Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(8)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(8)
Author: L.J. Smith

“Thank you,” I said, and we left the bakery before she could second-guess the strange transaction she’d just made.

The closer we got to the park, the more the scene reminded me of the Impressionist paintings that were so popular in Paris. From a distance, the trees looked lush and green, but up close I saw orange and brown leaves about to fall to the ground and muddy patches of heavily trodden grass.

“Would you like a roll or your strawberry tart for breakfast?” I asked.

“I’ll have a roll. The tart’s for later,” Cora said as we walked through two imposing marble pillars marking the entrance to the park.

“Here,” I said, placing one of the still-warm rolls in Cora’s outstretched hand. “I apologize for the lack of jam.”

“I don’t mind,” she said easily, picking apart her roll. A tiny shower of crumbs fell to the ground. Instantly, five sparrows converged on the spot, pecking furiously.

As we moved deeper into the park, there were fewer pedestrians and nannies out with their charges than there had been at the entrance. Sun dappled the white gravel path beneath our feet, and every few steps an errant leaf from the oak trees above us wafted to the ground. I wasn’t sure what had brought me here. This was the last place Violet would be; she couldn’t be outside in the daylight, not without a lapis lazuli ring like the ones Damon and I had. I wished that, somehow, I could just know where Violet was, the same way I used to be able to sense where Damon was on the Veritas estate where we’d grown up. But Damon was of my blood, a bond I would never have with anyone else in my eternal life. It was the same type of bond that kept Cora in the company of vampires, a desperate attempt to get her sister back in any way possible.

Suddenly, Cora perked up and whirled around. “Look!” she called, pointing past me.

I squared my shoulders and followed her gaze, ready to see a police officer here to take us away, or worse, Samuel. But what Cora had seen, just a few yards away behind a metal fence, was a giraffe gracefully stalking around a pen.

Cora clapped her hands in delight. “Violet and I always walked this way on our day off. We called it the cheap zoo tour. The admission counter is on the other side, but why would you pay admission if you can just watch from here?” Cora stood on her tiptoes and shielded her eyes. I followed her lead and spotted two camels feeding at a trough. I took a step closer to Cora, drawn by her innocent curiosity.

“Which is your favorite?” I asked. For the moment, it was nice to be in the sunlight, having a normal conversation.

Cora stepped closer and leaned lightly on the iron fence. “I like the zebras, but Violet always liked the peacocks. She was drawn to their dramatic flair…” Cora trailed off wistfully. “Sometimes you can see them. But not today,” she said, disappointed. She turned toward me and took another bite of her roll.

I remembered how pleased Violet had been when she picked out a gorgeous emerald-green dress from Harrods, and how she seemed to sparkle with infectious enthusiasm at the few parties I’d attended with her.

“Violet always wanted to be an actress. We both did,” Cora said, turning away from the zoo. Her gaze was focused on her feet, clad in filthy white shoes. “But I think Violet could have made it. I wanted to meet exciting people and have a few years of adventure, but I didn’t necessarily want to be on display. Violet wanted people to notice her. She wanted to be special.”

“She was special,” I said after a moment.

“I guess now she’s special in a different way,” Cora said sadly.

“I did everything I could to protect her…” I said.

“I know,” Cora said, reaching up to touch the vervain necklace still clasped around her throat. “You gave her this.”

“Yes, and it—”

“Protects me against vampires,” Cora finished. “Damon told me. I just wish…” She trailed off and reached into the bread bag to take another roll. It was evident that there were certain things Cora kept to herself, a wall around her thoughts. I knew the feeling. Sometimes the privacy of my own mind was the only thing that kept me sane.

“We’ll find her. I’ll make sure of that,” I said finally, knowing as soon as I heard the words that it somehow wasn’t enough.

“Will we?” Cora asked, turning her gaze on me. “You keep saying that, and I know you mean well, but it seems you and your brother are rather occupied, what with trying to one-up each other.” She tossed the remaining crumbs from the roll toward a lone pigeon hopping down the path. It startled, then began to feast, pleased at this meal from the heavens. “I’ll save her by myself if I have to. After all, she was trying to save me. It’s what sisters do,” she said in a vulnerable voice at odds with her jutted chin and proud expression.

“I know,” I said. “But you won’t have to do it alone. I’m here to help.”

Cora took a deep breath and looked into my eyes. “I know. And I trust you. I trust Damon, even. But when you’re both together…” She trailed off and shook her head.

“My brother and I have a … complicated relationship. As you’ve seen. But we’re on the same side. We’re not fighting each other anymore.”

A brief smile crossed Cora’s lips. “Good,” she said. We’d walked the length of the zoo and were entering a rougher section of the park. Litter was strewn across the grass, the paths were cracked, and fewer well-dressed couples wandered by. We passed a group of children, but instead of playing with expensive wooden toys, they were improvising war games with sticks.

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