The kids gathered around each other. Pax stood on his hands, laughing gleefully. “Easy peasy, beat that Braylen!”
“Not everything has to be a competition, dork,” Braylen said. He took out his phone and held it up. “Smile Pax.”
Pax grinned and Braylen snapped a photo. “Going in my memory bank.”
“Whats a memory bank?” Harmony looked up from her notebook.
“I print out my photos and put them in there so that when I’m older, I can see them again and remember,” Braylen said.
Do you think you can escape just because you’re in the sunlight? That’s not how it works, Graciela. The darkness is in your heart too, you know. Graciela heard the voice and widened her eyes. Not now. She was in broad daylight! How? Every time you feel bad about yourself, or you get jealous, I grow a little stronger. Did you know that? I’m always going to be here, Gracie. I love it here. Never ending strength. Your body is my temple.
“Stop!” She cried out. “Leave me alone!” All eyes landed on her, and she shrunk back in terror. She had spoken aloud again, hadn’t she?
“Gracie?” Pax asked, coming to her side. He had since landed his hand stand. “Is it back again?”
She couldn’t fight the tears. Every time she felt like this, would the darkness get stronger? What was it, that it could manifest when it was daylight out? Did the light no longer repel it? How had it gotten inside of her? She looked at the group and shook her head. “I’m sorry!” She cried, before running off.
“Gracie!” Leon shouted after her. “Graciela, wait!”
Pax placed a hand on his shoulder. “Please see if my sister is alright. Please…she trusts you.”
Leon nodded. “Of course! That was the plan anyway.” Leon chased after Graciela. One foot after another, he kept his eyes trained on the girl who was running ahead of him. “Graciela stop!” Finally, she reached her destination and she slumped against the tent that had been set up. They weren’t sleeping out under the stars, but it was for the ambiance. They all played space ships in there, he the pilot, Pax the commander, Braylen his right hand man, Nerissa to Lieutenant and Camilla, Harmony and Gracie the gunners. Leon panted, hands on his knees as he heaved. “I don’t run as fast as you Vampires.”
“You’re part vampire aren’t you?” She asked.
“Maybe I’m more human?” He shrugged and sat down next to her. “Why are you running?” It was light out, it couldn’t be the darkness again, could it?
“Why?” She returned his question with a question. “Why are you friends with me? Why are you friends with the girl who hears voices in her head? I’m a freak!” Her anger, her fear, her doubt all manifested into something inside her and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. When she tried, she thought more and more about how much she hated herself, how much she wanted to be like the others. She wanted to be like Nerissa, Camilla and Harmony. Why wasn’t she normal? Why? Why? Why? Because, my temple. You are glorious and they are not. Your hate…your rage…all of it, delicious. Graciela rocked back and forth, arms around her legs. “It;s never going to stop now! Even in the sunlight, it’s here! I don’t know what it wants.” You, Graciela. I want you. “It won’t leave!”
Leon rubbed Graciela’s back soothingly. “You asked me why I’m friends with you, right? It’s because I like you a lot. You see the world differently than everyone else. You’re funny, pretty and smart. Those other girls were jealous of you, I bet. I can’t think of any other reason anyone would be mean to my best friend.”
“I’m your best friend? What about Braylen?”
“You can have two best friends, you know.” He dusted his pants off as he stood. He held his hand out to her. “Come on. That voice, don’t listen to it. You aren’t bad like it tells you. It’s your body, not it’s.”
Graciela gasped, her hand flying up to her mouth. “I didn’t tell you what it said…”
He bit his lip and looked away from her gaze. “I…uh…are you sure you didn’t?” You didn’t tell him, Graciela. He knows me. He knows me quite well. Maybe that’s why he’s the only one who wants to talk to you. No one else would want to be friends with a freak like you.
“You know the darkness?” She took a step back from him.
Leon held his hand out. “Gracie…no. I don’t know it! I just…I heard it, but I don’t know it. Please, listen to me.”
She sniffled. “You’re only friends with me because of the darkness?”
