16 iul. 2011

Povești nespuse(4)

Ultima poveste nespusă de L.J.Smith referitoare la Jurnalele Vampirilor.Lectură plăcută!

4.A zecea întâlnire-pe iazul Wickery

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“You know what this is?” Elena had greeted Matt, for once without
the cheerleading squad of girlfriends on the second story. They were
planning to see a horror movie at Fell's Church's one working theater and
then have dinner at a small Italian restaurant in Ridgemont.
“What?” Matt had asked, feeling stupid staring as he was at Elena's
golden beauty as she came down the stairs, this time dressed in an slim
pearl-white sheath, with an oversized black velvet belt showing just how
small her waist was, and a black velvet ribbon around her slender throat.
“Uh . . .” Matt tried to remember if there was some holiday coming
up, or some dance he'd forgotten to ask her to.
“It's our anniversary, silly! It's our two-month, official tenth date
anniversary.”
“Almost two months,” Matt had said as Elena had put on an ivory
coat with faux fur—it looked real, but she'd confided to Matt that it
wasn't—at the cuffs and collar. He knew how long it had been to the day

and minute, because he had been thinking about Elena nonstop ever
since then. He thought about her even when he was supposed to be
thinking about something else. His football coach was disgusted with him,
but all the guys on the team were green with envy. Elena and Matt were
formally together.
“Our tenth—oh, no!” Matt slapped his forehead. “I swear, Elena, I
swear, I bought this little pearl ring for you—we can go to my house and—
whoa—!”
“Shhh.” Elena silenced him most expediently—by kissing him. It
was a beautiful soft, chaste kiss, which branded Matt's lips like fire. Elena
was so light and delicate—almost fragile-feeling in his arms. But warm,
definitely warm. “Don't say a word about rings, especially where Aunt
Judith can hear you,” she whispered into Matt's ear, which gave rise to
such pleasant sensations that Matt could hardly follow what she was
saying. But he'd managed to nod, and to say hello to Aunt Judith as she
came from the kitchen, and then sweep his treasure out into the cold late-
fall evening.
“And I don't care about rings, silly,” Elena had said when they had
driven a few blocks away from her house and she'd given him a dizzying
kiss or two. “I just want you to know that this is an important day.”
She said it so adorably earnestly, looking at him with those lapis
lazuli eyes under their ridiculously thick lashes, that Matt wished he could
haul her over the central console of the car and kiss her hard. But if he
had learned one thing about Elena Gilbert, it was that kisses weren't
2


things to be casually snatched up, not even if they were a couple. Elena
could turn into an Ice Princess in an instant if a kiss wasn't her idea. Matt
thought that she might have some cat in her heritage, somewhere way
back.
“Did you bring Uncle Joe?” Elena asked, solemnly, as she always
did when they went somewhere, even to Warm Springs with a picnic lunch.
“Of course,” Matt said, as he always did, and at a stoplight he
showed her his wallet with the precious hundred dollar bill in it, and Elena
said “Hello, Uncle Joe,” as seriously as if she saw his face instead of
Benjamin Franklin's there. She also opened her tiny black velvet purse
and showed him what she always carried since their first date: her aunt's
Visa card.
This time, as on the last eight formal dates they'd been on,
there was no need to resort to either extremity, but as always, Matt had
the feeling that Uncle Joe was somehow with him, sometimes criticizing,
sometimes cheering for him. Since good old Uncle Joe hadn't been able
to hang on to even one of his three wives, Matt had decided that this was
a bad fantasy and tried very hard not to listen to Uncle Joe's whiskey-andtobacco-
hoarse voice. The real-life horror of that date
began as Matt was driving Elena back home, hands carefully positioned
on the steering wheel at the ten o'clock and two o'clock positions. He
couldn't help but feel dizzy inside every time Elena touched his arm.
Outside, it was freezing, but the Garbage Heap was flooding them with hot
air from below, so Elena's pretty toes couldn't be too cold.
3


They were chatting aimlessly. Ever since their first date Matt had
found Elena amazingly easy to talk to. They talked about things
happening in the world, in Fell's Church, and as they grew steadily more
fond of each other, about things closer to their hearts. Like about their
childhoods and how they had really known each other for years, although
they had never known each other. Elena admitted that she had tried
cigarettes years ago, but to Matt's relief added that the first one had made
her so dizzy that she'd fallen down and so nauseated that she'd almost
thrown up. And, to Matt's even greater relief, the rumors that were flying
all around school that Elena Gilbert had tried everything, everything legal
or illegal in this part of the world, looking for kicks, were completely
unfounded. She hated the taste of alcohol, so at social drinking affairs she
could be usually seen drinking a rum and coke—sans rum. She would
never go near drugs, she said, because of a cousin of hers that had died
when she was only fourteen.
“I cried so hard at the funeral service that they had to take me
outside the church,” she said. “Breanna had so much to live for. Why did
she even start drugs in the first place?”
“I don't know,” Matt said, feeling grim. “To fit in, maybe. There's a
fair number of jocks that aren't clean, either.” He used the derogatory
term lightly—as a jock himself. “They drink vodka from thermoses in the
locker room. It's a wonder we don't lose half our games—hey!” He
interrupted himself. “Did you see that? There's some people out on
Wickery Pond.”
4


“On it? Skating? This early?” Elena turned almost completely
around to see the pond, which might better have been named Wickery
Puddle, because it was such a small pool off Drowning Creek and froze
over so early and easily. But the water was deeper than most people
thought. Matt could remember being young and stupid and sliding and
skating on the pond, too, a month ahead of the real skating season. Matt
also remembered his mother's story of a girl who had died there before he
was born. The barely-there ice had cracked under her gliding skates, and
had taken three of her friends in the water, too. The rescuers had only
managed to get the three friends out. There was even a ghost story about
how the girl lived under the pond, seizing the feet of anyone who broke ice
over even the shallowest water, and pulling them down, down, down . . .
“Matt, turn the car around.” Suddenly Elena sounded neither like a
sweet Southern angel or an indifferent Ice Princess. This was the Elena
who always ended up chairing the Robert E. Lee High events committees.
It was the voice of authority, and as usua, Matt found his muscles reacting
before he had quite grasped what he was doing.
“You're—you're not going to try to talk to them?” he asked, feeling
spaghetti turn to lead in his stomach. “They're just bratty elementary
school kids. They'll laugh—”
“Not at me,” Elena said quietly. She didn't sound embarrassed—
and she didn't sound coy. She was just making a statement.
And Matt suddenly sucked in a deep breath as he realized that it
was true. He'd heard girls scream at Elena, with tears and mascara and
5


