Chapter 1: Be My Little Baby
Mr. Tanner was not going to be happy that she was late, but he was going to have to accept her excuse and drop the subject. She was in no mood to explain the complicated, disgusting reason she was running down the empty halls towards the health room ten long minutes following the bell's loud clang. Breathing heavily through her nose, she came to a halt right outside the door and wiped her hands on her dress, straightening out the long skirt while also ridding her palms of sweat. She lifted her dry hands to her face and gathered the tears beneath her eyes. Hopefully her eye makeup wasn't smudged.
She could do this. Pretending everything was okay was easy for her. She did it all the time.
Through the crack in the door she heard Mr. Tanner finishing up his welcome. It was now or never—so, it was now. Never was not an option.
Caroline Forbes pushed open the door and stepped inside the packed classroom. All eyes turned towards her as the rusted hinges squeaked, but she refused to look at any of them. Her focus was on Mr. Tanner. She stepped towards where he stood by the ancient blackboard, a piece of chalk in his hand. He still wore his gym teacher getup. Maybe someone forgot to tell him they were starting health that day. He was also wearing a pretty deep frown.
"Miss Forbes," he said, "you're late."
Yes. Thank you. She knew that already.
Caroline tossed her blond locks over her shoulder and smiled as bright as she could, showing Mr. Tanner her pearly whites. Most teachers couldn't resist her guilty-as-charged smile, but Mr. Tanner was not most teachers. He was the hardened football coach with no time for any kid's bullshit.
"Please, Mr. Tanner," began Caroline, knowing her story was foolproof, "I would have made it on time, but I couldn't for the life of me get my locker to open. I needed Mr. Porter's help to get into it."
"Who's Mr. Porter?"
Even though she was lying through her perfect teeth, Mr. Tanner's question shocked Caroline. "The head janitor," she said accusatorially. "He's worked here for thirteen years. He's got two kids, one of whom goes to this school. He's a really nice man"—
Mr. Tanner cut her off by putting his hand up. "That's enough, Miss Forbes. I didn't ask for Mr. Porter's life story." He closed his hand and pointed at the blackboard with his thumb. Caroline looked at the drawing. An oval. An egg? "Since you missed my introduction, these next two months of health class will cover everything from the dangers of drinking and using drugs"—the stoners in the sea of students booed—"to the dangers of premarital sex, which oftentimes leads to unwanted pregnancy in teens. Our first week's assignment will be the Egg Project." Mr. Tanner's drawing suddenly made sense to Caroline. "Most of your classmates have already been partnered up, but luckily for you, there is one student still in need of a co-parent."
"I thought we agreed I would be doing this assignment on my own," came a tired, bored, wretched English accent from the back corner of the room. "You know, to represent the single parents in the nation."
Caroline had to suppress her groan. She looked over the sniggering faces of her classmates at the boy dressed in head-to-toe black, his head lifting from his crossed arms. His scruffy cheeks and dark circles told the story of a kid who didn't care much about what other people thought of him, and his watery blue eyes told Caroline he had literally just been asleep.
She could not work with him. No, no, no, no.
Turning back to Mr. Tanner, Caroline put on her sweetest smile again. "Um, Mr. Tanner. I can't work with him."
"Hm?" he asked, not looking up from the booklet he was holding about the egg experiment.
"I can't work with him," Caroline repeated, slightly more volume this time. Mr. Tanner didn't lift his head, but he stared unamused at Caroline through his thick eyelashes, waiting for more information. "Klaus," Caroline finally sighed. The whole room was staring at her, enraptured by her confession, but she didn't pay any attention. "I can't work with him."
Closing the booklet, Mr. Tanner tilted his head. Very unamused. "And why can't you work with him?"
"Why?" she practically laughed. Her cheeks reddened as she thought through the laundry list of reasons. "He is notorious for failing practically all of his classes; he never does any work, and you can bet damn well that includes group assignments; his attendance record is horrendous. . .Mr. Tanner, I could go on, and on, and on."
Though he let her go off on her small tangent, Mr. Tanner still wore that unchanging look of weariness. It was almost as if he didn't want to be there at all. "Don't you think that's a bit harsh, Miss Forbes?"
"Yeah!" piped the devil himself. Caroline shot him a dirty look. He was fully smirking at her—his trademark. "Don't you think that's a bit harsh?"
"It's the truth," she told him. "Deal with it."
"I'm sorry, Miss Forbes," said Mr. Tanner, and Caroline's hopes of either working by herself or magically finding a new partner for this stupid assignment were dashed, "my decision is final. Go take a seat next to Mr. Mikaelson. I'll be handing out the booklet for the Egg Project shortly."
Dejected and too exhausted from her morning to argue any longer, Caroline sagged her shoulders and walked to the empty seat next to Mr. Mikaelson.
Would he change his mind if she spilled the secret? Would that grant her any partner of her choosing?
Probably not. He was Mr. Tanner, and the secret she held would more likely get her detention than a gold star. It would get her other things too, worse things, but she refused to think about the repercussions right now. Not with a whole day to get through.
Klaus Mikaelson winked at Caroline as she sat down. She responded in the only way she knew how—by rolling her eyes at him, which only seemed to stretch his smirk all the way to his ear.
"Now, I have here a dozen eggs," Mr. Tanner said, and Caroline quickly put Klaus out of her mind. Their teacher held up a pack of eggs. "Each pair will get one egg. When I have handed you the egg, which becomes your child from the second it touches your desk, you will have the opportunity to name it and decorate it how you choose." He stared daggers at the stoner kids. "If anybody decides they are brave enough to put anything other than eyes, a nose, a mouth and some hair on their egg, they will instantly get a failing grade." The stoners laughed, but everybody knew they wouldn't dare break Mr. Tanner's rules. "After decorating, you will need to pierce a hole in the egg and drain its insides"—
—"Ew! Why would we do that?" piped Hayley Marshall, the most poisonous girl Caroline had ever met. Caroline stared daggers at the back of her head. Her partner, Elena Gilbert, nodded enthusiastically.
"Please don't interrupt," Mr. Tanner said. "I was just about to explain. There are two reasons you must get rid of the egg white and the yoke. One: the egg would rot, and I'm sure none of you want a rotten egg stinking up your bedrooms. Two: it makes the egg more susceptible to cracks if it doesn't have anything inside it."
Elena raised her hand, but spoke before being called on. "So you're setting us up to fail? That doesn't seem very fair."
It was at this point Mr. Tanner made it clear just how much he hated teaching. Coaching was the dream. He loved it. Standing in front of twenty-four juniors who were all pretty much sexually active already and being forced to give them this assignment was his nightmare.
Sliding his hands over his tired, old face, Mr. Tanner shook his head. "God forbid any of you ever has a child, but if that day arrives I can assure you that you will find out just how much more breakable an actual baby is than this egg."
The class went silent. Mr. Tanner was known for his outbursts, but such harsh words were, Caroline felt, uncalled for. But she had tried and lost with Tanner once already, and she was not about to fail again, so she remained silent with the rest of her classmates.
After a few moments, Mr. Tanner got back to business. He picked up a handful of booklets and the eggs and stepped out from behind his desk.
