The Awakening (Chapter Ten)
I'm writing this during trig class, and I just hope Ms. Halpern doesn't see me.
I didn't have time to write last night, even though I wanted to. Yesterday was a crazy, mixed-up day, just like the night of the Homecoming Dance. Sitting here in school this morning I almost feel like everything that happened this weekend was a dream. The bad things were so bad, but the good things were so very, very good.
I'm not going to press criminal charges against Tyler. He's suspended from school, though, and off the football team. So's Dick, for being drunk at the dance. Nobody is saying so, but I think a lot of people think he was responsible for what happened to Vickie. Bonnie's sister saw Tyler at the clinic yesterday, and she said he had two black eyes and his whole face was purple. I can't help worrying about what's going to happen when he and Dick get back to school. They have more reason than ever to hate Stefan now.
Which brings me to Stefan. When I woke up this morning I panicked, thinking, "What if it all isn't true? What if it never happened, or if he's changed his mind?" And Aunt Judith was worried at breakfast because I couldn't eat again. But then when I got to school I saw him in the corridor by the office, and we just looked at each other. And I knew. Just before he turned away, he smiled, sort of wryly. And I understood that, too, and he was right, it was better not to go up to each other in a public hallway, not unless we want to give the secretaries a thrill.
We are very definitely together. Now I just have to find a way to explain all this to Jean-Claude. Ha-ha.
What I don't understand is why Stefan isn't as happy about it as I am. When we're with each other I can feel how he feels, and I know how much he wants me, how much he cares. There's an almost desperate hunger inside him when he kisses me, as if he wants to pull the soul out of my body. Like a black hole that.
Still October 7, now about 2:00 p.m.
Will, a little break there because Miss Halperncaught me. She even started to read what I'd written out loud, but then I think the subject matter steamed her glasses up and she stopped. She was Not Amused. I'm too happy to care about minor things like flunking trigonometry.
Stefan and I had lunch together, or at least we went off into a corner of the field and sat down with my lunch. He didn't even bother to bring anything, and of course as it turned out I couldn't eat either. We didn't touch each other much-we didn't-but we talked and looked at each other a lot. I want to touch him. More than any boy I've ever known. And I know he wants it, too, but he's holding back on me. That's what I can't understand, why he's fighting this, why he's holding back. Yesterday in his room I found proof positive that he's been watching me from the beginning. You remember how I told you that on the second day of school Bonnie and Meredith and I were in the cemetery? Well, yesterday in Stefan's room I found the apricot ribbon I was wearing that day. I remember it falling out of my hand while I was running, and he must have picked it up and kept it. I haven't told him I know, because he obviously wants to keep it a secret, but that shows, doesn't it, that he cares about me?
I'll tell you someone else who is Not Amused. Caroline. Apparently she's been dragging him off into the photography room for lunch every day, and when he didn't show up today she went searching until she found us. Poor Stefan, he'd forgotten about her completely, and he was shocked at himself Once she left-a nasty unhealthy shade of green, I might add-he told me how she'd attached herself to him the first week of school. She said she'd noticed he didn't really eat at lunch and she didn't either since she was on a diet, and why didn't they go someplace quiet and relax? He wouldn't really say anything bad about her (which I think is his idea of manners again, a gentleman doesn't do that), but he did say there was nothing at all between them. And for Caroline I think being forgotten was worse than if he'd thrown rocks at her.
I wonder why Stefan hasn't been eating lunch, though. It's strange in a football player.
Uh-oh. Mr. Tanner just walked by and I slammed my note pad over this diary just in time. Bonnie is snickering behind her history book, I can see her shoulders shaking. And Stefan, who's in front of me, looks as tense as if he's going to leap out of his chair any minute. Matt is giving me "you nut" looks and Caroline is glaring. I am being very, very innocent, writing with my eyes fixed on Tanner up front. So if this is a bit wobbly and messy, you'll understand why.
For the last month, I haven't really been myself. I haven't been able to think clearly or concentrate on anything but Stefan. There is so much I've left undone that I'm almost scared. I'm supposed to be in charge of decorations for the Haunted House and I haven't done one thing about it yet Now I've got exactly three and a half weeks to get it organized-and I want to be with Stefan.