“What?” He cried. “No! That’s not true at all! I just heard it when it spoke to you before. I was friends with you first. Graciela, it’s mean. It wants you to hate me.” He took a step closer to her. “I’m your friend. I promise.”
“Promise?” She collapsed into his arms as he held her tightly.
Charlotte kicked off of the ground, messing around with the swing set. She hadn’t actually been on one of these since she had been a child. Happier days? Not really, but at least she and her sisters were talking to each other. When had things decided to blow up in her face? Now, Jeff wanted to leave her for an oblivion he knew nothing about. It wasn’t fair. She was finally happy. “I saw you talking to Zayne earlier.” Jeff’s voice had made it loud and clear through her ears, but she didn’t want to talk to him right now.
“Are you jealous?” She murmured. She had meant it as a joke, but her dejected tone said otherwise.
“I know what you were talking about,” He replied, pushing her back lightly as she swung. “My mortality.”
“I want you to be alive for a long time,” Charlotte said. “Maybe that’s selfish, but Zayne wants that too.”
“I…I have to think about it. I don’t mean to leave you and the kids stranded. I love you guys, but I can’t keep pretending that I’m not human. I can’t live forever, that’s not how life works.”
“If I have a potion and you drink it, then that’s how life works. It is that simple, Jeff. I just love you, okay? I love you so much that it hurts even thinking about you leaving and never coming back.”
When she slowed, he leaned close to her and planted a kiss on her neck. “You’ll always have me.”
“Will I?” She looked up at him, tears staining the corner of her eyes.
“Always,” He murmured. “Forever, as long as I have a conscious mind, you’ll always be on it. I’ll always be here for you. Not even death can stop that from happening.”
“Yoohoo! Love birds!” Callen waved his arms wildly as he called for Charlotte and Jeff’s attention. “Got some delicious kebabs here that we’re roasting over the fire! Come and eat!”
Jeff took Charlotte’s hand and they walked slowly towards the group. Why couldn’t it be like this forever? Her hand in his? Charlotte scrunched up her nose, “No fish? You guys were at it for hours.”
“Alistair chickened out, had to toss them back in the water,” Callen said. “Can’t blame him, I guess.”
“I dated a mermaid once,” Alistair replied. “Can’t ever eat fish again. Makes me queasy just thinking about it.”
“Oh? Does it?” Callen winked and hit his arm playfully.
“Gross!” Millie cried. “He may look young, but that’s still my dad.”
Callen held his hands up in defense. “Sorry, sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
Alistair burst out into laughter, holding his sides. “That was so…stupid! I love it.” He hadn’t laughed like that in a while. “Jeez Callen.”
“I’ve been coming up with zingers all day and that’s the one you laugh at?” Callen rolled his eyes. “You my friend, are something’ else. I’ll tell ya.”
Millie shot Charlotte a look, eyebrows raised and a slick smile. Was she thinking what she was thinking? “So, Callen, you’re not seeing anyone right now, right?”
“Millie,” Alistair warned. “Don’t ask people personal questions.”
Callen shrugged. “Hey, you asked me all sorts of personal questions when we first met. I can answer some of hers.”
“That’s different,” Alistair said. “I’m the dad. I’m allowed to be a little sloppy. I don’t want my daughter to be.”
“She’s good,” Callen affirmed. “Don’t worry.” He winked st Millie. “I’m not seeing anyone. Not looking to either. I come with baggage, don’t expect anyone to deal with my crap.”
“We all do,” Millie said. “Have you heard dad’s story yet? My sister lied to me for ten years, there’s that too-”
“Ok Millie,” Zayne said, grabbing her arm. “No need to go that far. She’s pregnant, bear with my wife.”
“No way.” Callen smiled. “You don’t even look it. That’s amazing. You guys love having a big family.”
“If we keep repopulating,” Charlotte said, “Soon there will be more of us than you guys and the stuck up snotty parents here can leave us the hell alone. I’m sorry, but I’m still bitter about what those girls did to my daughter.”
