Charlotte and Jeffrey were in a passionate make out session. Summer was even more busy for the two of them. Graciela and Nerissa were out of the house, but Pax, Camilla, Waverly and Gregg were still roaming around the house. “You’re sure they’re not up yet?” Jeff asked, moving his hands to the elastic band of his wife’s shorts.
“They’re out like a light. Thanks to someone letting them stay up all night to watch that movie.” Charlotte untangled Jeff’s hair from his usual messy bun.
“It’s summer,” He replied against her lips. “They’re kids. Let them have some fun. You’re telling me you didn’t do that as a kid?”
“Nope,” She replied, hands traveling lightly down his back. “I was always studying with dad in the lair. We had a war to fight.”
“Our kids won’t have to suffer that here in Fortitude,” Jeff replied.
Charlotte reached for his face, willing him to look at her. “You know that’s not the case.”
“I think it is,” He replied. “I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but they have us and a stable environment.”
“I have to pick someone,” She mumbled. “Do you know that?”
“Pick them for what?” Jeff asked. Their passionate moment was once again ruined by the kids, except this time it was the possibility of what could happen to one of them.
“It’s this symbolic thing. You pass the torch. I mean, maybe it’s not symbolic. Maybe it really does things.” She shrugged, jumping down from his waist and straightening out her shorts. “Those baddies take note of who we choose to lead our future. It’s weird, now that I think about it. Like, grandpa Apollo chose my dad and we don’t ever hear about the human family we have in Sunlit Tides.”
Jeff let out a small chuckle. “You gave me such hell for being a human, yet you have this huge human family.”
She rolled her eyes and kissed his cheek. “I give you shit now because you’re better than all those other humans.” She plopped down on the bed. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a child is chosen and they have to have the brunt of the burden on their back. Dad chose Astra and I. But, I don’t want to split it. Maybe I’m crazy and it really is just some ritual my family does to make us feel better about ourselves, but I don’t want to take any chances. We have to choose.”
Jeff sat down next to her, slinking his arm around her waist. “You have to choose. I know it’s our family, but you’re the Gray. I have no right to tell you who to pass down your legacy to. You and Astra fight it out.”
“Astra isn’t ready,” Charlotte said. “Knox is too young and she can’t handle the burden of nurturing a child through that struggle. It has to be one of our kids. I have an idea, but I know you’re not going to like it.”
He raised his brow. “Char, not Gracie. She of all people can’t shoulder that weight. Pax is well suited and-”
“I thought you said it was my decision?” Jeff was so protective of his daughter. If he could accompany her to school and fight her bullies, he would. “I know Leon is gone, but maybe this will give her the drive to push herself. We are charging head first into the unknown. Nothing is over with, and I need her to be strong. I will not allow her to be swallowed up like Astra. Graciela needs to be strong.”
Jeff let out a big sigh and nodded. “I don’t understand what it’s like to lead a family through a war like you have. I will trust anything you say.”
Pax laughed hysterically when he saw Camilla’s bedhead. “You….” He began laughing again before he could finish.
“What are you laughing at punk?” She punched his arm.
“Your…” More laughter. “Hair….!”
Camilla rolled her eyes, but reached up to pat her hair down. “Shut up.” She crossed her legs like a pretzel. “The house is so quiet without Nerissa and Gracie.”
“Gracie keeps to herself anyway,” Pax said. “But it sure is nice not to have to hear Nerissa talk about Shea and Raina.”
“She likes you,” Camilla stated. “Nerissa has a crush on you.”
“I would never date her,” He replied, laying back on the bed. “That’s gross.” He looked over at Camilla and grinned. “Besides, she isn’t nice to Graciela. I know they’re still friends, but Gracie is my sister.”
“I know,” Camilla said. “I don’t think Nerissa understands how much she hurts Gracie with her words because your sister just submits.”
“She has to be stronger and stand up for herself,” Pax said. “We have to help her.” Camilla nodded in agreement.
Returning home from summer school, Graciela wanted nothing more than to sleep. She collapsed onto the bed in the spare room in the basement. She was hoping no one would bother her.
What’s the matter, little lamb? Are you hurt?
“Shut it,” She mumbled out loud. “You have no power over me.”
Your source of light left, little lamb. I have more power than you think.
“Shut up,” Graciela replied again. “I can’t hear you. You’re not there. Lalalalala!” She chanted in hopes that it would just go away.
I will always be here, little lamb. Always. Just remember that. You can’t rid yourself of me.
“You can’t hurt me. You’re just a voice. Just a voice. You’re just a voice- Ahh!” Graciela let out a cry of pain as she felt her insides twisting.
Does it hurt little lamb? Do you want me to stop? Just ask nicely.
“Stop!” She cried, huddling onto the floor. “Stop!” The pain only intensified. “Stop!” She was beginning to lose her vision and her head was pounding.