"You'll have until next Monday with the eggs," he announced, handing out a booklet and egg to each group. "You will have to meet with your partner for at least—at least," he emphasised, eyeing Caroline, "an hour every day. You will be required to write down what you do with your egg. The egg must alternate houses, meaning your partner will have it for one night, and you will have it the next. Somebody must be watching the egg at all times and there has to be a set bedtime. On Monday, everybody is required to fill out a sheet explaining how the week went. Does everyone understand?" He had reached Caroline and Klaus. He carefully plopped the egg into Caroline's hand and tossed Klaus the booklet.
"Yes," the class, minus Klaus, affirmed in unison.
Mr. Tanner went back to the front of the room. "Great. Art supplies are up here. Blow out the yoke and whites in the sink by Mr. Mikaelson. Get to work, everyone."
Klaus was the first to scrape his chair back. "Where do you think you're going?" Caroline asked, tugging on his t-shirt to stop him from moving.
He twisted, his eyes lingering on where her hand was clamped on his shirt. "The art stuff. I want our baby to have a face, don't you? You can come up with names while I'm up there, sweetheart."
Caroline released the fabric of his shirt in disgust. She pointed a finger at him. "You dare call me that again and I will throttle you. Do you hear me? Throttle."
"Loud and clear, love!" he called as he walked towards the table covered in cheap paints and brushes.
"That one is worse," Caroline muttered under her breath.
Picking up the egg, she twisted it around. There were sprinklings of freckles all over the shell. For an egg, it was kind of pretty. Unfortunately, she had no artistic talent, and she had absolutely zero faith in the boy examining the bottles of paint up front with an unsettling amount of scrutiny.
Why did she have to pick today to be late to class? And why couldn't someone else have been free? This was setting up to be the longest week of her life. First Tyler—
—No, no. She wasn't going to think about him. If she started crying in class, people would start asking why she was crying in class, and that was a question to which she was not willing to supply an answer.
Push Tyler out, she warned herself. Let Klaus in. Yeah, just. . .get mad about Klaus.
Listen, she didn't like not liking people. Her nature was to find something good in everything. Obviously, there were exceptions. The Nazis, for example. No good there; and there was no point in trying to find any. Death, as well. She stayed away from pointing out positives when someone passed away. But most people and things deserved chances. They deserved to not be defined by single choices and acts made or performed in their lives.
And it wasn't like Klaus Mikaelson had done one horrific thing to make her dislike him. Or even multiple horrific things. Sure, he was a bit weird. Sure, he kept mostly to himself. None of that was cause for concern. It was simply his aura—the energy he poured into the world. Caroline would walk by him in the halls and a shiver would run down her spine. She would randomly bump into him in town and freeze in her tracks until he disappeared from view, that telltale smirk that really didn't tell her anything at all pinning up the right side of his face.
She wasn't alone in her opposition to Klaus, which made her feel a little better. Lots of her classmates and teachers, lots of parents didn't much care for him. Caroline bet the majority of them would not be able to put a finger on why.
Maybe that smirk was all it boiled down to.
That smirk which he was still donning as he returned to his desk with an armful of paints.
"Do you really need that many colours? The egg is tiny." She held up their egg-baby, which fit neatly in the crook of her palm.
"Trust me," he said flippantly—everything with him was flippant. "I know what I'm doing."
"If you say so."
"Have you come up with a name?" he asked, squeezing dollops of paint onto a round palette.
Caroline stared at the egg. "Ginger," she settled. Klaus raised an eyebrow. "The freckles," she explained.
"Gotcha. Hand her over." Holding out his hand, Klaus wiggled his fingers in anticipation. Begrudgingly, hoping he would refrain from smashing Ginger right then and there, Caroline delicately dropped the egg into his hand. The tips of her fingers brushed the base of his, and she snatched her hand away promptly, a sharp jolt running through her. "Thanks, love."
"Don't call me that," she said. She had the strangest feeling she was going to be saying that a lot over the next seven days.
Klaus just widened his stupid half-smile and picked up a paintbrush. Ignoring him as best as she could, Caroline started working on their booklet. She filled out the egg's name, the time they received her, the planned bedtime, and what she and Klaus would use as the egg's carrier/bed. When that was finished, she looked over the rubric. The project was worth a whopping fifty points.
Damn this southern Virginian town and its abstinence-only approach to sex education.
Caroline enjoyed being from a small town. Her mother was the sheriff, a couple of her friends were descendants of the town's founders, and she was the most recent bearer of the Miss Mystic Falls crown. Small town life was fun, until it came to stuff like this that really showed off the ignorance of its officials.
"Done," Klaus announced fifteen minutes later.
Putting the math assignment she had been working on while she waited away, Caroline looked curiously over at the egg drying on a paper towel on Klaus's desk. She was taken aback. "Wow," she said. "That's. . .really good."
In twenty minutes, Klaus had managed to make their egg look like a piece that belonged in a museum. The swirling reds and oranges of the finely painted strands of hair didn't clash with the brown shell, the freckles had been finely exaggerated, the face looked like an actual face. And he had done it all with the shitty brushes and cheap paints.
Caroline looked between the egg and Klaus, her eyes then wandering to the frayed notebook hanging over the edge of his desk. There was no doubt in her mind it was filled with glorious drawings.
What else was this guy hiding?
"I've come up with a schedule," she said after a prolonged silence. She gave the booklet to Klaus. "I'll have her today. You need to sign here," Caroline pointed at the line requiring his signature, "and then we need to decide where we'll meet this afternoon."
Klaus finished scribbling his name, and for a moment Caroline was confused before she remembered his full name was Niklaus. "Mystic Grill," he said. "I've been craving one of their burgers all day."
The Mystic Grill housed just about every high school student every single day after the final bell rang. Caroline had never seen Klaus there. She was too tired to come up with anywhere else, though, and there were still three classes she had to get through before school let out, plus a gruelling hour of cheer practice, so she agreed to his choice.
His smirk turned triumphant.
Ginger's paint job dried with five minutes of health class to spare. Caroline carried her to the sink and pierced two holes in the egg's shell, stirring up the yoke. Placing a tiny plastic straw inside, she blew out the contents.
"4:30 at the Grill, then?" she said, sitting back down with Ginger. "I have cheer practice until 4:00."
Klaus had his notebook open, but Caroline couldn't see what he was doing. He covered the pages with his arm. "4:30 it is," he said without breaking his concentration.
The bell rang several seconds later. Caroline gathered her things, mindful of just how light the egg-baby now felt, and departed the classroom, Klaus on her heels.
She was about to tell him to stop breathing down her dress—all of the hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up—when she spotted Tyler down the hall heading in their direction. Her heart plummeted, rattling around in her stomach. Eyes wide and tongue heavy, she twirled and hid behind Klaus.
"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he asked, and even though she couldn't see him, she could hear that fucking smirk.
"Just keep moving," she hissed.
Klaus started whistling as they moved down the hall. She rolled her eyes, but was not brave enough to come out of hiding until safety was guaranteed.
"Thanks," she muttered, her body flaming with embarrassment and guilt and anger directed both at herself and at the dark-haired asshole that was Tyler Lockwood.
There was another person she disliked. Another person with no redeeming qualities. But it was worse than Klaus because she had spent the last two years thinking he walked among the clouds like a god.
It was only this morning that she found out he actually swam with Hades in the Styx.
"No problem," Klaus said. He seemed to take no notice of her protective body language—not that she wanted him to. "Take care of Ginger now, love. She's very delicate." Klaus turned and started walking back the way they came.
"Stop calling me love," Caroline demanded, though she was more focused on the fact that it seemed Klaus had allowed her to steer him in the opposite direction of his next class without protesting.
