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Dark Reunion (Chapter Two)

"And that's all I remember," Bonnie concluded as she and Meredith walked down

Sunflower Street between the rows of tall Victorian houses.

"But it was definitely Elena?"

"Yes, and she was trying to tell me something at the end. But that's the part that wasn't clear, except that it was important, terribly important. What do you think?"

"Mouse sandwiches and open graves?" Meredith arched an elegant eyebrow. "I think you're getting Stephen King mixed up with Lewis Carroll."

Bonnie thought she was probably right. But the dream still bothered her; it had bothered her all day, enough to put her earlier worries out of her mind. Now, as she and Meredith approached Caroline's house, the old worries returned with a vengeance.

She really should have told Meredith about this, she thought, casting an uneasy sideways glance at the taller girl. She shouldn't let Meredith just walk in there unprepared…

Meredith looked up at the lighted windows of the Queen Anne House with a sigh. "Do you really need those earrings tonight?"

"Yes, I do; yes, absolutely." Too late now. Might as well make the best of it. "You'll love them when you see them," she added, hearing the note of hopeful desperation in her own voice.

Meredith paused and her keen dark eyes searched Bonnie's face curiously. Then she knocked on the door. "I just hope Caroline's not staying home tonight. We could end up stuck with her."

"Caroline staying home on a Saturday night? Don't be ridiculous." Bonnie had been holding her breath too long; she was starting to feel lightheaded. Her tinkling laughter came out brittle and false. "What a concept," she continued somewhat hysterically as Meredith said, "I don't think anybody's home," and tried the knob. Possessed by some crazy impulse Bonnie added, "Fiddle-dee-dee."

Hand on doorknob, Meredith stopped dead and turned to look at her.

"Bonnie," she said quietly, "have you gone completely through the ozone?"

"No." Deflated, Bonnie grabbed Meredith's arm and sought her eyes urgently. The door was opening on its own. "Oh, God, Meredith, please don't kill me…"

"Surprise!" shouted three voices.

"Smile," Bonnie hissed, shoving the suddenly resistant body of her friend through the door and into the bright room full of noise and showers of foil confetti. She beamed wildly herself and spoke through clenched teeth. "Kill me later-I deserve it -but for now just smile."

There were balloons, the expensive Mylar kind, and a cluster of presents on the coffee table. There was even a flower arrangement, although Bonnie noticed the orchids in it matched Caroline's pale green scarf exactly. It was a Hermes silk with a design of vines and leaves. She'll end up wearing one of those orchids in her hair, I'll bet, Bonnie thought.

There were balloons, the expensive Mylar kind, and a cluster of presents on the coffee table. There was even a flower arrangement, although Bonnie noticed the orchids in it matched Caroline's pale green scarf exactly. It was a Hermes silk with a design of vines and leaves. She'll end up wearing one of those orchids in her hair, I'll bet, Bonnie thought.

"Nothing I can't break with an iron crowbar," Meredith replied. But she smiled back with wry warmth and Bonnie relaxed. Sue had been a Homecoming Princess on Elena's court, along with Bonnie, Meredith, and Caroline. She was the only girl at school besides Bonnie and Meredith who'd stood by Elena when everyone else had turned against her. At Elena's funeral she'd said that Elena would always be the real queen of Robert E. Lee, and she'd given up her own nomination for Snow Queen in Elena's memory. Nobody could hate Sue. The worst was over now, Bonnie thought.

"I want to get a picture of us all on the couch," Caroline said, positioning them behind the flower arrangement. "Vickie, take it, will you?"

Vickie Bennett had been standing by quietly, unnoticed. Now she said, "Oh, sure," and nervously flicked long, light brown hair out of her eyes as she picked up the camera.

Just like she's some kind of servant, Bonnie thought, and then the flashbulb blinded her.

