Authors: L. J. Smith
L. J. SMITH
For John and Marianne Vrabec, with love.
And with thanks to Julie—again—for
helping it get written.
“Things can be just like they were before,” said Caroline warmly, reaching out to squeeze Bonnie’s hand.
But it wasn’t true. Nothing could ever be the way it had been before Elena died. Nothing. And Bonnie had serious misgivings about this party Caroline was trying to set up. A vague nagging in the pit of her stomach told her that for some reason it was a very, very bad idea.
“Meredith’s birthday is already
,” she pointed out. “It was last Saturday.”
“But she didn’t have a party, not a real party like this one. We’ve got all night; my parents won’t be back until Sunday morning. Come on, Bonnie—just think how surprised she’ll be.”
Oh, she’ll be surprised, all right, thought Bonnie. So surprised she just might kill me afterward. “Look, Caroline, the reason Meredith didn’t have a big party is that she still doesn’t
feel much like celebrating. It seems—disrespectful, somehow—”
. Elena would want us to have a good time, you know she would. She loved parties. And she’d hate to see us sitting around and crying over her six months after she’s gone.” Caroline leaned forward, her normally feline green eyes earnest and compelling. There was no artifice in them now, none of Caroline’s usual nasty manipulation. Bonnie could tell she really meant it.
“I want us to be friends again the way we used to be,” Caroline said. “We always used to celebrate our birthdays together, just the four of us, remember? And remember how the guys would always try to crash our parties? I wonder if they’ll try this year.”
Bonnie felt control of the situation slipping away from her. This is a bad idea, this is a very bad idea, she thought. But Caroline was going on, looking dreamy and almost romantic as she talked about the good old days. Bonnie didn’t have the heart to tell her that the good old days were as dead as disco.
“But there aren’t even four of us anymore.
Three doesn’t make much of a party,” she protested feebly when she could get a word in.
“I’m going to invite Sue Carson, too. Meredith gets along with her, doesn’t she?”
Bonnie had to admit Meredith did; everyone got along with Sue. But even so, Caroline had to understand that things couldn’t be the way they had been before. You couldn’t just substitute Sue Carson for Elena and say, There, everything is fixed now.
But how do I explain that to Caroline? Bonnie thought. Suddenly she knew.
“Let’s invite Vickie Bennett,” she said.
Caroline stared. “
You must be joking. Invite that bizarre little drip who undressed in front of half the school? After everything that happened?”
of everything that happened,” said Bonnie firmly. “Look, I know she was never in our crowd. But she’s not in with the fast crowd anymore; they don’t want her and she’s scared to death of them. She needs friends. We need people. Let’s invite her.”
For a moment Caroline looked helplessly frustrated. Bonnie thrust her chin out, put her
hands on her hips, and waited. Finally Caroline sighed.
“All right; you win. I’ll invite her. But you have to take care of getting Meredith to my house Saturday night. And Bonnie—make sure she doesn’t have any idea what’s going on. I really want this to be a surprise.”
“Oh, it will be,” Bonnie said grimly. She was unprepared for the sudden light in Caroline’s face or the impulsive warmth of Caroline’s hug.
“I’m so glad you’re seeing things my way,” Caroline said. “And it’ll be so good for us all to be together again.”
She doesn’t understand a thing, Bonnie realized, dazed, as Caroline walked off. What do I have to do to explain to her? Sock her?
And then: Oh, God, now I have to tell Meredith.
But by the end of the day she decided that maybe Meredith didn’t need to be told. Caroline wanted Meredith surprised; well, maybe Bonnie should deliver Meredith surprised. That way at least Meredith wouldn’t have to worry about it beforehand. Yes, Bonnie concluded, it was probably kindest to
tell Meredith anything.
And who knows
, she wrote in her journal Friday night.
Maybe I’m being too hard on Caroline. Maybe she’s really sorry about all the things she did to us, like trying to humiliate Elena in front of the whole town and trying to get Stefan put away for murder. Maybe Caroline’s matured since then and learned to think about somebody besides herself. Maybe we’ll actually have a good time at her party.
And maybe aliens will kidnap me before tomorrow afternoon, she thought as she closed the diary. She could only hope.
The diary was an inexpensive drugstore blank book, with a pattern of tiny flowers on the cover. She’d only started keeping it since Elena had died, but she’d already become slightly addicted to it. It was the one place she could say anything she wanted without people looking shocked and saying, “Bonnie McCullough!” or “Oh,
She was still thinking about Elena as she turned off the light and crawled under the covers.