everything else running down their faces; he'd seen boys huddled in
hushed bunches listening to the proud Prom King of the year bragging
about his “night with the girl,” but he'd never heard anyone laugh at her,
even behind her back.
I wonder how the world looks when you're Elena Gilbert, he thought
suddenly thinking back on their relationship. Different than it looks for the
rest of us, I'm sure. It must feel like having a ticker-tape parade for you all
the time. A nonstop party, with the spotlight always on you.
Then he slapped himself mentally. He knew none of that was true—
not inside Elena's mind. He knew it as well as if he'd taken a microscope
to her brain and examined and analyzed all the thoughts and feelings
there.
Elena knows it—how could she not know it? She knows she's the
girl all the boys want and all the girls want to be. She even uses it. She's
using it right now. But she's—using it for a good reason. Not to hurt
anyone.
Satisfied with his conclusion, Matt turned off the headlights and he
coasted onto dirt as they drew near the pond. He didn't want hysterical
kids thinking that parents and police had spotted them, and making a
frantic dash for the edge of the pond, without even looking to see where
they were going.
Then, with a last glance at Elena in the dim interior of the car, Matt
quietly opened his door, just as she quietly opened hers. The Junk Heap
6


didn't have such luxuries as an interior light that automatically went on
when you did this, and that was good . . . tonight.
Elena had already taken off her fur-trimmed coat and thrown it in
the car. He shrugged out of his heavy overcoat and out of his dinner
jacket as well. They were going to need some warm, dry clothes if a kid
went into the water—even at the very edge of the pond, Matt thought.
Anyway they themselves were too agitated to be cold . . . yet.
“Put this and your wallet in the glove compartment,” Elena said
softly, handing him her aunt's credit card. Then she was moving stealthily
toward the pond, actually more quietly than Matt would have believed a
person could walk in heels. His initial reaction was involuntary: a sort of
swooping disappointment that his extraordinary girlfriend would think
about money at a time like this.
“We don't want to lose Uncle Joe twice,” she added, just as softly,
and Matt felt something inside his chest turn over and his spirits bounced
and went swooping back up again. It was something in the—the nurturing
way—that she said it, as if old Uncle Joe were still here, as if she
understood the reason why Matt had once worn the same coat for two
winters, even when it had pinched under the arms, rather than spend
Uncle Joe's hundred.
Elena was still moving silently toward the pond, almost floating, not
rustling a leaf. Matt looked down and got a shock when he saw why.
She'd left her high-heeled shoes back in the car.
7


“You'll free—! Freeze,” he said, changing his volume in mid-
sentence from an exclamation to a whisper in reaction to a sharp motion of
her hand. Jeez, she's really got me trained, he thought, not really minding
being tamed by this sweet, surprising, soft-eyed firebrand of a girl.
“But you can't walk in bare feet on that ice,” he added, still
whispering, but following her and wishing that he could avoid dried leaves
and twigs the way her pale feet did, apparently without her even glancing
at them.
“I'm not going to walk around the pond,” she replied in a soft little
voice like a lazy bumblebee hum. “I'm going to walk on the pond. And I
have nylons on—quite thick ones, as nylons go. They're really almost
tights, but translucent; I get them from a special place online.”
Matt tried to believe he understood all of this, but the one thought
that really went through his head was, She pays attention to every detail
because she can't stand for herself to be less than perfect. And she
wants that same perfection from me, too. And strangely the thought only
buoyed his spirits up farther. Because Elena's standards were high, but
the person she'd picked to go steady with had to meet those standards.
But as for the pond-walking nonsense, well, Matt would put a stop
to that, he decided. And as he decided this, he had no idea that this
thought was going to go down in history as the first time he'd thought of
trying to talk Elena out of a scheme.
“Elena, I'm wearing shoes,” he started, murmuring as she was
doing.
8


“I know. I can hear them very clearly,” Elena said, but in her sweet
little hum it sounded like the kind of nonsense traded by happy couples.
“I mean, I can walk on the ice and—”
“And probably fall right through, you great big football star.”
“Actually, I'm the most compact guy on the team—”
“I'm going to break a lifetime's habit and tell you my weight,” Elena
said, and she did, whispering it into his ear. Then she added, “I look taller
than I am because I hang out with that munchkin Bonnie. Now, which of
us is going to fall through that ice first?”
Matt couldn't think of a thing to say. Not one.
“Thank you,” Elena murmured, somehow putting sunshine into the
hum. Then she shook her head. “Look.”
The had reached the edge of the pond. The ice was mushy here,
with dark water clearly showing through the crumbling chunks. Matt was
cold now, but he was damned if he was going to leave those stupid kids
out there on the pond and maybe have one of the fall into the water and
be drowned.
Matt poked at the mushy ice with a stick. “Can't get onto the pond
here. We'll have to walk around testing.” He tried not to shiver, tried not
to think how cold Elena's poor feet must be. He comforted himself with a
vision of wrapping them in a blanket in front of a fire, while his mom made
raspberry-chocolate cocoa for everyone.
They followed the contour of the pond, walking on leaves that now
ripped soggily underfoot, sticking to his shoes, and sticks too sodden to
9


crackle underfoot, until Elena, tapping with her stick in front of them,
stopped and put fingers to her lips.
“Good ice,” she whispered.
“Okay, what—”
“I'll just try Plan A, okay? If it doesn't work I'll tell you Plan B.”
Matt was too dumbfounded to feel that his masculinity was being
threatened. It was true that he'd never gone with such a takeover girl
before. But the way Elena looked in the moonlight, now that the full moon
had risen high in the sky . . . well, it took all the fight out of him. She
looked . . . the moonlight on her golden hair . . . the way it reflected back at
him in her large pupils . . . the way her lashes cast shadows on her rose-
petal skin . . . she couldn't be an angel, she was too vibrant and alive.
Maybe she was an enchantress. Maybe she was a water spirit. No
question that she was magic.
Matt wanted to hug her just to give her some of his own body
warmth—but that was the last thing he dared to suggest. And yet a thing
inside him that had never awoken before was awake and rampaging. Pick
her up, idiot! it was screaming. Carry her back to the car—you know the
moves to keep her from hurting herself. And in case you haven't gotten it
yet, I'm your primal manhood, fed up with your wimpy, that's right, your
atrociously civilized wimpy behavior. If you don't sling her across your
shoulder right now, you cowardly, spineless, gutless reject from a sausage
factory—
10


But he didn't swing the girl over his shoulder, and he knew he never
would. Elena might be lighter in weight than he was, but she had a spine
of armored tungsten or something. And besides, she would have a Plan C
by now. She would weep. She would tremble. And then when she'd got
him distracted, she would run, putting herself into far graver danger than if
she simply picked her way across the thin veneer of ice over the dark
pond as she was doing now.
Matt didn't know why he could read her, but somehow, after ten
dates he could. After all this time, he felt as if Elena were somebody he'd
known all his life—somebody who'd shared her life with him, or that maybe
even sometime a long time ago they had been part of each other.
And besides all that, very simply, she was too smart for him. No
matter what the subject was, Elena was swifter at finding a snappy answer.
They were closing in on five reckless little figures. The moonlight
was bright. In a minute they were going to be seen—
“Hi there,” Elena called, and somehow, to Matt's amazement, she
kept her teeth from chattering. “Wow, what a great night for skating.”
There was a moment of pandemonium and Matt thought one of the
little figures would surely go down. But then everyone suddenly stopped,
staring. Three little boy-faces and two little girl-faces were turned toward
them, in awe.
“Are you—ghosts?” one boy asked, looking more intrigued than
scared. Well, that made sense or he wouldn't be out here risking his life in
the first place, Matt thought grimly. And Elena, in her slim pearl-white
11


