Home > Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(6)

Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters #1)(6)
Author: L.J. Smith

As they headed away from the house, Stefan took her by the shoulders. His green eyes gazed into hers, and he bent forward to brush a light kiss upon her lips.

"Margaret's a little girl," he said firmly. "It could just be that she doesn't want her big sister to leave. Maybe she's worried about you going off to col ege."

"Maybe," Elena murmured as Stefan wrapped his arms around her. She inhaled his green, woodsy scent and felt her breathing slow and the knot in her stomach loosen.

"And if not," she said slowly, "we'l work it out. We always do. But right now I want to see what the Guardians gave us."

Chapter 4

It was the little changes that surprised Elena the most. She had expected the Guardians to bring Fel 's Church back. And they had.

The last time she'd seen the town, probably a quarter of the houses had been rubble. They'd been burned or bombed, some ful y destroyed, some only half-gone, with police tape dangling dismal y across what was left of their entrances. Around and above the ruined houses, trees and bushes had grown and stretched strangely, vines draping over the debris, giving the streets of the smal town the look of an ancient jungle.

Now Fel 's Church was - mostly - the way Elena

remembered it. A picture postcard - perfect smal Southern town of deep-porched houses surrounded by careful y tended flower gardens and big old trees. The sun was shining and the air was warm with the promise of a hot and humid Virginia summer day.

From a few blocks away came the muted roar of a lawn mower, and the smel of cut grass fil ed the air. The Kinkade kids in the house on the corner had dragged out their badminton set and were batting the birdie back and forth; the youngest girl waved to Elena and Stefan as they passed. Everything took Elena back to the long July days she'd known al the previous summers of her life. Elena hadn't asked for her old life back, though. Her exact words had been: I want a new life, with my real old life behind me. She'd wanted Fel 's Church to be the way it would have been now, months later, if evil had never come to town back at the beginning of her senior year. But she hadn't realized how jarring al the little changes would be. The smal colonial-style house in the middle of the next block had been painted a surprising shade of pink, and the old oak tree in its front lawn had been cut down and replaced with a flowering shrub.

"Huh." Elena turned to Stefan as they passed the house.

"Mrs. McCloskey must have died, or moved to a nursing home." Stefan looked at her blankly. "She never would have let them paint her house that color. There must be new people living there," she explained, shivering slightly.

"What is it?" Stefan asked instantly, as attuned to her moods as ever.

"Nothing, it's just..." Elena tried to smile as she tucked a silky lock of hair behind her ear. "She used to feed me cookies when I was a kid. It's strange to realize she might have died of natural causes while we've been gone."

Stefan nodded, and the two walked silently to Fel 's Church's smal downtown. Elena was about to point out that her favorite coffee shop had been replaced by a drugstore, when she grabbed Stefan's arm. "Stefan. Look."

Coming toward them were Isobel Saitou and Jim Bryce.

"Isobel! Jim!" Elena shouted joyful y, and ran toward them. But Isobel was stiff in her arms, and Jim was looking at her curiously.

"Uh, hi?" Isobel said hesitantly.

Elena instantly stepped back. Oops. In this life, did she even know Isobel? They'd been in school together, of course. Jim had gone out with Meredith a couple of times before he and Isobel started dating, although Elena hadn't known him wel . But it was possible she had never even spoken to quiet, studious Isobel Saitou before the kitsune came to town.

Elena's mind worked busily, trying to figure out how to get out of this without seeming crazy. But a warm buzz of happiness kept rising up in her chest, keeping her from taking the problem too seriously. Isobel was okay. She'd suffered so much at the hands of the kitsune: She'd pierced herself in horrible ways and slit her own tongue so severely that even after she'd recovered from the kitsune's thral , she'd spoken in a soft slur. Worse, the kitsune goddess had been in Isobel's house the whole time, pretending to be Isobel's grandmother.

And poor Jim... Infected through Isobel, Jim had torn himself apart, eating at his own flesh. Yet here he was, as handsome and carefree - albeit mildly confused - as ever. Stefan smiled broadly, and Elena couldn't stop giggling.

"Sorry, guys, I'm just... so happy to see familiar faces from school. I must miss good old Robert E. Lee High School, you know? Who would have thought?"

It was a pretty weak excuse, but Isobel and Jim smiled and nodded. Jim cleared his throat awkwardly and said,

"Yeah, it was a good year, wasn't it?"

Elena laughed again. She couldn't help herself. A good year.

They chatted for a few minutes before Elena casual y asked, "How's your grandmother, Isobel?"

Isobel looked at her blankly. "My grandmother?" she said.

"You must be confusing me with someone else. Both my grandmothers have been dead for years."

"Oh, my mistake." Elena said good-bye and managed to contain herself until Isobel and Jim were out of earshot. Then she took Stefan by the arms, pul ed him toward her, and gave him a resounding kiss, feeling delight and triumph passing back and forth between them.

"We did it," she said when the kiss had ended. "They're fine! And not just them." More solemn now, she gazed up into his green eyes, so serious and kind. "We did something real y important and wonderful, didn't we?"

"We did," Stefan agreed, but she couldn't help but notice something hard in his voice as he said it.

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