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Herald in Scarlet

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Greyson couldn’t help but watch his daughter with a concerned frown, despite the fact that she was perfectly happy right now, and he should be listening to Sheila. But how could he listen to the Bennett witch when his daughter was the reason they were sat in the elderly woman’s sitting room? Gods, this was just too much. He ran a hand through his hair, tugging on the strands with a frustrated anger. His baby girl remained oblivious to his worries, too concerned with getting the colours on her picture just right, and he wondered if she was drawing another picture of the future.

It began a few weeks ago, or rather, he noticed it a few weeks ago.

She’d come up to him, a picture grasped in her dainty hands, and he’d assumed it would be another rainbow or perhaps a butterfly, but it wasn’t. It was Jeremy, on the ground, his leg twisted something awful and the swing that the children often played on in the backyard lay broken beside him. ‘You should fix the swing, daddy,’ she told him quietly. ‘Otherwise Jer will get hurt. I don’t want to see him hurt.’

Only, he’d laughed it off. Dismissed it as a dream she’d had. Until Jeremy broke his leg thanks the rope snapping on the swing a few days later, and his daughter turned those vivid green orbs on him in accusation. Then he’d begun to notice how quiet she was. How advanced she was for her age. He’d begun to see the powers she displayed when they weren’t looking.
Miranda would tell her she couldn’t have a cookie, yet, the moment her back was turned, one would float from the cupboard and into the girl’s hands. Her teacher would stop her answering questions meant for another child, and his hair would miraculously turn another colour. Tyler pushed Jeremy to the ground one day and she retaliated by turning the hose on him, despite the fact it was wrapped up thirty feet from where she stood.

The realisation that his girl was a witch brought him to Sheila.

‘Do you think Elena is like her?’ he found himself asking, finally turning from the girl when he saw that what she was drawing was just a harmless cat.

‘No,’ Sheila shook her head. ‘Cali’s magic is different. She’s a witch, but I’ve no idea what kind. If Elena isn’t displaying the same powers, then she hasn’t got magic in her blood.’

‘Can you train Cali?’ he asked. ‘Teach her to control it.’

‘Sweetie,’ Sheila laughed. ‘She already is controlling it. I’ve never seen such perfect control in one so young. But then I’ve never seen her magic before.’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked, both curious and afraid of the answer.

‘Magic comes from nature,’ she told him sagely, ‘those who wield its power are servants of nature. There are laws which we abide by. There are those who turn to darker arts. But even that magic comes from nature, albeit the dark side of it. What I’m saying is that our power is, for the lack of a better word, borrowed. Even those who turn to darkness have limits.’

‘And Cali’s magic is dark?’ he ventured.

‘Not at all,’ Sheila shook her head. ‘I’ve never felt magic so pure before. Her magic doesn’t come from nature. It comes from her. It’s inside of her. It is her.’

Suddenly, he felt a lot older than he was. ‘What does this mean? Is she in danger?’

Sheila gave him a benevolent smile. ‘She’s a veritable source of infinite power. It’s crazy to expect that kind of magic will go unnoticed her whole life.’

‘So, what do we do?’ Greyson asked. ‘I can’t lock her up her whole life.’

‘Right now, she controls her magic unconsciously through her desires, she might not even be aware she is magical. We tell her what she is and then we teach her to protect herself. We make her aware that the world isn’t just filled with humans.’

‘You want me to tell her about vampires?’ That shocked him and he was filled with hesitance and doubt. ‘She’s a kid.’
‘She’s a kid that’s basically a deluxe happy meal to those blood suckers,’ Sheila deadpanned. ‘Witch blood is a delicacy to vampires. Cali’s blood would be pure ichor.’

Training her to fight was a unanimous decision after that. No matter how much he wanted to keep his daughter an innocent princess, Sheila had made it clear that was simply impossible. Though vampires no longer lived in Mystic Falls, there was no guarantee that one wouldn’t pass through, that word of his daughter’s unique abilities would not get out.

He worked out a schedule with Sheila for Caleana’s tutoring.

Two evenings a week, she would be taught about magic, the rest of the time would be spent learning martial arts from a professional and how to kill vampires from him.

And so it began.

