Origins (Chapter 11)

The mist rose up around my feet as I walked toward the willow tree. The sun was quickly setting, but I could still make out a shadowy figure nestled between the roots.

I glanced again. It was Rosalyn, her party dress shimmering in the weak light. Bile rose in my throat. How could she be here? She was buried, her body six feet underground at the Mystic Falls cemetery.

As I walked closer, steeling my courage and grasping the knife in my pocket, I noticed her lifeless eyes reflecting the verdant leaves above. Her dark curls stuck to her clammy forehead. And her neck wasn't torn out at all. Instead, her neck displayed only two neat little holes, the size of shodding nails. As if guided by an unseen hand, I fell to my knees next to her body.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, staring at the cracked earth below. Then I raised my eyes and froze in horror. Because it wasn't Rosalyn's body at all.

It was Katherine's.

A small smile curved her rosebud lips, as if she were simply dreaming.

I fought the urge to scream. I would not let Katherine die! But as I reached toward her wounds, she sat straight up. Her visage morphed, her dark curls faded to blond, and her eyes glowed red.

I started backward.

"It's your fault!" The words cut through the still night, the tone hollow and otherworldly. The voice belonged neither to Katherine nor Rosalyn–but to a demon.

I screamed, gripping my penknife and slicing it into the night air. The demon lunged forward and clutched my neck. It lowered its sharpened canines to my skin, and everything faded to black….

I woke up in a cold sweat, sitting upright. A crow cawed outside; in the distance, I could hear children playing. Sunbeams were dappled along my white bedspread, and a dinner tray was sitting on my desk. It was daylight. I was in my own bed.

A dream. I remembered the funeral, the ride from the church, my exhaustion as I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. It had just been a dream, a product of too much emotion and stimulation today. A dream, I reminded myself again, willing my heart to stop pounding. I took a long gulp of water straight from the pitcher on the nightstand. My brain slowly stilled, but my heart continued to race and my hands still felt clammy. Because it wasn't a dream, or at least not like any dream I'd ever had before. It was as if demons were invading my mind, and I was no longer sure what was real or what thoughts to trust. I stood up, trying to shake off the nightmare, and wandered downstairs. I took the back steps so as not to cross paths with Cordelia in the kitchen. She'd been taking good care of me, just as when I had been a child in mourning for my mother, but something about her watchful gaze made me nervous. I knew she'd heard me call out for Katherine, and I fervently hoped she wasn't telling tales to the servants.

I walked into Father's study and glanced at his shelves, finding myself drawn yet again to the Shakespeare section. Saturday seemed like a lifetime ago. Still, the candle in the silver candlestick holder was exactly where Katherine and I had left it, and The Mysteries of Mystic Falls was still on the chair. If I closed my eyes, I could almost smell lemon.

I shook that thought away and hastily picked out a volume of Macbeth, a play about jealousy and love and betrayal and death, which suited my mood perfectly.

I forced myself to sit on the leather club chair and glance at the words, forced myself to turn the pages. Maybe that's what I needed in order to proceed with the rest of my life. If I just kept forcing myself to take action, maybe I'd finally get over the guilt and sadness and fear I'd been carrying with me since Rosalyn's death.

Just then, I heard a knock on the door. "Father's not here," I called, hoping whoever it was would go away.

"Sir Stefan?" Alfred's voice called. "It's a visitor."

"No, thank you," I replied. It was probably Sheriff Forbes again. He'd already come by four or five times, speaking to Damon and Father. So far I'd managed to beg off the visits. I couldn't stand the thought of telling him–telling anyone –where I'd been at the time of the attack.

"The visitor is quite insistent," Alfred called.

"So are you," I muttered under my breath as I strode to the door and opened it.

"She's in the sitting room," Alfred said, turning on his heel.

"Wait!" I said. She. Could it be … Katherine? My heart quickened despite itself.

"Sir?" Alfred asked, mid-step.

"I'll be there."

Frantically, I splashed water from the basin in the corner on my face and used my hands to smooth my hair back from my forehead. My eyes still looked hooded, and tiny vessels had broken, reddening the whites, but there was nothing more I could do to make me look, let alone feel, more like myself.

I strode purposefully into the parlor. For an instant, my heart fell with disappointment. Instead of Katherine, sitting on the red velvet wingback chair in the corner was her maid, Emily. She had a chair in the corner was her maid, Emily. She had a basket of flowers on her lap and held a daisy to her nose, as if she didn't have a care in the world.

"Hello," I said formally, already trying to come up with a way to politely excuse myself.

"Mr. Salvatore." Emily stood up and half- curtseyed. She wore a simple white eyelet dress and bonnet, and her dark skin was smooth and unlined. "My mistress and I join you in your sorrows. She asked that I give you this," she said, proffering the basket toward me.

"Thank you," I said, taking the basket. I absentmindedly put a sprig of lilac to my nose and inhaled.

"I'd use these in your healing, rather than Cordelia's concoctions," Emily said.

"How did you know about that?" I wondered.

"Servants talk. But I fear that whatever Cordelia's feeding you may be doing you more harm than good." She plucked a few blossoms from the basket, twining them into a bouquet. "Daisies, magnolias, and bleeding heart will help you heal."

"And pansies for thoughts?" I asked, remembering a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet. As soon as I said it, I realized it was a foolish statement. How would an uneducated servant girl possibly know what I was speaking of?

But Emily simply smiled. "No pansies, although my mistress did mention your love of Shakespeare." She reached into the basket and broke off a sprig of lilac, which she then pushed gently into my buttonhole.

I held the basket up and inhaled. It smelled like flowers, but there was something else: the intoxicating aroma that I'd only experienced when I was near Katherine. I inhaled again, feeling the confusion and darkness of the past few days slowly fade.

"I know everything's very strange right now," Emily said, breaking my reverie. "But my mistress only wishes the best for you." She nodded toward the couch, as if inviting me to sit down. Obediently, I sat and stared at her. She was remarkably beautiful and carried herself with a type of grace I'd never seen before. Her movements and manners were so deliberate that watching her was like watching a painting come to life.

"She would like to see you," Emily said after a moment.

The second the words left her lips, I realized that could never be. As I sat there, in the daylight of the parlor, with another person rather than being lost in my own thoughts, everything clicked into focus. I was a widower, and my duty now was to mourn Rosalyn, not to mourn my schoolboy fantasy of love with Katherine. Besides, Katherine was a beautiful orphan with no friends or relations. It would never work–could never work.

"I did see her. At Rosalyn's … at the funeral," I said stiffly.

"That's hardly a social call," Emily pointed out. "She'd like to see you. Somewhere private. When you're ready," she added quickly.

I knew what I had to say, what the only proper thing to say was, but the words were hard to form. "I will see, but in my current condition, I'm afraid I'm probably not in the best mood to go walking. Please send your mistress my regrets, although she will not want for company. I know my brother will go wherever she wishes," I said, the words heavy on my tongue.

"Y es. She is quite fond of Damon." Emily gathered her skirts and stood up. I stood up as well and felt, even though I towered a head taller, that she was somehow more powerful than me. It was an odd yet not altogether unpleasant feeling. "But you can't argue with true love."

With that she swept out the door and across the grounds, the daisy in her hair scattering its petals into the wind.