The Lady in Red

Talking in the Library

Selina sat up and blinked. Damon had gotten up before her again so she was alone in the bed. Of course his side wasn't made. It figured. She got out of bed and neatly tucked in her covers, setting her pillow on top. She dressed quickly and went downstairs, taking them two at a time. "Good morning," she announced when she arrived in the kitchen.

"Good morning," Stefan replied. "What are we going to do today? Do you still want to tail that Mitch Wilder guy?"

Selina thought a moment. "I don't know; he gave me a feeling, that's for sure. But it wasn't a bad feeling. Maybe it's nothing. I don't know. Maybe we should just let it go and stick with the other project."

"Or," Stefan said, "Elena and I can deal with the other project and you and Damon could work on Mitch Wilder since you seem to have the weird sense about him."

Selina looked at Damon. "Would that work for you?"

He nodded. "Yeah, that would work."

Selina sat back in her chair. "All right," she said, bringing her palms down on the table. "I'm going to go to the library and see if I can find anything interesting."

"Why would you just randomly decide to go to the library?" Damon asked.

Selina shrugged. "I like books." She left the kitchen, grabbed her purse, and headed out the door.

Damon watched her go and then turned to Stefan. "I bet she's still trying to figure out what happened with her father. Ten bucks says she comes back with an armload of books on body-snatchers."

Stefan nodded. "I'll take that bet."

They were right. As soon as Selina arrived, she did a search on books about funerary practices, murders, and grave robbing. After gathering an armload of books, she was walking to the checkout counter when she bumped into someone and fell with force, her books flying out of her arms and going every which way.

"I'm sorry!" she cried, looking up at the other person. To her surprise, Mitch was the person she'd bumped into.

"It's not a problem, really, Sophia," he replied, standing up. He gave her his hand and pulled her up with him. They turned to the pile of books and began picking them up.

"The Mexican-American War?" she asked him. "That interests you?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

She handed him two books and then he continued. "Well, it's not just the Mexican-American War. I'm a history major at Arizona State. Military History is my specialty." He looked down at the two books that were in his hands, and then at the others that were on the floor. "I don't like to read reference books because they only tell half the story, and they don't even tell that well most of the time."

"What do you mean?" Selina asked, slowly picking up her own books.

"I mean," he said, "the best accounts I've read are ones by the soldiers who were actually fighting. Their stories of deprivation, disease, the stress of fighting, the thrill of winning a battle, that's the way to learn about war. By reading between the lines. By finding out what they don't tell you in books." When he saw that she was staring at him, he looked at her sheepishly. "Sorry. I tend to get carried away sometimes."

"No," Selina replied quickly, shaking her head. "It's great you're so passionate about something. I would love to have something that I love that much."

"What about," he picked up one of her books that still lay on the floor. "Grave-Robbing in the 19th Century?" He gave her a questioning look.

She grinned and shook her head. "I'm not passionate about grave robbing. I got these books for a research project I'm doing."

They picked the rest of the books off the floor and headed to a nearby table, sat them down on it, and then took chairs on either side. "What kind of research project?" Mitch asked.

"Well," she began, carefully choosing her words, "I came here from Charleston a few months ago because I wanted to find out more about my family. My parents are dead and I live with my uncle."

"I'm sorry," Mitch said.

She smiled. "Thank you. Anyway, one rainy Saturday, I was up in the attic seeing if I could find anything interesting in the boxes of junk. After hours of finding nothing, I stumbled upon this." She unclasped the locket and pushed it toward him. He looked it over slowly and set it back down on the table.

"Whose was it?" he asked.

"My uncle said her name was Selina Warren. She got engaged to a soldier, he went off to fight in the Civil War, and then she got scarlet fever and died before he got back so they were never able to get married. There's a very popular ghost story about her too."

"The one about the Lady in Red?" he asked. "I've heard that one. But doesn't it say that she ran off with the town doctor and was never heard from again?"

"If that's the version you want to believe," Selina replied bitterly. "I prefer to believe the other one where she stayed true to the soldier and when the doctor proposed marriage and she refused, he raped and murdered her and hid her locket, which was the soldier's engagement present, somewhere where she'd never find it."

"Wow," Mitch replied. "I think we found what you're passionate about."

She nodded. "Well, Selina is part of my family and I don't like it when people have the wrong idea about her. She had enough to worry about in her life without people thinking that she cheated on her fiancé and ran off with an older guy."

"What else happened to her?" he asked. His eyes were locked on hers and he didn't seem to be blinking.

Selina sighed. "We were talking about the Mexican-American War earlier, and coincidently, her father fought in that war. He shipped out two months after she was born in October of 1846, and then was dead by June 1847. After a period of mourning, her mother married a much-older man by the name of Robert Pierce and in 1848, they had a daughter named Katherine. Whether it was because he was insecure or that he was just a jerk, Mr. Pierce wasn't really good to Selina. He made her sleep in the cold attic and do all his daughter's bidding. Even after Katherine got a maid, Selina was still occasionally at her beck and call."

Selina paused when she realized that Mitch was frowning and tense, his hands balled into fists. He looked like he wanted to hit something. "Are you okay?" she asked.

He relaxed and nodded. "Sorry. But how could anyone with a heart be so cruel to a little girl?"

