just a little something i wanted to share coz it's my birthday :)

1000 Days Of You - Part 3

Chapter 9 - Drops Of Jupiter

“That’s great!” Caroline commented while she ate her cereal. Stefan filled her in on all the tiny, minute details of what went down with his mother the previous week, why he was so hesitant to meet her in the first place and how relieved he was that they worked past the mess that was their past. “Like super great!” She said enthusiastically.

“When you’re back in Chicago you should get to know your sister” Caroline said as she reached for her coffee.

“Chicago?”

“Yeah.. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be back before you know it..”

Stefan blinked at her.

“Why are you looking at me like I just spoke Latin? Coffee not kicked in yet?” Caroline asked him.

“No… I uh.. I guess I haven’t given much thought to Chicago in a while…” he said finally.

“New York not so bad after all huh?” She joked. He gave her a soft smile. Not bad at all.

“So what do you miss most about Chicago?” Caroline asked. His mind drew a blank again.

“I donno… Just the familiarity of it I guess… I mean.. It is my hometown.. I never thought I would live anywhere else. New York was more like.. Punishment.. you know..”

“mmhmmm..” She mumbled going back to her coffee.

“I guess I miss my dad not treating me like the black sheep of the family… keeping me at bay so I won’t affect his reputation..”

“He’ll come around” She said, not missing a beat. Stefan smiled slightly.

“You know.. Chicago does have great pizza!” He mused. 

“I’ve never had Chicago deep dish” She mused.

“There’s this pizza place in Chicago that has the most amazing meat filled deep dish extravaganza you’ll ever have.. We should go there for pizza night”

“Deal! If I’m ever in Chicago that is ”

That brought him back to reality. Why would Caroline be in Chicago? She lived here in New York and if he ever left, he would leave her behind too. The inevitable reality of him ending up in Chicago while she stayed on in New York dawned on him. Chicago didn’t seem so great right then.

He saw her checking her phone for the 5th time.

“Waiting for a call?” He asked sipping his coffee.

“Yeah.. sort of..”

“Ssup?” He asked. 

“Its Bonnie…”

“Everything okay?”

“I hope so… it’s just.. every year I spend my birthday with her.. and this year she hasn’t made any plans with me yet.. “ She said, her face shrouded in disappointment.

“Well you have us…” Looking at Kristelle who just  walked in to grab breakfast.

“Have us for what?” Kristelle asked her voice still sounded like it wanted to sleep in for a few more hours.

“Caroline’s birthday” Stefan informed his cousin.

“You’re not hanging out with Bonnie this year?” Kristelle asked.

“I donno..”

“We’ll do something fun” Stefan said trying to cheer her up.

“You and fun? Sounds like an oxymoron” Tell said still groggy.

“I can be fun” Stefan defended himself. Kristelle ignored him and poured herself some cereal.  The doorbell rang just then.

“Expecting someone?” Stefan asked. Caroline shrugged. They both turned to Kristelle. “I’ll get it” she groaned, heading towards the door.  She opened it to be greeted by a very loud scream “SURPRISE!! Oh wait.. you’re not Caroline..”

“In the kitchen” he heard Kristelle tell the excited girl at the door. Caroline had bolted by then screaming at the top of her lungs “Oh my God! Oh my God ! Oh my God !I can’t believe you’re here! AArrgghhh !! !” Stefan followed her and stood behind her as he saw her jump on the visitor. He recognized Bonnie from the picture in Caroline’s room.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Caroline continued in a high pitch voice. He had never seen her so excited to see anyone before. “Coz it was supposed to be a surprise dummy!” She replied. The both of them were jumping in unison as if they were on a trampoline.

He looked at his cousin to gauge her reaction. He wasn’t great at blending into social environments consisting of high decibel screaming alternated with indecipherable babble.  He figured he would just follow Kristelle’s lead. But she just stood there looking at the two girls, not really sharing in their excitement.

“C’mon meet my friends!” Caroline said pulling Bonnie towards Stefan and Kristelle.

“This is Kristelle my roommate I’ve told you soooo much about and this is her cousin Stefan, he lives across the hall.”

“Hey” Bonnie said giving them both a short awkward wave. “Sorry to barge in unannounced.. don’t mean to put you guys out”

“ooooh relax Bon! Want some breakfast? We have cereal… and eggs if you like.. or we could go out and grab some pancakes?”

“Pancakes sound good” Bonnie said immediately. Stefan frowned instinctively.

“Ok great. I’ll just quickly change.” Caroline said clapping her hands.

“Yeah I wanna get out of these travel clothes, ” Bonnie said following Caroline into the room.

“You guys coming right?” Caroline asked turning to Stefan and Kristelle. Bonnie was quiet.

“Yeah” Stefan said immediately, his hands on his hips, ticked off with the way he was introduced. Kristelle turned to him, surprised at his response as Caroline and Bonnie closed the door. More screaming was heard from behind the closed door.

“Why are we going to eat pancakes?” Kristelle asked confused.

“She introduced me as your cousin!” Stefan said irritably.

“You are my cousin” Kristelle reminded him.

“Just go change” he said walking out of the apartment.

. . …                   … . .                 … . .

“Nice car” Bonnie commented as they looked at the menus. Caroline was with Kristelle checking out what flavor cupcakes they had while Kristelle was more interested in pie.

