Graciela didn’t often leave her house if she didn’t have to. She felt most comfortable in her room. She could blast her music and drown out the sound of the darkness. But today, today was different. Today was the end of the school year. Pax, Camilla and Harmony would be moving up to high school. Schools ran differently in Fortitude than they did in Moonlight Falls. They didn’t follow the traditional style of schooling like the human worlds. With Adele’s permission, the younger students, Graciela, Nerissa, Leon and Braylen could take intensive summer classes to catch up to the others. The option was only open to them, and after discussing things with Callen, and the kids, Charlotte signed up Graciella, Nerissa and Braylen. Graciela cautiously knocked on the door. She could feel her heart beating so loudly, but sucked it up. This was important. Took a lot to get you to come here, little lamb, didn’t it? Little lamb. The darkness had taken to calling her that. Small and delicate it had said. It made her feel icky. She didn’t like it. It made her feel sacrificial, like the lambs in those stories she had accidentally stumbled upon in the textbook from class.
Thankfully, Leon was the one to answer the door. He wore a big smile, surprised to see Graciela at his home. “Gracie!” He instantly hugged her. “What are you doing here? Is everything alright?”
Graciela nodded slowly. “Yes, everything is fine. I just came because I had a question.”
“A question?” He nodded. “Go ahead and ask.”
“Are you going to school in the summer? I mean, it is the summer. Are you going to school when it starts now?” She looked down at her feet, heart pounding.
“I uh…” He bit his lip. “Not sure yet. My parents might not uh, want me to.”
“What do you mean?” She cried. “You can’t leave me.”
“I know,” He replied slowly, an expression of pain visible on his face. “I just need to talk to them.”
That was a few days ago. Graciela hadn’t spoken to Leon since. Had he talked to his parents? She drummed her fingers on her thighs as her mother attempted to set up for the summer party they were having. It was some stupid idea that Nerissa had come up with, and Pax corroborated. A summer extravaganza! Really, it was just a get together to congratulate the kids on moving up to higher things. “Mom…” Graciela called for her attention. “Do you know if Leon is coming to the party?”
Charlotte turned around and adjusted her jacket. “Yes, and his parents are too. I called them, at your request.”
“Thanks mom,” She mumbled. “Can you talk to them? About summer school?”
“Of course sweetie,” Charlotte said. “But I can’t make any promises. If Leon’s parents don’t want him to go, we can’t force him.”
“I know, but I just don’t want to spend time without him,” Graciela said with a frown.
“And why is that?” Charlotte knelt by her daughter. “Is it because you’re afraid of being alone? Because Nerissa and Braylen will be there.”
“Mom,” Graciela began. “I like Leon a lot. He’s fun to hang out with and he’s the only one who understands me. Nerissa doesn’t even want to be there! She wants to stay back with Shea and Raina.”
Charlotte ruffled her daughter’s hair. “Don’t worry baby. I’ll talk to Leon’s parents. But everything will work out, I promise.”
Leon was the first to arrive, well beside her aunt Millie who came early on her own to help set up. Leon was always the first. A smile grew on her lips when she saw him. “Hi there.” He waved. “My parents are inside, but I wanted to say hi to you first.”
She felt the butterflies in her stomach melt away. Why couldn’t everyone treat her the way Leon did? The voice told her that he spent too much time babying her. He never had time to do what he wanted. But when she had asked him about it, Leon denied it vehemently. “I like hanging out with you,” He had told her. And she liked hanging out with him too.
“Hi,” She said. “You’re early, aren’t you?”
“Mom wanted to help setup,” Leon replied. “She said it’s a way to thank your parents for watching me all the time. You know, I am here a lot.”
“You even sleep in the guest room sometimes,” Graciela agreed with a giggle. “I didn’t know we were going to be friends when I first met you.”
“Oh yeah,” Leon said. “Your brother was a big jerk. I mean, I guess he’s okay now.” Leon gave Graciela a triumphant smile. “But, I knew that when I met you that we were going to be friends.”
“I just…felt it.” He shrugged. “I just knew.”
“Mrs. Gray.” Leon’s mother outstretched her hand. “How are you doing?”
“Myra, good to see you again.” Charlotte returned the woman’s genuine smile. “I’m doing great, how about you?”
“Can’t really complain.Things are going pretty smoothly,” Myra replied. “Can I help you in the kitchen?”
“No need,” Charlotte said. “We catered food and bought a cake. Everything is all set. No grilling. Didn’t think our vampire guests would appreciate that.”
Myra let out a small laugh. “My husband will appreciate that. He can withstand the sun, but he hates it. How is Jeffrey?”
“He’s doing great too. He’s probably off with your husband right now talking, who knows what? That house repair he’s trying to do in the yard, probably.” She shrugged.
“You know, Leon is always talking about Graciela. I’m glad they met,” Myra said. “They make a good match.”
Charlotte nodded. “I think so too. Is he going to be participating in the summer program I sent you an email about?”
“Oh, that…” Myra shook her head. “No. No, Leon is uhm, leaving Fortitude.”
“I was under the impression that people didn’t exactly leave Fortitude,” Charlotte said, in disbelief. “Where would he even be going?”
“Leon is a special case. I can’t talk about the circumstances, but he’s going somewhere to hone his skills,” Myra replied. “He’ll be back on some weekends and Holidays, but he will not be attending school at Fort Natural High.”