I could quit the committee. But that would leave Bonnie and Meredith holding the bag. And I keep remembering what Matt said when I asked him to get Stefan to come to the dance: "You want everybody and everything revolving around Elena Gilbert."
That isn't true. Or at least, if it has been in the past, I'm not going to let it be true anymore. I want-oh, this is going to sound completely stupid, but I want to be worthy of Stefan. I know he wouldn't let the guys on the team down just to suit his own convenience. I want him to be proud of me.
I want him to love me as much as I love him.
"Hurry up!" called Bonnie from the doorway of the gym. Beside her the high school janitor, Mr. Shelby, stood waiting.
Elena cast one last glance at the distant figures on the football field, then reluctantly crossed the blacktop to join Bonnie.
"I just wanted to tell Stefan where I was going," she said. After a week of being with Stefan, she still felt a thrill of excitement just saying his name. Every night this week he'd come to her house, appearing at the door around sunset, hands in pockets, wearing his jacket with the collar turned up. They usually took a walk in the dusk, or sat on the porch, talking. Although nothing was said about it, Elena knew it was Stefan's way of making sure they weren't alone together in private. Since the night of the dance, he'd made sure of that. Protecting her honor, Elena thought wryly, and with a pang, because she knew in her heart that there was more to it than that.
"He can live without you for one evening," said Bonnie callously. "If you get talking to him you'll never get away, and I'dlike to get home in time for some kind of dinner."
"Hello, Mr. Shelby," said Elena to the janitor, who was still patiently waiting. To her surprise, he closed one eye in a solemn wink at her. "Where's Meredith?" she added.
"Here," said a voice behind her, and Meredith appeared with a cardboard box of file folders and note pads in her arms. "I've got the stuff from your locker."
"Is that all of you?" said Mr. Shelby. "All right, now, you gals leave the door shut and locked, you hear? That way nobody can get in."
Bonnie, about to enter, pulled up short.
"You're sure there's nobodyalready in?" she said warily.
Elena gave her a push between the shoulder blades. "Hurry up," she mimicked unkindly. "I want to get home in time for dinner."
"There's nobody inside," said Mr. Shelby, mouth twitching under his mustache. "But you gals yell if you want anything. I'll be around."
The door slammed shut behind them with a curiously final sound.
"Work," said Meredith resignedly, and put the box on the floor.
Elena nodded, looking up and down the big empty room. Every year the Student Council held a Haunted House as a fund-raiser. Elena had been on the decorating committee for the last two years, along with Bonnie and Meredith, but it was different being chairman. She had to make decisions that would affect everyone, and she couldn't even rely on what had been done in years past.
The Haunted House was usually set up in a lumberyard warehouse, but with the growing uneasiness about town it had been decided that the school gym was safer. For Elena, it meant rethinking the whole interior design, and with less than three weeks now until Halloween.
"It's actually pretty spooky here," said Meredith quietly. And therewas something disturbing about being in the big closed room, Elena thought. She found herself lowering her voice.
"Let's measure it first," she said. They moved down the room, their footsteps echoing hollowly.
"All right," said Elena when they had finished. "Let's get to work." She tried to shake off her feeling of uneasiness, telling herself that it was ridiculous to feel unsettled in the school gym, with Bonnie and Meredith beside her and an entire football team practicing not two hundred yards away.
The three of them sat on the bleachers with pens and notebooks in hand. Elena and Meredith consulted the design sketches for previous years while Bonnie bit her pen and gazed around thoughtfully.
"Well, here's the gym," said Meredith, making a quick sketch in her notebook. "And here's where the people are going to have to come in. Now we could have the Bloody Corpse at the very end… By the way, who's going to be the Bloody Corpse this year?"
"Coach Lyman, I think. He did a good job last year, and he helps keep the football guys in line." Elena pointed to their sketch. "Okay, we'll partition this off and make it the Medieval Torture Chamber. They'll go straight out of that and into the Room of the Living Dead…"
"I think we should have druids," said Bonnie abruptly.
"Have what?" said Elena, and then, as Bonnie started to yell "droo-ids," she waved a quelling hand. "All right, all right, I remember. But why?"
"Because they're the ones who invented Halloween. Really. It started out as one of their holy days, when they would build fires and put out turnips with faces carved in them to keep evil spirits away. They believed it was the day when the line between the living and the dead was thinnest. And they were scary, Elena. They performed human sacrifices. We could sacrifice Coach Lyman."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," said Meredith. "The Bloody Corpse could be a sacrifice. You know, on a stone altar, with a knife and pools of blood all around. And then when you get really close, he suddenly sits up."