“Thanks..” Stefan said awkwardly, although he knew very well that it wasn’t exactly meant as a compliment.

“So you and Caroline have been friends since you were little?” Stefan asked making small talk. He was curious to know about Caroline’s childhood.

“Yeah since we were babies! Our parents were friends; we lived next door to each other. After her parents died she practically lived at our house. Even though technically she still had her place.” Bonnie informed him. Her tone was not warm though. It was more as if she was marking territory, declaring that she was a far more important friend than he’ll ever be. It annoyed him for some reason.

“That’s nice of your folks..” he said feeling like a complete moron. Where was Kristelle and talent to engage in conversation when he needed it?

“I got red velvet!” Caroline said placing her cupcake on the table. “Did you order yet?”

“No not yet” Bonnie said going back to perusing her menu.

“Cupcake?” Caroline asked the rest of the gang seated at the table. Stefan shook his head to signal a ‘no’, Kristelle was happy with her pie.

“Don’t mind of I do” Bonnie said taking a bite.

“So you guys come here often?” Bonnie asked.

“No… I think this is the first time I’ve come here with Stefan”

“We’ve been here a couple of times” Kristelle said digging into her pecan pie.

“You have?” Stefan asked baffled.

“Yeah Stefan… It’s shocking, I know. But Caroline and I have been friends long before you so unwillingly became friends with her.” Kristelle teased

“Unwillingly?” Bonnie asked.

“We had a rocky start,” Caroline said casually licking the frosting off her fingers. 

“Not that rocky” Stefan mumbled.

“Pretty darn rocky! You were kinda rude to her… although, I guess you were way way ruder to her last week. “ Kristelle thought out loud, “I was so sure you would move out” Kristelle said turning to Caroline. Stefan glared at her. Maybe bringing her along wasn’t such a good idea after all.  Caroline chuckled and went back to her cupcake.

“Hmmm… I think I’ll have the simple pancakes and syrup combo…” Bonnie said her eyes still on the menu.

“So, what was Caroline like growing up?” Kristelle asked changing the topic.

“Hmmm pretty much the same really.. Bubbly, fun.. Head cheerleader, popular girl, head of pretty much every committee in school!” Bonnie said smiling.  Caroline rolled her eyes,

“So what do you wanna do today Bon? You know if you had just told me you were coming, I would have planned something fun for us to do!”

“Hmmmm” Bonnie said pressing her lips together and giving Caroline a slight smile.

“What hmmmmm.. what are you up to Bonnie Bennett!” Caroline asked, her eyes narrowing.

“You’ll just have to wait for it Care.” Bonnie said.

Caroline groaned “Uggh why can’t you just tell me now! You know how much I hate suspense!”

Bonnie giggled.

“One time Caroline combed through Cami’s room to coz Cami said she had a surprise birthday gift hidden and Caroline just couldn’t wait a month to know what it was!” Kristelle said beaming. “Cami thought she was being robbed” Kristelle concluded laughing.

“She almost hit me with her tennis racquet!” Caroline said laughing. Bonnie smiled.

“How long have you guys been friends again?” Bonnie asked.

“Kristelle and I have been friends for… 3 years now?”

“Yeah… pretty much..” Kristelle said nodding.

“Stefan and I have been friends for… well I we met last year November.. but we didn’t become friends till much later..” Caroline said narrowing her eyes trying to unravel their friendship timeline. “So… like 8 months?” Caroline concluded sounding almost surprised.

“Feels like a lot longer though” Stefan mused.

“That’s coz you spend ALL your free time with her.” Kristelle told him.

“So how come it took you so long to be friends?” Bonnie pressed for more information.

“What do you mean?” Caroline asked casually.

“I mean.. it’s you.. you take what 3 seconds to make a new B.F.F…”

“I donno.. ..just took longer.. it happens..” Caroline said. Stefan noticed Caroline’s eyebrows furrowing, she clearly didn’t like something about the way Bonnie was questioning her friendship, he just couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering Bonnie so much.

. . …                   … . .                 … . .

Stefan got into the car with Kristelle. They decided to give Caroline time to catch up with Bonnie.

“So, what do you think of Bonnie?” Stefan asked; his eyes fixed on the road.

“I donno..” Kristelle shrugged.

“You don’t have an opinion? That’s new!” He grumbled. Kristelle rolled her eyes.

“I don’t know her at all to form an opinion. Not like she shared her life’s story with us..”

“Yeah…” Stefan frowned.

“Are you grumpy coz there’s a better best friend in town?” Kristelle asked.

“What?”

“You know what… I know you are not used to sharing your favorite things or in this case, people, by that I mean Caroline.” Kristelle said fiddling with her phone.

“I can share just fine.” Stefan mumbled.

“It’s just that.. Bonnie… she..” Stefan said after taking a minute.

“She what?”

“I don’t think she likes me” Stefan said awkwardly.

“Since when do you care about whether people like you?” Kristelle asked.

“I don’t.” Stefan said, an uneasy feeling building up in his gut.

… . .          … . .                … . .

“So I’ll be back in 2 hours tops!” Caroline said to her friend. “I am so sorry about this , I just really have this thing at school I can’t avoid”

“Caroline.. hey ! isssok ! really !”

“Cool ! Love you Bon !” Caroline said hugging her friend and walking out the door.

“I need to step out too. Will you be okay? Stefan will be here” Kriselle said to Bonnie.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine” Bonnie answered politely.