As the Polaroid developed and Sue and Caroline laughed and talked around Meredith's dry politeness, Bonnie noticed something else. It was a good picture; Caroline looked stunning as ever with her auburn hair gleaming and the pale green orchids in front of her. And there was Meredith, looking resigned and ironic and darkly beautiful without even trying, and there she was herself, a head shorter than the others, with her red curls tousled and a sheepish expression on her face. But the strange thing was the figure beside her on the couch. It was Sue, of course it was Sue, but for a moment the blond hair and blue eyes seemed to belong to someone else. Someone looking at her urgently, on the verge of saying something important. Bonnie frowned at the photo, blinking rapidly. The image swam in front of her, and a chilling uneasiness ran up her spine.

No, it was just Sue in the picture. She must've gone crazy for a minute, or else she was letting Caroline's desire for them "all to be together again" affect her.

"I'll take the next one," she said, springing up. "Sit down, Vickie, and lean in. No, farther, farther-there!" All of Vickie's movements were quick and light and nervous. When the flashbulb went off, she started like a scared animal ready to bolt.

Caroline scarcely glanced at this picture, getting up and heading for the kitchen instead. "Guess what we're having instead of cake?" she said. "I'm making my own version of Death by Chocolate. Come on, you've got to help me melt the fudge." Sue followed her, and after an uncertain pause, so did Vickie.

The last traces of Meredith's pleasant expression evaporated and she turned to Bonnie. "You should have told me."

"And that makes it all worthwhile?"

"Well, it helps," Bonnie said, with an air of being reasonable. "And really, it probably won't be so bad. Caroline's actually trying to be nice, and it's good for Vickie to get out of the house for once…"

"It doesn't look like it's good for her," Meredith said bluntly. "It looks like she's going to have a heart attack."

"Well, she's probably just nervous." In Bonnie's opinion, Vickie had good reason to be nervous. She'd spent most of the previous fall in a trance, being slowly driven out of her mind by a power she didn't understand. Nobody had expected her to come out of it as well as she had.

Meredith was still looking bleak. "At least," Bonnie said consolingly, "it isn't your real birthday."

Meredith picked up the camera and turned it over and over. Still looking down at her hands, she said, "But it is."

"What?" Bonnie stared and then said louder, "What did you say?"

"I said, it is my real birthday. Caroline's mom must have told her; she and my mom used to be friends a long time ago."

"Meredith, what are you talking about? Your birthday was last week, May 30."

"No, it wasn't. It's today, June 6. It's true; it's on my driver's license and everything. My parents started celebrating it a week early because June 6 was too upsetting for them. It was the day my grandfather was attacked and went crazy." As Bonnie gasped, unable to speak, she added calmly, "He tried to kill my grandmother, you know. He tried to kill me, too." Meredith put the camera down carefully in the exact center of the coffee table. "We really should go in the kitchen," she said quietly. "I smell chocolate."

Bonnie was still paralyzed, but her mind was beginning to work again. Vaguely, she remembered Meredith speaking about this before, but she hadn't told her the full truth then. And she hadn't said when it had happened.

"Attacked-you mean like Vickie was attacked," Bonnie got out. She couldn't say the word vampire, but she knew Meredith understood.

"Like Vickie was attacked," Meredith confirmed. "Come on," she added, even more quietly. "They're waiting for us. I didn't mean to upset you."

Meredith doesn't want me to be upset, so I won't be upset, Bonnie thought, pouring hot fudge over the chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. Even though we've been friends since first grade and she never told me this secret before.

pouring hot fudge over the chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. Even though we've been friends since first grade and she never told me this secret before.

Then Bonnie shook her head determinedly. She couldn't think about this right now; she had a party to think about. And I'll make sure it's a good party and we all get along somehow, she thought.

Strangely, it wasn't even that hard. Meredith and Vickie didn't talk much at first, but Bonnie went out of her way to be nice to Vickie, and even Meredith couldn't resist the pile of brightly wrapped presents on the coffee table. By the time she'd opened the last one they were all talking and laughing. The mood of truce and toleration continued as they moved up into Caroline's bedroom to examine her clothes and CDs and photo albums. As it got near midnight they flopped on sleeping bags, still talking.

"What's going on with Alaric these days?" Sue asked Meredith.