Selina thought a moment. "Well, it seems to me like Mr. Pierce didn't really have a heart. Or at least not a very big one. And if that's not bad enough, Selina went through the first eight years of her life thinking that Mr. Pierce was her biological father."

"What?" Mitch was frowning again. He jumped up and brought his fists down on the table, causing several people at nearby tables to look up in alarm. He looked around sheepishly and sat back down again. "What do you mean her mother waited eight years to tell her about her biological father? What was she thinking?" he whispered angrily.

"I'm sure she meant well," Selina whispered back, startled by his intense reaction to her life story. "She did eventually send Selina to a boarding school, and while she was a student there, she spent her summers and holidays with the Salvatores. They were family friends and very good to her."

Mitch relaxed again. "That's good."

"Yeah," Selina agreed. "But there's one thing that has me puzzled. When I was at the mayor's house, I was able to get my hands on some of Selina's mother's correspondence as well as her journal. In one of the journal entries, she writes about bringing Selina to the cemetery where her father was buried as a way to celebrate her first birthday since Mr. Pierce made her put away all of Selina's father's photos after they were married and wouldn't allow her to speak of him either. But when they get to the cemetery, the caretaker says that her father's body was taken by body snatchers. The last line in the journal entry is 'why would anyone with a heart steal a soldier's body?' It just seems like she wants to know so badly and now I do too. That's why I have all these books on body snatching and funerary rights. I want to know if in general they were bold enough to break into military cemeteries to get bodies."

Mitch was looking thoughtful. "Where was Selina's father fighting?"

"Texas," Selina replied. "I can't remember his unit though."

"Well," Mitch thought a moment. "I might have a suggestion about why Selina's father's body was taken. In Texas during the months he was in service, there was a typhoid epidemic sweeping through one of the Virginia regiments. It spread quickly and the hospitals had a difficult time making room for everyone. Sometimes, in order to make room, they would bury soldiers before they were absolutely certain they were dead."

"They would bury soldiers alive?" Selina asked.

"Yeah," Mitch said. "A lot of times they wouldn't catch the mistake until it was too late, but maybe Selina's father was one of the lucky ones and what the cemetery caretaker thought was a grave robbery was actually a rescue."

Selina brightened. "You mean there's a possibility her father wasn't taken away to be sliced up by novice medical school students?"

Mitch grinned and put a hand on hers. "I can almost guarantee it."

"Thanks," she said. "I've been worried about that for days."

She grinned. "So you know why I'm here; what about you?" she paused. "Or is it too personal? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"No, that's all right." He took his hand away and put it in his lap. "Do you want to know why I looked at you that way at the dance? Or why I kept staring at your neck?"

She nodded, wondering what this had to do with it.

"Well," he began, "this is going to sound really dumb, but I was in love with somebody once, and you remind me of her."

This wasn't what Selina had expected at all. "We don't look exactly alike, do we?" she asked. "Because that would be weird if it were true." again, she thought to herself.

"No," Mitch shook his head. "She was sweet, innocent and virtuous. And blonde."

"And I'm not any of those things?" Selina asked. "Well, obviously I'm not blonde," she held out some of her long black hair.

He smiled and shook his head. "No. I have a feeling you don't mind bending rules when the occasion calls for it. But it seems to work for you."

"If we're nothing alike, how can I remind you of her?" Selina asked.

"Well," Mitch positioned himself so that they were looking into each other's eyes and their foreheads were touching. "She had the most beautiful blue eyes. And you do too." They stared at one another in silence for a moment. As he was pulling away, Selina thought he was going to kiss her. He did, just a gentle touch of his lips to her forehead.

"I come back to Mystic Falls every so often because she and I spent our happiest days together here. But then I decided I had to see the world and I left her. Then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I never saw her again."

"That's so sad!" Selina said. "I'm really sorry."

"That's all right," he assured her. "Now do you want to know why I was staring at your neck?"

She nodded.

"You have a little mark toward the back that's shaped like a heart and I was trying to figure out what it was."

"Oh," Selina said. "It's just a birthmark. I've had it my whole life. But it's so small that no one usually notices it unless they know it's there."

Mitch said nothing, but nodded imperceptibly.

Just then, Selina's cell phone rang. She answered it and was surprised to hear Damon's voice on the other end. "Yeah, I'm still at the library. Sorry I haven't called back. I ran into Mitch and we've been talking. Yeah, I'll be on my way in a minute. Bye Damon."

She snapped the phone shut and looked at Mitch apologetically. "Sorry, that was my boyfriend. He gets worried if I stay out for long periods of time and forget to call."

Mitch nodded. "Damon? Was he the guy you were dancing with at the Halloween party?" he asked.

Selina nodded, surprised. "You were at the Halloween party too?"

Mitch nodded. "Yeah. It was weird seeing him again. It's been years since I saw him last. He's changed a lot. And who was that guy he kept talking to? The one who was with Elena?"

"That's Stefan, his younger brother," Selina said.

"Oh," Mitch nodded. "I'd love to meet him sometime."

Selina nodded, standing up. "Look, I'm sorry, but I should be going."

He nodded. "Have a good day."

As she walked away, he said slowly "it was good seeing you again…Selina Amelia Elizabeth Warren."

She turned around to respond, but by then he was already gone.

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