Origins (Page 31)

"Now, Katherine, he doesn’t look like he’s seen a ghost. He’s seen vampires. Three of them." I glanced up at Pearl as if I were an obedient schoolboy and she were my schoolmarm. She sat down on a nearby rock slab, and Anna perched next to her, suddenly looking much younger than her fourteen years. But, of course, if Anna was a vampire, then that meant she wasn’t fourteen at all. My brain spun, and I felt a momentary wave of dizziness. Katherine patted the back of my neck, and I began to breathe easier.

"Okay, Stefan," Pearl said as she rested her chin on her steepled fingers and gazed at me. "First of all, I need you to remember that Anna and I are your neighbors, and your friends. Can you remember that?"

I was transfixed by her gaze. Pearl then smiled a curious half smile. "Good," she exhaled.

I nodded dumbly, too overwhelmed to think, let alone speak. "We were living in South Carolina right after the war," Pearl began.

"After the war?" I asked, before I could stop myself.

Anna giggled, and Pearl cracked a tiny sliver of a smile. "The War of Independence," Pearl explained briefly. "We were lucky during the war. All safe, all sound, all a family." Her voice caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. "My husband ran a small apothecary when a wave of consumption hit town. Everyone was affected–my husband, my two sons, my baby daughter. Within a week, they were dead."

I didn’t know what to say. Could I say I was sorry for something that had happened so long ago?

"And then Anna began coughing. And I knew I couldn’t lose her, too. My heart would break, but it was more than that," Pearl said, shaking her head as if caught in her own world. "I knew my soul and my spirit would break. And then I met Katherine."

I glanced toward Katherine. She looked so young, so innocent. I glanced away before she could look at me.

"Katherine was different," Pearl said. "She arrived in town mysteriously, without relatives, but she immediately became part of society."

I nodded, wondering who, then, was killed in the Atlanta fire that brought Katherine to Mystic Falls. But I didn’t ask, waiting for Pearl to continue her story.

She cleared her throat. "Still, there was something about her that was unusual. All the ladies and I talked about it. She was beautiful, of course, but there was something else. Something otherworldly. Some called her an angel. But then she never got sick, not during the cold seasons, and not when the consumption began in town. There were certain herbs she wouldn’t touch in the apothecary. Charleston was a small town then. People talked."

Pearl reached for her daughter’s hand. "Anna would have died," Pearl continued. "That’s what the doctor said. I was desperate for a cure, wracked with grief and feeling so helpless. Here I was, a woman surrounded by medicine, unable to help my daughter live." Pearl shook her head in disgust.

"So what happened?" I asked.

"I asked Katherine one day if she knew of anything that could be done. And as soon as I asked, I knew she did. There was something in her eyes that changed. But she still took a few minutes of silence before she responded and then–"

"Pearl brought Anna to my chambers one night," Katherine interjected.

"She saved me," Anna said in a soft voice. "She saved me," Anna said in a soft voice. "Mother too."

"And that’s how we ended up here. We couldn’t stay in Charleston forever, never growing old," Pearl explained. "Of course, soon we’ll have to move again. That’s the way it goes. We’re gypsies, navigating between Richmond and Atlanta and all the towns in between. And now we have another war to deal with. Seeing so much history really proves to us that some things never do change," Pearl said, smiling ruefully. "But there are worse ways to pass the time."

"I like it here," Anna admitted. "That’s why I’m scared we’ll be sent away." She said that last part as a whisper, and something about her tone made me achingly sad.

I thought of the meeting I’d attended that afternoon. If Father had his way, they wouldn’t be sent away, they’d be killed.

"The attacks?" I asked finally. It had been the one question that had been nagging at me ever since Katherine’s confession. Because if she didn’t do it, then who … ?

Pearl shook her head. "Remember, we’re your neighbors and friends. It wasn’t us. We never would behave like that."

"Never," Anna parroted, shaking her head fearfully, as though she were being accused.

"But some of our tribe have," Pearl said darkly.

Katherine’s eyes hardened. "But it’s not just we or the other vampires who are causing trouble. Of course, that’s who everyone blames, but no one seems to remember that there’s a war going on with untold bloodshed. All people care about are vampires." Hearing Damon’s words in Katherine’s mouth was like a bucket of cold water in my face, a reminder that I wasn’t the only person in Katherine’s universe.

"Who are the other vampires?" I asked gruffly.

"It’s our community, and we will take care of it," Pearl said firmly. She stood up, then walked across the clearing, her feet crunching on the ground until she stood above me. "Stefan, I’ve told you the story and now here are the facts: We need blood to live. But we don’t need it from humans," Pearl said, as if she were explaining to one of her customers how an herb worked. "We can get it from animals. But, like humans, some of us don’t have self-control, and some of us attack people. It’s really not that much different from a rogue soldier, is it?"

I suddenly had an image of one of the soldiers we’d just played poker with. Were any of them vampires, too?