Graciela twirled in front of the mirror. She looked over at Camilla. “Is this too relaxed? Should I dress up more?”
Camilla let out a small laugh. “I think you look great. Where is Maric taking you out anyway? The bagel place by the park, right? That’s super casual. No need to overdress.”
“Yeah but Leon is coming too…er, afterwards,” Graciela confessed. “I told you that part, right?”
Camilla looked amused. “You did. Must be nice to have two guys fighting over you.”
“Leon doesn’t like me that way, and I don’t know if Maric does either,” Graciela said.
“Besides someone like me doesn’t have guys falling for her. So I shouldn’t even be getting my hopes up with Maric.”
“I don’t want to hear you say that again,” Camilla said. “You are great. Maric sees that because he doesn’t have our rotten classmates breathing down his neck like Nerissa does.”
“I hope she had fun at that party last night,” Graciela said bitterly. “But mom said we’re not having a sweet sixteen. She’s angry.”
“Huh? Why?” Camilla asked. “Charlotte found out that Nerissa is a manipulative bitch, right?”
“No holds barred, huh?” Graciela frowned at her reflection. “Turns out that my mom saw right through my lie. She knows I met Maric by sneaking out and she said that I shouldn’t let Nerissa bully me by holding that over my head.”
“What is your mom going to do?” Camila asked. “Are you going to get in trouble now? Is Nerissa going to get in trouble?”
“She said she’d handle it after my breakfast with Maric today,” Graciela said with a smile. “But it’s my mom, so you know I’m going to be grounded or something.”
“That’s not a punishment for you. You’d stay in all day if you could,” Camilla teased.
“Oh, mom knows. She’s probably going to take my phone away or something. I don’t know.” Graciela turned towards the door when she heard a knock.
“Dad says your boyfriend is here!” Waverly exclaimed, swinging the door open.
“Knock you little creep!” Graciela tossed a pillow at him, which he dodged expertly. “Gracie’s got a crush on a boy!”
“Oh, let’s hope your dad doesn’t give Maric the third degree,” Camilla said. “He might run away and never come back.”
“Maric? Who’s that?” Waverly asked. “I meant Leon. He’s here.”
“I thought you said that he knew about your breakfast with Maric.” Graciela could see that her best friend was delighted. “Oh, there is going to be a fight to the death for your honor this morning.”
“Oh, shut it!” Graciela hit her arm. “He’s probably here to say hi to you guys. You know he likes you too, you know.”
“Oh yeah.” Camilla rolled her eyes. “He’s here to see Pax. Come on. Let’s go say hi and see what your fiance has been up to.”
When they had arrived downstairs, Leon was lounging lazily against his best friend Braylen. Callen and Alistair sat across from the boys. “Good Morning Graciela,” Callen said with a smile. He was oddly cheerful for 9am…
“Why do I feel like I walked into a trap?” Graciela took a step back, pushing Waverly in front of her as a shield. “I’m not going to breakfast, am I?”
Jeff came into the room with a disgruntled Maric by his side. “Who’s next?” Jeffrey asked. “Camilla, Pax, Braylen…” Jeff placed his hands on his hips. “I’m going to talk to ALL of you about this sneaking out business. Did you think you could just hide that Graciela wasn’t going to class? And who forged the notes?”
“Dad!” Graciela cried, looking at Maric. “He didn’t tell me to sneak out! I was doing it before I met him. I don’t like the darkness. You know that it can be unbearable in school.”
“That doesn’t matter. He and I talked about you not skipping classes in the future.” Jeff gave a stern look to Maric who gulped in response. “Otherwise I’m calling your mother.”
“Please don’t,” Maric said. “I don’t want to worry her. I’m sorry, sir. You have my word that nothing like this will happen in the future.”
Graciela was so embarrassed she could crawl into a hole and never come out. “Mom tricked me! She said I can go to breakfast…”
“You can,” Jeff said. “After Callen and your grandfather tell you why they’re here. Oh, and Leon is going to breakfast with you. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Leon straightened up. “Sir, I was going to hang out with Braylen this morning. I don’t want to interfere with Graciela’s plans.”
“The more the merrier,” Jeff said with a shrug. “Tell ya what, my treat if you all go out to breakfast this morning.”
“Dad…” Graciela frowned. “That’s not fair…”
“Don’t ever lie to me, Gracie,” Jeffrey said. “You know you’re my world, right? I’m on your side, but I don’t like that you feel the need to lie to me and your mother. I’m proud of your siblings for working together and covering for you but I don’t want to see this happen again, understood?”
“For a human,” Maric whispered to Graciela. “He sure is scary. I don’t want to cross him.”
“You should see her mom,” Camilla said. “You got off lucky. We all did…” She bit her lip. She was going to be punished too but at least she wouldn’t be torn apart by Charlotte.