She was sitting on lush, manicured grass that spread as far as she could see in all directions.
The sky was a flawless blue, the air was warm and scented. Birds were singing.
“I’m so glad you could come,” Elena said.
“Oh—yes,” said Bonnie. “Well, naturally, so am I. Of course.” She looked around again, then hastily back at Elena.
There was a teacup in Bonnie’s hand, thin and fragile as eggshell. “Oh—sure. Thanks.”
Elena was wearing an eighteenth-century dress of gauzy white muslin, which clung to her, showing how slender she was. She poured the tea precisely, without spilling a drop.
“Would you like a mouse?”
“I said, would you like a sandwich with your tea?”
“Oh. A sandwich. Yeah. Great.” It was thinly sliced cucumber with mayonnaise on a dainty square of white bread. Without the crust.
The whole scene was as sparkly and beautiful as a picture by Seurat. Warm Springs, that’s where we are. The old picnic place, Bonnie thought. But surely we’ve got more important things to discuss than tea.
“Who does your hair these days?” she asked. Elena never had been able to do it herself.
“Do you like it?” Elena put a hand up to the silky, pale gold mass piled at the back of her neck.
“It’s perfect,” said Bonnie, sounding for all the world like her mother at a Daughters of the American Revolution dinner party.
“Well, hair is important, you know,” Elena said. Her eyes glowed a deeper blue than the sky, lapis lazuli blue. Bonnie touched her own springy red curls self-consciously.
“Of course, blood is important too,” Elena said.
“Blood? Oh—yes, of course,” said Bonnie, flustered. She had no idea what Elena was talking about, and she felt as if she were walking on a tightrope over alligators. “Yes, blood’s important, all right,” she agreed weakly.
“Thanks.” It was cheese and tomato. Elena selected one for herself and bit into it delicately. Bonnie watched her, feeling uneasiness grow by the minute inside her, and then—
And then she saw the mud oozing out of the
edges of the sandwich.
?” Terror made her voice shrill. For the first time, the dream seemed like a dream, and she found that she couldn’t move, could only gasp and stare. A thick glob of the brown stuff fell off Elena’s sandwich onto the checkered tablecloth. It was mud, all right. “Elena … Elena, what—”
“Oh, we all eat this down here.” Elena smiled at her with brown-stained teeth. Except that the voice wasn’t Elena’s; it was ugly and distorted and it was a man’s voice. “You will too.”
The air was no longer warm and scented; it was hot and sickly sweet with the odor of rotting garbage. There were black pits in the green grass, which wasn’t manicured after all but wild and overgrown. This wasn’t Warm Springs. She was in the old graveyard; how could she not have realized that? Only these graves were fresh.
“Another mouse?” Elena said, and giggled obscenely.
Bonnie looked down at the half-eaten sandwich she was holding and screamed. Dangling from one end was a ropy brown tail. She threw it as hard as she could against a headstone,
where it hit with a wet slap. Then she stood, stomach heaving, scrubbing her fingers frantically against her jeans.
“You can’t leave yet. The company is just arriving.” Elena’s face was changing; she had already lost her hair, and her skin was turning gray and leathery. Things were moving in the plate of sandwiches and the freshly dug pits. Bonnie didn’t want to see any of them; she thought she would go mad if she did.
“You’re not Elena!” she screamed, and ran.
The wind blew her hair into her eyes and she couldn’t see. Her pursuer was behind her; she could feel it right behind her. Get to the bridge, she thought, and then she ran into something.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” said the thing in Elena’s dress, the gray skeletal thing with long, twisted teeth. “Listen to me, Bonnie.” It held her with terrible strength.
“You’re not Elena! You’re not Elena!”
“Listen to me, Bonnie!”
It was Elena’s voice, Elena’s real voice, not obscenely amused nor thick and ugly, but urgent. It came from somewhere behind Bonnie and it swept through the dream like a fresh, cold wind.
“Bonnie, listen quickly—”
Things were melting. The bony hands on Bonnie’s arms, the crawling graveyard, the rancid hot air. For a moment Elena’s voice was clear, but it was broken up like a bad long-distance connection.
“… He’s twisting things, changing them. I’m not as strong as he is …” Bonnie missed some words. “… but this is important. You have to find … right now.” Her voice was fading.
“Elena, I can’t hear you! Elena!”
“… an easy spell, only two ingredients, the ones I told you already …”
Bonnie was still shouting as she sat bolt upright in bed.