Weird, she thought.
Brushing it off—Klaus was always doing weird things—Caroline strode through the swarm of teenagers buzzing around the hallway, her mind doing everything it could to keep Tyler's malicious face from that morning out of her head.
Chapter 2: The Winner Takes it All
So, I'm the brilliant person who decided to start publishing a multi-chapter story right before I got really busy for three weeks. Sorry about that. But I should be on a slightly better uploading schedule now.
Thanks to those who've read so far, and hello to new readers. Let's keep those fingers crossed for Wednesday.
The grass was cool underneath Caroline’s thighs as she sat down to stretch. Her legs spread wide, she bent forward, her arms going out. Always her least favourite stretch, she welcomed the burning pain in her lower back this afternoon. It distracted her, and she really needed distractions today. Following on from health, the rest of her classes had not gone nearly as smoothly as she had hoped. There was a pop quiz in math she was sure she had failed. She wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom in history and spent the whole period focused on how much it felt like her bladder was going to explode.
And creative writing took a turn for the worst when she had to read out her latest story in front of the whole class. Confidence lived and breathed in Caroline. One did not get to be on every school committee without it. But reading her own work aloud never ended well. She stuttered over her words and barely finished with her dignity intact.
Such a bad day as this had never afflicted Caroline before. Usually, everything—everything. No exaggeration—went her way. It had been like that since she was twelve, around the time her father finally left Mystic Falls. Middle school had recently started and without lifting a finger the tall blond was crowned Most Popular by the end of the year. In eighth grade, Caroline grew into her title and worked hard to keep it. She joined every club and committee she could, dipped her finger in every pie available until the whole school, teachers included, janitorial staff included, knew her name. Knew how willing she was to give up her time for the betterment of the student body.
When high school rolled around, she carried her crown with her. Her fellow students recognised her the day she stepped through the doors. She was their sun—they had no choice but to circle around her.
Of course, there were days when her personal life took a dive. She always bucked up enough to look presentable and happy at school, even when she was not feeling presentable and happy. See, it was all about image.
How had things managed to fall apart so quickly? Three years of sacrifice and determination and blood, sweat and tears, and it led her to this.
No, it was worse than emptiness. It was a fullness so heavy and uncomfortable she felt like she was going to vomit up all of the secrets, all of the shit inside of her if someone so much as touched her.
"Someone's deep in thought."
Caroline lifted her chest off of the field. She spotted her best friend and fellow cheerleader Bonnie setting her water bottle on the nearest bench. The darker-skinned girl came and sat down beside Caroline, her green, speckled eyes scanning Caroline's face intently.
Looking down at the grass to avoid Bonnie's stare, Caroline resumed stretching.
"How are you holding up?" Bonnie asked, the question dripping with unspoken concern.
Caroline pressed her cheek to the ground and stared up at the grey sky. October in southern Virginia wasn't so bad. She used to hate it, but the weather fit her mood quite well today. "I'm fine," she said casually, and she would have shrugged had she been brave enough to answer the question facing Bonnie.
"You don't look fine," Bonnie said.
She couldn't argue with that observation. Her sparkle had significantly faded. But Mr. Tanner had unknowingly provided her with the perfect excuse. "It isn't what you think," she said, sitting up and rolling her shoulders. "Tanner's making me partner with Klaus Mikaelson on this health assignment."
Bonnie's reaction was instantaneous. Her face scrunched in disgust. "Klaus? What the hell made him pair you two up?"
"I was late to class. Klaus is my punishment."
"You were late and he paired you with Klaus? Isn't that the sort of punishment fit for, I don't know, attempting to burn the school down?"
"Nobody has any evidence that was him," Caroline said with a heavy sigh, knowing Bonnie was referring to the day last year a fire started in a boys bathroom. She was all for blaming Klaus for the things he definitely did do, like squirt glue on the back of Mrs. Halpern to make it look like . . . well . . . But it was too cheap to say he committed every horrible act attributed to his name. "I already tried getting Tanner to change his mind, but he's sticking to his annoying guns. I actually have to meet up with Klaus when practice is over."
Bonnie slid into the splits and looked at Caroline with sympathy. "That really sucks, Care. Not what you needed today, huh?"
That knot in her stomach, that fullness, pressed on Caroline's gag reflex. "Yeah, not what I needed," she said, her eyes catching the boys locker room exit as the door swung open. A sea football players splashed on to the field, all dressed in their gear.
His black, angry eyes found her instantly. They always used to, and Caroline shouldn't be surprised they still did. Chest tight, she struggled to look away. He held her gaze for several seconds. It was only when he finally released her that she realised she had not been breathing.
Caroline, red-faced and itching with fear, stared blearily at the grass. The other girls on the squad joined her and Bonnie shortly. Their presence gave her a short reprieve from the turmoil wracking her body as they began their proper warm-up.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Bonnie asked midway through practice. They were on a break, and Caroline just couldn't stop herself from finding his large body on the field.
Caroline jumped, nearly choking her mouthful of water. "I'm sure," she said, coughing and wiping her mouth. "It's just Klaus, Bon."
Shrugging, Bonnie returned to formation. Caroline took another gulp of water, wondering just how long she was going to be able to stop the secret from finding its way to the public. She felt it pressing on her shoulders every time she moved, weighing her down. One wrong move and it would crush her completely. And everyone would see, and everyone would know, and it would be Tyler standing above her, his wolfish grin snapping the last shreds of her dignity into a thousand pieces.
She hardly paid attention throughout the latter half of practice, which proved detrimental to her and her teammates' safety when she almost dropped Dana Smith during a simple prep. Luckily, she had her handy dandy excuse all lined up and ready to go. Klaus became the name of the game whenever someone would call her out for not focusing or doing the wrong move.
Finally, what felt like ten hours after they had started, the final whistle blew, dismissing the girls to the locker room. Caroline checked the time. She had only twenty minutes to get to the Grill. Showering quickly and only applying the smallest amount of makeup, she left the locker room with barely ten minutes to spare.
Her hair was still soaking when she entered the restaurant several minutes late. Horrible traffic and slow drivers were to blame, but she knew no defence would spare her from Klaus's jeers.
Caroline glanced around the room, hoping Klaus had given up and gone home. Before she could complete her survey, Matt Donovan, a recent graduate of Mystic Falls high and her first boyfriend when the pair were in elementary school, came out from behind the bar, a bin of dirty plates and glasses in his hands. He smiled at her, his blue eyes filled with kindness. He stopped in front of her and readjusted the bin.
"Um, Klaus Mikaelson is claiming to be waiting for you at that table over there," he said, pointing to the right. It was the table most open to the invasive eyes of other customers. "Is he really?"
"Unfortunately," she bemoaned. Matt's expression turned quizzical. "We're doing this stupid health project together."
"The egg thing?"
"The egg thing," she affirmed, tapping her bag to make sure the container holding Ginger was still in there. She felt the plastic against her fingers. Reluctantly, Caroline looked over at Klaus. He stared at her in expectation. "I should get to him. Please come rescue me in exactly one hour."
"Good luck, Care," Matt said as she walked towards her certain doom.
Klaus was already smirking when she finished her approach. Ignoring him as best she could, she sat down and took out Ginger, her notebook, and the binder. She laid everything on the table after moving aside the menu and cutlery. Caroline opened her notebook and the binder, but left Ginger's lid shut. Clicking her pen a couple of times, Caroline looked at Klaus over the circle of condiments in the centre of the table.
