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5 Secrets Miranda Gilbert Took To Her Grave

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One

Miranda got pregnant for the first time two weeks before her fourteenth birthday.

Her father was at work and her mother went grocery shopping, and Jack slipped through the hedges which separated their yards the way he had every day since they were old enough to leave the yard to play. He came over with his pre-algebra book and Miranda was trying to explain the distributive property when he leaned over and kissed her, his mouth tasting like fruit punch Kool-Aid and Juicy Fruit.

It happened so fast, Miranda was never quite able to discern how they went from kissing to losing their virginities on the couch in the family room. There were sloppy kisses and touches which were a little too rough, and they both only had the vaguest ideas on how consummation actually worked. Miranda bit her lip to keep from crying when Jack pushed inside of her too quickly and felt vaguely disappointed when he shook and cried out in pleasure a few moments later, looking so blissfully happy Miranda was convinced all the things the older girls whispered about sex were lies.

They did it a few times after that but neither of them really liked each other that way; Miranda looked at it as practice for when a boy she really liked wanted to make love with her.

When she didn’t get period in October, Miranda was grateful; she hated the mess of her period, the cramps which crippled her and the paranoia something would get on her clothing. When it still didn’t arrive in November, Miranda thought nothing of it; since starting her period two years earlier, it was sporadic at best. But then the vomiting started and certain smells nearly knocked her back and her breasts just ached.

Diane Sommers took her to the doctor after finding her heaving painfully at 4 in the morning and when the pediatrician asked her to describe her symptoms, his jolly face folded into consternation. “How old are you now, Miranda?”

“I turned 14 in September.”

The doctor sat on his rolling stool and, not unkindly, asked her if she was sexually active. Miranda’s brow folded in confusion, unsure what he meant; he called the nurse in, an older woman who reminded Miranda of her grandmother, and the nurse translated it.

“Sweetie, has a boy ever…put anything inside of you?”

Miranda flushed a brilliant shade of red before confessing to what she and Jack had done together. And then the nurse went and got Diane, who cried as the nurse carefully drew blood from the tender crook of Miranda’s arm.

By the time the official diagnosis of pregnancy was made, Jack had already been beaten with his father’s belt and Miranda was forbidden from ever speaking to him again.

They were too young to get married. Miranda’s cousin had gotten pregnant out of wedlock two summers earlier, and there had been a big furor before she and her boyfriend got married by the Justice of the Peace. She was grateful for that; Miranda did not want to be married to Jack Cole for the rest of her life. Jack was just her best friend; he was not the boy she loved.

As her stomach grew, Miranda would sit at the top of the stairs and listen to her parents discuss what was going to happen with Mr. and Mrs. Cole. Jack’s father wanted them to send her away somewhere – “There are places for girls like that” – and, while Miranda didn’t know what that meant, it made her usually taciturn father shout in defense of his daughter’s honor. Finally it was decided that Diane and Russell Sommers would raise the baby as their own, adopting it so Miranda could remain in school.

Miranda did not return to school after Christmas break. It was already a scandal in their small town, and the school district never would have allowed a pregnant eighth grader in the halls of the middle school. Miranda completed her assignments, reading vociferously and journaling everything, as the baby kicked and flipped inside of her.

Sometimes she would lie on her back and stare at the protuberance of her middle, tracking the movement of the baby inside, running her fingers across the tight, shiny skin and giggling as the baby followed it. Miranda knew this was a terrible embarrassment to her parents and that life was never going to be the same, but she couldn’t help but be fascinated with the changes inside of her.

She went into labor 4 weeks early, screaming and shrieking as the baby fought its way free of her body. Her mother clutched her hand tightly as she labored, and, when the baby slipped free and the doctor declared it was a girl, both Miranda and Diane started to cry.

The nurses cleaned the baby before setting her on Miranda’s chest. Miranda had only held a few babies in her life, and the fact that this baby was hers, that she had created her, made it so monumentally different.

“She’s so pretty,” Miranda murmured in awe, touching the tiny nose, tracing the miniature fingers.

“She’s perfect,” Diane agreed.

When Miranda woke up the next morning, she asked for the nurses to bring the baby to her. By the time Diane and Russell arrived, Miranda was cooing into the baby’s face, kissing her soft skin.