“As you should be,” Callen said. “You have every right to be.” What was Callen’s deal? She couldn’t figure him out. She liked him well enough, but something about how light hearted and fun he was kept her guard up just a little bit. Maybe it was because Millie had decided to play matchmaker and her senses were now on high alert. No man would break her father’s heart again. She wouldn’t allow it.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Jeff said. “Don’t get worked up honey.”
“Nothing to worry about?” Charlotte demanded. “Do they think that because my daughter is communing with the darkness that she’s a liar? Do they think she’s weak? I will fight every single person who comes near my daughter!”
“Charlotte,” Alistair began. “Calm down.”
“I’m getting so sick of this daddy,” She replied. “We come here, and people want nothing to do with us. We come here, and my daughter is hearing those voices louder and clearer! At least if we’re making my daughter suffer, can she not be patronized? I don’t want her to feel like she can’t tell us things because we won’t believe her. The darkness is real daddy, Damian told me!”
The group fell silent. “I’m guessing you all don’t like this Damian guy, huh?”
“Damian destroyed our family,” Millie mumbled. “Char, what do you mean he told you?”
“In his castle,” She mumbled. Why had she blurted this out? Now wasn’t the time to talk about his offer. No more secrets, she promised. But it was hard. This was something that was between Damian and her and she was going to do whatever it took to protect her daughter. “He knew about the darkness.”
“WHat about it?” Alistair asked.
“Nothing,” She murmured. “He jut said that it was real. He said that it was real and they aren’t just voices in her head. It’s trying to tempt her to it.” That’s it, she couldn’t tell Jeff about her promise. She knew she wad a hypocrite. She knew it would hurt him, but she wouldn’t let him stop her. Yes, she was being selfish asking him not to give up his life, but she was also doing this for her daughter.
Callen leaned forward. “Is she hearing it’s voice?”
“What do you know about the darkness?” Charlotte asked. She was happy to have the attention shifted from her.
“I know little,” He replied. “I know of legend. The darkness is in the myth about the first seer. There was a girl who was in love with a boy, and he with her. But she was to be betrothed to someone of her class stature. He was devastated and began to live in isolation, not wanting to see the girl with someone else. It was in isolation that he had a vision that she would be attacked in the forest after her wedding. When the wedding night came, he had hidden in the forest where he had seen her being attacked in his vision. She had run from the ceremony, not wanting to marry a man she didn’t love. Here is where people who tell the story get creative. No one knows for sure what attacked her, but the man, despite knowing what would happen, couldn’t stop it. He watched his beloved die and his hatred in his useless power manifested into the darkness. It followed him and told him things. Forever, the two companions.”
“My daughter is not a seer,” Charlotte said. “She doesn’t have visions.”
Alistair raised his hand. “Audric told me that I was a seer. A time distorter. I uh, distort time to fit my visions. It wasn’t Mason or Altiere who did that to me. It was myself. So, it could be possible that Graciela is a seer.”
“No, it doesn’t work like that,” Callen said. “Seers aren’t born, they’re chosen. Myth says that seers get their powers from special deities. They just grant their power to those that they see fit.”
“That’s ridiculous, even for us,” Charlotte said. “All of this god and goddess stuff isn’t real.”
Callen shrugged. “Could be.”
“You’re not telling us something,” Alistair said. “You know more.”
“It involves these bafd boys.” Once again he pointed to his wings. “But I like you guys far to o much to subject you to it. It’s better if you don’t know.”
“You can’t tell me that if it can save my daughter’s life!” Charlotte cried.
“It can’t,” Callen said sharply. “It doesn’t save lives.” He ran his hand through his long hair. “I think I…I think it’s time for Braylen and I to leave. This was…fun. Let’s do it again sometime.”
“Call me sometime, yeah? You all know where to find me.” He gave them a short wave before jogging off to find Braylen.
“I wish he wouldn’t do that,” Alistair mumbled. “He’s gotta open up.