Home > Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(10)

Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(10)
Author: L.J. Smith

Elena swal owed her mouthful of cereal. "We're going to pick up Alaric and his friend at the train station and just hang out and catch up," she said.

"Who?" Aunt Judith asked, her eyes narrowing. Elena's mind spun. "Oh, uh, you remember, he subbed for Mr. Tanner teaching history last year," she said, wondering if that was in fact true in this world. Aunt Judith frowned. "Isn't he a little old to be socializing with high school girls?"

Elena rol ed her eyes. "We're not in high school anymore, Aunt Judith. And he's only about six years older than us. And it's not just girls. Matt and Stefan are coming, too."

If this was Aunt Judith's reaction to the news of their spending time with Alaric, Elena could tel why Meredith was hesitant to tel people about their relationship. It made sense to wait a couple of years, until people thought of her as a grown-up. Since no one here knew al that Meredith had seen and done, she seemed like any other eighteenyear-old to them. It's a good thing Aunt Judith doesn't know Stefan's five hundred years older than I am, Elena thought with a secret smirk. She thinks Alaric's too old.

The doorbel rang.

"That's Matt and everybody," Elena said, rising to put her bowl in the sink. "See you guys tonight."

Margaret widened her eyes at Elena in silent appeal, and Elena detoured on her way to the door to squeeze the little girl's shoulder. Was Margaret stil worried Elena wouldn't come back?

Out in the foyer, she ran her fingers through her hair before opening the door.

Standing in front of her was not Stefan, though, but a perfect stranger. A real y good-looking stranger, Elena noted automatical y, a boy about her age with curly golden hair, sculpted features, and bright blue eyes. He was holding a deep red rose in one hand.

Elena stood a little straighter, unconsciously pul ing her shoulders back and pushing her hair behind her ears. She adored Stefan, but that didn't mean she couldn't look at other boys, or talk to them. She wasn't dead, after al . Not anymore, she thought, smiling at her private joke. The boy smiled back. "Hey, Elena," he said cheerful y.

"Caleb Smal wood!" Aunt Judith said, coming into the hal . "There you are!"

Elena felt herself recoil, but she kept the smile on her face. "Any relation to Tyler?" she said, outwardly calm, and ran her eyes over him, trying to be subtle, checking for... for what? For signs of his being a werewolf? She realized she didn't even know what those would be. Tyler's good looks had always had a flavor of an animal about them, with his large white teeth and broad features, but had that been a coincidence?

"Tyler's my cousin," Caleb answered, his smile beginning to turn to a quizzical frown. "I thought you knew that, Elena. I'm staying with his folks while Tyler's... gone."

Elena's mind raced. Tyler Smal wood had run away after Elena, Stefan, and Damon had defeated his al y, the evil vampire Klaus. Tyler had left his girlfriend - and sometimes hostage - Caroline pregnant. Elena hadn't discussed Tyler and Caroline's fate with the Guardians, so she had no idea what had happened with them in this reality. Was Tyler even a werewolf now? Was Caroline pregnant? And if she was, was it with werewolf or human babies? She shook her head slightly. Brave new world, indeed.

"Wel , don't leave Caleb out on the porch. Let him in,"

Aunt Judith instructed from behind her. Elena stood aside, and Caleb moved past her into the hal .

Elena tried to reach out with her mind and sense Caleb's aura, to read him to see if he was dangerous, but once again came up against that brick wal . It would take some time to get used to being a normal girl again, and suddenly Elena felt horribly vulnerable.

Caleb shifted from foot to foot, looking uncomfortable, and she quickly composed herself. "How long have you been in town?" she asked, and then kicked herself for treating this boy she obviously was supposed to know like a stranger again.

"Wel ," he said slowly, "I've been in town al summer. Did you hit your head over the weekend, Elena?" He grinned teasingly at her.

Elena lifted a shoulder, thinking of al she had suffered over the weekend. "Something like that."

He held out the rose. "This must be for you."

"Thank you," said Elena, confused. A thorn pricked her finger as she took it by the stem, and she stuck the finger in her mouth to stanch the blood.

"Don't thank me," he said. "It was just sitting on the front steps when I got here. You must have a secret admirer."

Elena frowned. Plenty of boys had admired her through school, and if this had been nine months ago, she could have made a good guess at who would leave her a rose. But now she didn't have a clue.

Matt's battered old Ford sedan pul ed up outside and honked. "I've got to run, Aunt Judith," she said. "They're here. Nice seeing you, Caleb."

Elena's stomach twisted as she walked toward Matt's car. It wasn't just the strangeness of meeting Caleb that was affecting her, she realized, turning the rose's stem absently between her fingers. It was the car itself. Matt's old Ford was the car she had driven off Wickery Bridge back in the winter, panicked and pursued by evil forces. She'd died in this car. The windows had shattered as she hit the creek, and the car had fil ed with icy water. The scratched steering wheel and the dented hood of the car, covered with water, had been the last things she'd seen in that life.

But here the car was - as whole again as she was. Pushing the memory of her death from her mind, she waved at Bonnie, whose eager face was visible through the passenger window. She could forget about al those old tragedies, because now they had never happened. Meredith perched elegantly on the swing on her front porch, pushing herself gently back and forth with one foot. Her strong, tapered fingers were stil ; her dark hair fel smoothly across her shoulders; her expression was as serene as ever.

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