Stefan waved as Kristelle walked out of the door.

. . …                   … . .                 … . .

“So.. umm.. are you staying for Caroline’s birthday? You guys spend it together every year I hear..” Stefan asked trying to be polite. She was Caroline friend after all.

“No, not exactly..” Bonnie said unwilling to let him in on her plans for Caroline’s birthday.

“I get the distinct feeling you have a problem with me” He said, tired of pretending that he was oblivious to the cold vibe he got from her.

“It’s nothing personal Stefan” She replied not missing a beat.

“It feels personal” Stefan replied seriously.

“Its just that… I know people like you..”

“People like me?” He asked, his demeanor getting more serious by the second.

“Yeah the ones who live in fancy houses and drive porches. The ones with millions of dollars stashed away in trust funds that were set up when they were born. “

“What does that have to do with anything?” He was starting to get annoyed.

“I just think Caroline will be better off with people who get her”

“You don’t think we know her?”

“I think there’s a big difference between knowing a person and understanding them”. Bonnie said looking him right in the eye.

“So are you saying … I’ll never understand her because we are from different backgrounds or is it that I won’t bother to take the effort?” he asked not backing down.

Bonnie sighed.

“I have met way too many entitled rich kids to know Caroline does not fit in with you lot. Caroline… she… tends to trust people easily … Gives way more than she expects in return… and I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

Stefan didn’t reply. This girl did not know him and did not care to try to get to know him; she didn’t deserve an explanation from him.

“I think Caroline can make her own decisions” He said going back to checking his emails.

. . …                   … . .                 … . .

“I’m baaacckkk!” Caroline yelled from the doorway. “I cleared my schedule for the next week like you asked! So you what do you wanna do Bon?”

“Pack!” Bonnie said clapping her hands.

“huh?” Caroline asked confused.

Bonnie pulled something out of her bag and handed it over to Caroline.

“Wait.. what? You got me plane tickets to Virginia? I can’t take these!” Caroline said seriously.

“Sure you can. Mom and dad really wanted to see you… they miss you”

Caroline looked like she was in shock. She continued to stare at the paper in her hand. “I donno what to say..” She said finally.

“Don’t say anything.. just pack ! I’m gonna go call my folks.”

Caroline looked up right at Stefan.  He smiled at her. “What times’ your flight? I’ll drop you at the airport” He said giving her a warm smile.

“You don’t have to do that,” Caroline said.

“Issok…I want to.” Stefan replied.

“Thanks.”

“Do you need help packing?” He asked.

“No.. I got it… “ Caroline said; she still looked subdued.

“You okay?” he asked reaching for her hand.

“Yeah.. I just.. Wasn’t expecting this…”

He entwined his fingers in hers. “Well it wont be as fun as hanging out here, but I guess it’ll be okay.” Stefan teased her.  

She shook her head slightly and smiled. He gave her hand a slight squeeze.

____________________________________________

Caroline had been gone for almost a week. He had spoken to her two days earlier when he had called to wish her. But it had gone quiet after that. He figured she was busy with Bonnie and her family. She hadn’t been there since she left for New York, must be nostalgic to be back where she grew up, where her parents died. He hoped she was having a good time.

Someone ringing the doorbell non-stop, interrupted his musings. Either the bell was stuck or Kristelle was going crazy he figured.

“COMING!” he yelled.

“EMERGENCY FAMILY MEETING!” Kristelle yelled barging in.

“Hi” Irene said feeling slightly embarrassed. “Sorry to barge in like this”

“Don’t worry about it” Stefan smiled slightly closing the door. Irene was sweet. He wished she had a more calming influence on his cousin though.

He sat down on the couch and waited for Kristelle to explain her current dilemma.

“So I was thinking about what you said last week about Bonnie” Krsitelle started.

Stefan frowned. “What about Bonnie?”

“So there was this guy who used to be friends with Caroline, in our first year of college and then Bonnie came to visit her and poof! They haven’t been friends since!”

Stefan sighed. “I think you might be reading a little too much into this.” Stefan said.

The doorbell rang again. “That must be Cami”

“What’s the emergency?” Cami asked stepping in the door. “Hi guys”

Irene waved to her casually.

“Hey Cami, there’s no emergency, Kristelle is just being Kristelle” Stefan informed her before Kristelle could start her rant.

“I need you to tell me everything you know about Bonnie Bennett” Kristelle said in complete seriousness, channelling her inner FBI agent.

“Oh.. Okay… . umm.. I like Bonnie.  I wanted to meet her when she was in town.. but I couldn’t ! Got caught up with school” Cami said cautiously.

“Skip to the part where you give me specifics on the Bonnie-Caroline friendship” Kristelle said impatiently.

“Well, she’s really protective of Caroline… I mean.. They’ve been friends for like forever! It’s nice though that Caroline has someone like Bonnie watching out for her… You know.. With her parents gone and all” Cami said.

Stefan frowned at that.

“Tell me about Enzo” Kristelle pressed on.

“Enzo?”

“Yes Enzo” Kristelle said folding her hands across her chest. Clearly she wasn’t going to budge without getting the information she wanted.

“Well Enzo and Caroline were friends… for like… I donno… a little less than a year I guess…”

“Why did they stop being friends?”

“They are still sort of friends. They are just not as close as they used to be…” Cami said defensively.

