Graciela scrubbed the counter but no matter how long she spent with the rag in her hand, the table never seemed to look clean. Maybe it was the marbled speckles scattered across it. She took in a deep breath and then let one out. Maric stood across the dining room chatting politely with customers. For someone who was home schooled, he was much more sociable than one would expect. People liked Maric because he was amicable. He said he pleases and thank yous but stood up for what he believed in firmly.
But, so did Leon. He did what he thought was best. Her slender fingers traced her lips. Leon had kissed her last week. He had kissed her and then left. He texted her as soon as he was settled back into his boarding school. He had texted her every morning and every night before bed. But she ignored all of the messages.
When Maric looked up and caught her eyes, she looked back down at the counter. If she kept scrubbing he’d leave her alone. Despite the brightly lit room she was in, the darkness bounced off of the windows. It was night time and Graciela was expected to stay until closing. It was Friday so there was no school the next day but this was the last place she had wanted to be. Maric approached the counter with a notepad, no doubt putting in the order of the happy couple he had just been talking to.
She placed the rag into the sink behind her and shuffled into the back room. She was allowed to have breaks as she needed them. Callen was understanding of her anxiety attacks and the darkness. Braylen was always on duty when she was and would cover for her when it was necessary.
She could hear Maric’s concerned voice and the rustling of papers. “Is she alright in there?” Maric asked, causing Graciela’s heart to thump.
No, she was not alright. He had asked her out and she was happy to go until Leon came back and kissed her. She didn’t know what to do or think and she couldn’t face Maric with a lame excuse. She was confused and until there was a clear answer, she’d avoid both men altogether.
“I can go check on her,” Braylen offered.
“Uhm, do you think it’s okay if I do it?” Maric asked.
Graciela’s eyes widened as she pleaded mentally with Braylen to hear her. If only it worked that way. “Honestly? I don’t think it’ll be okay. She’s only like this when you’re around. Did you do something to her?”
“No. Not that I know of. Damn it…is she upset with me?” She could hear his voice faltering and could imagine his frown. Part of her wanted to run out and hug him. She would tell him it was all a big misunderstanding. But the rational part of her made her feet stay where they were, firmly planted in the ground.
“I don’t know,” Bryalen. “Maybe. Maybe not. But for now just give her some time. Gracie isn’t like everyone else.”
“I…I know. I’m sorry,” Maric mumbled. “I’ll keep my distance for now.”
She waited until his footsteps were gone before sliding against the wall. She wanted him to burst into the room anyway and tell her that everything would be alright. That he loved her and to forget about Leon because that was a dead end relationship. Leon was gone and text messages would never be as fulfilling as the real thing.
“The real thing?” The darkness scoffed. “You don’t deserve the real thing.”
No. No she didn’t. Leon and Maric had to be playing some kind of cruel joke on her. That had to be it. The tears began to fall from her eyes and before she knew it, she was sobbing into her knees. She felt so worthless. Graciela slid the phone from her pocket and slid through the contacts until she reached Leon’s name. Without even a second thought, she blocked his number.
That was one guy down. Maric would keep his distance. That was two guys down. A knock on the door jolted her from her thoughts. “Graciela?” Callen’s concerned voice made her stomach twist into knots even more. She was letting him down by sulking in the supply room.
“Dad, let me,” Came Braylen’s soft voice.
Graciela kept her eyes shut tightly as Braylen made his way into the room. He sat next to her and shut his own eyes. “You okay?”
“No,” She mumbled, looking up at Braylen finally. “I’m not.”
“Maric did something to you, didn’t he?” Braylen asked. “Did he touch you?”
Graciela shook her head. “He’s been nothing but nice to me. I’m the jerk who’s avoiding him.” She tapped her lips with her index finger. “Your best friend kissed me before he left town.”
Braylen raised a brow. “Leon? He kissed you and then just left?”
Graciela nodded and leaned her head on Braylen’s shoulder. “I liked it. But, Maric asked me out too. He’s here. Leon is there.”
“Ah. I get it,” Braylen said. “You like Leon but Maric is the better option because he’s here.”
“What? NO!” Graciela punched his arm. “No. I didn’t mean it like that. I was really into Maric and I was going to go on a date with him until your dad and my dad had this whole punishment idea in their minds.”
“And then Leon came and kissed you. Did he know that you liked Maric?”
“I kinda said that I didn’t know, but on the phone before he came I told him that Maric had asked me out for breakfast. He must have known,” Graciela said. “And he was getting really jealous when I was hanging out with Maric.”