sheath, with her drift of hair silvery-gold in the moonlight, barefoot in winter,
did look as she might have been a ghost.
Elena laughed a sweet little, oh-so-non-threatening laugh. And
then Matt saw why somebody had once said that you could catch more
flies with honey than with vinegar. Although what anybody would want
with the amount of flies you could catch with honey was beyond him.
“Don't any of you know me?” Elena asked, as if she were princess
of the realm of Fell's Church and they were peasants who'd never seen
royalty before.
One of the girls spoke in a whisper. “You're . . . Elena.” As if Elena
were a pop star that everyone knew by only their first name.
“That's right,” Elena said. She was pacing a little, never toward the
children, but never too far away. Suddenly Matt realized why. One
danger of bare feet was that any scrap of residual warmth she might have
would probably melt this ice—-and if it didn't, the ice would freeze her solid
in place. She gave a little twirl to show off the dress. “We just got back
from a date. What do you think of that?”
Two little boys snickered and nudged each other. Two little girls
stared with worshipful eyes. One little boy stepped forward and said,
seriously, “I'd go out with you,” and then hid behind one of his companions.
“Well, we're having an adventure together,” Elena said without
haste. “Isn't the moonlight beautiful tonight?”
Three heads and two little hoods nodded, five pairs of eyes staring
up at the moon. “My brother Josh said it would be pretty in the moonlight,”
12


one of the little girls offered, and one of the boys blushed crimson. The
moon was bright enough to show that, Matt thought, awed. He realized
that he hadn't said a word so far, and decided it was better that way.
Elena was charming them as if they were five identical cobras coming out
of five identical baskets, and he didn't want to break the spell.
“It's a wonderful adventure,” Elena said. “The only problem”—she
was still swiveling, but slowly, picking up her feet like a high spirited
thoroughbred, Matt thought—“is that my feet are awfully cold. You don't
have a blanket or anything I could wrap them in, do you?”
The I'd-go-out-with-you boy instantly pointed back at the bank. “We
have some there.”
And in a reverent whisper, one of the girls said, “I'll go get one for
you.”
Aha, Matt thought. It wasn't just admiration of Elena's delicate
style. It was memory. Some days it seemed at Robert E. Lee that
everybody was just either just getting finished with or just started running
an errand for Elena Gilbert. Now Matt saw how she managed to arrange it.
Or did he? She would use different methods with older kids, of course,
but . . . he shook his head. It was as if Elena had as many facets as a
diamond, and you thought you saw the real her every time a new facet
flashed.
“I'm gonna get it,” one of the bigger boys snapped with heavy fifth-
grade authority. And here, Matt thought, we have the leader of these
reckless roughnecks.
13


“Well, let's all go get it, shall we?” Elena said merrily, tilting her
head and gazing at the kids as if she just adored children whose snot was
freezing on their small red faces. As if she had finally found her true
love . . . times five. It looked so far from being an act that Matt wondered if
Elena herself realized she was playacting. Or. . . or. . . if she even was
acting at all.
“Come on,” she said, reaching a hand out to the biggest boy, “Let's
be as quiet as we can and sneak up on the blankets so they don't run
away.”
This time everyone laughed. Even Matt. He couldn't help it. Elena
had just done a magnificent thing. And she'd made it look so effortless,
when he could see—even if the young kids couldn't—that she had every
muscle locked against every other muscle to keep from shaking like a leaf
in the bitter wind. He'd seen—he'd imagined he'd seen—the real Elena
Gilbert on every date or get-together—and then he'd thought this was just
a kiddy-version imposter—but now he wasn't sure of anything except that
she was the most beautiful thing under the moonlight on Wickery Pond.
“You slide and I'll glide and we'll both get there together,” Elena
was saying merrily to the big boy, meanwhile somehow keeping enough
distance between them not to stress the ice too much in any one area.
“And Matt, you send the others, one by one. Won't that be fun?”
There were giggles from the girls, and from one little boy. Elena
made getting sent to shore sound like more fun than a carnival.
14


“Aw,” muttered the other boy, watching Elena disappear still hand in
hand. “Josh gets everything.”
The boy who would date Elena in spite of highly infectious girl-
cooties just sighed. The two girls were whispering about the pearl-colored
sheath. “Like almost moonlight color, isn't it?”
“Let's all go,” the complaining boy said, but Matt, driven to speech
for the first time, said, “Oh, no, you don't. We're playing Elena Says, and
Elena didn't say anything about you going over yet”—just as Elena's sweet
voice called out, “We made it! Who's next?”
Figuring that the squeaky hinge should get to where the honey was
soonest, Matt told the let's-all-go-together boy, “See if you can sneak up
on them from that way.” He pointed in the direction the ice looked
strongest. “On your mark!” he snapped in his best imitation of his football
coach. “Ready, set, GO!”
The complaining boy went off in high style, doing figure eights and
S-curves—and Matt held his breath until a laughing Elena called out,
“What is this, sexist chauvinism? Give me a girl!”
She's saying everything she can to make them think of other things,
Matt thought in awe. All the kids were snickering, giggling, or roaring with
laughter, because “She said .sex,'
” a girl snorted.
“I'd like to give her a girl—a baby girl,” whispered the maturebeyond-
cooties boy, who had obviously fallen hard for Elena. I just hope
he doesn't wind up a pervert before he's into his teens, Matt thought. To
15


one of the girls, identical except for a ponytail versus short hair, he said,
“Okay, which is the first lucky girl?”
Short-hair held up her hand. “I'm Tesha! I'll go,” just a beat before
Ponytail said, “I have to go! I'm older.”
“Well, you're a nice girl; you keep me company,” Matt said,
automatically holding out a hand to Ponytail. “Tesha, let's see if you can
go where that last guy went, but without showing off,” he suggested and
Short Hair nodded vigorously.
“All boys are show-offs,” Short Hair said firmly and then went in the
direction of the last boy, but swiftly and without any figure-eights or other
fancy footwork. And presently Elena called to say that Tesha was with her.
“Red Rover, Red Rover, now send Lindie over!” Elena called from
the bank, still sounding in the highest of spirits. My God, what an end to
our anniversary date, Matt thought.
“And I bet you're Lindie,” he said to Ponytail, who nodded,
impressed by his powers of clairvoyance. “Okay, off you go—try between
the middle and where Tesha went this time,” he said.
Lindie squeezed his hand tightly—at least her little mittened fingers
seemed to exert pressure on Matt's numb bare hand, and then set off a
bit clumsily—it could be that the ice was getting choppy there, Matt
thought anxiously—or it could just be that Lindie was cold, or wasn't such
a good skater. Matt waited for Elena's last call—
—and heard what he had been subconsciously expecting all the
time. A great crack that sounded like a giant's hammer on the ice and a
16