His smirk had spread. He looked gleefully at the set-up and folded his hands together like some B-movie bad guy.
Caroline would walk right out of the restaurant if she didn't need an A on this ridiculous project to keep up her GPA. College applications were going out soon, and she knew there was a spot at the University of Virginia just waiting for her.
"You're late," Klaus commented. He reached out to touch her hair, but Caroline slapped his hand away before he could get his greasy fingers on it. "And you're all wet. What on earth kept you?"
"I told you," she said hotly, her cheeks reddening in vicious annoyance. "I had cheer practice until 4:00."
"Right, right. I forgot you were a cheerleader," he said in a way that made Caroline sure he one-hundred percent remembered she was a cheerleader. "How was the practice today?"
Caroline scoffed. "Like you care. Get out a notebook and pen. We need to get started. I am not staying here one second past our allotted one hour and I want to get as much done as possible."
"Touch-y," Klaus said, raising his unruly eyebrows. Damn her and her obsession with plucking her own eyebrows when she was in junior high. "What's got your pom-poms in a twist?"
Glaring at the smug bastard over the ketchup, Caroline surveyed his mocking features attentively. Did he know? Properly, truly know?
No. She would not do this to herself. Klaus knew nothing. He was simply an annoying ass who would say and/or do anything to press all of her buttons.
"I'm fine." Caroline smiled sickly sweet, deciding she would not allow this Criss Angel wannabe ruin the latter half of an already awful day. "Now, Tanner wants us to fill out these questionnaires in our booklet about what we think this next week will be like. I say we answer the questions in complete silence over the next fifteen minutes then discuss what we've said. Any objection?" She flipped open the booklet and handed Klaus the copies she made of the specific pages they were meant to fill in.
"None whatsoever," he said, taking the pages. Caroline found his eyes briefly locked on her face, but he looked away before she could tell him to do so herself.
They scribbled in silence for a bit. Caroline, surprisingly, was glad for the distraction of the assignment at the moment. It probably had something to do with the fact that she wasn't currently being forced to interact with Klaus Mikaelson, but she gladly took the reprieve from feeling like her skull was actively crushing her brain.
The questions were ridiculous as well. That aided in their ability to pull Caroline from her own mind. How do you think it will be raising your child?—the booklet never referred to their egg as an egg. It was always baby or child or offspring. What are your hopes for your baby's future? Which part of raising yours and your partner's offspring do you expect to be the most difficult?
Each question provided Caroline an opportunity to utilise her creative writing skills. Most of her answers were made up. Pulled from some story or another she had written for the various writing classes she had taken in her time at Mystic Falls High.
Fully satisfied with her responses following fifteen minutes, Caroline put her pen down and checked on Klaus. She was slightly startled to find he had already covered the pages in dozens of neat sentences.
"What now, love?" he said, folding his hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair.
"I thought I asked you not to call me that," Caroline fumed, her jaw clenched. The time of relaxation was through. Back to the reality of having the school's arrogant, Lord Voldemort-in-the-making as her project partner.
"What am I supposed to call you then? You've already shot down sweetheart," he complained. He straightened and folded his arms over his chest.
Caroline frowned. "How about, I don't know, my actual name? Unless the two brain cells you've got left aren't capable of remembering it."
A spark of something sinister mixed with something enthralling flashed across Klaus's face. His smirk twitched. His pupils dilated. Caroline sat perfectly still, her heart thrumming in anticipation of what would happen next. He opened his mouth to deliver a comeback, but the sound of a horde of new customers entering the Grill distracted them both, and in less than one second Caroline Forbes went from having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day to wishing the ground would swallow her whole and allow her to live beneath the floorboards until the world burst into flame.
But the ground did not listen to her pleas, and she had to watch Tyler Lockwood, Hayley Marshall strapped to his arm, and the rest of the football jocks and their girlfriends enter the restaurant.
Her stomach dropped. Her tongue dried instantly, leaving her with an acrid taste in her mouth. It was almost funny—she had nearly forgotten about him, about the mess he had made, about the words he had breathed down her throat that morning, as she began battling wits with Klaus. Everything was coming back now.
Tyler's head shifted in her direction. He looked between her and Klaus, a menacing glare marring his stony face. She knew that look.
It was a threat.
If only she had known the monster with whom she was getting into bed when they first met. None of this shit would be happening. She would be enjoying this project with someone who wasn't Klaus. She would be excited to watch a movie tonight after her homework was completed. She would be thinking about what to wear tomorrow to gain the attention of whatever boy had caught her eye.
Instead, she was staring blankly, her throat burning, her eyes searing, at her recent ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, dreading what may happen should he think she might blab to the wrong person. Any person, even Klaus fucking Mikaelson.
"Trouble in paradise, love?"
Caroline was yanked harshly back to Klaus's smirk. A realisation dawned on Caroline. She scowled at her partner. "You asshole," she said. "You complete asshole."
"That's not a very nice word," he said innocently.
"Fuck. You. Is that better?" she asked. "You brought me here because you knew he would be here too. Didn't you?" Klaus's stupid half-smile gave him away. He really was a villain. Caroline started gathering her things. She shoved everything except Ginger roughly into her bag. "I'm leaving. We can make-up whatever time we need to tomorrow, but right now, if I keep looking at you, I might accidentally stab you with a steak knife."
Caroline stood and picked Ginger up. She heard Klaus's chair go back, but she was already walking towards the exit. If he had wanted her to stick around, he shouldn't have been such a dickhead.
Throwing Matt a goodbye, Caroline exited the Grill with her heart in her throat. Klaus thought he was doing nothing more than rubbing her break-up in her face by choosing the spot as their meeting place. But it was worse than simple heartbreak. Heartbreak she could deal with. Ice cream, rom-coms with Bonnie, blasting A Fine Frenzy through the house. But this was all uncharted territory, and she would need a night before she could look at Klaus again.
Caroline drove home with her mind buzzing and crackling. Her mom had the nightshift at the station, so the house was empty when she got there. Good. She needed to cry without her mother asking any questions. Tomorrow she would work to be better. She would refuse to let her shitty circumstances ruin her days at school. But screw that tonight. Tonight, she would allow the heaviness to keep her chained to her bed. Tonight, Tyler won.
Chapter 3: We Both Know What We Know
I have to be honest, I am proud of how quickly I spat this out.
Caroline parked her car the following morning in the student lot. In the early sunlight, her parking badge cast a white shadow over the dashboard. It looked pretty, and Caroline was desperate to find something even remotely joyful after how horridly yesterday ended. Switching off the engine, cruelly cutting The Beatles off in the process, Caroline leaned against the headrest and closed her eyes. She had a plan. Well, half of a plan. Knowing how stubborn Mr. Tanner was being about the whole partnering situation, she struggled to find the right complaint to use that would convince him she should not be working with Klaus.
In her hand, she had the only excuse of which she could think. And she really wasn't sure it would work. But she had to try. After yesterday's debacle at the Grill, she would do anything—not anything, but a lot—to get Tanner to change his mind. Even if it meant altering the truth a tiny bit.