‘Huh,’ she mused as she stared at the classically handsome face that watched her from the page of her sketchbook. His dark hair was almost bronze in colour and stuck up from a broad forehead, an angular jaw and deep-set green eyes gave him a brooding Mr Darcy feel, but his smile was warm and welcoming. He wasn’t familiar to her in this life or her past life. A vision then. But what did it mean? She traced the shape of his smile with a thoughtful frown. ‘Who are you?’ she whispered.

Frustration filled her when the question went unanswered. It was all well and good seeing the future, but when it was as vague as a person’s face, its meaning remained undetermined until the person showed up. Was this guy friend or foe? She knew nothing about him but the knowledge that he would mean something in her future was almost firmly cemented in her mind. She just hated the not knowing part.

Patience, she told herself. All will be revealed in time, you just have to let it come. The voice sounded suspiciously like Sheila’s and Cali hated it. Her visions were usually warnings. Good or bad. They were a sign of changes. This stranger she’d drawn was the mark of a new beginning.

‘Can I see?’ Elena asked from the doorway, leaning against the frame with a hesitant smile on her face. She was dressed and ready to go but the black stain on her fingertips told Cali she’d been writing in her diary again.

‘Not this one, El,’ she answered softly, closing the sketchbook and tossing it aside. Elena accepted the answer easily enough. It had always been that way, Cali would never pry into Elena’s diary and Elena would never see the pictures that Cali kept hidden, they would share only what they wanted shared. ‘But,’ she continued when Elena made to move on, no doubt heading down the stairs to ward off Aunt Jenna’s attempt at breakfast. ‘I drew this for you.’

It was a painstakingly beautiful image of their mother. She’d started it after the funeral and had only just finished it. The acrylic truly didn’t do Miranda Gilbert justice, but then, nothing would ever compare to the real thing. Cali had done her best to capture her mother in her best moments, the fond memories she had of her dancing around the island in the kitchen in her apron and singing into the whisk were all she had to cling to now. All they had left of a woman who gave them everything.

Elena took it with a breathless awe.

The frame that surrounded the drawing was a simple white in colour and needed no further embellishments to highlight the amazing drawing. Elena’s fingers traced their mum’s face and unshed tears shined in her beautiful doe-like eyes – the only difference between the two was their eyes, where Elena’s were a deep soulful brown hers were a vibrant green. ‘I don’t want to forget her,’ Elena whispered, so full of heartache and despair.

‘Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting,’ Cali said softly. ‘It just means that remembering won’t hurt as much as it does now.’

‘It’s why you drew mom and not dad, right?’ Elena looked up at her, a slight smile on her face.

‘I’ve drawn dad too,’ her favourite one was him at his desk, asleep, with his hand still poised on the paperwork he’d been doing beforehand. ‘But she was your favourite just as he was mine.’

‘Daddy’s girl,’ Elena accused with no bite.

‘Momma’s girl,’ she returned right back at her twin.

Jenna was working herself into a right state when they entered the kitchen, looking around her in a haze, her mind working a mile a minute whilst trying to get herself and them ready. She’d been a life saver this summer, dropping everything in order to care for her sister’s orphaned children and Cali couldn’t be more grateful.

Jenna was nothing like the aunt she’d had before, when she had been the girl-who-lived, but that was a whole other world ago. Being reborn as the twin of Elena Gilbert had been the best thing that had happened to her. Despite the heartache that seemed to have followed her.

‘Toast,’ Jenna said suddenly, startling Cali out of her musings. ‘I can make toast.’

Elena rolled her eyes and Cali laughed.

‘It all about the coffee, Aunt Jenna,’ Elena told the red-head.

‘Or tea,’ she piped up, moving in the opposite direction of the coffee maker to the kettle to brew herself a to-go cup of tea.

‘I swear your half British,’ Elena joked not know how right she was on the matter.

Cali had been British once.

Jeremy stumbled into the room, bleary-eyed and looking as down as ever, he made his way to her and took the cup from her grasp. He took a sip and pulled a face. ‘Yuk,’ he muttered. ‘Is there coffee?’

She tutted under her breath. ‘You know I drink tea in the morning, Jer.’

‘I keep hoping that one day you’ll switch to a proper drink,’ he quipped with a slight smile.

Their parents’ deaths had hit Jeremy the hardest and while Cali and Elena had turned to the creative arts for escape, he had turned to drugs. Now he was a stoner who cared about nothing more than his next fix. It was sad to see him like this but, unlike Elena who judged him harshly for it, she gave him the time he so obviously needed to sort through his problems.