She heard footsteps rattling towards her but could do little to move from the spot she was in. “Mom! Dad!”
“Gracie!” She felt strong arms wrap around her. “Honey, what’s wrong?” Jeff hugged his daughter tightly, stroking her hair.
“It’s hurting me, daddy. The darkness is hurting me because Leon isn’t here to stop it.” Jeff could feel her fingernails digging into his back, she was holding on to him so tightly. “Make it leave me alone, please.”
“I…I don’t know how, Sweetie.” He felt bad uttering that admission out loud. He rubbed her back. “We’ll figure it out. You just have to stay strong. Fight it. I’m here now.”
“I need Leon, daddy….” She let out a strangled sob. She was soaking his shirt with her tears. “Daddy, please….” If he could leave and get Leon now, he would. But that wasn’t possible.
“Honey,” Jeff began. “I love you. You can do this, I believe in you.”
She sniffled. “I don’t think I can.”
“You can,” He replied. “I know you can. You’re smart, and strong just like your mother. You can do this.”
Charlotte wrapped her arms around Jeff, laying her head on his chest. “Is she okay?”
“She’s finally asleep,” Jeffrey replied. “It broke my heart seeing her like that. I couldn’t stop it. I don’t know what the darkness is or what it entails.”
Charlotte stroked his arm that was wrapped around her. “You did a great job. You calmed her down.”
“I wish I could do more.”
“We’re doing everything we can do, but I think that Gracie has to learn to stop it on her own. We can’t always be here physically for her. As we can see, neither can Leon. She has to be strong.”
“I don’t want her dealing with anything else on top of this darkness,” Jeff said. “Charlotte, I can’t do this. I’m watching my baby girl struggle.”
“You think I want to see her like this?” Charlotte asked. “Jeff, there were things you or my family couldn’t help me overcome. I had to do those things on my own. We can’t coddle her. I’m not saying to force her to face her fears, but she can’t be so reliant on us. She has to find a way on her own to get the darkness to stop.”
“I love her.”
“I do too,” Charlotte replied. “But we both saw what happened when someone was coddled. Declan never let Astra do anything, and that’s why when she was alone she attached herself to the person who gave her the attention she wanted. I don’t want my daughter with an Audric.”
“I hate it when you’re right,” He mumbled, nuzzling her neck.
The next morning, Charlotte threw on some clothes and headed to her daughter’s room. It was still early and she had a feeling that Graciela was still sleeping. Charlotte knocked cautiously on her daughter’s door. “Sweetie, are you up?”
“Yes mom!” She called. “I can’t sleep anymore, so I got dressed and ready to leave.”
Charlotte opened the door and walked cautiously into the room. Graciela was sitting on her bed, the lights wide open as usual. Charlotte motioned for her daughter to follow her. “We don’t want to wake Nerissa,” She whispered.
The two headed to the kitchen where Charlotte began brewing some hot chocolate. “Is that for me, mom?”
Charlotte nodded. “Of course.” She began boiling the water. “Graciela, you’re old enough for me to give you this talk.” She looked at her daughter to see her nervously playing with a fork that was left on the table. “Our family has always been bullied by someone. Mommy was bullied by a mean man named Mason, and those mean vampires in Moonlight Falls.”
“Why do we have to be bullied?” Graciela asked. “What did we do that was so bad?”
“It’s complicated, sweetie.” It would be in the book that her father passed down to her and she’d pass down to Graciela. “But everyone before you had to face hardships. But, it always ended up good. Your auntie Astra is happy. Your grandpa is happy. I’m happy.”
“I can be happy too?” Graciela asked. “Even with the darkness?”
Charlotte nodded. “You deserve to be happy. But you can’t be, if you let people tell you how to feel and how to think. You are very smart and talented. Listen to what your brain, heart and gut tell you.”
“Mom, why tell me this now?”
“Because I love you,” Charlotte said. “And one day, I am going to have to pass down the family name and legacy to someone. I want it to be you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You won’t until you’re much older,” Charlotte said. “But just remember that you are a Gray. You can overcome any obstacle that is thrown your way. You cannot be defined by the darkness. You are strong and beautiful, and will find your way in this world. Do not compromise anything you feel or believe for someone else and always do what you think is right even if someone else thinks it’s wrong. Because, you are Graciela Gray and no one else.”
“I am Graciela Gray,” She repeated. “And no one else. I am Graciela Gray.” She grinned happily, taking the mug from her mother’s hand. “Mom, you’re right! I am Graciela Gray. No one else can be me.”
Charlotte ruffled her daughter’s hair, a smile of content on her face. She would have to pass the torch down eventually, and while it may have seemed a tough fit for Graciela to squeeze into, she knew just how important her daughter was. She knew more than anybody what a little support and belief did for a person. Graciela, she believed truly, would do amazing things one day.