With fifteen minutes to spare before the first warning bell rang, Caroline exited her battered Civic and headed for the main entrance. She deposited her books inside her locker, checking her reflection in the small mirror on the inside of the door. She hardly looked confident, but she had worn her lucky long-sleeved dress and she crossed her fingers the blue thing wouldn't let her down. It already had, of course. In a way. This was the dress she wore when Tyler first asked her out. But it wasn't the dress's fault that things ended so badly between them. Besides, she had not been wearing it when she. . .well, when it all fell to pieces.
Caroline grabbed the things she needed for first and second period and closed her locker, ready to face Mr. Tanner. She found him where she knew she would, hanging around outside gorgeous Mrs. Somers's classroom. The creep.
Approaching him from behind, Caroline cleared her throat loudly. He turned, eyes wide with shock.
"Caroline," he said. He was clearly startled to see her. "I didn't know you had chemistry first period."
"Oh, I don't," she said cheerfully. She didn't have chemistry at all. She offered Tanner a wide smile—the same one that did nothing for her yesterday. "I walk this way to get to French." Mr. Tanner opened his mouth, probably to ask why she was coming this way when the language block was in the other direction, but Caroline went on. "But look, now that I have you, I was hoping to talk to you about Klaus Mikaelson."
Tanner's transformation from clueless to understanding, from understanding to annoyance was quick. "Miss Forbes, I already told you"—
—"I know what you told me," she said, her smile not faltering. "It's just. . .can't you please make an exception? Klaus and I aren't working well together and I need to get a good grade on this project. You can understand that, right? I mean, college applications have to be in by May, and I can't have a bad health grade stopping me from getting into the university of my dreams."
"May?" Tanner said. "Applications aren't due until January of your senior year."
Not what she had wanted him to focus on. Caroline clenched her teeth for a moment before relaxing her jaw and answering. "Early admission applications are due in May. But that's besides the point."
"What is the point, Caroline?" Tanner asked tiredly. His eyes kept flicking to Mrs. Somers's backside.
Suppressing a look of disgust, Caroline put her measly plan into action. "My point," she said, "is I do not wish to be partnered with Klaus Mikaelson. We are not well-suited for this kind of intense partnership. Already, I am finding it difficult to get the work done. I would much rather us both thrive with other partners than fail together."
Mr. Tanner had always been one of Caroline's least favourite teachers at Mystic Falls High. All the guys loved him. They wanted to be him when they grew up. He was your classic gym teacher whose fragile masculinity and obsession with the kids he coached on the football team proved he peaked while he walked the very hallways Caroline did. Beneath the macho, i-hate-teaching exterior the male population at the school adored, though, there was a deeply misogynistic layer. She sensed it in every gym class, every time she and the girls were on the field practicing.
And she sensed it now, as Tanner's leer shifted from Mrs. Somers to Caroline's barely-exposed chest.
She knew the answer to her request before Tanner dealt her the bad news. "I'm sorry, Miss Forbes," he said, finally pulling his eyes up from her cleavage. "The answer is still no."
"Please," she begged—not a good look, but she was desperate; the secrets were creeping up her throat, making her gag. "He. . .he creeps me out, Mr. Tanner. I really don't feel comfortable around him."
"If I switched out every pairing for this assignment because one person found the other creepy, there would be no pairs left," Tanner said in a most uninspired voice. "You're just going to have to live with it."
She almost said it right then, out of nothing more than sheer aggravation and annoyance. The words were there, right on her tongue, burning through her flesh. She could have easily opened her mouth and poured them on the floor.
But she couldn't have. The consequences were too dire.
Resigning herself to failure once again, Caroline twisted away from Tanner and joined the crowded hallway. As she did her best to speed away from Tanner, a pair of black eyes caught her attention.
His dark glower made her sure he had been watching her interaction with Tanner. Beside him, Hayley's mouth was moving a mile a minute. She clung to Tyler, giggling, but he ignored her and kept his stare glued on Caroline as she weaved quickly through small gaps in the mob of students, fear turning over in her stomach.
One thing was certain—she was burning this dress when she got home.
In her two years at Mystic Falls High, Caroline had never stepped foot into the art hall. She had nothing against art. The only reason was her classes never took her through. But she was there now, staring at all of the pieces on the walls as she waited for the studio art class behind room 511 K to finish. The final bell had dismissed them five minutes ago, but there was no sign of movement from inside the classroom.
She could wait. She wanted to wait, actually, because the alternative was Klaus coming through the door and she was perfectly happy not having to deal with him just yet.
Directly in front of her hung the largest painting on the wall. London at night, she assumed—the glowing London Eye gave it away—but the lines were smudged. Vibrant blue leaked into the dark waters of the Thames as if the Eye and the Houses of Parliament were crying. It screamed of Monet, though she definitely detected a personality all its own.
"Found something you like?"
Caroline startled, her eyes shutting automatically as her heart thrashed around in her chest. She turned and found Klaus smirking at her. She hadn't heard the door open. "You've ruined it," she said.
"That's a shame," he said, shoving his hands inside the pockets of his dark, distressed jeans. The movement caused the unbuttoned portion of his shirt to sink low, revealing a pattern of reddish blond chest hair. "What are you doing here, then? Not looking for me, surely."
"Of course I'm looking for you," Caroline said, already exasperated. Reaching inside her bag, she carefully pulled out Ginger's container with Ginger still snuggled inside. "We've got work to do, remember?"
Klaus looked between her and Ginger for a moment, frowning. "But I thought after yesterday"—
—"That was yesterday. I'm over it now," she fibbed, having to physically stop herself from fleeing the scene once more. "Our baby is more important than a tiny spat, agreed?"
"Yeah, sure," Klaus said lazily.
Caroline returned Ginger to her bag. "Good. Ready, then?"
Klaus's eyebrows waggled. Waggled. Like he was some freaking lewd cartoon from the 50s. "Does the Mystic Grill tickle your fancy?"
"No way in hell am I ever going to that place with you ever again. The bleachers will do just fine. It's not a bad day and I could do with some fresh air."
His half-smile spreading, Klaus threw out his arm. "Lead the way, love."
Caroline closed her hand into a tight fist and began the trek to the football field. "Don't call me that."
"Anything you say, love."
Caroline bit the side of her tongue.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
The field was empty when the pairing walked up the steps to the top of the bleachers. She was used to being on the turf, waving her red pom-poms around, and it felt strange looking down like this. The space was so large, and they were so high up. For the first time since she was a kid, she wished she could fly.
Caroline placed Ginger very carefully on the bleacher. From inside her bag, she pulled out the booklet and her notes. Klaus sat beside her. Without prompting, he grabbed his own notebook and flipped to a fresh page. Where was the sloppy, uncaring Klaus Mikaelson she had been expecting? Was this his way of apologising for yesterday evening?
"Are we gonna go over the answers to the questions from yesterday?" he asked.
"Um," Caroline said, opening the booklet. Day Two, it read, Design a sleeping/feeding schedule for the baby, keeping in mind how frequent newborns must take from their mother's breast. Your second task will be to take the quiz on the next page. You and your partner will be able to confer with one another. Answers are on page 18. God, that was a lot of work. A lot of gross work. (Mother's breast?) Serves her right for storming out of the Grill. "Yeah. We can do that quickly, but then we've got to do all of this." She picked up the booklet and showed Klaus.
"Bloody hell, that's a lot."
"Got plans, do you?"
The smirk returned. "Wouldn't you like to know."
Caroline made an exaggerated noise of disgust. "Let's just get on with it. What did you put for the first question: How do you think it will be raising your child?"