‘You’re first day of school and I’m totally unprepared,’ Jenna fretted on, oblivious to the fact that no one was listening to her.

‘Lunch money?’ she asked them all.

‘I’m good,’ Elena said.

Cali shook her head, she was all set too, and Jeremy just ignored Jenna completely and poured himself a cup of coffee. He took his black much to Cali’s disgust. The liquid was far too bitter for her liking, much preferring the sweetness of tea, or the milky goodness of a latte. Jenna’s fretting reached boiling point when she realised she was supposed to be at a meeting with her thesis advisor.

A subtle shift of her fingers had her magic reaching out to soothe Jenna’s panic and give her some semblance of normality. Now calm, Jenna was quick to high-tail it out of the house, none the wiser to the magic that had settled over her. None of them knew she had magic, that was strictly between her parents and Sheila.

Dad had never wanted her siblings to know, afraid it might put them in danger, or that one of them would slip. She would not destroy the promise she’d made him by blabbing now. It was best her siblings remain blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurked in the shadows.

A news story on the TV caught her eyes, a re-run of that morning’s headlines, and two people caught her attention. Two people whose faces were currently in the pages of her sketchbook, she hadn’t known them at the time, and now she knew she never would. But at least she had names to go along with the sketches. Brooke and Darren had gone missing.

They would never be found. She’d watched them get torn apart by a vampire in a vision, their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and an uncomfortable feeling churned in her stomach. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Not when the face of that strange man would not leave her mind, nor the feeling that something epic was about to begin. It was like she was standing on a precipice just waiting to fall and the anticipation was killing her.

‘You alright?’ Elena asked, looking between Cali and the TV screen, a concerned look on her face.

‘I’m fine,’ she shrugged it off. ‘Just a little nervous.’

Elena gave her an understanding smile that said the feelings were returned. Her twin was just as nervous as she was and that brought some relief to Cali. Being who she was, what she was, there was a constant fear that she was being abnormal, so it pleased her when others shared her feelings.

Bonnie came to pick them up not long after Jenna left.

‘So,’ Bonnie said, the amusement and slight indignation of her tone bemused Cali. ‘Grams is telling me I’m psychic. Our ancestors were from Salem, witches and all that, I know, crazy, but she’s going on and on about it. I’m like, put this woman in a home already! But then I started thinking, I predicted Obama and I predicted Heath Ledger, and I still think Florida will break off and turn into little resort islands.’

Cali smiled from the backseat. ‘Sheila is a wonderful woman, Bonnie. Full of knowledge and insights that others overlook. And this world is full of crazy things. Why can’t witches be real?’

‘Seriously?’ Bonnie questioned in surprise. ‘You buy into all that hoodoo voodoo nonsense?’

‘Some of it is utter garbage,’ Cali shrugged. ‘But Sheila knows her stuff.’

‘Right,’ Bonnie nodded. ‘She used to be your teacher. I forget about that. You’d spend every Sunday at her house.’

She nodded. ‘The lessons stopped when I was fourteen, but I still go round there every other week. Seriously, Bonnie,’ she leant forwards. ‘Listen to what she has to say.’

If Bonnie was a witch then that would mean she was someone who could share Cali’s secrets. It was hard being the only teenage witch in town. Sharing her magic, even though hers was different, would be an amazing relief.

‘What are you going on about?’ Elena asked, suddenly zoning into the conversation from la la land.

Cali shared a bemused smile with Bonnie. ‘I’m psychic now,’ she told Elena.

Elena grinned and nodded enthusiastically. ‘Right. Okay, then predict something about me.’

Bonnie screwed up her face in an exaggerated look of concentration, as though she could peer into the future if she squinted hard enough. ‘I see-’

She was cut off sharply when a crow hit the car, instinctually, she swerved. But the moment the panic was over, she pulled over to the side of the road. Bonnie was a good driver, she handled the hit with a cautious calm, but when your parents died in a car accident, the skill of the driver did not matter.

Cali watched her sister carefully as Bonnie checked her over.

Elena had been in the car when it drove off Wickery Bridge, she’d been in the backseat when their parents drowned. They’d gone to pick her up after she’d gone to a party and wanted to come home early. It had been family night but Elena had ditched and it had cost them their parents’ lives. Elena’s gaze caught hers in the rear-view mirror but she quickly looked away.