“Cami… Do I need to pry this out of your brain with my bare hands or what?” Kristelle said testily.

“Ughh” Cami sighed. “Well all I know is that Bonnie really really disliked Enzo and after that Caroline kept her distance.” Cami said. “I don’t blame her though.. Enzo is… trouble…Why the sudden interest in him anyway?”

“You think Caroline will stop being friends with us?” Kristelle asked turning to Stefan.

“NO!” Stefan said irritated that Kristelle was obsessing over this.

“But Enzo” Kristelle started.

“We are not Enzo” he cut her off.  

“But you said she didn’t like you” She reminded him.

“Just forget I said anything.”

“What if she wants to keep her distance from us because Bonnie doesn’t like you?”

“She won’t” He said dismissing the suggestion.

“But what if she does?”

“I said, she won’t” He said standing his ground.

“Are you gonna just ignore this till it blows up in your face?”

“Nothing is going to blow up in anybody’s face.” Stefan said sounding exhausted.

“Bonnie doesn’t like you?” Cami asked Stefan.

“You look worried. Why do you look worried?” Kristelle asked, hyperventilating.

“No… I just.” She turned back to Stefan, “You and Caroline are so close.. Why wouldn’t Bonnie like you?”

“This is a disaster!” Kristelle said falling on the couch.

“Kristelle, go home, find something else to worry about” Stefan said signaling for the group of ladies to leave.

“He’s right..” Irene interjected, “You’re just making a mountain out of a mole-hill… You heard Cami, Enzo was trouble.. that’s why she took Bonnie’s advice and kept her distance. She’s not going to do the same to you guys!”

. . …                   … . .                 … . .

He checked his phone again anxiously. His mind drifted to the conversation he had with Bonnie and what Cami said about Bonnie being protective of Caroline. He had figured as much from their brief exchange of words. His phone finally rang. He quickly answered.

“Caroline!” he said

“Hey !! Did I wake you?’

“Nope.. how’s it going?”

“Crazy !! Really crazy ! But fun crazy!” She sounded really happy.

“That’s good.. when umm.. when are you coming back?”

“Next week”

“I thought you were going just for a week..” He said sounding disappointed.

“Yeah I decided to stay a little while longer” She said. He heard Bonnie’s voice on the other line speaking to Caroline.

“Hey I gotta go, I’ll catch you later ok?”

“Night” Stefan said softly.

“Stefan?” She called out to him before he could hang up.

“Yeah?”

“You okay?” She asked, she sounded concerned.

“Yeah” He reassured her.

“You sure?”

“Positive” he lied.

“Okay… sleep tight!” She said

“You too.”

He dropped the phone onto the middle of the bed and rubbed his eyes.

_________________________________________________________

“You seem to be in a better mood”, Stefan commented as he opened the fridge.

“Yeah I figured just because Bonnie doesn’t like you doesn’t mean Caroline will stop talking to me! I mean, we’ve been friends way before you came into the picture” Kristelle said.

Stefan chose to ignore her.

“Did you speak to Caroline?” Stefan asked.

“Yeah she texted last night. She’s having a blast” Kristelle replied. His brows furrowed at that. The last he spoke to her was 3 days ago when she told him she was extending her trip.

“So…what did Cami mean when she said Enzo was trouble?” Stefan asked casually.

“I donno. Never met the guy”

“Guess” He said irritably.

“Umm.. he has a reputation of being flaky and rude… Tas once said he has no personality.” Kristelle said.

Stefan didn’t respond to that.  

. . …                   … . .                    … . .

“So what’s wrong with it?” Kriselle asked impatiently.

“Nothing” Stefan said looking at her laptop.

“It doesn’t look like nothing!” She said hovering over Stefan who was seated in front of her laptop

“It just needs a software update” Stefan replied.

“Ok.. so..”

“So it’s updating just leave it alone”

“I donno… You’re not exactly a computer genius” Kristelle commented.

“THEN WHY DID YOU ASK ME?” Stefan asked losing his cool.

“I THOUGHT YOU’D GIVE ME A FASTER SOLUTION” Kristelle yelled back.

“THERE IS NO FASTER SOLUTION TO A SOFTWARE UPDATE” Stefan screamed exasperated.

“WHY ARE YOU YELLING?” Kristelle asked.

“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS BEING A SPOILT LITTLE BRAT?”

“Watcha yelling about?” He heard Caroline’s voice. He turned around to see her standing there watching them curiously.

“Caroline!! Hey!! You’re back!” Stefan exclaimed.

“I missed you!! Stefan is being Shrek again!”  Kristelle complained.  

Caroline giggled. “I got you guys dinner on the way here ” Caroline said placing the food on the counter.

“Why didn’t you call me? I would have come picked you up” Stefan said giving her a welcome back hug.

“naaw I didn’t want you to go to the trouble of driving all the way to the airport just to pick me up”

Stefan didn’t say anything.

“I’m gonna go take a quick shower and change. You guys go ahead and start without me” She said gesturing to the food.

Kristelle and Stefan watched as she went to her room and shut the door.

“You think Bonnie got to her?” Kristelle spoke in a dramatic whisper.

Stefan remained quiet.

. . …                … . .              … . .

“Sleeping?” Caroline asked as she sat herself on Stefan’s bed.

“No…”

“Why’d you run off then?”