“Callen go ahead,” Jeffrey said. “Tell the kids what they’ll be doing for you.”
“This wasn’t my idea,” Alistair cut in. “Before you kids end up hating me.”
Callen laughed. “No, grandpa of the year would never make you guys work.”
“Work?” Pax asked. “Oh no, why do I smell free labor?”
“It’s been a dream of mine to open a business,” Callen said. “I’ve finally come across the funds to invest and a new place has become vacated. That bagel place Maric was going to take you to.”
“Does everyone know about that?” Graciela reached up to cover her reddening face.
Alistair couldn’t help but chuckle. “Callen bought the coffeehouse, so you can visit the place today but it’s not open to customers yet.”
“Callen wants you guys to help him run the place. He needs servers, and you guys need money.” Jeffrey looked a Pax. “It”s not free labor. He’s going to pay you. But there’s no arguing. You have to work for him as punishment, and if I hear that any of you, with the exception of Maric, aren’t there Charlotte is going to be doing the punishing.”
“I wouldn’t mind working,” Maric spoke up. “I don’t get out much anyway. I’m home schooled.”
“I’d welcome all of your help. I talked to your parents and worked out a schedule I think would work best for everyone. Maric, we can work on yours afterwards.”
“I…I can’t work these hours.” Graciela held the paper that Callen had passed out to her with shaky hands. “They’re at night.”
“I work nights,” Braylen said. “So it will be fine.”
“I will give you a ride home after closing,” Callen said. “The place is well illuminated. Try it. If you don’t like it, then you can always switch with someone else.”
Graciela looked to her father who shook his head. “I promise it will be alright. You’ll never be alone, sweetheart.”
“Yeah but…” Her eyes fell on Leon hoping he’d speak up for her.
“I think it’s a good idea, Gracie,” Leon said with a small smile. “You get to make some extra cash too.”
“Please try it,” Alistair said.
“I…” She took in a deep breath. “Ok, ok. Fine. Fine.”
The ride to breakfast was awkward as Graciela, Pax, Camila, Leon, Braylen and Maric stuffed themselves into Callen’s car. Alistair had stayed home with Gracie’s parents. “The perk of working there is that you get free coffee and breakfast whenever you want it,” Callen said to break the silence. When no one said anything he shrugged. “Listen, this isn’t supposed to be painful. It could have been way worse. Charlotte wanted to take away cellphone privileges.”
“It’s just not fair that Nerissa doesn’t have to work,” Camilla said. “She’s the one who causes problems all the time. We almost had a sweet sixteen for Gracie because of her.”
“Huh? A sweet sixteen?” Leon turned to face Graciela as best as he could in the packed car. “Remember your mom’s wedding, and we danced all night?”
“We were kids,” Graciela said. “I have no desire to do that now.”
“So you wouldn’t have come with me last night then?” Maric asked. “I mean, if it was in the daytime, you still wouldn’t have crashed Shae’s party with me?”
“She’d ruin Graciela’s life,” Leon said angrily. “Don’t put her in that situation, ever. You don’t understand Shae, I used to be friends with her.”
“I’ve lived next door to her since I was born,” Maric said. “She wouldn’t have done anything to hurt Gracie. I would have been there to stop it.”
The tension in the back seat grew and Graciela hadn’t wanted to disappear any more than in this moment. “I just don’t like parties,” Graciela cut in. “Sorry about this, Maric. I didn’t know my family and friends were going to insert themselves into this.”
Maric chuckled. “It’s cute. I like that they care so much. And for the record, I’m not trying to hurt you.”
A disgruntled Leon leaned against the window, too angry to speak. This probably wasn’t how he had imagined the day going. “Hey uh, Callen!” Pax called. “Do you think you can hire the volume, I love this song.” Anything to make the situation ease up. Graciela leaned into her brother and closed her eyes. She was sorry that everyone else had to get in trouble, but she knew her mother wouldn’t let Nerissa go unscathed.
Callen had stopped the car. “We’re here. Order anything you want. I’m the barista until you guys start working. And to answer your earlier remark, it’s better if Nerissa doesn’t work here. Jeff and Charlotte have other plans.”
When everyone had headed inside the building, Graciela hung back. She grabbed onto Callen’s arm, when she was sure no one was still watching her. “Hey, what’s up?” He asked with a smile.
“You and my grandpa,” She said. “That’s what. I just want to know how it’s going.”
“Uh…your grandfather likes me and I like him,” Callen said. “But it’s never that simple.”
“Like is not love,” Graciela pointed out.
“It’s not,” Callen surmised. “But like isn’t dislike either, right?” He shrugged. “That’s something.”
Graciela nodded. “It is, but give grandpa some time okay? Mom says his last husband hit him hard.”
Callen smiled at the girl. “Thank you. I’ll try my best, alright?”