“I named her Jenna,” Miranda reported, smiling into her daughter’s face. “Jenna Grace Sommers.”

Her parents let the baby remain Jenna; it was the least they could do before handing Miranda the papers she needed to sign in order to make Jenna their child instead of hers.

Miranda sobbed as she wrote her name on the designated line. Diane tried to soothe her, assuring her that it was better this way, that it wasn’t going to be so bad since she was always going to know how Jenna was, where Jenna was.

Six weeks after Jenna’s birth, Russell announced they were moving. He said it was because he had gotten a promotion, but Miranda suspected it was because he wanted to leave the shame of her actions behind them.

When they arrived in Mystic Falls, Virginia, in August, there was no outward physical sign Miranda Sommers had given birth. As the movers unloaded the truck, Diane cradled Jenna against her chest, soothing her cries, and Miranda noticed there was a girl on the porch next door.

Life would have been interminably easier if it had always been a girl next door.

The girl came over, her long legs on display in a pair of cut off shorts, her tank top revealing more midriff than Diane Sommers ever would have allowed. “Hey, I’m Kelly.”

“Miranda.”

As Jenna gave a particularly piercing cry, Kelly wrinkled her nose. “That your baby sister?”

With a little sigh, Miranda nodded.

 

Two

All Miranda wanted was to be a mother.

She and Grayson had been married for almost eight years and, despite their very best efforts, Miranda could not get pregnant. They tracked her cycle, they marked her body temperatures on the calendar, they dropped everything when she was ovulating, but nothing happened. The fertility specialists said there was no biological reason they could not conceive, and Grayson took this to mean they simply needed to be patient.

Miranda was certain she was being punished.

Jenna was fourteen now, a little wild and driving Diane crazy with her smart mouth, and more often than not, Jenna would show up on their doorstep seeking asylum. Miranda saw so much of Jack in her, in the spun gold of her hair and creamy skin, but her eyes and mannerisms were all Miranda’s. Sometimes, as Jenna would be ranting about their parents and declaring she must have been adopted, it took everything inside of Miranda to keep quiet, to not claim Jenna as her own.

When Grayson’s parents bought them the house on Willow Street, Miranda could not help but feel like a failure as she’d vacuum the empty rooms the Gilberts wanted to be filled with grandchildren. Grayson didn’t understand her increasing desperation to be a parent, and, when he carefully broached the topic of adoption one night, it sent Miranda into hysterical sobs. It felt like a white flag of defeat, admitting to everyone she was not able to give Grayson a child. It made no sense to Miranda how she could so easily give Jack Cole – a boy she hadn’t felt anything more than affection for – a daughter but could not have a baby with the man she loved.

Kelly already had two babies born thirteen months apart to a man who refused to sign the birth certificates, who had broken Kelly’s nose with a backhand; he had fled town only a few weeks after Matthew was born, and Kelly was rapidly spinning out of control.

Miranda visited her best friend every day, helping her care for Victoria, who was never stopped crying, and Matt, who curled up against Miranda’s chest and slept for hours without ever so much as snoring.

Kelly was chain smoking when Miranda arrived that spring day, Victoria screaming with indignation inside the playpen, Matt lying in the center of the living room floor on the baby blanket Miranda had crocheted for him. Immediately Miranda scooped Victoria out of the playpen, wiping the tears from her overheated face, changing her diaper with efficiency before giving her a sippy cup of apple juice and placing her in front Sesame Street. Matt smiled at the sight of her, his chubby arms extended, and Miranda could not help but gather him to her chest, breathing in the sweet scent of him.

“Oh, thank god, you got them to shut up,” Kelly groaned, swigging from a bottle of beer despite the fact it was only nine in the morning.

Miranda hated her so much in that moment, it nearly choked her.

That night, as Miranda lied beside Grayson in bed, she thought of Kelly and her babies, of the overwhelming sense of exhaustion she felt from her best friend, and she wondered why Kelly got to be a mother while she did not. Kelly was blatantly honest in her dislike of motherhood; she had gotten pregnant with Victoria in hopes of keeping her boyfriend from leaving her and Matt had been an accident. She had imagined her machinations would lead to a family and stability; it never occurred to Kelly she was doing it backwards.