"Provided we don't drop her," Klaus said, scanning his notebook, "fairly easy. What did you say?"
"That's all you wrote?" Caroline said, feeling suddenly even less secure about getting a passing grade on this project. "Are you taking any of this seriously?"
"This?" he said, pointing to Ginger, then to the pages Caroline had strewn about the bleacher. "This ridiculous assignment that's meant to deter us from having premarital sex by using a fucking yoke-less egg with a face? No, funnily enough, I am not taking this seriously."
It was almost humorous if she thought about it, because she too found the assignment ridiculous. The district was doing nothing to scare her and her classmates away from having sex. She too had come up with answers that were not meant to be taken seriously. But Klaus was stepping dangerously close to the edge, and she was not about to let him drag them both down.
"When you get home tonight," she said, swallowing down her desire to shout—the minute they were done, she planned on finding a deserted area in the woods and screaming until her throat gave out, "I want you—and by want, I really mean need; let's get that clear—to pull whatever bullshit you have to from your brain and write more. That is not a sufficient answer."
Until then, the time between her failed meeting with Mr. Tanner and getting surprised by Klaus's obnoxious voice had been fairly uneventful. Her classes had all gone swimmingly. She had given the correct answers, gotten As on the two essays returned to her. She had managed to avoid bumping into Tyler.
All in all, not a bad day at school.
But things were quickly falling apart. As they always did when Klaus Mikaelson was involved.
"Alright, alright, don't get your pom-poms in a twist."
"You've already used that one," Caroline snapped. "Come up with some better cheerleader insults while you're working on the questions."
Klaus basically shut up after that. He sat in almost morose silence while Caroline went over her answers and he barely piped in during the quiz. With just her doing the hard work, they got 98% on the New Mom Quiz that had wonderful gems such as How long can freshly expressed breast milk last in the fridge? By the time she was done calculating the score, she had practically forgotten he was there.
She looked over at him to find he wasn't paying attention to her happiness about the grade. Hunched over his notebook, he was scribbling in a deep black pencil. It didn't look like writing.
"What are you doing?"
Now it was his time to start. His hand broke away from the page and he lifted his head. "Pardon?"
He could be so English when he wasn't thinking. She had learned that tidbit this afternoon.
"I said, what are you doing? Adding more to those questions?" She stared keenly at the paper, but his arms were covering his work.
Klaus nodded. "Yeah. Have a look," he said. He handed her the notebook. Sure enough, there were lines upon lines beneath the questions.
Caroline returned his notebook, not entirely convinced he hadn't been doing something else. "Good." She checked her phone for the time. "We've got about twenty minutes before we're done here. Enough time to come up with a sleeping and feeding schedule."
"Sounds alright by me. What'll we do about tomorrow's meeting?"
"What do you mean?"
Klaus reached over her things and picked up Ginger's container. He stared at their egg—their baby as the booklet wanted them to call it—through the translucent plastic. "You've got cheerleading again and you've said you won't go back to the Grill with me. . .so what are our options."
The words came out of her before she could tell them to crawl in a hole and die. Maybe it was because he had been so quiet over the last hour. Maybe it was because she was still coming off the high of getting a 98% on that stupid quiz. Whatever the prompting, Caroline found herself saying, "You can just come by my place."
The smirk was on full display. "Excellent plan, love."
What an excellent plan indeed. Over the next forty minutes, through her and Klaus finishing the day's work and Caroline driving home, she kept going over the moment leading up to her blurting that offering. Bonnie would say it was her kind nature showing itself, but Caroline's kind nature had its limits, and Klaus Mikaelson was a limit if there ever was one.
She wondered if it was the altitude. The top of the bleachers was really high. During the quiz, when Klaus was being all quiet, she had started feeling a little funny every time she caught his steel blue eyes on her as he scratched at his notebook. Just a little funny—there was a fluttering in her stomach. A slight haze over the scene.
Caroline pulled the key from the ignition. She sat there, oddly missing her egg-baby, when she saw him out of the corner of her eye, sitting on the steps leading up to her front door.
Fear pricked her skin as she climbed out of her car.
"What do you want?" she asked, approaching the steps with her things in tow.
Tyler stood and walked down to join her on the sidewalk. The sun behind Caroline drenched him in gold. Once, she would have said he looked something like a movie star when the light hit him like that. But she knew who he was now. She knew the demon lurking behind his bronzed flesh.
His cold eyes bore into her. "I saw you talking to Coach Tanner earlier."
Caroline's pulse hammered against the skin of her neck. She couldn't swallow, not that she had any saliva in her mouth in the first place.
"I didn't tell him anything, I swear."
She hated this. Hated it. Being the coward never suited her, but in Tyler's presence she transformed into a scared little girl.
And she tried to be brave. She tried so damn hard. But he had too much of her in his fist. One wrong move and he squashed her like a bug.
"You better not have," Tyler hissed. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out his phone. Tapping on the display, he turned it to face Caroline. There, on the screen, was her. Only she looked nothing like the Caroline standing in front of him now. The girl on his phone was naive and underage and naked. "Don't forget that I have this. You tell anyone, and it goes viral. You go viral."
Caroline's eyes seared. Bile slithered up her oesophagus, burning her throat. "I understand," she bit.
"Okay, then." Tyler pocketed his phone. He pushed past her. "See you around, Caroline. Oh, and careful not to pick up any fleas." Laughing sharply at her confused expression, Tyler explained, "Klaus Mikaelson. I hear he's a dog."
Caroline stood there watching Tyler get into his car and drive away, disgusted by his words. He disappeared around the bend. Finally Caroline could breathe again, although the breaths were staggered and shallow.
Inside her home, she collapsed on the sofa. She was too struck to cry tonight. She fixed her eyes on the ceiling instead, the image of her former self, the one on Tyler's cell phone, glaring down at her.
Chapter 4: Smile Like You Mean It
Not so proud of how long this one took to get to you guys. Moving is sucking up a lot of my time.
She paused outside the classroom, ignoring the dramatic groans of her fellow students as they were forced to move around her, and contemplated whether or not she actually wanted to step through the doorway. Speaking as someone who really was not a fan of both her arrogant project partner and her sleazy teacher, the prospect of skiving off—just this class, of course—was somewhat appealing. But speaking as someone who had never, ever missed a class outside of an unavoidable emergency or scheduled appointment, the idea was terrifying. What sort of trouble did people who skipped suffer?
Caroline, evidently, was in no mood to find out.
Sucking up the dread polluting her body, willing away the disturbing, terrifying look that had taken over Tyler's face last night, she reminded herself how lovely she looked in her brand new vintage pink blouse, how perfectly her waves were falling over her shoulders, and pushed through the door.
Unlike on Monday, she was five minutes early. Nobody turned their head when the hinges warbled in protest—half of the seats were still empty. To her left, Tanner was on his knees in front of a television. In any other class, she would be happy to relax and watch a video, but this was health. Whatever film they were going to see could not be very enjoyable. She remembered in seventh grade health when her class was forced to watch a video on puberty. All boys and girls together learning about periods and wet dreams, and it was the most uncomfortable forty-five minutes of her life at the time.
Today's video could be no better based on the subject matter they were covering. She imagined a DVD filled with teen pregnancy horror stories that ended in bloody deaths. Or maybe Tanner would go the simpler route and just force them to watch 16 and Pregnant for the duration of the class period.