‘It’s okay.’ Elena muttered. ‘I’m fine.’

She was fine. But she shouldn’t have been. Elena should have died that night in the accident. Perhaps that was the start of the change Cali’s visions had been foreshadowing, and this stranger in her sketchbook was a catalyst. But a catalyst for what? Eugh. The not knowing was truly a pain in the arse.

A flash of black caught the corner of her eye and she turned to see the crow sat upon a road sign. Signs usually came in threes. The picture, the missing couple, the crow. Something was coming. Cali was now a hundred percent certain of this.

‘Really,’ Elena was saying. ‘I can’t be freaked out by cars for the rest of my life.’

Bonnie nodded, a soft look appearing on her face in light of Elena’s attempt at bravery, and a smile lifted the worry from her eyes. ‘I predict this year is going to be kick ass. And I predict all the sad and dark time are over and you are going to be beyond happy.’

It was a nice sentiment and certainly lifted Elena’s spirits.

If only Cali felt the same. Call it a lingering effect from a past life spent constantly in danger, but she got the feeling the dark times had only just begun. Her instincts and her magic were telling her to be weary, and she wouldn’t have gotten so far in her previous life had she not listened. But she couldn’t tell Elena her worries. Her twin had gone through too much recently to add to her stressful plate.

When they got to school, she parted from her sister in favour of heading towards the art classroom. There weren’t many artistically inclined students at Mystic High, so aside from the regular handful, the art classroom was empty.

Maria waved at her as she entered and Cali was about to approach her when the teacher called out to her. She changed directions instead.

Mrs Keech was the only teacher who would willingly spend time with her students before school began. An elderly lady whose soul had yet to catch up with her age, she looked spry and energetic, despite the whiteness of her hair. There was always something lively about her, Cali could only imagine what she had been like in her youth, and it brought a smile to the witch’s face.

‘Cali, dear, I’ve been waiting for you,’ she seemed overly excited, like an energiser bunny that had too much caffeine.

‘How was your summer, Mrs Keech?’ she asked politely.

‘Fascinating,’ she breathed. ‘I went to this art gallery in Washington. Truly brilliant works on display. It’s what I want to talk to you about.’

Curious, she took a seat opposite the teacher’s desk, pulled her bag around to rest on her lap, and nodded slowly.

‘While I was there, I ran into an old friend of mine,’ her sudden wistful smile and reddened cheeks told Cali the kind of old friend this was. Though the woman laughed when she saw the naughty smirk tugging Cali’s lips upwards. ‘Nothing like that happened, dear. I’m too old for that kind of strenuous activity. Though in my heyday I could ride that man all night long.’

‘Mrs Keech!’ she did not need to imagery that came with the sentence.

‘Right, right,’ she waved a dismissive hand. ‘Back to the subject at hand. Anyway, this friend of mine was showcasing some his works and we got to talking. Naturally, you were brought up.’

‘Me?’ she asked, a sudden unease filling her.

‘Don’t look so worried,’ Mrs Keech chuckled. ‘I showed him your sketchbook.’

She pulled a familiar black sketchbook from her and guiltily handed it over. ‘So that’s where that went,’ she murmured thoughtfully.

‘You left it behind over the summer and I took it with me,’ Mrs Keech sounded apologetic. ‘I wanted to show some art directors your work.’

Instantly, a sour look appeared on Cali’s face.

‘Don’t give me that look, if you want to get anywhere in the art world, you need contacts,’ her tone shifted to the no-nonsense teacher. ‘Anyway, Nik wanted to look and I showed him.’

‘And?’ she prompted.

‘He wants to meet you,’ the glee was almost contagious. Almost. ‘Your work is spectacular for one so young and he’d like to see more.’

She bit her lip and frowned. It was hard not to feel slightly betrayed even though she knew Mrs Keech’s intentions were pure. It should have been her decision to show others her work.

‘He’s a brilliant artist, Cali,’ Mrs Keech prompted when she made no move to respond. ‘He can teach you so much about art that I can’t. And, he’s got money.’

She laughed. ‘What’s money got to do with it?’

‘He could be your benefactor,’ she grinned slyly. ‘A foot in the door of the art world and he could give you a full ride through college.’

Well that was food for thought. She wanted to go to college but the expense was crazy and she was reluctant to plunge herself into debt. But if she was given a full ride then there was no reason not to go.