scream, almost immediately cut off, and then other screams echoing it,
mixed with the sound of splashing.
She fell through! My God, she's in the water!
“Matt!” the words came in Elena's voice just as the screams were
suddenly hushed. Matt was wrestling with the no-cootie kid, keeping him
from heading to Lindie. “Matt! Don't move! Stay where you are!”—just as
Matt was saying urgently to the last boy, “Stay right here! No—log-roll that
way toward the bank.” All the kids in Fell's Church knew about log-rolling
over and over on their sides on thin ice. It spread out the pressure on the
ice to the minimum and it could save your life—as long as you didn't hit
mush and go under.
The little boy, terrified, tumbled away like a log caught in a landslide.
There were no more screams.
Then Matt deliberately disobeyed Elena's edict and shouted “Lindie!
I'm coming! Don't thrash! Float!”—just in case Lindie could hear him—
please, God, let her hear him!
Then Matt himself log-rolled in the direction that the little girl had
gone. When he heard the thrashing get close enough he stopped and
belly-crawled. He could reassure Lindie; tell her how long it would take
her to actually drown or die of hypothermia, comfort her . . . as long as her
head was up, he thought. Please God make her head be up!
And knew, as he thought it that it was all a lie. Matt had sent this
little girl to her death; he was going to get her out. He was—even if he
went in himself.
17


The splashing was deafening. Matt found himself staring into a
nightmare hole in the ice, with black, agitated water all mixed with sharp
ice chunks going up and down like blocks tumbling a in freezing washing
machine. There was no sign of Lindie.
“She's under,” a strange voice said and he realized it was Elena.
She was looking at him from the opposite side of the hideous maw in the
pond. She must have log-rolled here herself, over sharp ice, because her
arms were bleeding from many deep scratches.
She'd come prepared, too—she had a long, sturdy stick with her for
Lindie to grab onto . . . but there was no Lindie.
Furious, terrified, determined, Matt squirmed his way forward. He
could feel solid ice under him—he thought— and he was now hovering
right over the ice-toothed jaws of the hole. Shutting his ears to Elena's
horrified reaction, he plunged an arm into black water.
“Matt, no! No! I've sent the other kids for help—don't make
things worse.”
But somewhere inside Matt there was a mule-stubborn spot. I sent
the kid in. Lindie. I sent Lindie in. I have to get her out.
He ignored the shock of icy agony that shot up his arm, a feeling
that—like a burning flame—was a natural reaction of his body, of his limb,
telling him “Get me out of here!” But you can't play football and not know
about ignoring pain. Matt gritted his teeth, making his arm swing back and
forth in the icy water, hand clenching and unclenching, trying to keep
some feeling in it, so he would know if he caught anything.
18


And then suddenly there was a tumult in the ice just beyond his
reach, and two huge eyes stared out between hair that straggled like
seaweed and a mouth opened into a scream of terror sucked in a breath.
And went down again, although Elena almost slid into the hole
reaching for her.
But Matt was closer and Matt was determined and nothing on this
earth was going to keep him from getting the kid. He plunged his arm
down, feeling ice crack under his own chest, but reaching, reaching—
—until his fingers clenched on seaweed-hair.
Oh, God, he thought. Thank You for giving her a ponytail.
And Matt pulled. With all his strength, gripping the ice he was lying
on with his other hand, Matt pulled up with his right arm. And then he
reached down with his left arm too, ignoring the ice-shock, ignoring
everything except that he had a grip on a two handfuls of hair. He pulled
and he'd been pulling forever, and he was scared to see what came up,
but he pulled and out of the paste of gray icewater came a girl's face and
she sucked in another breath and she was alive. Lindie was alive.
After that, nothing could have stopped Matt from pulling the girl out.
Nothing in the world. He got hold of Lindie's shoulders and he gave a
tremendous heave and Lindie came back into the world, born for a second
time, crying for her mother. Matt dropped spread-eagled on the ice and
just let himself breathe, grateful that his arms were out of that water, and
understanding why Lindie was sobbing.
19


Elena rolled to the place where the little girl was lying and held her
and coaxed her and told her it was all over.
“Matt saved your life. It's over now. You're going to be fine. Your
mom is going to come here—do you want to talk to her on the phone? I
called her on my mobile because I found out your phone number from
Josh. I'm pressing the redial button—okay, do you want me to hold it to
your ear?”
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy I'm sorry!” Deep, heart-wrenching
sobs.
Matt gave the last ounce of his weight to the ice. He knew what
was being said on the other side of the phone conversation, even though
he couldn't hear it. A frantic mother, probably called out of bed to hear
that her daughter, instead of being cozily asleep, was out on the black ice
of Wickery Pond. And now—to hear that she had fallen into the deadly
dark water—that she might have been swept away by a current, with her
face inches from the world of light and air, but kept from it forever—and
now to hear Lindie's voice, hear Lindie was unhurt—and sorry . . .
Matt grinned, although somehow even that hurt. And he was so
cold and so wet. But it was time to get up, or roll up. He took a chance
and lifted his head and shoulders, pushing with aching biceps.
And he felt it even as he saw it in Elena's eyes and heard her
scream.
20


“Matt! It's crumbl—”
And then Matt did a forward somersault and was engulfed in
darkness.
* * * * *
The cold shock. You always got it when you tumbled suddenly into
icy water. It was the worst part, but what most people didn't know was
that it went away. After about two or three minutes it went away.
But you had to be able to live through those minutes. You couldn't
die of panic or heart attack. You couldn't let the current drag you away if
you'd fallen through one little hole, because then you lost all hope.
All light.
Elena meant light. He'd looked her name up after his first date with
her. He even knew what her birthstone was: pearl. And she was wearing
a seed-pearl bracelet that looked as if it had come from an ancient Grace
Kelly film. Princess. Princess Grace.
 Matt had no idea why he should think about it now. But he would
lose the light and the pearl-sheathed light-bringer both if he didn't keep his
head.
And he was too tired to think.
“Never think in an emergency, kid, got it?”
That was what Uncle Joe had said, frail as a bird on his hospital
bed, hands shaking, but with a gleam in his eye.
“Think before the emergency, get it? Know the boy scout motto.
Y'know the boy scout motto, kid?”
21


“Be prepared.”
“That's it. Y' got it.” Scratching at the stubble on his chin, Uncle
Joe nodded. “I ain't always been a model boy scout, okay, kid? But I was
prepared. That time I went ice-fishing in Alaska, y'know. Well, first, I read
this Book.”
Uncle Joe didn't read a lot, and you could hear the capitals when
he said Book. Well, you could hear them in everything except the one
most people would have capitalized. The Holy Book. The Bible. But
Uncle Joe had been a lot of foreign places and had a religion of his own
that he never really explained to anyone. Still, if it had a first holy precept
it would have been: “Be ye Prepared for Anything.”
And then Uncle Joe had explained that when he had fallen into the
freezing water, he had lost all sense of direction and had started
swimming straight down. And he had remembered a passage in the Book,
and how it had said “look for the light.”
“Look for the light, get it, kiddo? And I looked and”—-as a nurse
passed by—“durned if I wasn't backasswards.”
Look for the light, Matt thought, realizing that even his thoughts
were slow and dim. But how could moonlight ever reach him under water
like this? Even the brightest moonlight . . .
Elena is the light.
Look for Elena, his increasingly slow thoughts told him. Look for
her light.
22


