I ran down to the lake, the sound of the stake ripping through Damons flesh echoing in my mind.Once I got to the shore, I stared at my reflection in the water.My hazel eyes stared back, my lips pressed into a thin line.
With an angry jerk, I threw a pebble into the pond, shattering my image into a thousand little ripples.
Part of me wanted to jump in the lake, swim to the other side, and never come back. Damn Damon to hell if death was what he wanted so much. But no matter how much I wished hed die, I couldnt kill him. Despite everything, we were brothers, and I wanted–needed–to do everything in my power to save him. After all, blood was thicker than water. I laughed bitterly as I thought of the deeper meanings of the metaphor. Blood was also more complicated, more destructive, and more heartbreaking than water.
I sank into the brackish sand at the waters edge and lay back with a sigh, letting the wan November sun cascade over me. I dont know how long I remained like that before I felt muffled footfalls vibrate the ground beneath me.
I sighed. I dont know what Id hoped to find, coming down to the lake, but my peace and quiet was ruined when Callie sat down next to me.
“Everything okay?” she asked, throwing a small rock into the lake with a plunk. She didnt turn to face me.
“I just could you leave me alone?” I muttered. “Please.”
I sat up and looked her square in the face. “Why not?”
Callie pursed her lips, her forehead crinkling as though she were working through a complicated problem. Then, hesitantly, she reached out with her tiny pinky finger and traced the outline of my lapis lazuli ring.
“The monster has a ring like this,” she said.
I jerked my hand away in horror. How could I have forgotten about our rings?
Callie cleared her throat. “Is the vampire, is he your brother?”
My blood ran cold, and I jumped to my feet.
“No, Stefan! Stay.” Callies green eyes were wide, her cheeks flushed. “Please. Just stay. I know what you are, and Im not afraid.”
I took a step back, my breath coming in rapid gasps. My mind spun, and I felt nauseated all over again. “How can you know what I am and not fear me?”
“Youre not a monster,” she said simply. She rose to her feet as well.
For a moment, we just stood there, not speaking, barely breathing. A duck cut an arc through the lake. A horse whinnied in the distance. And the scent of pine tickled my nose. I noticed then that Callie had removed all the vervain from her hair.
“How can you say that?” I asked. “I could kill you in an instant.”
“I know.” She looked into my eyes as if searching for something. My soul, perhaps. “So why havent you? Why dont you now?”
“Because I like you,” I said, surprising myself with the words.
A whisper of a smile flitted across her lips. “I like you too.”
“Are you sure about that?” I took her wrists in mine and she pulled away a little. “Because when I touch you, I dont know whether I want to kiss you or or “
“Kiss me,” she said breathlessly. “Dont think about the alternative.”
“I cant. If I do, it wont stop there.”
Callie moved closer to me. “But you saved me. When your brother lunged for me, you staked him. You staked your own brother. For me.”
“Just in the stomach, not the heart,” I pointed out.
“Still.” She placed her hand on my chest, right over where my heart used to be. I stiffened, trying not to inhale the scent of her.
Before I could react, she pulled a needle out of her pocket and punctured her index finger. I froze.
Just one drop of it, like a single ruby, balanced there on the tip of her finger.
God,Callie’sblood. It smelled like cedarwood and the sweetest wine. My face began to sweat, and my breathing became heavy. My senses sharpened, and my fangs throbbed. Fear flashed in Callies eyes and radiated off her body.
And just like that, my fangs retracted. I fell backward, panting.
“See, youre not a monster,” she said firmly. “Not likeheis.” The wind picked up, causing Callies hair to ripple out behind her like the waves in the lake. She shivered, and I stood up, pulling her close.
“Maybe,” I whispered into her ear, drinking in the heady scent of her, my mouth inches from her neck. I couldnt bear to tell her about all the lives Id taken, how Damon thought thatIwas the monster. “But hes my brother. And its my fault hes in there.”
“Do you want me to help you free him?” she said heavily, as if shed known all along that our conversation would come to this.
“Yes,” I said simply.
Callie chewed on her lip as she played with a strand of her hair, wrapping it on her finger, over and over again.
“But you dont have to.” I avoided her eyes, so I knew I wasnt compelling her.
She stared at me carefully, as if my face were a cipher she could decode.
“In two days,” she said, “meet me at midnight. Thats when Damon will be moved to our attic.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Thank you.” I cupped her cheeks with my hands and leaned forward, pressing my forehead to hers. And then I kissed her.
As we stood, palm to palm, chest to chest, I could have sworn I felt my heart come back to life, beating in perfect sync with hers.