Alaric Saltzman was Meredith's boyfriend-sort of. He was a graduate student from Duke University who'd majored in parapsychology and had been called to Fell's Church last year when the vampire attacks began. Though he'd started out an enemy, he'd ended up an ally-and a friend.

"He's in Russia," Meredith said. "Perestroika, you know? He's over there finding out what they were doing with psychics during the Cold War."

"What are you going to tell him when he gets back?" asked Caroline.

It was a question Bonnie would have liked to ask Meredith herself. Because Alaric was almost four years older, Meredith had told him to wait until after she graduated to talk about their future. But now Meredith was eighteen-today, Bonnie reminded herself-and graduation was in two weeks. What was going to happen after that?

"I haven't decided," Meredith said. "Alaric wants me to go to Duke, and I've been accepted there, but I'm not sure. I have to think."

Bonnie was just as glad. She wanted Meredith to go to Boone Junior College with her, not go off and get married, or even engaged. It was stupid to decide on one guy so young. Bonnie herself was notorious for playing the field, going from boy to boy as she pleased. She got crushes easily, and got over them just as easily.

"I haven't seen the guy so far worth remaining faithful to," she said now.

Everyone looked at her quickly. Sue's chin was resting on her fists as she asked, "Not even Stefan?"

Bonnie should have known. With the only light the dim bedside lamp and the only sound the rustle of new leaves on the weeping willows outside, it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to Stefan-and to Elena.

Stefan Salvatore and Elena Gilbert were already a sort of legend in the town, like Romeo and Juliet. When Stefan had first come to Fell's Church, every girl had wanted him. And Elena, the most beautiful, most popular, most unapproachable girl at school, had wanted him too. It was only after she'd gotten him that she realized the danger. Stefan wasn't what he seemed-he had a secret far darker than anyone could have guessed. And he had a brother, Damon, even more mysterious and dangerous than himself. Elena had been caught between the two brothers, loving Stefan but drawn irresistibly to Damon's wildness. In the end she had died to save them both, and to redeem their love.

Stefan Salvatore and Elena Gilbert were already a sort of legend in the town, like Romeo and Juliet. When Stefan had first come to Fell's Church, every girl had wanted him. And Elena, the most beautiful, most popular, most unapproachable girl at school, had wanted him too. It was only after she'd gotten him that she realized the danger. Stefan wasn't what he seemed-he had a secret far darker than anyone could have guessed. And he had a brother, Damon, even more mysterious and dangerous than himself. Elena had been caught between the two brothers, loving Stefan but drawn irresistibly to Damon's wildness. In the end she had died to save them both, and to redeem their love.

"I still can't believe she's gone," Sue said quietly, shaking her head and shutting her eyes. "She was so much more alive than other people."

"Her flame burned brighter," said Meredith, gazing at the patterns the rose-and-gold lamp made on the ceiling. Her voice was soft but intense, and it seemed to Bonnie that those words described Elena better than anything she'd ever heard.

"There were times when I hated her, but I could never ignore her," Caroline admitted, her green eyes narrowed in memory. "She wasn't a person you could ignore."

"One thing I learned from her death," Sue said, "is that it could happen to any of us. You can't waste any of life because you never know how long you've got."

"It could be sixty years or sixty minutes," Vickie agreed in a low voice. "Any of us could die tonight."

Bonnie wriggled, disturbed. But before she could say anything, Sue repeated, "I still can't believe she's really gone. Sometimes I feel as if she's somewhere near."

"Oh, so do I," said Bonnie, distracted. An image of Warm Springs flashed through her mind, and for a moment it seemed more vivid than Caroline's dim room. "Last night I dreamed about her, and I had the feeling it really was her and that she was trying to tell me something. I still have that feeling," she said to Meredith.

The others gazed at her silently. Once, they would all have laughed if Bonnie hinted at any-thing supernatural, but not now. Her psychic powers were undisputed, awesome, and a little scary.

"Do you really?" breathed Vickie.

"What do you think she was trying to say?" asked Sue.

