The Return: Nightfall (Preface)
Elena was frustrated. She couldn't make the mind-word come out the way she wanted. "Stefan," he coaxed, leaning on an elbow and looking at her with those eyes that always made her almost forget what she was trying to say. They shone like green spring leaves in the sunlight. "Stefan," he repeated. "Canyou say it, lovely love?"
Elena looked back at him solemnly. He was so handsome that he broke her heart, with his pale, chiseled features and his dark hair falling carelessly across his forehead. She wanted to put into words all the feelings that were piled behind her clumsy tongue and stubborn mind. There was so much she needed to ask him…and to tell him. But the sounds wouldn't come yet. They tangled on her tongue. She couldn't even send it telepathically to him – it all came as fragmented images.
After all, it was only the seventh day of her new life.
Stefan told her that when she'd first woken up, first come back from the Other Side after her death as a vampire, she'd been able to walk and talk and do all sorts of things that she seemed to have forgotten
now. He didn't know why she'd forgotten – he'd never known anyone who'd come back from death except vampires – which Elena had been, but certainly was no longer.
Stefan had also told her excitedly that she was learning like wildfire every day. New pictures, new thought-words. Even though sometimes it was easier to communicate than others, Stefan was sure she would be herself again someday soon. Then she would act like the teenager she really was. She would no longer be a young adult with a childlike mind, the way the spirits had clearly wanted her to be: growing, seeing the world with new eyes, the eyes of a child.
Elena thought that the spirits had been a little unfair. What if Stefan found someone in the meantime who could walk and talk – and write, even? Elena worried over this.
That was why, some nights ago, Stefan had woken up to find her gone from her bed. He had found her in the bathroom, poring anxiously over a newspaper, trying to make sense of the little squiggles that she knew were words she once recognized. The paper was dotted with the marks of her tears. The squiggles meant nothing to her.
"But why, love? You'll learn to read again. Why rush?"
That was before he saw the bits of pencil, broken from too hard a grip, and the carefully hoarded paper napkins. She had been using them to try to imitate the words. Maybe if she could write like other people, Stefan would stop sleeping in his chair and would hold her on the big bed. He wouldn't go looking for someone older or smarter. He wouldknow she was a grown-up.
She saw Stefan put this together slowly in his mind, and she saw the tears come to his eyes. He had been brought up to think he was never allowed to cry no matter what happened. But he had turned his back on her and breathed slowly and deeply for what seemed like a very long time.
And then he had picked her up, taken her to the bed in his room, and looked into her eyes and said, "Elena, tell me what you want me to do. Even if it's impossible, I'll do it. I swear it. Tell me."
All the words she wanted to think to him were still jammed up inside her. Her own eyes spilled tears, which Stefan dabbed off with his fingers, as if he could ruin a priceless painting by touching it too roughly.
Then Elena turned her face up, and shut her eyes, and pursed her lips slightly. She wanted a kiss. But…
"You're just a child in your mind now," Stefan agonized. "How can I take advantage of you?"
There was a sign language they had had, back in her old life, which Elena still remembered. She would tap under her chin, just where it was softest: once, twice, three times.
It meant she felt uncomfortable, inside. As if she were too full in her throat. It meant she wanted…
Tap, tap, tap…
"You're not back to your old self yet…."
Tap, tap, tap…
"Listen to me, love…."
TAP! TAP! TAP! She gazed at him with pleading eyes. If she could have spoken, she would have said, Please, give me some credit – I'm not totally stupid. Please, listento what I can't say to you.
"You hurt. You're really hurting," Stefan had interpreted, with something like dazed resignation. "I – if I – if I only take a little…"
And then suddenly Stefan's fingers had been cool and sure, moving her head, lifting it, turning it at just this angle, and then she had felt the twin bites, which convinced her more than anything she was alive and not a spirit anymore.
Andthen she had been very sure that Stefan loved her and no one else, and she could tell Stefan some of the things she wanted to. But she had to tell them in little exclamations – not of pain – with stars and comets and streaks of light falling around her. And Stefan had been the one who had not been able to think a single word to her. Stefan was the one struck mute.
Elena felt that was only fair. After that, he held her at night and she was always happy.