Wolf took in a deep breath and then let one out. He knew he didn’t belong here and that Graciela had invited him out of pity, having been good friends with Braylen. Wolf didn’t have an explanation how he ended up in Fortitude, but Callen seemed to be expecting him. It was weird, but with his mother dead and his father practically dead to him (having given up his only son to scientists whose only goal was to poke and prod him like some kind of alien), it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go. He would fulfill whatever his purpose was. “You didn’t have to drive me,” Wolf said, eyeing Braylen walking into the lounge casually. He was so carefree. Must be nice to have friends.
“I was driving Braylen anyway,” Callen said. “And my dinner reservations are just up the block.”
“Date with that magic guy?” Wolf asked.
“Er…according to him it isn’t a date. But it’s Valentine’s day, so totally.” Callen let out a hearty laugh. “And look at this suit. Come on.” Callen noticed the boy looking longingly into the dining area where some of the other teens gathered. “You wanna go in?”
“I…” Wolf bit his lip. “I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t really know these people and Harmony isn’t here yet…”
Callen’s eyes twinkled. “Harmony? Oh, Zayne’s daughter, huh? Do you like her?”
“I’m interested in her, but it isn’t what you think,” Wolf muttered. How could he explain that there was a man who he had recognized from the tapes his mother had kept. He was a potential bachelor who was really rude to Wolf’s mother. Here he was in Fortitude, happy and with a family. Maybe he just wanted to see what it was like for the man and maybe ask if he knew anything at all about Wolf’s mother.
Wolf stopped talking when he heard the clicking of heels and saw the girl he had just been talking to wave to her father. He smiled at her proudly and waved before heading away from the door. Wolf let out a sigh. That man…
“Harmony!” Callen called out and waved the girl over. She looked up startled, and then smiled when her eyes landed on Wolf. “Now she’s here,” Callen muttered. “Get her, tiger.” He winked.
Wolf sighed and rolled his eyes. No. It wasn’t like that. What did Callen know anyway? He was pining after someone who clearly didn’t even want a relationship. Still, Harmony did look gorgeous in the pale pink dress that complimented her skin nicely. She was like him….colorful. Except her heart probably worked a lot better than his did. “Hey, Callen. Hi, Wolf.” Harmony tilted her head and smiled at the pair. “Were you dropping the boys off?” She asked Callen.
“I was,” Callen said with a smile. “In fact, I’m running late for my reservation. It’s just up the block but, you know…parking. Hey, maybe you can stick by Wolf’s side tonight. He only really knows you and Braylen, and I think Braylen is going to be preoccupied tonight. He’s always excited to see Pax.”
Harmony let out a small giggle but nodded, determined. “I can do that.” She held her arm out to Wolf for him to link arms with her. “Don’t worry, they don’t bite. Not even the vampires.”
Camilla had asked him to dance. That was a first for the normally “cooler than you” girl. She was either really into him, or something was up. Unfortunately, he knew it was the second one without a shadow of a doubt. She had been acting too strangely to have been simply crushing on him. “What is it?” Pax mumbled, looking into her eyes. “what’s wrong with you?”
She smiled at him and his heart did a flip. She really was beautiful, but he knew she would never go for him. She had friend zoned him a long time ago. “We can’t just dance, why does something have to be wrong?”
“Because,” Pax said slowly. “I know you. What is it that you have to tell me?”
“Your mom is going to send Nerissa away,” Camilla said slowly. “She said if she bothered Gracie again, she’d take matters into her own hands. She’s going to find out what Nerissa said to Gracie earlier.”
“I don’t mean to sound like an ass, but she’s been nothing but a menace to Gracie for years…” Pax’s voice trailed off when he saw Camila frown. “What is it?”
“I heard you and Gracie talking earlier.” She pointed to her ears. “Hello, I can turn into a cat. I know when people are talking about me. Everything you said was right. I can’t stay here. I love you guys and your family has been nothing but wonderful for me but I need closure. I have to go back to Moonlight Falls and make sure that Altiere and Damian and whoever, get what they deserve. And I have to find Dio.”
“You can’t,” Pax said. “It’s dangerous. You have a home here, who cares about Moonlight Falls anymore?”
“It’s always going to be my home,” Camilla argued. “Nerissa feels that way too. So if Charlotte is going to send her away, then I’ll go with her to Moonlight Falls. We’ll figure something out. She won’t treat me the way she treats Graciela, especially if we’re on our own.”