Written on the board was a message: Sit with your project partner. Annoyance, though debatably less annoyance than was typical, seeped inside Caroline. She scanned the room and found Klaus sitting where he had been on Monday. Right at the back, the hood of his navy blue jacket covering his eyes, his head crooked to imply he was napping. They were all tired, but who actually slept in class?
Caroline took the seat to Klaus's right and loudly dropped her books on the desk. Beside her, Klaus jerked awake. He sat rigid in his desk. Frantically scanning the room, his wide, smoky blue eyes caught Caroline off guard. He actually looked scared. But in a blink of her eyes his face had resumed its normal arrogant front.
"Are you always so noisy in the morning?" he asked, that damned smirk on full display. He folded his arms on top of the desk like a pillow just in case he couldn't bare to keep his eyes open for too much longer.
"Are you always so narcoleptic in the morning?" she countered.
Klaus sat up straighter. Unfolding his arms, he placed a hand on his chest. "I didn't know you had such foul words in your vocabulary, Miss Forbes."
"What?" Caroline frowned, an unwelcome smile beginning to tug up the corners of her mouth. "Do you even know what narcoleptic means?"
Klaus paused. His smirk fell away. "Is it not the weird and gross sexual attraction to dead bodies?"
"Nope. No, no, no. no," Caroline said, bunching her face in revulsion. "That's necrophilia. Completely different."
"Oh. Then what's it mean to be narcoleptic?" Klaus asked. He sounded somewhat disappointed, though she didn't detect any embarrassment.
Caroline smiled at his ignorance. She wasn't even upset that he had been asleep when she came into the room anymore. His look of pure huh? somehow managed to melt away her automatic emotional response to Klaus's irritating habits. "It's a medical condition. Basically, you can't help falling asleep whenever you're relaxed."
"And you think I've got that?" He was leaning closer to her, his chin resting in the palm of his hand.
Caroline stayed where she was, body turned towards Klaus. Her fingers fussed with the clicker on her pen. "No, I was joking. I was just pointing out that you always seem to be asleep when I get to first period. Even in gym class."
"Can't help noticing, can you, love? Your eyes automatically find me in a crowded room," he said in a low, satisfied hum.
She had not meant that at all. Her eyes did not automatically find him in any room. But that same excitement from the Grill took ahold of her, urging her to play along with his silly game. She found herself warming to this side of Klaus. The playfulness in his eyes was new to her. Matt's were always too kind. Tyler's too menacing.
Caroline's mind blanked on how to respond.
As if sensing her struggle, the final bell clanged. Mr. Tanner clapped his hands and the room instantly stilled. Relieved, Caroline twisted in her chair away from Klaus. A few seconds later, she felt his stare abandon her face; her body relaxed as he did so, which made her wonder why she had been so tense in the first place.
"Movie day, kids," Tanner said, waving the remote control for the television in the air. Caroline looked around the room and saw that the seats were now all filled. "Anyone care to guess what we're watching?"
Half of the room's hands shot up. Tanner picked on them one by one.
"Three Men and a Baby!"
"A marathon of The Secret Life of the American Teenager?"
"No, no, and definitely not," Tanner said. He raised a DVD case in the air. Wait, it wasn't a DVD—it was a VHS tape. "My Labour and Delivery. You guys are going to get a front row seat to a teenager's painful and lengthy delivery." Several disgruntled students began to protest, but Tanner cut them all off. "No whining. The film's forty-five minutes long. When it's finished, you will all spend the remaining time writing out your own birthing plans. Okay—let's get started."
The movie was disgusting. The poor girl made noises Caroline had only ever heard on nature documentaries. At one point, when the baby began crowning, Caroline thought she might pass out. To see the vagina split like that, and to see a giant head pushing out, and to hear the mother's cries of agony. . .it was enough to make her never want children.
Everyone else was in the same boat. Several people had taken to simply covering their eyes. Others squinted through the gross bits. Tanner sat at his desk, flipping through a magazine.
Caroline's eyes wandered to Klaus whenever the television screen showed something too vile. She noticed he had his journal out again. Charcoal pencils of varying hardness littered his desk. His fingers were covered in black as he sketched wildly, his focus wholly on the page. She couldn't quite see what he was drawing, but she thought she caught a glimpse of a nose at one point.
The video finished with the girl exclaiming she would never have sex again. They cut away before she got to hold her baby, a moment Caroline believed would have made the excruciating labour worthwhile, but the school couldn't have them seeing the love between mother and child. It went against the message they were trying desperately to send.
Tanner switched the lights on and turned off the television. "Your blank birthing plan is in your booklet," he said, collapsing back in his chair. "Work with your partner to write one out based on the information shared in the video. You have forty minutes. Don't waste a single second."
Flipping through the booklet to find the pages covering the birthing plan, Caroline watched Klaus turn to a blank page in his journal. He put away his charcoal pencils in favour of a pen. Glancing up at her, he smirked.
"What did I say, love. You always find me," he said.
Caroline's eyes spun. "Right. It has nothing to do with the fact that we're partners and I sort of have to look at you." She gripped her pen and stared at the template. "Let's get this birthing plan over with."
Digging around in his backpack, Klaus lifted Ginger carefully out and placed her on his desk. "I thought we'd already given birth," he said. "What's the point of writing a birthing plan now? This all seems very out of order."
She tried not to, but she couldn't help herself—Caroline smiled and breathed through a strong urge to laugh. "I'm sure in some cultures it's normal to get your birthing plan written after giving birth," she said, taking the lid off of Ginger's container. Their egg—baby—looked perfectly fine. She had been concerned last night that Klaus would damage it. Returning to the booklet, she said, "Okay, the first things we need to do are fill out our information."
When she had found the birthing plan page, Caroline had not thought it would suck up the remaining half of class. But she had managed to forget that working with Klaus Mikaelson meant everything took longer. He was full of ridiculous questions, most of which had her suppressing the urge to smack him. Some of which, though, had her suppressing more laughter.
They argued over whether or not the delivery would be vaginal or planned caesarean section. She quickly got tired of hearing Klaus say the word vaginal and decided on a C-section just to shut him up about it. The choice of C-section meant Caroline had to check off the Pain Relievers Allowed box. She couldn't imagine someone slicing open her stomach without drugs running through her.
By the time the bell went off, signalling the end of another gruelling health class, Caroline and Klaus cleared their desks and departed the classroom side by side. It felt weird leaving with him next to her. Usually, when he would bump into her during dodgeball or volleyball, she would get this prickly flame up her back. She'd have to stop herself from tackling him. But each time his shoulder brushed hers on the way out the door, those hot pinpricks were a no-show.
In their place was a similar sensation, but much more pleasant. Warm tingles tapped her spine steadily, creeping up to her neck. She wiggled when they were out of the room in an attempt to rid herself of the feeling.
"Are you having some sort of fit?" Klaus asked, watching her shake.
She stopped immediately and straightened. "Nope. No, I'm fine. Just stretching out."
"Okay. . ." He didn't sound entirely sure, but he dropped the subject. "We're still on for your house this afternoon?"
Right. She had forgotten about that. "Of course," she said, starting to walk towards her next class. "4:30. Don't be late."
"You're the one who was late last time, love!" he cried, causing their fellow students to turn their heads and stare at them.
Their faces were alive with fascination. Why was Klaus Mikaelson calling Caroline Forbes love?
Caroline frowned at him across the hall. "Don't call me that," she hissed loudly.
