"Are you having a good time?" Elena asked.
I am now . Stefan didn't say it, but Elena knew it was what he was thinking. She could see it in the way he stared at her. She had never been so sure of her power. Except that actually he didn't look as if he were having a good time; he looked stricken, in pain, as if he couldn't take one more minute of this.
The band was starting up, a slow dance. He was still staring at her, drinking her in. Those green eyes darkening, going black with desire. She had the sudden feeling that he might jerk her to him and kiss her hard, without ever saying a word.
"Would you like to dance?" she said softly. I'm playing with fire, with something I don't understand, she thought suddenly. And in that instant she realized that she was frightened. Her heart began to pound violently. It was as if those green eyes spoke to some part of her that was buried deep beneath the surface-and that part was screaming "danger" at her. Some instinct older than civilization was telling her to run, to flee.
She didn't move.
Something awful is going to happen today.
I don't know why I wrote that. It's crazy. There'sno reason for me to be upset and every reason for me to be happy, but...
But here I am at 5:30 in the morning, awake and scared. I keep telling myself it's just that I'm all messed up from the time difference between France and here. But that doesn't explain why I feel so scared. So lost.
The day before yesterday, while Aunt Judith and Margaret and I were driving back from the airport, I had such a strange feeling. When we turned onto our street I suddenly thought, "Mom and Dad are waiting for us at home. I bet they'll be on the front porch or in the living room looking out the window. They must have missed me so much."
I know. That sounds totally crazy.
But even when I saw the house and the empty front porch I still felt that way. I ran up the steps and I tried the door and knocked with the knocker. And when Aunt Judith unlocked the door I burst inside and just stood in the hallway listening, expecting to hear Mom coming down the stairs or Dad calling from the den.
Just then Aunt Judith let a suitcase crash down on the floor behind me and sighed a huge sigh and said, "We're home." And Margaret laughed. And the most horrible feeling I've ever felt in my life came over me. I've never felt so utterly and completely lost.
Home. I'm home. Why does that sound like a he?
I was born here in Fell's Church. I've always lived in this house, always. This is my same old bedroom, with the scorch mark on the floorboards where Caroline and I tried to sneak cigarettes in 5th grade and nearly choked ourselves. I can look out the window and see the big quince tree Matt and the guys climbed up to crash my birthday slumber party two years ago. This is my bed, my chair, my dresser.
But right now everything looks strange to me, as if I don't belong here. It's me that's out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there's somewhere I do belong, but I just can't find it.
I was too tired yesterday to go to Orientation.
Meredith picked up my schedule for me, but I didn't feel like talking to her on the phone. Aunt Judith told everyone who called that I had jet lag and was sleeping, but she watched me at dinner with a funny look on her face.
I've got to see the crowd today, though. We're supposed to meet in the parking lot before school. Is that why I'm scared? Am I frightened of them?
Elena Gilbert stopped writing. She stared at the last line she had written and then shook her head, pen hovering over the small book with the blue velvet cover. Then, with a sudden gesture, she lifted her head and threw pen and book at the big bay window, where they bounced off harmlessly and landed on the upholstered window seat.
It was all so completely ridiculous.
Since when had she, Elena Gilbert, been scared of meeting people? Since when had she been scared of anything ? She stood up and angrily thrust her arms into a red silk kimono. She didn't even glance at the elaborate Victorian mirror above the cherrywood dresser; she knew what she'd see. Elena Gilbert, cool and blond and slender, the fashion trendsetter, the high school senior, the girl every boy wanted and every girl wanted to be. Who just now had an unaccustomed scowl on her face and a pinch to her mouth.
A hot bath and some coffee and I'll calm down, she thought. The morning ritual of washing and dressing was soothing, and she dawdled over it, sorting through her new outfits from Paris. She finally chose a pale rose top and white linen shorts combo that made her look like a raspberry sundae. Good enough to eat, she thought, and the mirror showed a girl with a secret smile. Her earlier fears had melted away, forgotten.
"Elena! Where are you? You're going to be late for school!" The voice drifted faintly up from below.
Elena ran the brush one more time through silky hair and pulled it back with a deep rose ribbon. Then she grabbed her backpack and went down the stairs.
In the kitchen, four-year-old Margaret was eating cereal at the kitchen table, and Aunt Judith was burning something on the stove. Aunt Judith was the sort of woman who always looked vaguely flustered; she had a thin, mild face and light flyaway hair pushed back untidily. Elena landed a peck on her cheek.
"Good morning, everybody. Sorry I don't have time for breakfast."
"But, Elena, you can't just go off without eating. You need your protein-"
"I'll get a doughnut before school," said Elena briskly. She dropped a kiss on Margaret's tow head and turned to go.
"But, Elena-" "And I'll probably go home with Bonnie or Meredith after school, so don't wait dinner. Bye!"
Elena was already at the front door. She closed it behind her, cutting off Aunt Judith's distant protests, and stepped out onto the front porch.