At first it seemed that every way he looked, turning painfully while
trying to stay in place, there was nothing but darkness. No light winked.
But then when he looked back over his shoulder he seemed to see a faint
glow.
It was very faint, in the blackest night that he had ever known. But
he needed to breathe now. Whether it was the light of an earthly moon or
the light that those people with near-death experiences described, it was
what he was heading for.
Mat swam. With every muscle aching, and that girl who had died in
Wickery Pond holding on to both of his feet, trying to pull him down with
her, Matt made himself swim. He swam for his life.
And the dim glow blossomed like a flower, getting brighter and
more silvery and there was still no air and he was going to gasp now, to
take water into his lungs, and when he did, he was going to drown—
—and then something poked his shoulder.
It was a stick.
It was a stick. Elena's stick. And Matt had hold of it, pulling
strongly, and somehow he was being pulled up by it, too.
There was someone else in the world and they were helping him!
Elena! Elena was pulling him home!
And then Matt broke through the surface of something like a giant
sheet of glass and freezing air hit his face and then there was air rushing
into his lungs, delicious, delicious air.
“Matt! Oh, Matt! Oh, thank God! Oh, dear God!”
23


Matt was thanking God, too, but in his mind because his body was
busy breathing, which was the most wonderful exciting excruciating thing
ever because he kept coughing up icy water, but the air that went in was
better than one thousand cups of raspberry cocoa.
But then he felt his neck wobble and his head fell into the water,
facedown. He couldn't even hold his head up on his own.
Hands pulled him up by the hair. Hands pulled up his arms, first
one, then the other, to lie on the ice at the edge of the hole.
“Matt! Matthew Honeycutt! You look at me!” The voice was like a
whiplash and Matt blinked and focused.
What he saw was the Princess Elena's face, but she didn't look
much like a princess. There was a scratch on her forehead and dark tear-
lines streaking her cheeks. She was blue-white with the cold and her
teeth were chattering uncontrollably. Her golden hair was soaked,
hanging in utter dishabille about her shoulders.
Jeez, she must have had some mascara on, Matt thought, knowing
he was disoriented, but focusing on that bit of trivia anyway. Or maybe
eyeliner, like those ancient Egyptians. I couldn't even tell before.
“Matthew Honeycutt,” she said again, and this time with a sudden
refocusing, Matt saw another facet of her. Her blue-white face seemed
merely a trick of the light. The scratch was to show that she was no
inhuman angel. The chattering teeth, the dripping hair were evidence of
what this princess had endured on her journey to save life. And the dark
tears were more like the adorable stains on the face of a child, tracks that
24


should be wiped away by a kindly hand or kissed by a mother smelling of
cookies.
“Do you know who you are?” the princess in front of him said, and
again, Matt glimpsed another facet, a nurse who had traveled many miles
under abominable conditions to help a fighting soldier. Her professional
aplomb couldn't quite conceal a special interest in this one.
“Matt. I'm Matt,” he said. He looked at his arms, heavy even in
shirtsleeves lying like two crooked white logs on the dirty ice. “Elena,” he
added, getting the words out, with difficulty, “I have to . . . pull up now. Or
else . . .” His head wobbled again on his neck. Somewhere, far away but
perfectly audible, children were keening, crying.
“Liddy,” he said. “Ponytail girl. We got . . . her out?”
“Lindie,” Elena said sharply, the professional nurse at once. “Do
you remember her?”
“She . . . squeezed my hand . . . then she fell through . . .”
“You got her out, Matt. You pulled her out safe and she's still safe,
and help is coming. Do you hear me? Help is coming. All the kids'
parents and the police.”
Dully, Matt could feel hands on his face. Elena was holding his
head out of the water. She was pinching with sharp nails, but he felt . . .
comfortably numb.
“I have to pull,” he said. It was all he could focus on. “Head and
shoulders out of water.”
25


Elena nodded. Now the facet he saw was all confidence and
helpfulness. “I'll pull when you pull yourself,” she said. She gripped him
under his arms. “After a three count? One, two, three, pull!”
Together, with all their strength, they pulled him up . . . about an
inch.
“One, two, three, pull!”
They tried again . . . and again—four times in all.
And gained maybe another half inch.
The trouble was that Matt was too dense. And Elena was a strong
girl, but the bitter chill of the wind, the walk on the pond, the “adventures”
with the children, the saving of Lindie, and, finally, heaving Matt up this far
had sapped her strength until Matt could she was fighting
unconsciousness from cold herself.
And then the ice kept crumbling. Together, Elena and he were
moving him, but only forward on increasingly mushy ice. God, at any
moment the ice could break—and then Elena . . .
“Get up,” Matt told Elena, feeling surprisingly lucid. “Look, I'm
gonna . . . say something . . . can't even think of a way . . . t'make it less
corny. Even Uncle Joe . . . didn't have enough imagination . . . ”
“Then tell Uncle Joe to shut up,” she said, and for a moment he was
back at the hospital, angry with the sharp-tongued nurse, a guy who had
always banged his cart against the waste container in Uncle Joe's room
just when Uncle Joe had fallen asleep.
“Matt?”
26


Elena's voice. Matt was back in reality. “We have t'say . . .”
“Tell Uncle Joe to shut up!”
“I can't. He won't . . . let me. Mom . . . I mean, 'Lena, no, Eh-lehna,”
he pronounced it carefully with a tongue that felt too large. “You have
to . . . get up. Get in shelter. You have to . . . to save your life. Save
yourself.” The corny line finally said, Matt shut his eyes, just for a moment,
and the next thing he knew his face was in the water. Then sharp tongs
were pulling it up. Sharp—fingernails.
“Matt! Stop being a jerk! You don't die of hypothermia this quickly.
It feels bad, but you don't die. You don't die.”
But I'm in the water wearing only the remains of a shirt and
trousers—if the current hasn't pulled them off, Matt thought to Elena. It
was so much easier to just think things than it was to say them. And—I
remember, Uncle Joe, yep, I got it: water chills you twenty-five times faster
than air. So Elena has to get up. She's the one who has a chance.
He was so satisfied with this logic that he felt his eyes shut again.
“Save myself? So you want me to just leave you and save myself?
And maybe Lassie will come save you? Or maybe Britches? That's the
stupidest name for a pet I ever heard. Laugh? I almost!”
Matt felt his face come out of the water. Someone was hurting
Britches, the best old Labrador Retriever ever born—or dead. That did it.
That made him mad.
“Caroline, you brat!” he heard himself say, and it wasn't just thinking
it. He said it good and loud.
27


“Good,” a voice told him, but this voice was tender and firm, “I
thought I'd lost you for a moment. Matt, I know it hurts to be in the water.
But help should be here any minute. Any minute. Don't give up now. I
don't know if I can hold you up much longer.” Elena was breathing hard,
as if she were climbing a mountain. And Matt noticed that the hands
holding his head up were trembling.
He giggled foolishly. There was something he should say,
something he should insist on. But he'd forgotten it. Uncle Joe had
become a positive personality tonight, even if he was dead as a doornail.
Matt was looking to him for help, and he got it immediately. He shouted it
triumphantly.
“Bubala bubala
Bubala bubala
Bubala bubala BUM!”