Charlotte could feel the weight being stacked on her heart. Her daughter would be devastated. “Graciela is going to be so upset.”
“I had that feeling.” Myra frowned. “But Leon will be back every once and a while.”
“Gracie depends on him,” Charlotte commented. “I hadn’t realized how much until she started talking about staying back if Leon wanted to.”
“I’m sure you understand when I tell you that Leon is destined for things not many people are,” Myra said. “I don’t want him to go either, but he has to.”
Charlotte nodded. “I do understand doing what has to be done. It’s going to be tough for Gracie, but we’ll work our best to get through it.”
“I’m sure Leon will try his hardest to keep in touch, so please don’t worry.”
When Leon pulled Graciela aside during the party, she was hesitant to go with the male. He had an air of seriousness about him, something he didn’t often do at all. She nodded quietly, hopped off of the couch and headed with him outside in the cold crisp air. “Leon…” She bit her lip as she looked out into the night. “It’s dark out here.”
“You said the darkness doesn’t bother you if I’m here,” Leon said. “Don’t worry, I’ll fight anyone off.”
She nodded. “Ok, promise?”
“Promise,” He replied. Then, he took her hands in his. “I have to tell you something, important.”
“What is it?” She asked. Leon bit his lip and looked down at his shoes, his usual confidence fading away. “Are you okay? What is it?”
“Gracie, I can’t come to summer school with you…”
“I’ll stay back too then,” She answered quickly. “I don’t mind”
“No, wait,” He continued. “I won’t be in Fortitude. I’m leaving, to go to some school outside the walls.”
Graciela felt her breath hitch in her throat she she heard his words. “What do you mean? You can’t be leaving.”
“I have to,” He mumbled. “I don’t want to leave you, but I have to.”
“Isn’t there some other way? Why are you leaving?” The questions shot out of her mouth like bullets.
“I have to,” Leon said. “I’m special. I have to train at a place that knows what I am.”
“What are you?” She clutched his shirt tightly, not wanting to let go in fear of him leaving. He hugged her tightly.
“I…I don’t know. I want to be normal like everyone else. I want to stay here and go to school with my friends. With you.”
“You can,” Graciela said. “Please.”
“I can’t Gracie. I just can’t.” She looked up at him with tears staining her pale face and ran inside the house. How could he break her heart like this? How could he just leave her here?
And you thought he would be here forever. You’ll see, little lamb, that things don’t ever go as planned. People you love will always hurt you.
She sniffled. Was the voice right? Was she just going to keep getting hurt by people she cared about? First Nerissa, and now Leon? She slammed the door to the study. Nobody at the party would know to check for her in here, so at least she’d have some sort of privacy. She turned up all the lights and turned on everything that would emit a light. “Gracie!” Leon barged in after her. “Please stop running!”
“Just leave already!” She cried. “If you’re going to leave, just do it already!”
“I will never leave you when you’re upset.” He placed his hand on his heart. “It hurts me too.” He took a seat next to her. “Please don’t be mad at me Gracie, because I’m going to cry too.”
“Then don’t leave,” She said. “Stay here with me.”
“I can’t,” He repeated. “Graciela…don’t do this, please. I have to go.”
She played with her thumbs. “I know. I just don’t want you to leave. I’m sorry.”
He smiled at her. “It makes me so happy that you care about me so much.”
“I’m your wife,” Graciela replied. “Right? I thought that meant you would never leave.”
“I think you were right,” Leon said, sadly. “Marriage is more complicated than I thought. Mom says we’re not married yet, not until we say our vows. We have to be adults too, dad told me. But it’s okay, because when I come back we can get married.”
“Can I come with you?” Graciela asked.
He shook his head. “But mom says I can come back and visit. I’m not leaving forever. Just for a little bit.”
“When are you leaving?” Her heart lurched when she saw his frown. “Leon?”
“Tomorrow,” He mumbled. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Does that mean tonight is our last day together!?” She let out a strangled cry again. “No! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know how to tell you without hurting you,” He replied. “I didn’t want you to cry over me.” He took her hand in his. “Gracie, you’re very special to me.” He closed his eyes and did what he saw in the movies. He kissed her. Graciela’s eyes grew wide. “You’re going to be my wife one day. So, please don’t cry. You’re going to see me again real soon. I’d never forget about you.”
It wasn’t until the end of the night that Leon handed Graciela a box. “What’s this?” She asked.
“A gift,” Leon said. “I picked it out special for you.”
“Why would you get me a gift?” She asked, confusion dawning on her face.
“To remember me,” Leon said. “I don’t want you to forget about me, or my promise.”
“I can’t ever forget you, Leon.”
He grinned cheekily. “But, just in case. Maybe if you see this, you’ll think of me. Just open it.” She nodded and did as she was told. She tore way the wrapping paper and opened the box, revealing a small plastic ring. “It’s not much, but I forgot the most important thing when I proposed. Apparently, you need a ring.”
“You said we can’t get married until we’re older,” Graciela said.
“I know,” He replied. “But you can look at it and remember me. And when other boys ask you to marry them you can say no and show them this.”
Graciela hugged him once again. “I’m going to miss you, and not because you make me feel safe,” She whispered. “People keep telling me that I hang out with you because I’m afraid. But that’s not it. I really like you, Leon. I like hanging out with you, and I’m going to miss you so much.”
“I promise I’ll be back very soon. You have my word.” He kissed her cheek. “Now please, let’s go get some cake before Pax eats it all.”