‘There is no harm in meeting him. Hear what he has to say. Then make your decision,’ she told Cali, scribbling down a name and number on a piece of blank paper. ‘This is his contact information. He’s expecting your call so don’t keep him waiting for long.’
This was Mrs Keech’s friend, she really had no choice but to call him, so she took the paper and slipped it inside her bag.

‘What was that about?’ Maria asked when she sat beside her.

‘Mrs Keech has an art friend interested in my stuff.’

‘That’s amazing!’ Maria said enthusiastically, but her delight faded as she took in Cali’s troubled look. ‘Why isn’t it amazing?’

‘I don’t know,’ she shrugged. It was a brilliant opportunity, she shouldn’t squander it because of nerves and doubt. ‘How was your summer?’

‘Boring,’ she rolled her eyes. ‘My folks took me up to Canada to visit my grandparents. A whole summer of them harping on about my future. Parents suck.’

Cali smiled bitterly at that and Maria quickly backtracked.

‘Oh,’ she stuttered. ‘I meant… I didn’t… shit, Cali, that was tactless.’

‘It’s fine,’ she reassured. ‘I can’t get all emotional whenever anyone bitches about their parents. Besides, I’ve met your parents and I know how suckish they are.’

Maria laughed and nodded. ‘Sorry,’ she added softly.

‘Don’t apologise,’ she shrugged it off, but the loneliness in her heart all but drowned her.

Dad would know what to do about this art thing. Mum would be all for her taking every opportunity she can sink her teeth into, but dad would be the logical one about it. He would have sat her down and talked through the pros and cons, made her realise that no matter her hesitance and cons, that she wanted to phone this guy. Like, right away. Gods, how she missed them.

It wasn’t fair that her parents were taken from her in this life too.

She sat with Maria for the next twenty minutes, absently doodling on a bit of paper, and listening to her friend talk of Canada. Until she finally stood and said her goodbyes. She should find Elena and see how she was doing. No doubt Caroline had said something vaguely insulting by now.

‘Oomph,’ she gasped as she walked through the doorway and into a broad chest, instantly she was accosted with a cold feeling. A feeling of death. Vampire.

A familiar vampire. The face she had spent that morning drawing stared down at her in mild confusion. Schooling her features to hide the shock and panic, she stared up at him and mirrored his confusion. He looked back the way he had come. ‘I just saw you… over there,’ he pointed behind him and frowned at her.

‘You saw Elena,’ she told him. ‘My twin sister. See,’ she pointed to her eyes. ‘Green eyes. Elena’s are brown. I’m Caleana.’ She held her hand out.

He took her hand, shaking it firmly. ‘Stefan,’ he told her.

Once again, she was accosted with the feeling of death and he felt her magic too, if the furrowing of his brow was anything to go by. Though he didn’t seem to recognise it for what it was, which was always a good sign, and she thanked her lucky stars that her magic was different. It gave the element of surprise.

‘It’s nice to meet you, Stefan,’ she smiled warmly.

Though he was a feature in her visions it didn’t necessarily mean he was a bad person, just that he was involved, and she was hesitant to judge him based on what he was. Though dad had tried to instil a stake first ask questions later motto when it came to vampires, she was just not that kind of a person. She knew first hand that just because there was a negative stigma associated with dark creatures didn’t mean the individual was evil.

‘Likewise,’ he returned, watching her curiously, as though she were an impossible enigma and she found the expression amusing. ‘Do you know where the history classroom is?’

‘Sure,’ she nodded, ‘that’s my first class. Elena’s too. So remember I’m the green-eyed twin and she’s the brown-eyed one.’

‘Right,’ he nodded, a smile tugging his lips upwards.

‘Feel free to start singing Brown-Eyed Girl when you look at her,’ she shrugged carelessly, hoping that he would. Elena would die of embarrassment. Stefan’s laughter was rich and full of genuine amusement.

‘I’m sure your sister would appreciate that.’

‘A pretty boy singing to her? Who wouldn’t love that?’ she snorted.

His laughter had died down into sporadic chuckles as they entered the history classroom. Elena and Bonnie shot her curious looks as she sat in her seat, the questions would have spilled from their lips had it not been for the fact that Tanner began the class. Instead, they burned with curiosity over the vampire.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket but she refused to look at it, hearing the subsequent huffs of her sister and friend only made her grin. It was cruel to tease them like this, but she had to get her fun somewhere and lording the information – scarce as it was – over them was too funny.