That was what Uncle Joe had always said, scratching his stubble,
when he couldn't remember what he had been talking about. It always
gave him immense pleasure to see people's reactions to it. Matt had told
Elena the story on their second or third date and she had laughed
hysterically. Now, dizzily, hazily, Matt opened his eyes to see who was
there and what they thought of it, eh?
He saw a very beautiful girl, maybe some kind of snow girl. Her
hair was wet and chunks of ice were frozen on it. She was looking at him
with eyes that were dark blue, but the moon was shining full on her face
and the moonlight showed that, splattered across the deep blue, there was
28


gold. Blue and gold eyes . . . should make green. But these eyes were
like lapis lazuli. The golden speckles and splatters didn't mix with the blue.
“Elena Gilbert,” he whispered.
The snow girl nodded weakly.
“Our anniversary date?”
Another weak nod.
“And this . . . is the end,” Matt said. He meant just to slide out of
her fingers and go under like that, but what she said next stopped him.
“No! You're not dying, like Uncle Joe was. You're just cold. You
can take it. Besides . . . are you leaving this time without—kissing me
goodnight?”
Matt felt some deep inner response. He should think about this, he
realized suddenly and gravely. End their important tenth date without at
least trying to kiss her?
“No boy's done that for years,” she whispered sorrowfully. “And
now you'd rather die than do it one more time?”
“No,” Matt's whisper was husky and dry. He tried to put his tongue
out to lick his lips, but he couldn't feel with his lips very well.
“Okay, then. I'm going to kiss you. But if you give up I won't be
together with you.”
She's keeping me listening, keeping me aware, Matt thought.
Like I used to talk to Uncle Joe. He had so little time after they found the
cancer—it had spread so far . . . I wanted every minute to be some special
memory.
29


“O-kay,” Elena said, and there was a touch of the diva back in her
voice as she spoke. “Now I'm going to put your hands under my armpits.
That's the warmest place I've got left. But I'm telling you, Matt Honeycutt,
that if those hands try to feel their way down onto something lower and
curvier that I'm going to push your head under water. Mm-kay?”
“Got it . . . boss-lady,” Matt said, half humble and half-laughing.
“Sorry . . . I mean, .boss-woman'
. . . of course.”
“Of course,” Elena hummed. “But just .Boss' will do.”
Meanwhile, she was stuffing his white, clawed hands under her
armpits. Matt was amazed to feel a bit of life return to them, something
that was not exactly warmth but the shadow of warmth. He could feel
them unclaw.
Elena was gripping him by the elbows, keeping his hands in place.
Slowly, Matt began to feel something else. Pins and needles, the agony of
life coming back into lifeless flesh. He knew that his eyes and his nose
were running, but he didn't care. He was too grateful for this gift of pain
that made him feel almost alive.
And certainly more alert.
“Do I still get a kiss?” he asked, giddily.
“Yes, but first we're going to do a little wiper-oo.” Elena said. Keep
your hands where they are—this will just take a second.”
She reached down and tore at one of the pearly bottom of her dress.
The material ripped off easily and then Matt was having a face bath from a
30


cat's scratchy tongue. That was what it felt like. But that was good, too; it
was good to feel his face, to know his skin was there.
“All better now. You look great,” Elena announced in her sweetest
drawl and Matt realized that he was going to be kissed by the most
beautiful liar who'd ever walked the earth.
She pushed forward slowly, slowly, eyes shut but eyelashes
flickering occasionally to refine her aim, lips indrawn to gather heat from
her mouth. And then warm lips were touching Matt's, and he went straight
to heaven, with no need to pass go or to collect a hundred dollar bill.
Elena Gilbert was kissing him for the last time.
Granted the circumstances were not ideal. Matt's lips were numb
and what he felt of the kiss was simply a gentle, warm bumping. But
suddenly he could smell again and Elena's perfume went to his head
where it made him as dizzy as if he'd had a glass of champagne.
“Now then,” Elena said, relaxing, lying on his arms, molding her
slender self to him, “We can stay up a bit longer, can't we?”
“Yes,” Matt said, with all the breath left in them.
His strength was gone. Her strength was gone. But Elena had
something besides physical strength. She had a power of sheer will that
went beyond physical strength, that rose above it. That power was what
was holding them both up now.
Time lost meaning. Matt would feel himself resting—and then
Elena's voice would call him back, or Elena's nails would prick his face
31


pulling at him, or—if he was lucky and hadn't slipped down too far, soft
chilled lips would touch his.
It wasn't a bad way to go, he decided. Things had turned into a sort
of loop so that sometimes he was dressing up to meet Elena for his first
date with her, sometimes he was driving to her house, sometimes he
heard the laughter of three lovely girls as they looked him up and down,
demanding that he prove himself worthy. Sometimes they were in a
restaurant, eating delicious hot, oh, hot hot chocolate soufflé along with
hot coffee. Hot water sounded delicious to him right now. He could drink
a bubble bath full.
It probably lasted no more than five or ten minutes. But it
seemed . . . it was much, much longer, in real time, as counted by the
number of dizzy thoughts that went through his head.
“Matt?” Every ten seconds or so Elena asked that, getting her
strength from somewhere beyond his understanding. And every time she
said “Matt?” he woke up a little to give back to her a “Yes.” If he didn't do
it right away, he would feel the dimmest of prickles on the sides of his face
and he would know that Elena was using the last of her precious energy to
try to lift him out of the water. So Matt stayed in a zone, where he could
still say, “Yes,” with lips as numb as if he'd just had a trip to the dentist,
and lower body gone.
The noise started out in a roaring in his ears that sounded like a
waterfall, and he had confused, icy black thoughts of going over the edge.
Then he heard Elena's voice in a kind of whispered glad cry.
32


“Matt! They're here! I told you they'd come. Matt, they're here!”
Although Matt only half understood it at the time, it was the
amateurs who had arrived first. The paramedics, the sheriffs, were still yet
to come. But four sobbing children, all terrified to move from the bank of
the pond, all huddled like puppies around a damp little girl in wet blankets,
sharing their body warmth with her, told of the boy who had pulled Lindie
out and had gone under, and of Elena Gilbert, the Elena Gilbert, who had
pulled him out.
“His name is Matt,” one of the girls offered shyly.
And that was when Matt heard something other than the
background roar.
“Matt Honeycutt!” a voice bawled from the side of the pond. “It's Dr.
Alpert, and I'm here to help you out.”
Matt turned watering eyes to see what the adults would do. They
had an aluminum ladder, and that was good. That was a good
improvisation for spreading weight around. And now they were unhitching
the ladder, and now they were sliding it out toward him.
But he didn't realize who was sliding on the ladder coming toward
them until he saw white eyes and a white, grim smile glinting at him in
darkness. Then, in the moonlight, he could make out the outlines of the
old town doctor, not the clinic doctor, but the old-fashioned one who still
made house calls.
33