The phone rang shrilly, startling both of them to full alertness. Miranda reached for the receiver, slurring a greeting, startled to hear John’s voice on the other end. “Miranda, is Gray there?”

“What’s wrong?” she instantly asked.

“I’m at Gray’s office. I need help.”

She and Grayson threw on the clothes they wore earlier in the day, hurrying to the office, terrified as to what could be wrong with John. Grayson’s little brother was a lot like Jenna: impetuous, sarcastic, a little wild. Miranda had a special place in her heart for John, who was frequently on the end of “you’re a disappointment” lectures from her in-laws, who held Grayson up as the pinnacle for perfection.

The last thing Miranda expected when they got to the office was John holding the hand of a pretty, hugely pregnant teenager with the most haunting eyes Miranda had ever seen.

“John, what – “

“This is Isobel,” John introduced, cutting off his brother’s question. “And she’s having our baby.”

Miranda always teased Grayson that she could tell when he switched into doctor mode. Questions became short, clipped, and to-the-point; emotion disappeared until the crisis was over. Almost immediately he began to give instructions, calling one of his nurses and asking her to come in; John fetched a gown and Miranda offered to help her into it.

Isobel shook as she undressed in the bathroom, Miranda carefully helping her out of her pants. Her stomach was almost comically huge on her petite body, and her skin looked particularly ashen against the ebony of her hair. As Miranda tied the gown in the back, Isobel suddenly grasped her wrist, terror on her face.

“I’m really scared,” she confessed, her lower lip trembling.

Miranda had not been scared when she gave birth to Jenna. She had been too young and too uneducated to understand what giving birth meant; and, besides, her mother had been there to hold her hand and walk her through everything.

Miranda wanted desperately to know where Isobel’s mother was, why she was going through it alone.

Isobel labored for five hours before it was time to push. Miranda was about to slip from the room when Isobel cried out her name, begging her to stay. John, from his position at her left hand, looked as if he wanted to do the same, and Miranda easily slipped her hand into Isobel’s, squeezing tightly as Isobel pushed.

When the baby was free of Isobel’s body, she didn’t cry. Immediately Isobel demanded, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

Grayson chuckled, clipping the umbilical cord as the nurse cleaned the blood and vernix from the baby. “Nothing’s wrong. She’s absolutely perfect.”

“It’s a girl?” John panted, his voice thick with emotion.

The nurse placed the baby on Isobel’s chest, and Miranda could not help the sting of tears in her own eyes as she stared at her newborn niece. Isobel shakily touched her daughter as John wiped at his eyes, whispering almost to himself, “Look what we did, Iz.”

It was only natural to Miranda to invite Isobel to recuperate at their house. Grayson called his parents to tell them that John was spending the night at their house, smoothing over what would eventually be a colossal fight, and, as John and Grayson bickered in lowered voice, Isobel looked up at Miranda and asked, “Would you like to hold her?”

Miranda cradled the baby carefully, her heart aching with want as she murmured nonsense words into her perfect, cherubic face. A cap of silky dark hair covered her skull, and her skin was soft as silk.

Miranda was in love.

“Did you pick out a name?” Miranda asked, gently swaying back and forth.

Isobel shook her head. “What would you call her?”

Miranda grinned as the baby’s eyes blinked open. “I always liked Elena.”

“Elena,” Isobel echoed, a tired smile crossing her lips. “I like Elena.”

Isobel had been staying with them for three days when she asked, “Why don’t you and Grayson have children?”

Miranda tried not to wince as she finished making Elena’s bottle. “It’s a long story.”

“You’ll be a good mom,” Isobel stated definitively, touching the soft fabric of the sleep sack Miranda had purchased for the baby.

“So will you,” she assured her, handing her the bottle.

The next morning, Elena began to cry. Miranda waited for Isobel to pick her up but, after almost ten minutes of solid crying, she got out of bed to find the guest bed neatly made, an envelope addressed to her and Grayson resting where Isobel was supposed to be. Elena lied in the cradle Miranda’s in-laws had given them as a Christmas present two years earlier, her little hands and fists kicking in frustration.