“You were on the phone… I didn’t wanna bug you”

“I got you something”, Caroline said as she moved closer to him and adjusted the pillows so it would prop her up.

“You did?”

“Don’t get excited, it’s just a refrigerator magnet,” She said. “I saw it at the airport and it reminded me of you”. She gave it to him. It was a little replica of his favorite Bourbon with a magnet at the back to hold it up on the fridge. He smiled.

“Thanks” He said admiring it.

“So what did I miss?” Caroline asked.

“Nothing at all..”

“How was Virginia?” He asked her.

“Crazy”

He continued to look at her expecting her to delve into explicit details of her trip. But she didn’t elaborate.

 “That’s it? Crazy?”

“What?”

“Last month you gave me a thirty minute thesis on why Gummy Bears and Twizzlers make the best study snack. You go back to your hometown after years, for two whole weeks, on your birthday no less and all I get is one word?”

He watched as Caroline’s forehead creased. It looked like she was studying his visage.

“Well, I don’t want to bore you with all the details … “ She said softly.

“Who says I’ll get bored?”

She gave him a small smile.

“Okaaaay you asked for it …” She said leaning back. “You can’t be my albatross if my recap gets too long” She warned him.

“It won’t get too long”

“Hmmm. . Lets see.. Where do I start.. So Bonnie’s folks”

“That’s not where you start…” he cut her off she turned to him confused. 

“I dropped you off at the airport… go!” He said giving her his preferred starting point.

She beamed at his enthusiasm. “Right.. You dropped me off at the airport and then Bonnie and I..”

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“And then I came home to find you and Telle yelling at each other” She finished yawning between the words. Somewhere in between telling him about her birthday cake and the trip to the lake she settled in under the covers; his hand lay loosely over her as he listened to every word with rapt attention, making sure he didn’t miss her animated expressions or the shift in her tone from happy to delirious to nostalgic. She yawned again.

“Sounds like a good trip” He said smiling.

“Yeah…” She said, her face turned towards him, her eyes closing on her.

“What do you wanna do tomorrow?” He whispered.

“I donno… “ She said closing her eyes.

“Did you really like the stupid refrigerator magnet?” she asked opening her eyes.

“Don’t call my bourbon refrigerator magnet stupid” He joked. She smiled.

“Go to sleep” He said.

“Night..” She murmured.

“Night”

___________________________________________

Author’s Note 1: The title of Chapter 9 is inspired from the song “Drops of Jupiter”. I realize it has a myriad of interpretations. Some say it’s a song about heart-break, some say it’s about a guy missing his friend who he has feelings for. The artist attributes a whole other meaning it it. But as far as Chapter 9 is concerned, Drops of Jupiter is about Stefan missing Caroline and wondering if she’ll go reconnect with her roots, have the time of her life and worrying that maybe she’ll decide that he wasn't the kind of friend she wants/needs in her life. 

_______________________________________________________________


Chapter 10 - My Best Friend

Author’s Note2: Based on the Tim McGraw song about the best friend the singer is in love with; the lyrics are beautiful and very Steroline!

______________________________

“OOH YOU CAN GO AS BATMAN!” Caroline shrieked.

“No” Stefan said his voice falling flat.

Caroline, Kristelle and Irene were deciding on their Halloween costumes. There was a big Halloween bash happening and the girls were excited to go.  Stefan wanted to sit it out.

“Spiderman?” Caroline asked

“No”

“Arrow?”

“You want me to go as an arrow?” Stefan asked baffled. What sort of a costume consisted of a lone arrow?

“The super-hero dummy !”

“oh.. NO”

“ugghh what do you wanna go as?” She asked.

“A person who hates Halloween?”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “Stefan, everyone will be in costume, why would you wanna stick out like a sore thumb?”

“I don’t do costumes” Stefan said flatly.

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“Damon” he addressed the person on the other end of the phone.

“Stefan”, the voice returned the greeting in the exact same tone.

“What’s up?”

“So, we’re coming to New York this weekend”

“Who’s we?” Stefan asked.

“Elena and me”

“Why?”

“Because it’s your birthday and we wanna take you out to dinner”

“You wanna take me out to dinner?” He repeated Damon’s words unimpressed with the idea.

“Yup”

“I’m not much of a birthday celebrating kind of guy remember?” He said, hoping to dissuade him.

“Well you can make an exception this year. The restaurant’s booked. Its just dinner. You’ll survive!”

“Fine. What time is your flight? I’ll pick you up” he said reluctantly.

“Thanks brother, that’s mighty hospitable of ya! Flights late night on the 31st

“See ya ” Stefan said hanging up.  He didn’t have a moment to think before Caroline barged in the door.

“Okay we have figured it out” She said victorious.

“Caroline! I said NO costumes” he repeated himself.

“I know I know… this won’t feel like a costume at all!” Caroline said proceeding to his closet.

“What are you doing?”

“Picking out your costume” Caroline said looking through his suits.

“There” She said pointing to the ensemble she laid out on his bed.

“We decided to do a group thing.. Charlie’s angels and Bosley !!” She said clapping her hands. “You’re Bosley” She said making herself clear.

“Bosley?” he repeated.

“Yeah you just have to wear a suit !”

“Umm.. Damon and Elena are flying in that night so I’ll have to pick them up at the airport”

“Yeah I know”

“You do?” Stefan asked surprised.

“Yeah Kristelle told me. Her friends from Chicago told her that Damon and Elena were coming to New York for your birthday.”