After class, she walked with Stefan to his next class before departing to her own, humming Brown-Eyed Girl as she went much to the vampire’s delight. He wasn’t a bad person, she soon realised, but there was a darkness within him. A shadow that haunted him. Cali was reserving judgement until she found out more about him but she had a feeling she would like him. Perhaps this change would be a good one like Bonnie had jokingly predicted and she was just reading too much into it.

‘You should call this guy,’ Jeremy muttered later that day.

They were at the Grill, celebrating the fact they made it through the first day back without strangling anyone, when she’d brought up that morning’s conversation with her art teacher. She was still undecided.

‘What if he turns out to be a complete creep?’ she asked.

‘You have a black belt in martial arts,’ Jeremy deadpanned. ‘Just kick his ass.’

She laughed and shook her head. ‘Your concern for me is touching, Jer.’

He grinned at her before something caught his gaze and he scowled. She followed his gaze to watch Vicki Donovan serving Matt and Tyler and grimaced. Vicki was a mess she didn’t want her brother involved in, she was clearly in love with Tyler, whilst he was only interested in one thing, and Jeremy didn’t need to be led on by her. Not when she was just using him for drugs.

‘Jer,’ she began cautiously but he cut her off.

‘Don’t,’ he warned.

‘Fine,’ she held her hands up. ‘I will spare you the Elena-esque lecture. But I know you can do better than her. She’s not good for you and, right now, you need someone that is.’

He glared at her but she remained impassive to the look and he quickly sighed and ran a hand over his face. ‘I care about her,’ he murmured. ‘And I hate the way she lets Tyler use her.’

‘Some girls don’t want a knight in shining armour,’ she shrugged.

‘Some girls just don’t know that they want a knight in shining armour,’ he returned.

‘Touché,’ she laughed.

He stood from the table and took a few steps towards Vicki, he paused for a moment before turning back to face her. ‘Call this guy,’ he said firmly. ‘Go be some bigshot artist that I can brag about to my friends.’

It warmed her to know that even in his drug-fuelled depression, he still cared about her enough to want her to achieve her dreams. It told her that her brother was still there. Hidden but there.

‘His name is Stefan Salvatore,’ Carline said as she slid into the booth, stealing one of Cali’s fries as she did. ‘He lives with his uncle up at the old Salvatore Boarding House. He hasn’t lived here since he was a kid. Military family, so they moved around a lot. He’s a Gemini, and his favourite colour is blue.’

‘I know,’ Cali responded with a grin.

‘What?’ Caroline said in shock.

‘Cali met him at school,’ Bonnie told the blonde. ‘They spent lunch together.’

‘I appointed myself as his personal tour guide,’ she shrugged. ‘He’s pretty funny. And his favourite colour is actually green.’

‘Whatever,’ Caroline rolled her eyes, threw her hair over her shoulder and did her best to look unimpressed. Though the envy shined in her blue eyes. ‘We’re planning a June wedding.’

It wasn’t that she didn’t get along with Caroline, it was just that the girl was so pretentious and arrogant that it was hard to be around her for too long. She reminded Cali of a female version of Draco Malfoy. ‘I’m sure Stefan will enjoy that,’ she drawled. ‘He seems like a spring-summer person.’

‘He does,’ Caroline tittered happily. ‘Doesn’t he?’

It would disappoint her to know that Stefan was interested in Elena. Through the tour, he kept asking subtle questions about her sister, claiming to be fascinated by the whole twin dynamic, and she hadn’t minded. It would be good for Elena. She smiled and excused herself from the table.

She had a phone call to make.

The paper trembled slightly in her hands as she contemplated the number scrawled on it. Potentially, she could be holding her future in her hands right now. Her benefactor, Mrs Keech had said. A full ride through college. It would be stupid to pass up on this opportunity. She dialled the number and pressed the phone to her ear.

He picked up on the third ring and whatever she was expecting, it wasn’t the suave, slightly husky, British voice that floated down the phone. ‘Hello.’

Short and sweet, but the greeting sent a spiral of butterflies up her stomach and throat. This would have been so much easier had he not picked up, she would have left a voicemail message and he would have had to call her back. ‘Ah. Hi,’ dammit, what did she say. ‘is this mister,’ she paused to double check the name on the paper. ‘Ah, Mikaelson?’