Miranda carefully lifted her against her chest, softly shushing her. Almost immediately Elena quieted, and Miranda awkwardly opened the envelope, unfolding the letter to find both a thank you and an apology from Isobel, who outlined all the reasons why she and John could not be parents to Elena and all the reasons why Miranda and Grayson should be.

Miranda looked down into Elena’s face, at the way she snuggled closer into Miranda’s chest, and Miranda sighed.

She would never be as grateful to anyone as she was to Isobel Flemming, whom Elena would never know.

 

Three

It was the biggest mistake of her life.

Miranda was not an impulsive or careless person; she had learned at fourteen the consequences of those particular traits, and so she lived her life by a carefully crafted set of rules. Every decision she made was only done so after careful consideration, and, if there was ever the slightest chance it would hurt someone, she refused to do it.

She and Grayson rarely fought. While their friends confessed to knock-down-drag-outs, Miranda and Grayson had always been able to talk freely and without anger; they did not call each other names or throw low blows; if the anger became too hot, they simply walked away and picked it up later. It was one of the things Miranda loved most about him.

But the night before the Masquerade Ball, Miranda came home from a planning meeting at Carol Lockwood’s house to find the babysitter and Elena gone. Finding no note, Miranda immediately called the sitter’s house only to find the babysitter was home, stating that John had come over to relieve her.

Miranda called Grayson at the office, who sounded remarkably calm; he told her to relax, that he was sure John would be back in a few minutes and he would be home soon. By the time Grayson got home, John and Elena were still not back, and Miranda was prepared to murder her brother-in-law.

John and Elena came through the door shortly before dinner, a tiny ice cream cone in John’s hands, Elena’s face and hands sticky with vanilla. Miranda immediately pulled her out of John’s surprised arms, carrying Elena upstairs and dropping her in the tub, trying desperately not to scream and shout. As Elena chattered in baby talk, splashing her hands in the water, Miranda counted to 1000.

When they went back downstairs, John was still in the living room with Grayson; Miranda set Elena down, who immediately toddled on shaky legs towards John, squealing, “Da-da-da-da-da!”

Miranda saw red.

“What are you doing, John?” she snapped, struggling to keep her voice from rising too sharply and scaring Elena.

“What?” he asked, face folding in confusion as his hand stroked Elena’s wet hair. “Miranda, I didn’t mean – “

“You’re not her father, John,” she cut in, her tone hard. “You can’t be teaching her to call you Daddy.”

“Miranda,” Grayson began.

“I am her father,” John asserted, face flushing with adolescent rage. “I have every right – “

Grayson is her father,” Miranda corrected. “You’ll confuse Elena if you teach her anything else.”

“He didn’t mean any harm, Rand,” Grayson said, his tone conciliatory. “This is a learning curve for all of us. We all want what’s best for Elena.”

“And we decided what was best was to tell her she’s adopted when she’s old enough to understand it. You agreed to this, John; you agreed with Isobel that Gray and I can give Elena a life that you cannot. You’re not even out of high school. You didn’t even tell your parents about Isobel!”

John blushed brightly in embarrassment, quickly looking down at Elena, who was attempting to scale his legs in order to get to him. He lifted her, smiling sadly when Elena giggled and clapped both hands to his cheeks, leaning forward to press a sloppy kiss to his mouth.

“You know, Miranda,” John began, his voice heavy with tears, “you’re not the only one who loves her. You don’t know what it’s like.”

Miranda felt shame blossom in her stomach as John brushed a kiss against the crown of Elena’s head before handing her to Grayson, quickly hurrying out the front door. She tried to call after him but John did not stop, clearly needing to put as much space between the two of them as possible.

“Jesus Christ, Miranda,” Grayson spat, startling her with the disgust in his voice. “Have a little fucking compassion, huh?”

Miranda had never felt worse in her life. Grayson wouldn’t speak to her for the rest of the night or the next morning; John would not meet her gaze when the family gathered for a picture at the ball. In her fear of losing Elena, she had alienated the two men who meant the most to her, and Miranda felt unbearably shitty.

Miranda had never been able to handle her alcohol. Usually Grayson acted as her safety net, stopping her when the booze began to soften the edges of her words or loosen her movements. But Grayson was across the room, engaged in a conversation with his father and a few other men, and Miranda kept throwing back glasses of wine to compensate for how terribly she felt.