“And you were gonna tell me this when?” He asked.

“Well I figured if it was a surprise.. I shouldn’t ruin it.. You know..”

“Hmmmm”

“Anyway, you can still attend the party for a little bit and then go to pick them up” She suggested.

“Yeah.. I guess” He said reluctantly. That got Caroline exited again. She hopped on back to the apartment to Kristelle and Irene.

Halloween and Damon and Elena.. it was going to be a rough weekend!

_____________________________________

“Okay, lets get this over with” Stefan said as he walked into the apartment. He stopped abruptly when he saw Caroline. She was wearing a skin-tight white strapless number that just about covered her ass. His mouth hung open slightly as he took in this new version of his best friend. Caroline however, did not seem to notice, she was trying to stuff something into a very small bag.

“Yeah this is not happening!” She said defeated by the little purse in her hand. “I’m just gonna have to leave you behind” She said apologetically gazing at her phone.

“You ready?” She asked looking at Stefan.

“uhuh” he managed to stutter.

“Okay come on, Telle and Irene are on their way to the party.” She said walking towards him.

“We should go.” He said, his eyes till fixed on her.

“Yeah.. We should” She said looking at him expectantly. “Stefan?”

“yeah?”

She pointed to the door behind him.

“Right.. the doors that way” He said stupidly.

“Yeah.. are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Why, why would you ask that?” He stammered.

“You look.. drunk ..”

“no… no I’m fine..” he said reaching for the door handle. He opened the door and bolted out before Caroline could say anything else.  How is she single? He wondered as he pushed the elevator button 

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“So it’s nice of Damon and Elena to fly in just for your birthday” Caroline said appreciatively.

“Hmmmm”

“What?”

“Nothing.. Just .. Damon and I haven’t been in good terms in years.” He said honestly.

“So maybe he wants to change that”

“Yeah, I know he does..

“Maybe you should let him..” She said sincerely. They were stopped at a red light. He looked over at the beautiful, honest blue eyes of his best friend.

“What is it?”

“I donno if one dinner will get us back to what we used to be.” he mused. There was sadness in his voice that reflected the weight of a complicated past that burdened his heart.

Caroline didn’t say anything to that. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it reassuringly. He smiled, acknowledging the gesture. He didn’t say anything. He knew he didn’t have to. She knew what he meant to say. The incessant honking of the cars behind him brought his attention to the fact that the traffic signal had turned green.

______________________________________

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” He heard Caroline scream. She must have barged in to wish him he figured. “oh hey Elena. Where’s Stefan?”

“Caroline, I’ll be out in a bit” Stefan yelled from his room, scrambling to put on his clothes.  He heard Elena talking to Caroline through the door.

“Would you like to have a seat?” Elena gestured to the couch.

“Umm… yeah.. I guess” Caroline said. He couldn’t make out the rest of the conversation.

He opened the door to see Damon walk into the living room.

“Damon, this is Caroline” He heard Elena introduce them.

“Caroline?”

“Stefan’s neighbor from across the hall, she lives with Kristelle” Elena added.

“The annoying blonde who tries too hard?” Damon blurted out.

“Damon!” Stefan exclaimed trying to silence his brother.

“Your words not mine!” Damon said looking at Caroline after he was done replying to Stefan. “That is you right?” Damon said. Looked like he was at his inconsiderate best.

“Yup.. …” She said pressing her lips together. “You missed crazy and over-the top… but annoying blonde who tries too hard works too” Caroline said, her face did not betray emotion.

“Caroline..” Stefan started.

“Here,” She said leaving an envelop on the coffee table, “Happy birthday… Enjoy your dinner” She said and swiftly walked away.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Stefan turned to speak to Damon.

“What? I was doing you a favor, you said she was annoying and now she won’t annoy you any more”

He shook his head in disdain and went after Caroline.

“Where are you going? We have a reservation!” Damon yelled as Stefan opened the door to go to Caroline’s.

“Caroline” He called out as soon as he opened her front door.

She did not turn back.

“Hey, hold on…” He said holding on to her elbow, beckoning her to turn around. She broke free. “I’m sorry about that” He said.

She turned to meet his gaze and let out a short laugh as though she was mocking him or was it herself she was mocking, he couldn’t tell.

“Damon misunderstood” He started

“It doesn’t matter” She interrupted him. 

“Sure it does”

“No it doesn’t!” She said not looking directly at Stefan. “I am very well aware of what a flawed individual I am, Stefan. I know I’m all that Damon said and more.. I’m annoying, over the top and a whole other level of crazy. I try too hard, I get excited over stupid things like Halloween costumes and drive people up the wall, and most of the time I don’t know when to shut the hell up!” She said pulling her hair back with her hands.

Stefan just stood there rooted to the spot surprised at what she was saying.

“It’s not like that at all …this is all just a huge misunderstanding, I swear.. Just let me explain,” He said meekly.

“Misunderstanding. Yeah …” Caroline said almost like she was talking to herself.

“STEFAN!” He heard Damon yelling for him in the hallway.

“You should go.” Caroline said staring at the front door.

“Not like this.” Stefan said, looking at the dejected face of his best friend. She didn’t seem to hear him; it was as though she was lost in thought.

“I defended you.” She murmured shaking her head, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“What?”

“Nothing … forget it … doesn’t matter” She said looking anywhere but at him.

