Their first day of school rolled around the corner before the kids could even blink. Nerissa was excited to meet new people. Pax was pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, but neither Graciela nor Camilla wanted to go. “Pleeeeeease?” Graciela begged, holding onto her dad’s leg.
“Baby,” He murmured, leaning down beside her. “You have to go to school.”
“I don’t want to,” She replied. “Please let me stay home.”
“Leon and Braylen will be there. Your siblings are going to be there,” Jeff said. He looked at the group of children. “Isn’t that right, kids?”
Nerissa nodded excitedly. “It will be so much fun, Gracie.”
“Those girls are gonna be there.” Graciela scowled. “The mean ones, Shea and Raina. What if they make fun of me?”
“They’ll have to deal with me,” Camilla said, arms crossed over her chest.
“It was one time,” Nerissa began, but dropped her voice at Camilla’s glare. “What? I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
“If those girls bother you again,” Jeffrey began, hugging his daughter, “you let me know. And Nerissa, remember that your family always comes first over your friends.”
“Ok,” Nerissa mumbled, adjusting the straps of her book bag.
Graciela watched the town pass them by. It didn’t feel like home, not yet. She knew her siblings were settling in nicely. But she much preferred the calm of Audric’s haven. The darkness wasn’t as loud, it was only a hum. Here, it manifested inside herself and screamed, yelled, sang…to get her attention. It was incessant. “Don’t worry, Gracie,” Camilla said. “One of us has to be in your class. We won’t let anything happen.”
“I know,” She replied, despite herself. She was happy to know that people had her back. bullies were one thing, the darkness was another. It wasn’t as easy to fight it. Camilla couldn’t tackle it to the ground and punch it.
Why do you let them fight your battles? Graciela, you are pathetic.
Garciela shut her eyes tightly and tried to focus on the vibrations of the moving bus. Anything to get the noise out of her mind. “Is it talking now?” Camilla asked. Gracie nodded. “Tell it to buzz the hell off.”
“It won’t listen. It never does,” Graciela mumbled. “I really hope that Leon is in my class.” For whatever reason, when he was near, she didn’t hear the voice. She felt at ease.
What are you going to do, cry and watch him run to you? His life doesn’t revolve around you. Stop making him drop everything because he feels bad for you.
“Do you think Leon hates me?” Graciela asked Camilla. “Do you think he finds me annoying?”
Camilla shook her head. “No, I don’t think he does. I think he likes you a lot.”
“I think so too,” Graciela mumbled. “At least, I hope so.”
Entering the school yard, Graciela took in a deep breath. This was it. She could do this.
No, you can’t.
But she could. She knew she could, because Leon was in her class. He excitedly waved his schedule in her face as he sat in the seat across from her. She hadn’t ever felt so happy in her life. “Math is first period, blegh. I hate numbers, they’re so annoying. Oh, hey look, did you see that Nerissa is in our class too? Gracie, hello!” He waved his hand in front of her face.
“Huh?” She blinked. “Oh, uh sorry. I was uh, deep in thought. The voice is here. It won’t leave me alone. Do you still hear it?”
“No,” He replied sadly. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” She replied. “I don;t want you to. It’s mean.”
“But if I hear it, maybe I can protect you,” Leon said.
“I can protect myself,” She said sharply, remembering what the voice had said earlier. She depended upon people too much.
Leon frowned. “I didn’t say you couldn’t. I just want to.” Braylen waved from the other side of the playground and Leon nodded to him. We should go, Bray is waiting for us.”
It had been hours since she sat down in that classroom. The teachers talked and talked and talked….the voice had a comment for everything. Math was idiotic, Gracie should have known all of this because she was a vampire, blah blah blah….and other stupid remarks. She needed to escape. She needed to leave. She raised her hand to ask to go to the bathroom, but her teacher simply told her to hold it until the end of the lesson. She couldn’t listen to the voice any longer. She got up and bounded out of the classroom. She could feel the eyes of her twenty-six classmates on her back and heard their whispers. The signal, she forgot the signal. it didn’t matter, she didn’t want to rely on Leon so much. She didn’t want him to go after her, but when she heard footsteps she knew it was him. “Stop it!” She cried, spinning around to face him. They were outside of the school building. No one had even stopped her from walking right out of the building…
“I told you I wasn’t going to let you face this alone, remember? We talked about this yesterday,” Leon said. “Is that voice telling you something? Gracie I…”
She shook her head, tears falling from her face. “I can handle myself. I can do this. It’s just school. It’s just some stupid lessons. It’s just…”
“Gracie?” Leon reached out to touch her arm. “It’s okay,” He whispered. “I’m going to be here.”
She felt a calming sensation pulse through her body as Leon touched her. How? What was it about him that made her feel safe? Why did she believe him when he said that he’d protect her? He wasn’t going to give up on her, even if the voice told her he would. She felt that. “I’ll marry you,” She whispered, hugging him.
“What?” He asked, but hugged her as just as tightly. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” She whispered against him. “Because I don’t want to lose you. I need you.”
He rubbed her back soothingly. “Okay. Then let’s get married.”
The ride home from school was almost uneventful. Camilla noticed Nerissa looking down at her feet. “What is it?” She asked the nymph.
“Why is it that she has to hear the voice everywhere we go?” Nerissa asked. “People think Gracie’s crazy for walking out of the classroom like that.”
“She’s not crazy,” Camilla said, glancing at the vampire who was sitting alone in a seat at the front of the bus. “People who don’t see that aren’t worth our time.”