And stopped.All the bad feelings of the morning rushed over her again. The anxiety, the fear. And the certainty that something terrible was about to happen.Maple Street was deserted. The tall Victorian houses looked strange and silent, as if they might all be empty inside, like the houses on an abandoned movie set. They looked as if they were empty ofpeople , but full of strange watching things.That was it; something was watching her. The sky overhead was not blue but milky and opaque, like a giant bowl turned upside down.The air was stifling, and Elena felt sure that there were eyes on her.She caught sight of something dark in the branches of the old quince tree in front of the house.It was a crow, sitting as still as the yellow-tinged leaves around it. And it was the thing watching her.She tried to tell herself that this was ridiculous, but somehow she knew . It was the biggest crow she had ever seen, plump and sleek, with rainbows shining in its black feathers. She could see every detail of it clearly: the greedy dark claws, the sharp beak, the single glittering black eye.It was so motionless that it might have been a wax model of a bird sitting there. But as she stared at it, Elena felt herself flush slowly, heat coming in waves up her throat and cheeks. Because it was... looking at her. Looking the way boys looked at her when she wore a bathing suit or a sheer blouse. As if it were undressing her with its eyes.Before she realized what she was doing, she had dropped her backpack and picked up a stone from beside the driveway. "Get out of here," she said, and heard the shaking anger in her own voice. "Go on! Getaway !" With the last word, she threw the stone.There was an explosion of leaves, but the crow soared up unharmed. Its wings were huge, and they made enough racket for a whole flock of crows. Elena crouched, suddenly panicked as it flapped directly over her head, the wind of its wings ruffling her blond hair.But it swooped up again and circled, a black silhouette against the paper-white sky. Then, with one harsh croak, it wheeled away toward the woods.Elena straightened up slowly, then glanced around, self-conscious. She couldn't believe what she had just done. But now that the bird was gone, the sky felt ordinary again. A little wind made the leaves flutter, and Elena took a deep breath. Down the street a door opened and several children poured out, laughing.She smiled at them, and took another breath, relief sweeping through her like sunlight. How could she have been so silly? This was a beautiful day, full of promise, and nothing bad was going to happen.Nothing bad was going to happen-except that she was going to be late getting to school. The whole crowd would be waiting for her in the parking lot.You could always tell everyone you stopped to throw stones at a Peeping Tom, she thought, and almost giggled. Now,that would give them something to think about.Without a backward glance at the quince tree, she began to walk as quickly as she could down the street.The crow crashed through the top of the massive oak, and Stefan's head jerked up reflexively. When he saw it was only a bird, he relaxed.His eyes dropped to the limp white form in his hands, and he felt his face twist in regret. He hadn't meant to kill it. He would have hunted something larger than a rabbit if he'd known how hungry he was. But, of course, that was the very thing that frightened him: never knowing how strong the hunger would be, or what he might have to do to satisfy it. He was lucky that this time he'd killed only a rabbit.He stood beneath the ancient oak trees, sunlight filtering down onto his curly hair. In jeans and T-shirt, Stefan Salvatore looked exactly like a normal high school student.He wasn't.Deep in the woods, where no one would see him, he'd come to feed. Now he licked at his gums and lips painstakingly, to make sure there was no stain on them. He didn't want to take any chances. This masquerade was going to be hard enough to pull off as it was.For a moment he wondered, again, if he should just give it all up. Perhaps he should go back to Italy, back to his hiding place. What made him think that he could rejoin the world of daylight?But he was tired of living in shadows. He was tired of the darkness, and of the things that lived in it. Most of all, he was tired of being alone.He wasn't sure why he'd chosen Fell's Church, Virginia. It was a young town, by his standards; the oldest buildings had been put up only a century and a half ago. But memories and ghosts of the Civil War still lived here, as real as the supermarkets and fast-food joints.Stefan appreciated respect for the past. He thought he might come to like the people of Fell's Church. And perhaps-just perhaps-he might find a place among them.He'd never be accepted completely, of course. A bitter smile curved his lips at the idea. He knew better than to hope forthat . There would never be a place where he could belong completely, where he could truly be himself.Unless he chose to belong to the shadows...He slapped the thought away. He'd renounced the darkness; he'd left the shadows behind him. He was blotting all those long years out and starting afresh, today.Stefan realized he was still holding the rabbit. Gently, he laid it down on the bed of brown oak leaves. Far away, too far for human ears to pick up, he recognized the noises of a fox.Come along, brother hunter, he thought sadly. Your breakfast is waiting.As he slung his jacket over his shoulder, he noticed the crow that had disturbed him earlier. It was still perched in the oak tree, and it seemed to be watching him. There was a wrongness about it.He started to send a probing thought toward it, to examine the bird, and stopped himself. Remember your promise, he thought. You don't use the Powers unless it is absolutely necessary. Not unless there is no other choice.Moving almost silently among the dead leaves and dry twigs, he made his way toward the edge of the woods. His car was parked there. He glanced back, once, and saw that the crow had left the branches and dropped down on the rabbit.There was something sinister in the way it spread its wings over the limp white body, something sinister and triumphant. Stefan's throat tightened, and he almost strode back to chase the bird away. Still, it had as much right to eat as the fox did, he told himself.As much right as he did.If he encountered the bird again, he'd look into its mind, he decided. Just now, he tore his eyes from the sight of it and hurried on through the woods, jaw set. He didn't want to be late arriving at Robert E. Lee High School.