“Hey” He said reaching for her hand. She took a step back, placing herself just out of his reach. A lump formed in his throat seeing her back away from him. She swiftly went into her room and shut the door behind her gently.

He tried Caroline’s door handle to find it locked from inside. He sighed.

“Caroline?” he called out for her to let him in. He received no response from the blonde.

… . .                    … . .                    … . .

“Give us a minute” Damon addressed the waiter. He looked at Stefan, “Okay can we just address the elephant in the room” Damon said exasperated.

Stefan didn’t say anything.

“How was I supposed to know you became best friends with the annoying neighbor?”

“You still shouldn’t have said anything.” He said  “And stop calling her annoying” he commanded, sounding angry.

“Okay fine. Can we just have a good time without the brooding and the frowning?” Damon begged.

Stefan sighed.

“So. How does one go from … thinking someone is annoying one minute to being best friends with them the next?” Elena asked, her curiosity getting the best of her.

“You missed a few minutes,” He mumbled correcting her.

“Pray tell” Damon said curiously.

Stefan fiddled with the fork on the table. His voice soft and nostalgic as he tried to put things in perspective for the two people who he had at one point considered the most important people in his life.

“You … Let them drag you out in the rain against your better judgment … fall sick, become an albatross, spend three days annoying the living daylights out of them only to …believe them when they tell you that you’re better than you think you are … and then … you become best friends” He said fondly.

“It’s like a twelve step program is see” Damon said sarcastically.

Stefan didn’t respond. His mind kept bringing up the image of her walking away from him, it was as though it burnt a hole in his heart that was getting bigger with each passing minute.

“So umm.. What’s this albatross thing? Is that a new drug or something?” Damon asked cautiously.

“Damon!” Elena said looking at him displeased.

“You think I’m back on drugs?” Stefan asked his brows furrowed.

“No.. no.. Maybe. . I don’t know …”

“How many times do I have to tell you till you decide to believe me?” He asked feeling let down.

“Stefan.…when someone drags you out in the rain and gets you sick, that does not result in everlasting friendship, okay? That’s just … crazy… So I’m gonna ask you to be honest with me.. Are you back on drugs?”

“Will you believe me if I say no?” He said not answering him.

“Stefan..” Elena said placing her hand on his, trying to calm him down. He pulled his hand away as if repulsed by her touch.

“What else do you still not believe?” Stefan asked, his eyes boring into his surrogate brother’s eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t mean to kill Justin.” Stefan said.

Damon looked down.

“You were high all the time …  I didn’t know what was the truth and what was a lie any more… I couldn’t tell whether it was the Stefan I knew talking or the drugs” Damon justified himself.

“And what about later when I got clean? Did you believe me then?”

Damon opened his mouth to speak only to drag his hand over his face, as if exhausted.

“Stefan. . you can’t hold that against him … everyone doubted your intentions because of the drug use…” Elena said calmly.

He looked at her intently, his mind replaying the conversation he had with Caroline when he told her everything about what had happened that night.

“Not everyone” he said getting up.

“Stefan” Elena began.

“Thanks for flying out here.” He said searching for the valet ticket.

. . …                    … . .     

He barged in to find her sitting on the couch with Cami.

“Stefan!” Cami said alerting Caroline of his presence.

“Cami” he said acknowledging her. He didn’t give Caroline time to react. He grabbed her hand and led her into her room, closing the door behind her. He let go of her hand only to have her reach for the handle; she obviously didn’t want to be in the same room as him. He spun her around forcing her to lean against the door and face him. He placed one hand firmly against the door to make sure she wouldn’t open it.

“It matters!” he said firmly looking right into her eyes.

“It matters because you are none of those things you listed earlier. You are not over the top – you’re full of life. You try because you care … and you care a lot. .  Okay, yeah you’re crazy … the best kind of crazy. .  The essential kind. . You don’t drive people up the wall, just the opposite actually … I love that you talk a lot … and I hope you never shut up.“ He said smiling despite the situation. “ You are definitely not annoying …” He said and paused to gauge her reaction. She was staring at the wall behind him, her guard up, emotions tucked away safely.

“I described you as annoying and as someone who tries too hard because I was quick to judge and an ass. You know this. I apologized for it remember?”

She folded her arms over her chest and looked down.

“I didn’t know what you were made of back then. But I do now . . and I am so so sorry for Damon treating you poorly . .” he concluded hoping for some sort of reaction from her.

“Fine” She murmured still looking down.

“Fine?” He repeated. Caroline shrugged, her face still parallel to the floor. He stared at her for a moment trying to figure out what was going on.

“Caroline?”

“What do you want me to say?” Caroline said, her voice dull and lifeless.

“Tell me you’re not mad”

“I’m not mad” She said indifferently still unable to meet his gaze.

“Are you upset?” He asked

“No. . Maybe… I don’t wanna talk about it.” She said, her voice barely audible.

This was not just about what happened with Damon he realized reading her countenance. He took her face in his hands and tilted it gently towards him; she reluctantly looked into his eyes for a moment before shifting it to the wall behind him again.  

“You know she’s wrong about me” He said decisively. Her eyes darted back to meet his, surprised at what she just heard.

“You said you defended me. It was to Bonnie wasn’t it?”

Caroline sighed.

