How much can change in a year.
It's one of those phrases that I've caught in conversation, one that rattles in my mind like a pebble along a road, a vestige of my previous life. Once upon a time, a year was weighty, substantial. It was filled with possibilities: of meeting the love of your life, of having children, of dying. It was a stepping-stone on the path of life - a path that I no longer walk.
A year was one thing. Twenty years ago, when my entire world turned upside down, was something else entirely.
A year ago, I came to England, a land so steeped in history it makes the prospect of eternity seem less overwhelming. And although the setting had changed, I stayed the same. I still looked like I had the day I turned into a vampire, and the same thoughts - of Katherine, who turned me, of Damon, my brother, of the death and destruction that I could never, ever seem to erase - still haunted my dreams. Time had been steadily
galloping forward, but I remained as before, a demon desperate for redemption.
If I were a human, I'd be comfortably in middle age by now. I'd have a wife, children, perhaps even a son I'd prepare to take over my family business.
Before the Salvatore family business became murder.
It's a legacy I've spent the past twenty years trying to correct, hoping that somehow an eternity of good deeds could make up for the mistakes I have made, the blood I have shed.
And in some ways, it has; England was good for me. Now, I'm an honest man - or as honest as a man can be when his past is as wretched as mine.
I no longer feel guilty for draining the blood of woodland creatures. I am, after all, a vampire. But I am not a monster. Not anymore.
Still, time does not touch me as it does humans, nor does each new year turn over with the breathless anticipation of those who live. All I can hope is that each year will carry me further and further from the destruction of my youth with no fresh pain on my conscience. If I could have that, it would be my salvation.
Sunlight dappled the rough-hewn beams of the expansive kitchen of Abbott Manor, where I was employed as a groundskeeper. I sighed in contentment as I gazed out the thick windows at the verdant rol ing countryside surrounding the home. Although meticulously kept up by Mrs.
Duckworth, the Abbotts' devoted housekeeper, I could see motes of pol en floating through the bright rays. The homey, comfortable setting reminded me of the Veritas Estate, where pol en from the magnolia trees would drift through the open windows and coat an entire room in a thin layer of dust.
"Can you pass me the knife, Stefan?" Daisy, one of the young housemaids, asked as she flirtatiously batted her eyelashes at me. Daisy was a local girl occasional y employed by Mrs. Duckworth to come in and assist in the kitchen for the day. A short girl with curly brown hair and a smattering of freckles across her upturned nose, she reminded me of Amelia Hawke, one of my childhood friends from Mystic Fal s. Amelia would now most likely have children Daisy's age, I realized.
"Why, of course, Daisy darlin'," I said in my exaggerated Southern accent, bowing deeply to her. Daisy always teased me about how American I sounded, and I enjoyed our lighthearted exchanges. They were playful and innocent, a reminder that words didn't always carry an ulterior motive.
I pul ed a knife from a drawer and passed it to her as she plucked a cucumber from a large wooden bowl and set it down on the table, biting her lip in concentration.
"Ow!" Daisy yelped, yanking her finger away from the cucumber and hastily bringing her hand to her lips. She turned toward me, blood oozing from the wound.
I felt my fangs begin to bulge from underneath my gums. I gulped and stepped away, trying to stop the transformation while I stil had the chance.
"Stefan, help!" Daisy implored.
I staggered back as the scent of blood invaded my nostrils and seeped into my brain. I could imagine how sweet the liquid would taste on my tongue.
I grabbed a napkin and thrust it toward her. I squeezed my eyes shut, but if anything, it only made the metal ic scent of blood more potent.
"Here!" I said roughly, blindly shaking the napkin at her. But she did not take it, so I opened one eye, then the other. Daisy was standing there, her arm outstretched, but something about her was different. I blinked again. It wasn't my imagination. Her mousy brown hair had transformed into a shiny red copper, while her ful cheeks had slimmed into an angular face that had only the faintest dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.
Somehow, Daisy had disappeared, and a new figure stood in her place.
"Cal ie?" I croaked, steadying myself against the wooden table. Cal ie Gal agher - fiery, impetuous, fiercely loyal, and dead by Damon's hand -
was right in front of me. My mind was whirling. What if she hadn't real y died? Could she somehow have escaped to England to start over? I knew it didn't make sense, but she was right in front of me, as lovely as ever.
"Stefan . . ." she whispered, tilting her face toward me.
"Cal ie!" I smiled as my fangs receded. I felt a quickening in my chest, a shadow of the human emotions that Cal ie had helped me remember. I reached out toward her, brushing my hand against her shoulder, al owing my nose to inhale her apple-and-hay scent. But as soon as I blinked again, to take her al in, everything about her changed. Her lips were parted too widely, her teeth too white, her eyes bloodshot. A lemon-and-ginger fragrance wafted through the air.
I blinked in horror. Fear ran through my veins like ice. Could it be . . .
It was Katherine. Katherine. The first woman I ever believed myself to fal in love with. The vampire who stole my heart only as a means to steal my soul. "Leave me be!" I cal ed raggedly, scrambling backward so quickly my foot caught on the table leg. I steadied myself. I knew I had to get away from her. She was evil. She'd destroyed me. And yet, she looked so lovely. A mischievous expression danced across her face.