She didn’t realize she was drunk until she stumbled climbing the stairs of the Lockwood Mansion, in search of one of the bathrooms not open to the public. When she finished, she couldn’t bring herself to go back downstairs, to fake interest in people’s kitchen remodeling or look at yet more pictures of people’s children or dogs. Miranda wanted to go home and forget her duty to Mystic Falls for an evening.

“Hiding?”

Miranda jumped at the sound of Richard Lockwood’s voice in her ear. “Jesus, Rich, you scared me!”

He laughed, low and deep in his chest. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. I like your mask.”

The blue dress and peacock mask had been Grayson’s choice. “Thanks. Why aren’t you downstairs?”

Richard rolled his eyes. “Tyler has the chicken pox, and Carol insisted I check on him. Like we don’t pay the nanny enough money to do that. I think she thinks I’m going to embarrass her.”

He reeked of whiskey; then again, he always did. “Then let’s hide together.”

She had never been in Richard’s office before; even when they had meetings of the Founders’ Council, it was always done at Founders’ Hall, where the official office of the Mayor was. Sometimes it amused Miranda that Richard Lockwood – the same guy who had streaked during graduation – was the Mayor of Mystic Falls.

Richard was always going to be Mayor the same way Grayson was always going to be a doctor and Liz Forbes was always going to be Sheriff; their roles were cast long ago, and they were powerless to do anything else. It worried Miranda sometimes that Elena might fall into the same trap.

Miranda wasn’t sure how it started. They were bullshitting about nothing in particular, Richard seated in the leather chair behind the desk, Miranda perched upon its edge. One minute Richard was describing the construction that was going to be starting in the town square and the next Miranda was bent over his desk, her dress pushed up over her hips, her underwear at her knees, Richard thrusting powerfully behind her.

No one had ever treated her like this. Miranda had slept with precisely two men in her life – Jack Cole and Grayson Gilbert – and that was all she had ever planned on. Even in high school when it was practically a right of passage to sleep with Richard Lockwood, she had never felt the slightest inclination; Richard was an asshole, pompous and elitist, and Miranda had always only ever tolerated him because he and Grayson had been friends since birth.

None of that explained why she moved to meet his thrusts, muffling her cries into her forearm.

When they were finished, Richard excused himself, leaving her to clean up in the bathroom. As Miranda swabbed between her legs, washing away what Richard left behind, she sobbed, her body quivering at the effort to keep from falling apart entirely.

In bed that night, Grayson wrapped his arms around her, whispering an apology in her ear. They made love slowly and tenderly, and Miranda wept as Grayson murmured proclamations of love into her hair.

She found out she was pregnant eight weeks later. For nearly an hour she stared at the positive home test, at the blue plus sign which seemed to taunt her, a beacon of her unfaithfulness. There was no way of knowing who it was that got her pregnant, not this soon; she and Grayson had ceased their desperate tracking of her fertility after Elena was born, content with the fact that she might be the only child they ever had. It was entirely possible and statistically likely it was Grayson’s baby.

But she and Grayson had been trying for ten years to have a child, and after one drunken tryst with Richard Lockwood, she had a positive pregnancy test. It was just too coincidental for Miranda to handle.

She vomited in the kitchen sink.

Grayson was ecstatic when she told him. Jenna screamed in joy and hugged her so tightly, it nearly crushed her ribs. John offered subdued congratulations even as his eyes lingered on Elena. Elena rubbed her hands over Miranda’s swollen belly and kept repeating, “My baby.” Carol and Richard sent them an overflowing basket of baby items, complete with a baby blanket made of the most sumptuous cashmere.

Jeremy was born on a Wednesday in the worst snow storm Mystic Falls had that year. Grayson sobbed as he cut the cord, and Miranda stared at her son in wonderment, trying to force the questions of his paternity out of her mind as she took everything in.

Her mother-in-law declared Jeremy was the spitting image of Grayson as a baby; her father-in-law showed her picture after picture showing Miranda the uncanny resemblance. Miranda relaxed, hugging Grayson’s son so tightly, thanking god for forgiving her what she did.