He pulled her hair back and entwined her fingers in her blond curls. “She doesn’t know me . . she doesn’t know us . . But you do . . You know who I am… And you know I’m not who she thinks I am. .” His voice broke at that.

She swallowed and closed her eyes. A moment later she brought both her hands to caress his wrists. “What did she say to you?” She asked.

“Doesn’t matter” he said still trying to read her.

“I’m sorry, she shouldn’t have said anything”

“It’s okay.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Caroline asked him.

“Her heart was in the right place…”

Caroline covered her face with her hands, clearly overwhelmed. He pulled her hands away.

“I’m sorry” She said

“Don’t be” He said softly.

“Ugh !! I just.. I shouldn’t have . . I”

“Hey ! Stop ! It’s okay. .” He said shaking his head softly.

“No its not… I ruined your dinner”

“No you didn’t” He said letting her hands go, smiling softly at her. “Are we best friends again?”

She placed her head on his chest and hugged him in response; He held her tight and closed his eyes, sighing in relief.  She pulled away, her hands clutching his suit. His hands were still holding her, his eyes travelled to her pink lips and remained there as she wetted them nervously.

“Stefan?” She said softly, it was almost like her voice echoed in his suddenly hollow head.

“Damon is in the living room” he heard the words as her lips parted again.

“huh?”

“Kristelle just called him the devil” She said her lips slightly curving at the corners. He looked away from her to hear commotion from beyond the door.

“Shit!” He said opening the door as Caroline giggled. Sounded like Kristelle and Damon were in a heated argument. They never got along even in Chicago.

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“MA ! ! Where’s the holy water you brought with you when you last came here?” He heard Kristelle talk into the phone.

“Why? What do you mean why? I need to cleanse my house of evil spirits that’s why ! Damon Salvatore was just here!” She said moving to her room.

Cami and Caroline were rolling on the couch laughing. Stefan just leaned back on the single seat sofa, exhausted from playing referee between Kristelle and Damon.

“Well your birthday is officially a bust!” Caroline said as she composed herself again. He could tell she was feeling bad about it.

“I never liked birthdays anyway” He said honestly.

“Still . .” She mused. “Hungry? I made lasagna … I mean.. yeah . .its no Michelin star dinner… “

“Sounds perfect” He said smiling.

“Does this mean I won’t get to take the left over lasagna home?” Cami asked looking sad.

“Probably” Caroline said chuckling.

“Oh!! You know what we should do?” Caroline exclaimed suddenly, her voice dripping with excitement. “LASANGA BIRTHDAY CAKE!”

“Da fuck is that?” Kristelle asked interjecting herself into the conversation.

Caroline didn’t answer; she went to the kitchen searching frantically for something.

She took the lasagna from the oven and placed a candle in the center and beamed at him. Stefan chuckled. Lasagna birthday cake indeed !

“Please don’t get candle wax on my lasagna” Cami said with trepidation. Caroline stuck her tongue out in response.

“Come on! Make a wish” She said smiling at Stefan. He stood next to her and placed her arm around her neck, pulling her close. “Crazy!” he whispered. She continued beaming.

“Ok quick picture!” Cami said holding her phone up. He didn’t protest like he normally would.

“Okay now cut the cake.. lasagna .. Whatever, I’m hungry “ Kristelle said.

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“You know.. we should do lasagna more often” Stefan said in between bites.

“Feel free to make me some for my birthday!” Cami said enjoying her dinner.

“Still think my birthday was a bust?” Stefan said pinching Caroline’s side playfully.

“OOwww . .” She said avoiding to question. He stopped eating and looked at her, demanding an answer to his question. She looked at him, her forehead creasing ever so slightly, as if trying to read him.  “Well… like I said, its no 5 star dinner”

He shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips.

“Did you like your present?” She asked.

“What present?

“The envelope I left for you..” She said casually.

“I didn’t get a chance to open it..”

“oh okay”

“What is it?” he asked.

“You’ll know when you open it” She said smiling.

. . …                  … . .              … . .

“You got me concert tickets!” He said beaming holding the tickets up.

“Yup!”

“I love it!” he said. “Thank You!” he instinctively pulled her in and kissed her on her forehead. He went back to staring at the tickets. His phone rang and he reached to check who it was.

“Damon” He said answering it.

“So.. we are at the airport.. I uh.. couldn’t say what I wanted to with that whole Kristelle madness getting in the way..” He said awkwardly. “I uh.. didn’t mean to offend your friend.. or you..”

“Okay” Stefan said in response.

“Okay” Damon repeated.

“Have a safe trip back” Stefan said. He hung up and placed the phone back in his pocket.

“Everything okay?” Caroline asked. He looked into her eyes, there was a beauty to the simplicity of emotion reflected through them. When she was happy, her eyes danced. When she was reminiscent, it was as if her eyes were blue orbs were floating in memories. Right now though her eyes looked concerned … Concerned for him.

“Don’t worry about it..” He said fondly.

“You wanna go to the concert with me?” He asked before she could ask him again.

“Huh?” She asked. He waved the tickets in front of her.  “There are two tickets.” He said suggestively.

“Yeah I thought you could take someone who was into rock”

“Like who?” He asked rhetorically.

“I donno..

“ Maybe you could” She began.

“I wanna go with you” he cut her off.

“Okay… fine. . but if you change your mind and wanna take someone else that’s okay with me.. you don’t have”

“I won’t change my mind” He said smiling like a dork.

____________________________________