm hung up on the very last part of his profession. Babies. Was that something we'd been working on before the fire? Wow. I can't breathe. I'm heady from all the ups and downs of the last hour and I've got visions of this beautiful man pressing kisses to my rounded belly. And wow. I can't. I've got to change the subject and fast.
It's not that it's not a pleasant thought. It's a wonderful thought. Down the road. When I've got my head back on straight and we're even more established than we are right now.
"Okay, now it's my turn," I say quickly to get on with things. He gives me a confused look, like he didn't expect me to get him anything. But there was no way in hell I could let this special day pass without letting him know how he makes me feel.
Earlier, while he was in the shower, I shoved my gift under the bed so I could pull it out to surprise him. I guess I slid it further than I thought, because I'm hanging half off the bed and I still can't reach it. I'm not surprised to hear him giggle and feel him slap my ass before I actually get my hands on the gift. I haul myself back up and give him a playfully stern look before handing him the package.
"What?" He asks innocently. "You were asking for it, sticking your ass up in the air like that," he shrugs. "I see you like breaking the present rules, too."
"Yes," I smile. "And you can thank your sister for helping me find everything and getting it all put together the way I wanted. She really is sweet,"
His blue eyes widen in surprise. I hadn't told him I'd spent time on my own with Harlow, but I know he's been dying for it to happen. He tells me wonderful stories of how close we were. How she was the sister I always wanted, and after spending an afternoon with her, hitting little local shops and coffee houses, I know he's right. She's got a contagious laugh and a warm personality and she treats me like I imagine she always has. Like she trust me with everything she's got.
My stomach flips when I pull the bag up onto the bed. Now that it's actually time to give him the gift, I'm nervous. I feel like I should preface this with a big, romantic speech or something, but the words are jumbling in my head so I hand him a wrapped package before I can chicken out.
He smiles and gets to work on the first one. My heart's about to beat out of my chest when his fingers slide under the tape and he's faced my handwriting on the tag.
"Happy 5th Anniversary, Damon," he reads aloud and my cheeks heat. He looks at me once with a smile as wide as a child's then digs into the the gift, a small mahogany corvette. His fingers smooth over it lightly until he feels the engraving on the belly of the car.
"Sparrow," he says smiling. "Elena, I love it. Thank you,"
"I know she's more of my car than yours, but I know she's been with us since the very beginning, and it just seemed like a nice reminder. I thought you could keep it on your desk at work. The traditional gift for the fifth wedding anniversary is wood," I tell him.
"Now go on and open the others," I wave toward the small pile between us. He hadn't noticed it before.
"There's more?" He laughs. "Way to outdo me, baby." I shake my head and get ready for his next surprise. He leans over to kiss me once, then starts in on the second gift. His eyes widen as he opens a box of chocolate covered strawberries and the second card.
"Happy 4th Anniversary," he says slowly, and this time his voice gives out a little. "Elena..."
I've seen him cry. I know the sound he makes, the thickness of his voice just before the tears fill his eyes. And I'm touched knowing that by the end of this, I'll see it again. We've only just begun.
"The fourth anniversary is fruit. Not very exciting. I at least wanted to sex it up a little," I tease. He stares at me like I've just given him the best gift in the world. "It's only strawberries," I say sweetly, reaching up to touch his cheek. But he swallows and sets them aside to start on the next.
By now he's figured out why there are three presents left. He doesn't read the script out loud this time, just slides the leather wrist band on and kisses the hell out of me. "You're incredible."
I smile back and watch him open the faded grey cotton University of Wisconsin Alumni T-shirt.
"Happy 2nd Anniversary/Graduation..."
His hands stop and he swallows when he looks at me. He takes a deep breath, like I've just uncovered a secret.
"I saw your diploma hanging up in the corner of your office. I know you went back and finished when I was in my coma. It's not something you should feel you have to hide from me. I'm proud of you," I tell him. "Just because we ditched out on it the first time doesn't mean you can't change your mind. And I get it. You needed to make a life for yourself, in case I didn't come back." Now I'm the one with the shaky voice.
"Thank you," he manages, squeezing my hand.
My stomach's swirling harder than ever knowing we've reached the final present. This is the big one, the very reason I'm nervous to begin with. I let out a breath and close my eyes as he unwraps the final box. There's no card attached this time and I can tell he's confused when he finds nothing more than a blank piece of paper inside.
"Paper," he says. "The traditional first anniversary gift..."
"I wanted to write something on it, but I couldn't. I sat down for hours one night that you were working late, but I came up blank. Just like this paper. It's not that I don't know what I want to say to you or how I feel. My feelings are one of the few things I am confident about right now."
Tears spring to my eyes. Oh no. Here we go. "I've got a pretty good idea of how we spent our first four anniversaries. We've never talked about it, but I know you were right by my side for every single one of them, just as you were by my side on so many other ordinary days. Your Mother and Harlow confirmed it, but my heart knew before they ever said a thing."