"And gives you heart failure," said Elena, but she had to admit itwas a good idea, definitely scary. It made her feel a little sick just thinking about it. All that blood… but it was only Karo syrup, really.
The other girls had gone quiet, too. From the boys' locker next door, they could hear the sound of water running and lockers banging, and over that indistinct voices shouting.
"Practice is over," murmured Bonnie. "It must be dark outside."
"Yes, and Our Hero is getting all washed up," said Meredith, cocking an eyebrow at Elena. "Want to peek?"
"I wish," said Elena, only half jokingly. Somehow, indefinably, the atmosphere in the room had darkened. Just at the moment shedid wish she could see Stefan, could be with him.
"Have you heard anything more about Vickie Bennett?" she asked suddenly.
"Well," said Bonnie after a moment, "I did hear that her parents were getting her a psychiatrist."
"A shrink? Why?"
"Well… I guess they think that those things she told us were hallucinations or something. And I heard her nightmares are pretty bad."
"Oh," said Elena. The sounds from the boys' locker room were fading, and they heard an outside door slam. Hallucinations, she thought, hallucinations and nightmares. For some reason, she suddenly remembered that night in the graveyard, that night when Bonnie had sent them all running from something none of them could see.
"We'd better get back to business," said Meredith. Elena shook herself out of her reverie and nodded.
"We… we could have a graveyard," Bonnie said tentatively, as if she'd been reading Elena's thoughts. "In the Haunted House, I mean."
"No," said Elena sharply. "No, we'll just stick with what we have," she added in a calmer voice, and bent over her pad again.
Once again there was no sound but the soft scratching of pens and the rustle of paper.
"Good," said Elena at last. "Now we only need to measure for the different partitions. Somebody's going to have to get in behind the bleachers… What now?"
The lights in the gym had flickered and gone down to half power.
"Oh,no ," said Meredith, exasperated. The lights flickered again, went out, and returned dimly once more.
"I can't read a thing," said Elena, staring at what now seemed to be a featureless piece of white paper. She looked up at Bonnie and Meredith and saw two white blobs of faces.
"Something must be wrong with the emergency generator," said Meredith. "I'll get Mr. Shelby."
"Can't we just finish tomorrow?" Bonnie said plaintively. "Tomorrow's Saturday," said Elena. "And we were supposed to have this done last week."
"I'll get Shelby," said Meredith again. "Come on, Bonnie, you're going with me."
Elena began, "We could all go-" but Meredith interrupted.
"If we all go and we can't find him, then we can't get back in. Come on, Bonnie, it's only inside the school."
"But it'sdark there."
"It's dark everywhere; it's nighttime. Comeon; with two of us it'll be safe." She dragged an unwilling Bonnie to the door. "Elena, don't let anybody else in."
"As if you had to tell me," said Elena, letting them out and then watching them go a few paces down the hall. At the point at which they began to merge with the dimness, she stepped back inside and shut the door.
Well, this was a fine mess, as her mother used to say. Elena moved over to the cardboard box Meredith had brought and began stacking filing folders and notebooks back inside it. In this light she could see them only as vague shapes. There was no sound at all but her own breathing and the sounds she made. She was alone in the huge, dim room-
Someone was watching her.
She didn't know how she knew, but she was sure. Someone was behind her in the dark gymnasium, watching.Eyes in the dark , the old man had said. Vickie had said it, too. And now there were eyes on her.
She whirled quickly to face the room, straining her own eyes to see into the shadows, trying not even to breathe. She was terrified that if she made a sound the thing out there would get her. But she could see nothing, hear nothing.
The bleachers were dim, menacing shapes stretching out into nothingness. And the far end of the room was simply a featureless gray fog. Dark mist, she thought, and she could feel every muscle agonizingly tense as she listened desperately. Oh God, what was that soft whispering sound? It must be her imagination… Please let it be her imagination.
Suddenly, her mind was clear. She had to get out of this place,now . There was real danger here, not just fantasy. Something was out there, something evil, something that wanted her. And she was all alone.
Something moved in the shadows.