Miranda didn’t question it again until Jeremy was four and she casually mentioned his allergy to strawberries to Carol, whom she was working with on the menu for the Founders’ Fourth of July picnic.

“You know, Tyler, Richard, and all of his brothers are allergic to strawberries too! I swear, it must be something in the water.”

Miranda cried the whole way home.

 

Four

Elena was thirteen when Isobel showed up at their front door.

Miranda was in the middle of decorating the house for Elena’s birthday party when the doorbell rang. Expecting it to be the bakery with the brownies she ordered, Miranda was stunned and then horrified to see Isobel Flemming standing there, a cautious smile on her face.

“Hello, Miranda.”

It took a full minute for Miranda to find her voice. “Isobel.”

“Please don’t be upset. I’m not…I’m not here to cause problems. I don’t want to see Elena. I just need to talk to you.”

Miranda wanted to scream and refuse her entrance; she wanted to throw a temper tantrum like she never had as a child, so scared Isobel had come to upset the balance of her family. But she still found herself opening the door wider, allowing Isobel to step over the threshold.

Isobel looked around at the decorations, at the banner stretching across the entry way wishing Elena a happy birthday, at the purple and silver balloons and streamers. “This is so nice. Is this all for family or is she having friends over?”

“It’s her first boy-girl party.”

Isobel chuckled sadly. “God, she’s getting so old. John sent me a picture last year, and she still looked like a little girl.”

It was a mother’s observation. Miranda had made the same one to Grayson only days earlier, had thought the same about Jenna so many years earlier. “I wasn’t aware you and John were still in contact.”

Isobel nodded, a rueful smile playing at her lips. “John and I will always be in touch, I suppose. We’re too much alike not to be.”

Miranda barely recognized her brother-in-law anymore. He spent most of his time in Philadelphia now doing God only knew what, venturing home only for special occasions. His last visit to Mystic Falls had coincided with Miranda finding him and Jenna rounding third in the guest room; Miranda had been so full of mother’s rage she had literally pushed John off of a humiliated Jenna and screamed so shrilly Diane Sommers would have been proud.

“What are you doing here, Isobel?”

She turned away from the display of pictures on the mantle, looking Miranda in the eye for the first time since her arrival. “I know what you must think of me, leaving my baby with strangers and never coming back. I wanted to be her mother, Miranda, I truly did. But I never could have given her this, given her what you and Grayson have.” Swallowing hard, she continued, “John tells me how wonderful she is, how loved and safe and happy. That’s all we ever wanted for her.”

“I never thought badly of you, Isobel,” Miranda corrected. “I was grateful you trusted us to raise her.”

“I came back once,” Isobel revealed as she took a seat on the couch, smoothing her skirt down with an almost surgical precision. “Elena was four, and you were at the park with her. She slipped at the top of the slid and fell off, cut her knee open, and she started crying for her mommy, and…and you came. She looked at you like you were an angel. Do you remember that?”

Miranda nodded, tears stinging her eyes. “She had to get three stitches in her knee. She wouldn’t go down the slide alone for the next year.”

“I knew then I would never have any part in her life because…because you’re the only mother she’ll ever want, she’ll ever need.”

“Then why – “

“Because, as much as I know I will never be anything to her, I will do anything to keep her safe.”

“Keep her safe? Isobel, what do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“I know about the Founders’ Council, Miranda, and what it really is. I know about the first Johnathan Gilbert, the ring Grayson wears, why the tea you make has vervain in it. I know everything.”

Miranda never liked to acknowledge her family’s twisted birthright. Unlike Grayson, who took a peculiar sense of pride in his part in keeping Mystic Falls safe, Miranda did what she did because tradition required it. Like most of the wives of Founders who were not born into the insanity, Miranda did not entirely believe; after all, she had never seen a vampire or any hint of one. But to hear Isobel speak of it as if it were absolute, as if it was simply another fact of life, made Miranda’s stomach flip.

“What does that have to do with Elena?”

Isobel reached into her purse and removed a daguerreotype similar to the ones displayed at the Historical Society. “This is an ancestor of mine. She went by the name of Katherine Pierce when she was in Mystic Falls.”

Miranda felt her heart stop as she stared down at a woman with her daughter’s face. “I don’t understand.”