My mouth is dry like cotton, but I've got to push through. He's staring at me, completely entranced like every word I'm saying is more important than the one before it. We're facing each other, sitting with our legs folded under us like a couple of kids with all of my gifts between us, and it dawns on me that this is the single most important thing I've ever said to him, and no matter how it comes out, it's going to be right.
"I can't imagine what it was like for you when I stared up at you for the first time in four years without a hint of recognition," I swallow. "I was afraid at first, you know. Maybe you couldn't tell because I tend to hide it well, probably from all the years I had to when I was younger. But I wasn't afraid of you. I was afraid I'd never figure out who I was in those missing years, and scared the fire had done damage that I could never fix. But I have you..."
I say, taking his hand before I continue. "And I've had you all along. I may not have opened my eyes and I may have been stuck inside my own body, fighting to get free for a really long time, but some nights were warmer than others. I didn't understand why then, because I didn't remember you. But when I opened my eyes looked at you...when first spoke and told me you were my husband...I got those same warm feelings. I've known all along that I can trust you, even if I didn't know your name. So all those nights you felt like I couldn't hear what you were saying, you were wrong. I heard you and felt you, even when I didn't know who you were.
"I wanted to write you a letter on this piece of paper, telling you that I really do believe I only woke up for you. Because I loved you. Even asleep, I could feel you love me...just like I can feel your love right now," Okay. If I don't wrap this up shortly I'm going to be a blubbering mess. So here goes. I send a big fuck you to my nerves and let it all out. I'm Elena Salvatore, damn it.
"I'm in love with you. Right now," I say and the tears finally escape from both of our eyes. "Happy Anniversary,"
He sets the piece of paper down on the bed next to us and pulls me onto his lap. His arms are wrapped tightly around my middle and I can barely breath when his lips crash into mine. I'm blitzed with affectionate kisses; the knee-weakening, heart-melting kind that make me want to tear my clothes off and connect with him. I just might.
"I love you, too," he says happily. His lips are sweet from the wine, his touch intoxicating as the back of his hand runs gently over my cheeks. "I still can't believe you're here."
I shift in the bed, ready to pull him down on top of me. The heat stays in his eyes, but it's paired with something even better. Real, solid love. He must stare at me for a good minute before he kisses me again. I get the feeling he's taking it all in. Processing it as fully as I am and savoring each moment.
I'm not sure I could've dreamed up a better anniversary than this. I would've been fine staying home in our warm house, surrounded by our things and our own bed. But as I'm learning with each day, he's completely unpredictable. He says things and plans things that I couldn't have imagined I'd experience. I haven't reopened my photo journal since he gave it to me the other night, but with all the pieces of our history he's giving me, I know I will soon.
Even if they're just pictures to me and nothing more. Even if I can't remember the exact way I felt the exact moment we took the picture or the feeling in my stomach as I scribbled down my thoughts on the road. They were still my thoughts and my feelings and regardless of the fact that they'll play nothing into the way I love him now, I'm interested to know more about myself in those missing years. If I can be pissed about one thing right now, it's that my brain has somehow taken away the very best years of my life and left me with the crappy ones.
He rubs my nose with his before looking out the big window.
"The snow stopped," he says softly, staring at me from across the bed. "It's only 7:30 and I don't know about you, but I'm not really tired." I watch as he fiddles with the leather band on his wrist, and I make a mental note to thank Harlow for helping pick out something he'd like. I also take a moment to appreciate how good he looks with just my wrist band on.
All too soon he's up and slipping into boxer briefs and a pair of jeans that fit him just right. Sadly, the throws a black button up shirt on over his head, and I stare at him with a questioning smile, wondering why he doesn't just undo the buttons.
"I'm not really tired either, I guess," I stifle a yawn because I'm really not. Regretfully, I get dressed. I should really look in a mirror because I'm sure my makeup's smeared and melted from the steam of the hot tub and the movement of his fingers across my face. I take a quick peek and sigh as I notice the disaster that is my hair. I twist it up in a messy bun and throw on some vanilla lipgloss to feel at least a little more presentable.
"Since you're getting so dolled up, why don't we do something?" he says, coming up from behind me. He looks so put together right out of bed, and it's incredibly unfair that bed head makes him even sexier. I roll my eyes and he winks, teasing me. He always tells me I don't have to get fancy just to hang out with him, but he doesn't get it. Maybe I don't have to impress him, but I want to.
"So what do you say we head out to The Elkroom for a little while? We can kill some burgers and fries and see what that band is all about. What do you think?" He asks, straightening the three rings on my fingers until they're centered.
The wine is slowly thinning from my blood and the more I think about it, I am pretty hungry. Damon told me about this cool little bar in a lodge down the road that brings in local musicians. Tonight there's an alternative country band there, and I know he must really, really love me because he really, really hates country music.
"I think if you're this amazing after five years, I can't wait to see ten," I say and my fingers with his as he opens to door and we head out into a beautiful, snowy wonderland. I get it now. I can't compare the beauty of my returning memories to the moments I'm living out right now. They're each precious, old and new. And I want more.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Hoping to get the next chapter up after Christmas, when my work life slows again :D