“You’re going to have no friends like that,” Nerissa said. “I already heard them talking. They think she’s weird.”
“You think she’s weird,” Camilla replied. “Now that they think she’s weird.”
Nerissa shook her head fiercely. “No, I don’t. But the voice…how do we even know it’s real? She is going to make everyone hate us.”
“Is that all you care about?” Camilla asked. “Back in Moonlight Falls, we didn’t even have a home and you’re worried about people not liking you.”
“I want friends, Camilla.”
“Gracie is your friend, she has been from day one.”
“I want more,” Nerissa replied coldly. “I want to do all the things we can’t do because of her.”
“Talking to you is like explaining to Pax why Invisible Man is not the greatest comic book hero. Impossible.” She hopped down from her seat and walked over to Pax. She wouldn’t humor Nerissa when she was like this.
Graciela was a vampire. Didn’t they know she could hear them talking behind her? “Hey!” She was startled when a boy sat down next to her. She had recognized him from class. “Why’d you run out of the classroom like that? Is it true you’re a vampire who’s afraid of the dark? Even small shadows?”
“Huh?” Gracie titled her head. Who told him that?
At her expression he burst out laughing. “Haha! Guys, it’s true. She’s afraid of the dark, look at her face. Let’s try it. Quick, someone give me that sweater!” He reached for the blue sweater that hung on the seat behind them and flung it on Graciela, clouding her vision. She shut her eyes tightly. She found when she supplied the darkness, it wasn’t as bad. She wouldn’t scream…she wouldn’t scream…
Someone angrily yanked the sweater from her. “Leave her alone Kas.” Graciela looked up at Leon with tears forming at the corner of her eyes. She couldn’t help it. Being strong was hard.
“Aww, is her boyfriend coming to save her?” Kas laughed again. What a vile creature, Graciela thought to herself. She wanted to wipe that smile off of his face.
“I’m her husband.” Leon crossed his arms over his chest. “Get it right. Now, you’re going to walk away now or I’m going to beat you up.”
“Did you say husband? Oh man, you’re hilarious Leon!” Kas patted his back forcefully. “Makes sense a half breed like you would pick another half breed to mate with. Disgusting. Let’s not waste our tie on these weaklings, boys.” Kas was a werewolf and everywhere he went, he brought a pack. Waving them away, they followed him to the back of the bus.
Leon slid into the seat next to her. “Don’t listen to them. You’re my wife now, so I get an excuse for beating them up if they hurt you.”
Upon arriving at the Gray household, both Charlotte and Jeff were waiting with open arms for the kids. “How was your first day of school?” Jeffrey asked.
“It was okay,” Pax said. “Camilla was in my class, and all we did was take notes. SO boring.”
“What about you sweetie?” Jeffrey asked Graciela.
Leon grabbed onto her hand and grinned. “We got married today. In the school yard.”
“Married?” Jeff tried to hide his amused grin. “You know you’re a little too young to be getting married.”
“We had to get married,” Leon said. “So I can protect her better than I did before. I was going to beat up these guys who were picking on her.”
“Is that why your school called and said you left the classroom today, Graciela?” Chartlotte asked. “People were bullying you?”
“IT was the voice,” She mumbled. “I couldn’t concentrate and it wouldn’t stop. I had to leave, but I went right back.”
“You have to let your teacher know where you’re going, Sweetie,” Jeff said.
“I tried, but she wouldn’t let me leave,” Graciela replied.
“I should have a word with this teacher,” Charlotte said. “Come on in kids. Are you staying for dinner, Leon?”
“Can I?” He asked.
“Well, you’re married to my daughter, so I don’t see why not.” Charlotte winked.
After dinner, the kids decided to get some homework done. Nerissa, Graciela and Leon were in the same class and had the same assignment. Graciela was done easily. Vampires were naturally quick learners, but Nerissa and Leon struggled. “What did you guys get for number one?” Leon asked.
“You’re still on one?” Nerissa asked. She rolled her eyes.
“It’s magic. M-A-G-I-C.” Graciela spelled it out for him. She turned to her friend. “I heard you talking to Camilla on the bus today.” She didn’t want to approach Nerissa about this, but it was making her feel very uncomfortable knowing he best friend wasn’t thrilled about her antics. “I didn’t mean to make you look stupid. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Nerissa said. “Just don’t do it again, or we’ll have no friends.” Leon placed his pencil down angrily. “Can’t spell the next word? It’s Flames. F-L-” Nerissa began to tick off the letters when Leon cut her off.
“Don’t apologize to her, Gracie,” Leon said. “You did nothing wrong. You were looking for a safe space.”
“People are going to think we’re all crazy if she keeps doing that,” Nerissa said.
“Who cares what they think?” Leon asked. “I don’t want to be friends with people like that. I rather only be friends with Gracie than have a million mean friends.”
“I want a lot of friends,” Nerissa said.
“It’s okay,” Graciela mumbled. “I get it.” She placed her own pencil down. No one wants to be friends with the girl who hears voices in her head. The voice was probably right.
“See?” Nerissa grinned. “Gracie understands. She’s a good friend.”
Leon glared at Nerissa. “She’s too good of a friend. You’re walking all over her.”
“Leon…” Graciela’s voice trailed off. “She’s right. People don’t want to be friends with a girl who hears voices in her head.”
“I do,” He replied desperately. Graciela waved him off, turning her attention back to her homework. She appreciated him, but maybe Nerissa’s concerns had some merit. She was a weirdo, a freak. She had to accept that not everyone was as wonderful as Leon, Camilla, Braylen and her brother.