Her scream froze in her throat. Her muscles were frozen, too, held motionless by her terror-and by some nameless force. Helplessly, she watched as the shape in the darkness moved out of the shadows and toward her. It seemed almost as if the darkness itself had come to life and was coalescing as she watched, taking on form-human form, the form of a young man.
"I'm sorry if I frightened you." The voice was pleasant, with a slight accent she couldn't place. It didn't sound sorry at all.
Relief was so sudden and complete that it was painful. She slumped and heard her own breath sigh out.
It was only a guy, some former student or an assistant of Mr. Shelby's. An ordinary guy, who was smiling faintly, as if it had amused him to see her almost pass out.
Well… perhaps not quite ordinary. He was remarkably good-looking. His face was pale in the artificial twilight, but she could see that his features were cleanly defined and nearly perfect under a shock of dark hair. Those cheekbones were a sculptor's dream. And he'd been almost invisible because he was wearing black: soft black boots, black jeans, black sweater, and leather jacket.
He was still smiling faintly. Elena's relief turned to anger.
"How did you get in?" she demanded. "And what are you doing here? Nobody else is supposed to be in the gym."
"I came in the door," he said. His voice was soft, cultured, but she could still hear the amusement and she found it disconcerting.
"All the doors are locked," she said flatly, accusingly.
He raised his eyebrows and smiled. "Are they?"
Elena felt another quiver of fear, hairs lifting on the back of her neck. "They were supposed to be," she said in the coldest voice she could manage.
"You're angry," he said gravely. "I said I was sorry to frighten you."
"I wasn't frightened!" she snapped. She felt foolish in front of him somehow, like a child being humored by someone much older and more knowledgeable. It made her even angrier. "I was just startled," she continued. "Which is hardly surprising, what with you lurking in the dark like that."
"Interesting things happen in the dark… sometimes." He was still laughing at her; she could tell by his eyes. He had taken a step closer, and she could see that those eyes were unusual, almost black, but with odd lights in them. As if you could look deeper and deeper until you fell into them, and went on falling forever.
She realized she was staring. Why didn't the lights come on? She wanted to get out of here. She moved away, putting the end of a bleacher between them, and stacked the last folders into the box. Forget the rest of the work for tonight. All she wanted to do now was leave.
But the continuing silence made her uneasy. He was just standing there, unmoving, watching her. Why didn't he say something?
"Did you come looking for somebody?" She was annoyed with herself for being the one to speak.
He was still gazing at her, those dark eyes fixed on her in a way that made her more and more uncomfortable. She swallowed.
With his eyes on her lips, he murmured, "Oh, yes." "What?" She'd forgotten what she'd asked. Her cheeks and throat were flushing, burning with blood. She felt so light-headed. If only he'd stoplooking at her…
"Yes, I came here looking for someone," he repeated, no louder than before. Then, in one step he moved toward her, so that they were separated only by the corner of one bleacher seat.
Elena couldn't breathe. He was standing so close. Close enough to touch. She could smell a faint hint of cologne and the leather of his jacket. And his eyes still held hers-she could not look away from them. They were like no eyes she had ever seen, black as midnight, the pupils dilated like a cat's. They filled her vision as he leaned toward her, bending his head down to hers. She felt her own eyes half close, losing focus. She felt her head tilt back, her lips part.
No! Just in time she whipped her head to the side. She felt as if she'd just pulled herself back from the edge of a precipice. What am I doing? she thought in shock. I was about to let him kiss me. A total stranger, someone I met only a few minutes ago.
But that wasn't the worst thing. For those few minutes, something unbelievable had happened. For those few minutes, she had forgotten Stefan.
But now his image filled her mind, and the longing for him was like a physical pain in her body. She wanted Stefan, wanted his arms around her, wanted to be safe with him.
She swallowed. Her nostrils flared as she breathed hard. She tried to keep her voice steady and dignified.
"I'm going to leave now," she said. "If you're looking for somebody, I think you'd better look somewhere else."
He was looking at her oddly, with an expression she couldn't understand. It was a mixture of annoyance and grudging respect-and something else. Something hot and fierce that frightened her in a different way.
He waited until her hand was on the doorknob to answer, and his voice was soft but serious, with no trace of amusement. "Perhaps I've already found her… Elena."
When she turned, she could see nothing in the darkness.