"I don't know. At the end she was trying so hard to stay in contact with me, but she couldn't."

There was another silence. At last Sue said hesitantly, with the faintest catch in her voice, "Do you think… do you think you could contact her?"

It was what they'd all been wondering. Bonnie looked toward Meredith. Earlier, Meredith had dismissed the dream, but now she met Bonnie's eyes seriously.

"Is that the only way to communicate with dead people? What about a Ouija board or something?" Sue asked.

"My parents have a Ouija board," Caroline said a little too loudly. Suddenly the hushed, low-key mood was broken and an indefinable tension filled the air. Everyone sat up straighter and looked at each other with speculation. Even Vickie looked intrigued on top of her scaredness.

"Would it work?" Meredith said to Bonnie.

"Should we?" Sue wondered aloud.

"Do we dare? That's really the question," Meredith said. Once again Bonnie found everyone looking at her. She hesitated a final instant, and then shrugged. Excitement was stirring in her stomach.

"Why not?" she said. "What have we got to lose?"

Caroline turned to Vickie. "Vickie, there's a closet at the bottom of the stairs. The Ouija board should be inside, on the top shelf with a bunch of other games."

She didn't even say, "Please, will you get it?" Bonnie frowned and opened her mouth, but Vickie was already out the door.

"You could be a little more gracious," Bonnie told Caroline. "What is this, your impression of Cinderella's evil stepmother?"

"Oh, come on, Bonnie," Caroline said impatiently. "She's lucky just to be invited. She knows that."

"And here I thought she was just overcome by our collective splendor," Meredith said dryly.

"And besides-" Bonnie started when she was interrupted. The noise was thin and shrill and it fell off weakly at the end, but there was no mistaking it. It was a scream. It was followed by dead silence and then suddenly peal after peal of piercing shrieks.

For an instant the girls in the bedroom stood transfixed. Then they were all running out into the hallway and down the stairs.

"Vickie!" Meredith, with her long legs, reached the bottom first. Vickie was standing in front of the closet, arms outstretched as if to protect her face. She clutched at Meredith, still screaming.

"Vickie, what is it?" Caroline demanded, sounding more angry than afraid. There were game boxes scattered across the floor and Monopoly markers and Trivial Pursuit cards strewn everywhere. "What are you yelling about?"

"It grabbed me! I was reaching up to the top shelf and something grabbed me around the waist!"

"No! From inside the closet."

Startled, Bonnie looked inside the open closet. Winter coats hung in an impenetrable layer, some of them reaching the floor. Gently disengaging herself from Vickie, Meredith picked up an umbrella and began poking the coats.

"Oh, don't-" Bonnie began involuntarily, but the umbrella encountered only the resistance of cloth. Meredith used it to push the coats aside and reveal the bare cedarwood of the closet wall.

"You see? Nobody there," she said lightly. "But you know what is there are these coat sleeves. If you leaned in far enough between them, I'll bet it could feel like somebody's arms closing around you."

Vickie stepped forward, touched a dangling sleeve, then looked up at the shelf. She put her face in her hands, long silky hair falling forward to screen it. For an awful moment Bonnie thought she was crying, then she heard the giggles.

"Oh, God! I really thought-oh, I'm so stupid! I'll clean it up," Vickie said.

"Later," said Meredith firmly. "Let's go in the living room."

Bonnie threw one last look at the closet as they went.

When they were all gathered around the coffee table, with several lights turned off for effect, Bonnie put her fingers lightly on the small plastic planchette. She'd never actually used a Ouija board, but she knew how it was done. The planchette moved to point at letters and spell out a message-if the spirits were willing to talk, that is.

"We all have to be touching it," she said, and then watched as the others obeyed. Meredith's fingers were long and slender, Sue's slim and tapering with oval nails. Caroline's nails were painted burnished copper. Vickie's were bitten.

"Now we close our eyes and concentrate," Bonnie said softly. There were little hisses of anticipation as the girls obeyed; the atmosphere was getting to all of them.