“She’s a vampire. And in life, her name was Katerina Petrova. She was the human doppelganger needed for a sacrificial spell that was to be done by an Original vampire named Klaus.”

“A doppelganger?”

“When the doppelganger appears, it means the curse can be broken. Katherine was the last doppelganger. Elena is the current doppelganger.”

“Are you trying to tell me that my daughter is the key to some kind of spell? That a vampire is going to want to kill her?”

Isobel nodded. “If they find her, they will kill her. I had hoped that I was wrong, but when John gave me that picture, I saw immediately she looked like Katherine.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

For the first time, Isobel looked uncertain. “I’m…going away, and I needed to make sure you knew what was coming before I did.”

“Going where?”

“I can’t tell you that. What am I telling you is that, if the trouble comes, at the first hint that something might hurt you, you can have John call me. I will always come for her, Miranda, and I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”

Miranda handed the picture of Katherine back to Isobel. “I can’t tell her this. I don’t want her to know about this.”

“And she might never have to know,” Isobel agreed. “They might never find her, and she’ll live happily ever after. But if they do…It’ll be war, Miranda, and she’ll be what they’re fighting for.”

Miranda nodded as if she understood; she had never been so lost in her life.

Isobel got to her feet, leading herself to the door. Miranda followed, unsure what else to do.

“You know,” Isobel said as she opened the door, smiling wanly, “you should really go easier on John. He doesn’t love anything in this world the way he loves our girl.”

Elena would always be Isobel’s the way Jenna would always be Miranda’s.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Miranda didn’t know why she did it just then, but she asked Isobel to wait. Going into the living room, she pulled Elena’s latest school picture out of the frame, handing it to Isobel, who blinked back tears before leaving.

She didn’t tell Grayson about Isobel’s visit, didn’t tell him about Katherine Pierce or doppelgangers or the danger which might be awaiting their daughter. To discuss it was to acknowledge it may be true, and Miranda refused to believe that death and destruction was all that was awaiting Elena.

 

Five

Miranda was in the garden when Elena began screaming her name.

Elena had stayed home from school with cramps, and Miranda had left her tea and a heating pad before going outside to tend the flower beds. When she heard the shrieks for “Mommy,” all Miranda could think about was Isobel’s warning almost four years earlier. Miranda dropped her gloves, running through the house and up the stairs quicker than she had in years, throwing open Elena’s bedroom door to find the room empty and a trail of blood leading to the bathroom.

There was blood pooling on the bathroom tile, turning the white floor crimson, and it positively coated Elena’s thighs. Elena was struggling to pull herself up by the toilet, her skin sallow, and she cried out in pain as her body curled in on itself.

“Mommy,” Elena whimpered, face streaked with tears.

Acting on auto-pilot, Miranda pulled a towel from the bar, sopping up the blood on the tile as she bent down beside Elena, taking her in her arms and shushing her, rocking her gently back and forth the way she had when Elena was an infant. Elena grasped at her shirt, sobs racking her body.

“It’s gone, isn’t it?” she whimpered into Miranda’s breast.

Miranda nodded, too stunned to speak.

She hadn’t even known Elena was having sex, let alone suspected she was pregnant. Miranda prided herself on the fact she and Elena talked about everything, that their relationship seemed to be free of the inherent dramatics of most mother-daughter relationships. Liz Forbes told horror stories about her interactions with Caroline, and Miranda always felt fortunate she and Elena never felt that sort of friction.

When Elena began dating Matt in middle school, her daughter shared every detail of their relationship. Miranda knew the first time they held hands, the first time they slow danced, the first time Matt kissed her; when they started to get more serious earlier in the year, she and Elena had the sex discussion, including Miranda’s offer to getting her the pill whenever she felt she needed it. Miranda never wanted Elena to go through what she had, what Isobel had; Miranda did not want Elena to know that sort of pain.

Apparently it was all for naught.

When the bleeding began to subside, Miranda turned on the shower in the master bath, helping Elena undress and stand beneath the water, scrubbing the dried blood from her body. As the pink water swirled down the drain, Miranda struggled not to wince at the iron grip Elena kept on her arms, nails leaving perfect crescent moons in her skin. Once she was clean, Miranda filled the tub and told Elena to rest.