“Well, now, well, now,” she said, taking his wrist in her dark- brown
hand. “So this is what young people do for dates these days. Me, I'd stick
to the movies and buttered popcorn of my day, I think.”
“We already did it tonight,” Elena said, in a croaking whisper.
Matt laughed, but only inside. Something in him was hurting
because he could hear from Elena's voice how much she hurt.
“Young folks will get into such shenanigans,” the doctor said, and
suddenly Matt's eyes were focusing on her in the moonlight and he was
realizing that despite the cold, her forehead was covered with little sweat
drops. She had passed a rope around him, and she was beginning to tie a
knot.
For a moment there was only the sound of hard breathing, from
both Matt and Elena. And then, almost simultaneously, they cried, “No!”
The doctor gave them a weak smile. “I never was much good at
tying rope-sized knots,” she said. “Now, if this were a little suture—”
“Are there other grown-ups out there?” Matt gasped.
“Three of us, and would you believe, I'm the lightest?” The doctor
wriggled her substantial hips. “That's why they sent me out. They're going
to pull, once I tie this rope around you.”
”The knot—it has to be strong enough to hold him while they pull
him through the ice,” Elena said forcefully. Matt had no idea where she
got the force from and even less idea where she got the knowledge.
Maybe she just knew everything. All he could do was whisper, “And if it
tightens as they pull—my chest—”
34


Dr. Alpert was nodding already. “Your ribs,” she said worriedly.
“Crack, crack.” Matt hated to admit to seeing concern on a grown-up's
face, but there it was.
“I wish I'd been a girl scout. They teach you how to light fires and
tie knots and things. But when I was young, things were . . . well,
different.” Dr. Alpert gave a rueful smile. She was still trying her best to
tie a knot in the rope.
“Wish I'd been a girl scout . . .” A girl scout . . . A boy scout . . .
Matt gasped suddenly and forced himself to speak clearly. “What
we need is a bowline. A bowline knot.” He pulled his hands out as Elena
lifted herself up, but his fingers had clawed again. “I . . . can't . . .” he
realized and inside him there was a terrible crashing as all his hope fell
into darkness, smashing down the entire way. He couldn't use his
hands . . .
“But you can tell her how,” Elena was saying, as if she could read
his mind. Her eyes were fixed on his as if she could make the words
come out by sheer will alone.
BUBALA BUBALA BUM!
For a moment, Matt was afraid he'd said it out loud. But the two
others were still looking at him, with intense and hopeful speculation.
“To tie . . . a bowline knot . . . well, first take the rope off of me.
Now, you make a loop . . . with plenty of rope left . . . on the right of it. . .
more than that . . . more . . .” and on until he said, “Now you . . . can
35


lassoo . . . that big loop over me. It won't slip . . . it will only . . . swell in
the water . . . and it won't break my chest.”
Elena's cheer was loud enough to be heard by those on the edge of
the pond, and Matt heard a shrill echo of applause.
Suddenly everything was moving fast again.
“All right, I'm sliding back,” Dr Alpert said. “Elena, can you roll to
the shore?”
“I have to,” Elena said simply. “I will.”
Matt had been looking back and forth, listening to this conversation.
Now, as he looked Elena's way, he was bumped softly on the lips.
“See you on solid ground,” Elena whispered, in a tiny whisper, just
for him. And then she was rolling away in her pearl-white sheath, with her
wet hair sticking icily to her back.
When Matt looked away he saw that the doctor had gone, too.
But now the ladder was being pulled. Matt thought he could help
himself a little, by grabbing hold of the last rung, but his hands wouldn't
stay closed around it.
He was all alone, and the shouting and cheering seemed far away.
Then he felt a tug on the rope. He tried to tug back, to show he
was ready. He wrapped his arms around the rope, which was around his
chest, under his arms. And then . . .
He was suddenly plowing through icy water breaking ice with his
face, with his head, with his outstretched hands. And then somehow
miraculously he was out of the water, sliding out as smoothly as a seal,
36


and coasting on good ice until he reached the edge of the pond. Then
strong hands were pulling him out of the water entirely.
And then everything turned into a flurry. Someone was giving him a
sippy cup, the kind kids drink out of, but there was coffee inside. Hot
coffee. He heard a voice say, “Don't let him burn himself,” and another
answer, “It's only lukewarm.” But it felt hot and he drank it in desperate
gulps.
Some pioneer spirit had built a bonfire. Matt tried to stumble toward
it and was caught by kindly calloused hands and led there. Elena was
sitting by it already.
And she had changed again. By the look of her hair, she must
have found somebody and borrowed a brush. Or found somebody to
brush it for her, more likely, Matt thought entirely without prejudice—
whoever it was, was one lucky chump. He himself would have happily
brushed it for hours and let her charge him, on top of it. Charge him a
hundred dollars.
He shook his head at such thoughts. But just then Elena turned
around and the feeling he had on seeing her was an actual physical shock.
Her face was pale and drawn, but it suited her, her eyes were dewy and
wondering, and as she saw him she held one slim pale arm out of the
blanket—and then he was sitting beside her.
“Matt!” It was the beginning of something, some explanation, but
there was a wrong look in her eyes. They should have held only joy and
37


celebration and instead they were wholly anxious, questioning—and
holding back something unfinished.
He could only think of one reason. He sucked his breath in. “Lindie
didn't make it.”
“Oh, yes, oh yes, she did!” Elena cried in one sweet rush. “Her
parents—they're driving her to the hospital just in case. People say they'll
take us, too, when the paramedics get here.”
“Then, what? Something's wrong. What's wrong?” Just as the
moonlight had shone down on her with silvery light earlier, the bonfire
outlined her with red-gold now. When she turned toward it, her eyes were
violet.
“I have to know,” she whispered, just as someone came along with
cocoa for them—in sippy cups. Well, fine, nobody had perfectly steady
hands right now.
“What?” he whispered back.
“The bowline. Who taught you . . . the bowline knot?”
“Huh?” That was what was making her look so haunted? He
shook his head. “It was a long time ago. I'm not even sure we made it
right.”
“It held!” Elena flared.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, as if saying “there, there.” He took a swig of
cocoa-nectar. “It held. Well, it was so long ago, but I guess . . .” He
paused. He felt his own eyes go round. “It was . . . it was . . .”
38


“I knew it!” Elena cried, clapping her hands. Two big tears ran
down her cheeks. Then almost like some strange prayer: “Uncle Joe! It
was Uncle Joe!”
This time Matt didn't need a kick in the behind to know what to do.
He took the slim, weeping girl in his arms, and he felt the warmth of the
fire-heated blankets around her.
“You're not warmed up yet,” he said, almost accusingly.
“I stayed by the pond to watch them bring you in,” she murmured.
Damn fool, Matt thought, but there was a lump in his throat as he
thought it. Anyway, it was a good excuse to hold her closer.
“Hey, somebody drove my car over to here,” he discovered, seeing
the Junk Heap flashing in the firelight.
“Some girls brought it just a few minutes ago,” a tall man, who was
just a pair of legs standing away from the firelight said. “You shouldn't go
around leaving it with the keys in the ignition.”
“No,” Elena agreed, letting Matt hold her softness as hard as he
wanted. And then, “Our coats were in that car.”
“And here they are,” announced a seductive feminine voice. “Safe
and sound at last.” A tall and feline girl with a mane of tousled bronze hair
knelt to wrap Elena's fur-trimmed coat around her.
“Caroline,” Elena murmured. “Thank you.”
“And yours, sir,” Another tall girl, this one with dark hair and eyes.
“Uh—Meredith,” Matt said, instantly tongue-tied.
39


