Origins (Page 11)

"Why aren’t you at the party?" I asked, bending to pick up my book.

Katherine stepped toward me. "Why aren’t you at the party? Aren’t you the guest of honor?" She perched on the arm of my chair.

"Have you read Shakespeare?" I asked, gesturing to the open book on my lap. It was a lame attempt to change the conversation; I had yet to meet a girl versed in his works. Just yesterday, Rosalyn had admitted she hadn’t even read a book in the past three years, ever since she had graduated from the Girls Academy. Even at that, the last volume she’d perused was merely a primer on how to be a dutiful Confederate wife.

"Shakespeare," she repeated, her accent expanding the word to three syllables. It was an odd accent, not one that I’d heard from other people from Atlanta. She swung her legs back and forth, and I could see that she wasn’t wearing stockings. I tore my eyes away.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" she quoted.

I looked up, astonished. "Thou art more lovely and more temperate," I said, continuing the quote. My heart galloped in my chest, and my brain felt as slow as molasses, creating an unusual sensation that made me feel I was dreaming.

Katherine yanked the book off my lap, closing it with a resounding clap. "No," she said firmly.

"But that’s how the next line goes," I said, annoyed that she was changing the rules of a game I thought I understood.

"That’s how the next line goes for Mr. Shakespeare. But I was simply asking you a question. Shall I compare you to a summer’s day? Are you worthy of that comparison, Mr. Salvatore? Or do you need a book to decide?" Katherine asked, grinning as she held the volume just out of my reach.

I cleared my throat, my mind racing. Damon would have said something witty in response, without even thinking about it. But when I was with Katherine, I was like a schoolboy who tries to impress a girl with a frog caught from the pond.

"Well, you could compare my brother to a summer’s day. Y ou’ve been spending a lot of time with him." My face reddened, and instantly I wished I could take it back. I sounded so jealous and petty.

"Maybe a summer’s day with a few thunderstorms in the distance," Katherine said, arching her eyebrow. "But you, Scholarly Stefan, you are different from Dark Damon. Or …" –Katherine looked away, a flicker of a grin crossing her face–"Dashing Damon."

"I can be dashing, too," I said petulantly, before I even realized what I was saying. I shook my head, frustrated. It was as though Katherine somehow compelled me to speak without thinking. She was so lively and vivacious–talking to her, I felt as though I was in a dream, where nothing I said would have any consequence but everything I said was important.

"Well, then, I must see that, Stefan," Katherine said. She placed her icy hand on my forearm. "I’ve gotten to know Damon, but I barely know you. It’s quite a shame, don’t you think?"

In the distance, the band struck up "I’m a Good Old Rebel." I knew I needed to get back outside, to smoke a cigar with Mr. Cartwright, to twirl Rosalyn in a first waltz, to toast my place as a man of Mystic Falls. But instead I remained on the leather club seat, wishing I could stay in the library, breathing in Katherine’s scent, forever.

"May I make an observation?" Katherine asked, leaning toward me. An errant dark curl flopped down on her white forehead. I had to use all my strength to resist pushing it off her face. "I don’t think you like what’s happening right now. The barbecue, the engagement …"

My heart pounded. I searched Katherine’s brown eyes. For the past week, I’d been trying desperately to hide my feelings. But had she seen me pausing outside the carriage house? Had she seen me run Mezzanotte to the forest when she and Damon explored the garden, desperate to get away from their laughter? Had she somehow managed to read my thoughts?

Katherine smiled ruefully. "Poor, sweet, steadfast Stefan. Haven’t you learned yet that rules are made to be broken? Y can’t make

ou anyone happy–your father, Rosalyn, the Cartwrights–if you’re not happy yourself."

I cleared my throat, aching with the realization that this woman who I’d known for a matter of weeks understood me better than my own father … and my future wife … ever would.

Katherine slid off the chair and glanced at the volumes on Father’s shelves. She took down a thick, leather-bound book, The Mysteries of Mystic Falls. It was a volume I’d never seen before. A smile lit her rose-colored lips, and she beckoned me to join her on my father’s couch. I knew I shouldn’t, but as if in a trance, I stood and crossed the room. I sank into the cool, cracked leather cushion next to her and just let go.

After all, who knew? Perhaps a few moments in her presence would be the balm I needed to break my melancholia.

Chapter 8

I’m not sure how long we stayed in the room together. The minutes ticked away on the grandfather clock in the corner, but all I was aware of was the rhythmic sound of Katherine’s breath, the way the light caught her angular jaw, the quick flick of the page as we looked through the book. I was dimly conscious of the fact that I needed to leave, soon, but whenever I thought of the music and the dancing and the plates of fried chicken and Rosalyn, I found myself literally unable to move.

"You’re not reading!" Katherine teased at one point, glancing up from The Mysteries of Mystic Falls.

"No, I’m not."

"Why? Are you distracted?" Katherine rose, her slender shoulders stretching as she reached up to place the book back on the shelf. She put it in the wrong spot, next to Father’s world geography books.

"Here," I murmured, reaching behind her to take the book and place it on the high shelf where it belonged. The smell of lemon and ginger surrounded me, making me feel wobbly and dizzy. She turned toward me. Our lips were mere inches apart, and suddenly the scent of her became nearly unbearable. Even though my head knew it was wrong, my heart screamed that I’d never be complete if I didn’t kiss Katherine. I closed my eyes and leaned in until my lips grazed hers.