Miranda scrubbed the blood from the tile, dragging the shampooer up the stairs to clean Elena’s carpet. By the time she was finished, Elena was adding more hot water to the tub, color returning to her cheeks, her pruned fingers pushing her hair back over her shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Elena whimpered pathetically, resting her head on the edge of the tub as Miranda sank down beside her.

“Oh, Elena…what happened?”

Miranda listened as Elena explained she and Matt had been sleeping together for a few months, always using condoms. Six weeks earlier, the condom broke and they didn’t realize it until it was too late. She had only missed one period; she hadn’t wanted to worry Miranda and Grayson unless she was absolutely sure.

“Dad’s going to hate me and he’s going to kill Matt,” Elena sniffled as they curled up on her bed, her body buried beneath her fluffy robe.

“Elena – “

“It really wasn’t his fault,” she rushed on. “We tried to get the Plan B pill but the pharmacist in Grove Hill wouldn’t sell it to us because we were underage.”

“We don’t have to tell your dad,” Miranda said, remembering the way her own father had looked at her when he found out about Jenna, recalling how their relationship had never quite recovered.

“Really?”

The hope in Elena’s voice broke Miranda’s heart. Elena had always been a daddy’s girl, doing whatever it took to keep from disappointing Grayson. Gray always joked he wished every woman looked at him with the same infallibility as Elena. There was going to be so much Elena would have to overcome later in life; Miranda didn’t want the path to be harder for her.

Miranda nodded. “This will stay between us. But you’re going on the pill.”

Elena instantly agreed. Snuggling deeper into Miranda’s embrace, she asked, sounding so incredibly young, “Am I a bad person for being…relieved this happened?”

“No, baby.” Miranda kissed the crown on her head. “You couldn’t be a bad person if you tried.”

Elena stayed home for the rest of the week, alternately sleeping and crying. She wrote in her journal almost constantly, and Grayson expressed concern she was depressed. Miranda assured him it was normal teenage growing pains, distracting him with a honey-do list and Jeremy’s troubling science grade.

Four weeks after the miscarriage, Matt showed up at the house to invite Elena to a party. Miranda sat in the kitchen with Jenna, sipping tea and half-listening to Jenna’s rant about her thesis advisor, as she watched Elena and Matt interact.

“Why are we spying on Elena and Matt?” Jenna asked in a stage-whisper, playfully jostling Miranda with her elbow.

“I’m not spying,” Miranda immediately objected, getting off her stool to get blueberries out of refrigerator.

Jenna laughed. “You’re such a mom, Rand.”

She and Jenna were in the process of making blueberry muffins for Family Night when Elena came inside, a small smile playing at her lips. Elena sidled up to Jenna, bumping her with her hip as she plucked a blueberry from the container, and Jenna bumped her back. Miranda grinned as she watched her girls playfully wrestle before asking, “What did Matt want?”

Elena calmed, swiping another berry. “Bonnie’s having a party tonight. He wanted me to go.”

“You should.”

Elena’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Really?”

Miranda nodded, slipping the muffin pan into the oven. “You haven’t done anything in weeks. I think it’ll be good for you to get out of the house.”

“But it’s Family Night.”

“And there’ll be another Family Night next week.” Pressing a kiss to Elena’s temple, she said, “Call Matt, tell him you’ll go, and call us if you need to be picked up.”

Elena grinned, flinging her arms around her mother. “I love you, Mom.”

As Elena bounced away, Jenna declared, “I wish our mom would’ve been as cool as you. I definitely would have slept with a lot less losers like Logan ‘Scum’ Fell if the leash hadn’t been so tight.”

“You would’ve slept with Logan ‘Scum’ Fell no matter what,” Miranda teased, kissing her temple the same way she had kissed Elena’s.

At eleven, when Elena called for a ride, Miranda grabbed the keys from the bowl when Grayson offered to drive instead. Jenna, who was working on homework for a class on the couch, offered to stay with Jeremy while they both went.

Elena climbed into the backseat easily, chattering away about the party and who was there. As the rain pounded down around them, Miranda smiled, slipping her hand over Grayson’s on the gear shift, Grayson lifting her hand to his mouth to kiss the back of it.

Wickery Bridge appeared in the distance.