They both turned around at the same time and headed in opposite directions. That warmth was gone, quickly replaced by a chilled resignation that Klaus was always going to be a bit of an ass even if they were getting on better now than on Monday. And practically every day before Monday since they met.
But Klaus Mikaelson in her home? She would have to skip a shower after practice and run home to clean. Prepare snacks.
She was almost excited about the prospect. Mostly she was terrified, but she would focus on the excitement instead. It was probably better for the health of her heart.
Caroline marvelled at the layout in the kitchen—hummus and warmed pita bread, water with lemon slices, two bowls of different types of crisps—and smiled. It looked alright. It looked better than alright actually, but she had been told from a young age to not be so self-satisfied. There was space on the island for them to sit and spread out their things without having to be too close. She had even set up a spot for Ginger in a little nest.
Damn good work for only twenty minutes.
"Are you even listening?"
Startling, Caroline remembered the phone pressed to her ear. "Um. . .yes?" she said. Bonnie hated it when people didn't pay attention during a call.
"I said, the grill is weird without you," Bonnie repeated.
"Are they there?" Caroline asked, knowing she shouldn't have. But curiosity was in her nature.
"Yes. And they're disgusting," Bonnie said. "We're refusing to sit with the footballers. We're on your side, Care."
"How many are actually not sitting with them?"
Bonnie took a moment to respond. "Three," she said quietly.
It didn't surprise Caroline. No one knew the story—even Bonnie knew only part of it—and it wasn't shocking that a football star like Tyler would bounce back from a breakup so soon.
She couldn't blame her fellow cheerleaders for not wanting to go on strike with Bonnie. Tyler wasn't the only player on the team after all. Lots of the girls either had crushes on the other guys or were dating them.
Caroline checked the clock hanging in the kitchen. It was almost 4:30. "Bon, I gotta go. Klaus is coming by soon."
"How's that going by the way?" Bonnie asked in a hushed voice, as if she was scared of the crowd hearing Klaus's name. "Someone said they saw you guys laughing in the hall this morning. Someone else said you guys were professing your love for each other."
Had she been laughing with Klaus in the hall that morning? She remembered leaving class with him. She remembered that eerie warmth. "That's ridiculous. Neither of us professed anything. It's going fine. We're getting along."
"Yeah. When he's not being a dick, he's actually kind of funny. And he's a good distraction from all of the Tyler stuff."
"Care, you don't. . .like him, do you?"
Caroline blanched. The pita bread she had just been about to eat fell out of her hand. "What? No," she said quickly. "No. He's. . .he's Klaus."
"Okay, okay. I only ask because you've got that—what's that word? Timbre?—in your voice. I recognise it from when you and Tyler first started hanging out."
"Well, there is no timbre to my voice. We're partners for this stupid project and the second it's over, we'll go back to pretending the other doesn't exist," Caroline said.
"Just be careful, Caroline," Bonnie whispered.
She had a good best friend. "I will be," she promised. "I gotta go, Bon. Enjoy the Grill."
The two hung up, and in the silence Caroline started going over what Bonnie had said.
Timbre? What did having a timbre in her voice even mean?
Apparently it meant that she was drooling over Klaus, which she wasn't. At all. No way in hell was that happening.
Klaus was. . .well, he was Klaus. The weird loner nobody quite understood, and whose aloofness led others to be afraid of him. And it was that fear that led to all of those rumours spreading about him, some of which had to be true. He was their very own John Bender.
But she was not Claire Standish.
Minutes into her internal meltdown over Bonnie's comments, the doorbell rang. Caroline pushed aside what her friend had said—she was so good at pushing things aside—and welcomed Klaus to her home.
"Very nice place," he said upon entering. "Very tidy."
"Thanks," she said, surprised by the compliment. "I love to clean."
He scoffed, but not unkindly. "Of course you do."
They stared at each other a moment, eyes locked, neither one moving. Caroline took in the grey-green shadows under his eyes. The frown lines between his eyebrows.
"We're, uh, we're in the kitchen," she said, catching herself before things got too awkward. Push, push, push, she reminded herself.
Klaus followed her into the kitchen and sat where she told him to. He immediately went for the salt and vinegar crisps. "They taste almost as good as back home," he said.
Sitting beside him with her books laid out in front of her, Caroline took some crisps for herself. "You've got better ones at home? Which ones are they? Salt and vinegar are my favourite."
Klaus turned his face towards her. "I meant England," he said. Then he frowned. "Caroline Forbes likes salt and vinegar crisps? I thought cheerleaders weren't allowed to eat this crap?"
"We are. Everything's okay in moderation," she said, swallowing the last of her handful. Caroline pointed to his bag. "Get your things out. I'd like to get this over with."
"Yes, sir." Klaus unzipped his backpack and retrieved his notebooks. Lastly, he pulled out Ginger and they placed her gently on the bed Caroline had made. "How long did you work on this?"
"Not too long. Five minutes," she said, avoiding Klaus's stare. Those tingles started returning and she wasn't happy. "Come on, we really do need to start. Today's stuff is all about birth complications and how to spot and/or avoid them."
Caroline took none of Klaus's antics that evening. He soon gave up trying to distract her. Somehow, they finished with fifteen minutes to spare.
"Do you miss England?" Caroline asked as she tidied up the crumbs on the island.
Klaus tilted his head, as if he was surprised she had asked such a personal question. "Yeah. A lot, actually. Out of all of us, I was the one most reluctant to move here."
Wait. "All of us?" Caroline said as she walked to the bin. She stared at him across the counter. "You have siblings?"
"Just one. A younger sister, Rebekah. She was only four when we left London, so she had no say in the matter anyway. She was just excited to get on an airplane."
Klaus Mikaelson had a younger sister ten years his junior. Caroline wondered if she was the only person at Mystic Falls High to learn this information.
"Do you like her?" she asked, returning to her seat. She had swivelled the stool around, as had Klaus. Their knees almost touched.
"Sometimes. When she isn't being a little brat."
"Learning from the best, is she?"
And then it happened. Klaus—hardened Klaus, the freak of the school—smiled. His lips stretched wide, revealing perfectly straight and white teeth. His head went down a fraction, like he was embarrassed to have such a reaction. She had seen the smirk a thousand and one times, but this was definitely something special.
God, he looked so different. Happiness suited him.
When he lifted his head, remnants of the smile were still there. His eyes were crinkled. His cheeks were slightly strained.
Checking the time on his phone, he began gathering his things. "I'd love to sit and chat more about my quirky family, but I actually have to pick up Rebekah from a friend's house." He hopped down from the stool.
Caroline followed his lead. She stepped ahead of him when he had zipped his bag and headed for the front door, swearing she could feel Klaus's eyes on the back of her head.
"You know, we can meet at my place tomorrow," Klaus said, stepping aside to allow Caroline to open the door.
The invitation shocked her. "Um, yeah. That sounds good," she said airily, the corners of her mouth lifting as Klaus exited her house. Timbre, said a voice in her head.
He bid her farewell, his mouth still poised for another smile, and Caroline waited, watching him climb inside his car and set up his music. He drove off into the lowering sun that set the turning leaves on fire.
Caroline remembered last night. Looking after Tyler as he sped away from her, her blood curdling. This felt so different to then. So much nicer.
Returning to her house, Caroline locked the door and pressed her back against the wood. She felt her cheeks. Warm.
Oh, Christ, what if Bonnie was right?