“Our best friend is an idiot,” Braylen stated calmly. He stood up and offered his hand to Graciela. “Leon was jealous of your relationship with Maric so he was claiming you. It’s a thing some supernaturals here do. You claim who you think is yours. It’s a dominance thing. He’s warding off Maric. Must be the vampire blood in him.”
“I don’t do that,” Graciela said. “I’m a supernatural too. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“We’re pure blood. You have halfbreed blood mixed with human blood,” Braylen explained. “Our instincts are just stronger. Leon felt threatened by Maric. But it does mean that he wants you, especially if he feels the need to claim you.”
“But what about Maric? He didn’t do it. Does that mean he doesn’t want to be with me?” Graciela asked.
“It could mean he didn’t feel threatened by Leon,” Braylen replied. “Maybe he was confident that you were into him. So much so that Leon wouldn’t even be an obstacle.”
She remembered his big grin when she had asked him if their breakfast outing was a date. “What do I do Bray? Please tell me!”
“I can’t tell you,” Braylen said. “You have to make the decision yourself. If you love Leon, than wait for him. I’ve known him my whole life. When he’s devoted to someone or something, it’s for life. He won’t ever give up on you. But if you have feelings for Maric, then don’t feel like you have to go along with Leon because he’s your childhood friend. That’s your life, and he’ll understand.” Braylen was wise beyond his years and that was no doubt because Callen was his father. She nodded her head and wiped her eyes, trying to force a smile. “Listen, if you’re still confused why not make each guy take you on a date?”
“Isn’t that like cheating or something?” Graciela asked innocently. “Leading them on at the very least.”
“That’s if you keep dating both of them. You can’t possibly know what you want from one kiss and one offer to go on a date. Hang out with Maric. I promise you Leon won’t get upset with you. But if you decide after that date you want to pursue Leon, you tell Maric that. And vice versa.”
Graciela wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll ask Maric to hang out.”
Callen jotted down order after order. It was Friday night and the place was packed with people. He could use the exta to employees but he knew that Graciela must have needed time to herself for a moment and Braylen was no doubt calming her down. “Sir, three espressos with milk. One with creamer,” Maric said. He slid a mug across the table. “You gave me four with milk.”
“Damn it,” Callen muttered. “Alright, give me a minute.” He scrambled around the coffee bar trying to situate himself. “Espresso with creamer? Is that what you said?”
“You look like you could use some help.” Callen looked up to see Alistair with a smug grin across his face. Callen was so happy he could throw his arms around the man. Alistair didn’t wait for confirmation. He slid behind the counter and began making the espresso. “I’m a bit early to pick up Graciela.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining,” Callen replied. “You came just in time. I was drowning out here.”
Alistair smiled. “You can get overwhelmed? YOU?”
Callen tossed a balled up napkin at Alistair. “You know what? Shut it.”
After Braylen was sure that Graciela’s tears were dry, he led her outside of the storage room. Graciela’s eyes caught on her grandfather who stood by a coffee machine brewing some kind of frothy espresso. “Grandpa?” She asked, stunned.
Alistair looked up and smiled at her. “Hey honey. I came to pick you up today but things got a bit hectic so I was helping Callen out.”
“I thought Callen was driving me home today,” She muttered.
“Yeah, I thought so too,” Callen said. He raised a brow but then laughed. “Honestly, I think your grandfather wants an excuse to see me.”
“Looks like you found the only guy in Fortitude who doesn’t hate your guts,” Braylen slapped his dad on the back as he made his way back to his station.
“If I’m being serious here,” Callen began. “Without Alistair and you kids, I don’t think anyone would be coming in to buy my coffee. So thank you.”
“Of course,” Graciela said. “I am happy to help you.”
Graciela watched Maric closely until their shift was over. When he slid off his apron and approached the door, she lunged from her spot behind the counter. “Mar-!” Tripping on her own two feet, Graciela landed on the floor. “Damn it…”
“Gracie? Are you alright?” He walked over to her and outstretched his hand to help her up. “Please be more careful.”
“I’m sorry, I just…I needed to talk to you!” She couldn’t still her beating heart. “You didn’t do anything wrong to me! I am not mad at you, I’m sorry!”
“You’re not?” A smile spread across his face. “Really?”
“Really,” She replied. “I want to talk to you about it when it’s not so dark out, you know?”
“I’m free tomorrow morning,” Maric said. “I’m supposed to be studying but I can slip out. I’ll pick you up at your place?”
Graciela bit her lip but nodded. “Yes, I’d like that.”
AN: Callen’s coffee house is actually Buckstar Bakery from ModTheSims. It can be downloaded here.