She smiled at him. “We're just sorry we didn't hear about what
happened sooner,” she said.
A small feminine figure, seeming even smaller by comparison to the
long elegant legs of the first two girls, threw herself bodily on Elena.
“Ooooh, God! I thought you were lost forever,” she sobbed,
strawberry hair blazing in the firelight.
“Oh, Bonnie!”
“Actually, they called to say they'd pulled you out about a minute
after they called to say you were in,” said Meredith.
“But the agony I suffered in that minute,” Bonnie said in an injured
voice. “Or has velociraptor sisterhood just collapsed?”
“Of course not,” Elena said, displacing Matt to comfort her. And
eerily, with no visible signal, four voices rose in the darkness.
“Velociraptor sisterhood! You bite us; we bite you back!”
“All I'm worried about,” Matt said snuggling deeper into his coat is:
“is what happened to my wallet?”
“Oh, yeah, we found it,” Caroline said carelessly. “It was empty,
though.”
For a moment, Matt felt a terrible pang. Then he saw that Elena
was smiling at him.
“Maybe Uncle Joe went off on some new adventure,” she said.
“Yeah.” He did his best to smile back and managed it pretty well. It
did seem . . . well, kind of too bad for somebody who would think it was
just money, and not realize it might be something more. But he couldn't
40


honestly complain. He had his life, he was out of the water, and he had
Elena Gilbert, too—for a while still, anyway. Elena was notably a rover.
“But Elena, your dress,” Bonnie wailed, almost wringing her hands,
going from the humanitarian to the cosmopolitan in seconds. “It's—done
for.”
“We'll have to put it down for its own good,” Meredith agreed, dryly,
not a muscle moving in her lovely olive-skinned face.
“You're definitely a spectacle,” Caroline said, with a certain note of
relish in her voice.
“It's been . . . quite a date,” Elena said softly. “But then, it was our
tenth date anniversary.”
There! That was it. Elena said the words with a slow, dropping
inflection. If you didn't know what she really meant by it, you might think it
had been “quite a date” in another way.
But now that Matt knew Elena, he found he didn't care. Didn't care?
Ye gods, he wished it had been that kind of date, even if everybody,
including his mom, came to know it.
Looking at Elena now, with her coat covering up most of the
damage, she was like a pale and lovely pioneer. She was dressed in her
Sunday best, but ready to go out and pluck a few chickens for dinner. The
cut on her forehead was neatly bandaged, and the sparkle was back in her
lapis lazuli eyes.
41


God bless you, Uncle Joe. Thanks for tonight, and have a good trip,
Matt thought. Elena offered her arm, and unhesitatingly Matt took it. We'll
hold each other up, he thought.
Just then a small round personage bustled up to him, who always
seemed to Matt to smell of fresh-baked cookies.
“Mom!”
“Matt! I got the news just after Mrs. Sulez, and she brought me
down here—you know what it's like with me trying to drive at night—but
the last I heard you were under the water. Oh, Matt, I've been so
worried—and Elena, some kid said it was your idea . . .” Her voice rose a
little, both in volume and in pitch. Matt tried to move in front of Elena. If his
mother said anything to hurt her—
“They said it was you who kept him from drowning,” his mother
finished. “And, all I can say is—”
And then, by some mysterious means of feminine transportation
Elena was in his mother's arms, having apparently teleported through him,
and they were both crying.
“This is the girl who saved my Matt's life,” his mother announced to
all within earshot—and at the top of his mom's range, that covered quite a
few ears.
“This girl kept his head above water until rescuers could come and
she didn't leave him until he was safe.” she announced. “And I say this
girl is a hero, and anybody who says different, that person can stand up
right now and say it to me!”
42


“Mom—'' Matt groaned softly.
But there was an outbreak of applause, while Elena, blushing
brushing away traces of tears, said, “Well, Matt is the real hero. He got
Lindie—Jacobs, isn't it?—out of the water. And Dr. Alpert got him out. All
I did was a little talking.”
And a little kissing, Matt thought luxuriously. So what if I didn't
really feel it? I'll feel it tomorrow.
And just then as he and Elena stood blushing and beaming near
the fire, one of the tall men, a parent or neighbor, said, “Hey, kid, you
really shouldn't be leaving your money in a wallet in an open car. I took it
out and kept it for you. But a credit card and a hundred dollar bill like
that—well, some kid might've been too tempted, get me?”
And with that, he restored Uncle Joe (and Aunt Judith's Visa card)
into Matt's still-numb hand. He looked up and saw Elena looking at him
with an expression of speculation.
“Looks like Uncle Joe isn't through having adventures with you,”
she said finally. “Oh, that's clever,” she added, as she watched Matt
automatically fold up the bill and slide it into the hidden compartment.
That's right, Matt thought. I did that before once before, too, on our
first date, when that old man at the restaurant found it. That time, I could
understand how it could fall out; I was fiddling around with it. But this
time—how could the tall guy know where the hidden compartment was . . .?
43


He looked around for the man, whom he had registered as a pair of
legs, but couldn't see him. And anyway, there was suddenly a tumult at
the other side of the bonfire.
Caroline appeared beside them, bursting with feline excitement.
“Bonnie's gone and fainted for real. She said she saw a ghost disappear.
And then she went . . .” Caroline put a hand to her forehead, palm up,
staggered back like Hamlet, and then made as if to swoon forward. “If
Meredith hadn't caught her she'd have fallen in the fire.”
“Well, for heaven's sake, go get her some water to drink—in a sippy
cup, too, or she'll spill it all over. Tesha—you're still Tesha, right? Go run
to Dr. Alpert. Make sure she knows there's a girl who's fainted. And,
Matt”—she paused, looking at him where he stood warming by the fire—
“just one question—did you ever see pictures of your Uncle Joe when he
was a younger man?”
“No,” Matt admitted. “I guess we weren't a very picture taking
family. I only saw him when he was dying.”
“I see,” Elena said, slowly. “so it's perfectly possible that . . .”
“That what?” but Elena didn't answer. Because she knew he knew
what she would say.
“Oh, well,” she said turning her back on the bonfire to toast her
other side. “We'll think of it as good luck, shall we?” She held up her
sippy cup of cocoa toward him. “Here's to lots and lots more adventures!”
There was only one thing to say to that, and Matt said it. After the
first word, Elena joined in, ignoring the stares of bystanders.
44


“Bubala bubala
Bubala bubala
Bubala bubala BUM!”
© L. J. Smith
® L. J. Smith
Free From http://www.ljanesmith.netcontact/ L. J. Smith at info@ljanesmith.net
45

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