"Think of Elena. Picture her. If she's out there, we want to draw her here." The big room was silent. In the dark behind her closed lids Bonnie saw pale gold hair and eyes like lapis lazuli.

"Come on, Elena," she whispered. "Talk to me."

The planchette began to move.

None of them could be guiding it; they were all applying pressure from different points. Nevertheless, the little triangle of plastic was sliding smoothly, confidently. Bonnie kept her eyes shut until it stopped and then looked. The planchette was pointing to the word Yes.

Vickie gave something like a soft sob.   Bonnie looked at the others. Caroline was breathing fast, green eyes narrowed.

Sue, the only one of all of them, still had her eyes resolutely closed. Meredith looked pale.

"Keep concentrating," Bonnie told them. She felt unready and a little stupid addressing the empty air directly. But she was the expert; she had to do it. "Is that you, Elena?" she said.

The planchette made a little circle and returned to Yes. Suddenly Bonnie's heart was beating so hard she was afraid it would shake her fingers. The plastic underneath her fingertips felt different, electrified almost, as if some supernatural energy was flowing through it. She no longer felt stupid. Tears came to her eyes, and she could see that Meredith's eyes were glistening too. Meredith nodded at her.

"How can we be sure?" Caroline was saying, loudly, suspiciously. Caroline doesn't feel it, Bonnie realized; she doesn't sense anything I do. Psychically speaking, she's a dud.

The planchette was moving again, touching letters now, so quickly that Meredith

barely had time to spell out the message. Even without punctuation it was clear. CAROLINE DONT BE A JERK, it said. YOURE LUCKY IM TALKING TO YOU AT ALL

"That's Elena, all right," Meredith said dryly. "It sounds like her, but-" "Oh, shut up, Caroline," Bonnie said. "Elena, I'm just so glad…" Her throat

locked up and she tried again.

BONNIE THERES NO TIME STOP SNIVELING AND GET DOWN TO BUSINESS And that was Elena too. Bonnie sniffed and went on. "I had a dream about you last night."

TEA

"Yes." Bonnie's heart was thudding faster than ever. "I wanted to talk to you, but things got weird and then we kept losing contact-"

BONNIE DONT TRANCE NO TRANCE NO TRANCE

"All right." That answered her question, and she was relieved to hear it.

CORRUPTING INFLUENCES DISTORTING OUR COMMUNICATION

THERE ARE BAD THINGS VERY BAD THINGS OUT HERE

"Like what?" Bonnie leaned closer to the board. "Like what?"

NO TIME!

The planchette seemed to add the exclamation point. It was jerking violently from letter to letter as if Elena could barely contain her impatience.

"Danger?" Vickie repeated, looking as if she might jump off the chair and run.

WAIT LISTEN FIRST THE WHOLE TOWN IS IN DANGER

"What do we do?" said Meredith instantly.

YOU NEED HELP HES OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE UNBELIEVABLY STRONG NOW LISTEN AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS YOU HAVE TO DO A SUMMONING SPELL AND THE FIRST INGREDIENT IS H-

Without warning, the planchette jerked away from the letters and flew around the board wildly. It pointed at the stylized picture of the moon, then at the sun, then at the words Parker Brothers, Inc.

"Elena!"

The planchette bobbed back to the letters.

ANOTHER MOUSE ANOTHER MOUSE ANOTHER MOUSE

"What's happening?" Sue cried, eyes wide open now.

Bonnie was frightened. The planchette was pulsing with energy, a dark and ugly energy like boiling black tar that stung her fingers. But she could also feel the quivering silver thread that was Elena's presence fighting it. "Don't let go!" she cried desperately. "Don't take your hands off it!"

MOUSMUDKILLYOU, the board reeled off. BLOODBLOODBLOOD. And then… BONNIE GET OUT RUN HES HERE RUN RUN RU-

The planchette jerked furiously, whipping out from under Bonnie's fingers and beyond her reach, flying across the board and through the air as if someone had thrown it. Vickie screamed. Meredith started to her feet.

And then all the lights went out, plunging the house into darkness.

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