She should just put the phone down and call it a badly done job. Nothing was worth the anxiety crawling through her.

‘It is,’ came the confident, if slightly amused answer, ‘may I ask who is calling?’

‘Oh, right,’ she stuttered and mentally slapped herself. ‘My name is Caleana Gilbert, I think you know my teacher. Connie Keech.’

‘Ah,’ he seemed to understand who she was now. ‘The budding art student.’

‘I guess that’s me,’ she laughed nervously. ‘I’m not calling at a bad time, am I?’

‘Not at all, love,’ he charmed. ‘Though I expected your call a lot sooner.’

‘I only just got your number today,’ she quickly explained. ‘It’s the first day back at school.’

‘Ah, yes, you’re in high school,’ he stated.

‘Yeah,’ she answered even though it wasn’t phrased as a question, and conversation dwindled. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said after a long pause. ‘I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to say. Mrs Keech just gave me your number and told me call because you’re interested in me. Not me as in me, me. You like my stuff. My art! You liked my art. I promise I’m not usually this stupid. I’m just really nervous. I mean, you sound a lot younger than what I was expecting, especially considering Mrs Keech told me she used to ride you all night long.’

Dear Merlin, she prayed once her words caught up with her brain, kill me now. Embarrassment flooded her entire being and she was sure she was doing a spot-on impression of a tomato right about now. She should have planned what she was going to say.

His laughter was sharp and rich, full of amusement. ‘Not quite all night, love,’ he revealed.

A pitiful noise left her reminiscent of a wounded dog and she pressed her hand against her flaming cheeks. ‘I-I didn’t mean to say that,’ could she use her magic to open up the ground so it could swallow her whole? She’d never tried before. Now seemed as good a time as any. ‘I-I’m j-just going to hang up and pretend this phone call never happened. Sorry to bother you.’

She was an idiot. A first-class moron. Forget being a powerful witch, she could barely handle a conversation with a stranger.

‘Wait, love!’ the man called just as she was about to hang up. ‘Nervous rambling aside, I really am interested in your artwork.’

‘You are?’ she asked shyly when she pulled the phone back up to her ear.

‘Yes, it’s rare to see such raw talent nowadays,’ he praised and she was suddenly blushing because of a whole new reason. ‘I’d like to see that talent grow.’

She smiled and slid onto one of the metal benches that lined the quad. ‘You really think I’m good?’

‘I enjoyed looking through your sketchbook,’ he told her. ‘There is passion behind your drawings, a care that most teenagers lack, and it’s intriguing. The one of the woman surrounded by lilies was particularly striking.’

‘It’s one of my favourites,’ she confessed quietly. ‘I’ve drawn it on a larger scale too, though that one is in colour.’

‘I’d like to see it. In fact, I’d like to see more of your work.’

Excitement had replaced the nervous butterflies. ‘Seriously?’ she could barely contain the eagerness. ‘I can put together a portfolio and we can meet up somewhere to discuss it. I’m all for constructive criticism.’

‘You’re rather eager,’ he teased.

Instantly, she deflated. ‘Sorry,’ she muttered. ‘We don’t have to meet up or anything.’

‘No, no, don’t apologise, sweetheart,’ he quickly amended. ‘I find it refreshing. I would like to meet the artist behind that striking portrait.’

‘I’m free most weekends,’ she told him. ‘But I can’t travel out of the state.’

‘That’s fine, love,’ he told her. ‘I can come to you.’

Part of her said it wasn’t a good idea to meet a stranger, but this was Mrs Keech’s friend and she trusted her teacher. She would trust this man too. ‘There’s a café in Richmond that my dad used to take me to,’ she ventured shyly. ‘We could meet there.’

He quickly agreed and she gave him the name of the café with the promise to meet up next weekend. They talked for a little while about art, discussing the benefits of different mediums, before she finally said goodnight. By the end of the conversation, he’d told her to call him Nik and to text him anytime if she had a query about art. It felt nice to have someone to talk to that was as into the subject as she was.

Maria enjoyed art, but it was only a hobby to her, Elena preferred literature and Jeremy just drew casually. None of her other friends were into it either. She had a feeling that her interactions with Nik were going to be both fun and educational. Next weekend couldn’t come soon enough.