“Woah. Hold on a minute!” He moved to let go of the girl but she squeezed his hand tightly and pulled him back towards her.
“Smile and pretend. We don’t want to draw attention to us. We shouldn’t upset Gracie on her birthday. All I’m saying is that I’m leaving. You can’t do anything to stop me. I’ve made up my mind. And no…you don’t get to come with me.”
“You can’t make that decision,” Pax said angrily.
“I can, because I care about your sister. She’ll move on eventually if I’m gone. She’s done it with Leon. But you? You’re her brother and she needs you.”
“She isn’t over Leon,” Pax said. “She pretends like she is, but she misses him like crazy. You can’t get over a friend. That’s why she lets Nerissa walk all over her. She doesn’t want to let go of her friends! The only reason it seems like it isn’t an issue now is because she has Maric. But if anything, he’s distracting her, not making her move on and forget.”
“Well I can’t base my whole life on what’s best for Gracie. I love her like my own sister but she’s an adult. Gracie is in a good place now and she’ll recover from me leaving.”
“You’re her only friend that’s a girl,” Pax said.
“Well one day I hope she leaves this place too. It’s stifling, only seeing the same few people over and over again. She needs to branch out and see what else our dimension has in store.” She pulled away from Pax. “I’m sorry, but you can’t change my mind.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Graciela mumbled under her breath as she saw Nerissa smiling and giggling at the other teens. At least the others were polite, they didn’t shoo her away like Graciela was about to. She marched over to the girl who wore a ball gown, much more extravagant than her own. “What are you doing here?” Graciela demanded. “I don’t want you here. You weren’t invited.”
“It’s my birthday too,” Nerissa said harshly. “What, I don’t get to be celebrated too? Only you do?”
“It’s next month!” Graciela cried. “We only shared our birthdays because we were best friends and we wanted to celebrate together. I don’t want to share this day with you anymore. Because it can never just be about me, it’s got to be about you. Look at what you’re wearing! You had to go all out.” Graciela peered behind the girl. “Where’s the camera crew and the flashing lights for you to show your stupid friends?”
Graciela could feel the tears brimming her eyes. “It’s not fair that I have to sit home all by myself while you’re out here. This should have been my party. MY friends should have been here.”
“I’m right here!” Graciela cried. “Your friend has been here the whole time, and you just didn’t want me! Do yourself a favor and go home. You pushed me away and expected me to just let you stay here? I’m done feeling bad for you.”
“You’ve got a boyfriend and you think you’re so cool now, huh?” Nerissa asked. “Wait until Monday at school.”
“Threaten me all you want. I don’t care anymore,” Graciela said. “You and Raina and Shae can do anything you want. I won’t live in fear anymore.” Graciela took in a deep breath and sauntered off, hoping Camilla, Pax or Maric would handle this mess.
Graciela sat down outside of the party room, close to the entrance of the building. She needed a second to breathe. Seeing Nerissa made the darkness sneer and it opened a floodgate for her to be berated. Taking in a deep breath, she tried to calm her nerves until she heard a familiar voice. “Happy Birthday.”
Her eyes snapped up to see someone she hadn’t expected at all. Leon smiled weakly at her, holding out a small neatly wrapped present. The paper was golden and it sparkled in the light. “Leon?” She hadn’t talked to him since she had blocked his phone number. She had tried to forget about him, despite how hard it was. She should have explained everything to him, but she didn’t want to face him with news he wouldn’t want to hear. “What are you doing here?”
“Er…Braylen told me about the party accidentally,” Leon said weakly. “I thought…I know I’m the last person you want to see. I know you blocked my phone number. I just wanted to see you one last time.”
“I didn’t like the way we ended last time,” Graciela whispered. It was better to get everything out now. She was already upset. “You showing up here with no warning is…it’s just like Nerissa. Both of you just showing up out of nowhere uninvited. Didn’t you think a different place would be better to handle this whole thing?”
“Of course, but you blocked my number. Braylen won’t let me talk to you unless you approve it. So how am I supposed to say that I’m sorry? I know I was way out of line. Please just hear me out. Five minutes of your time and then I’ll leave forever. I promise.”
Graciela thought about it for a moment. Part of her wanted Leon to admit that he missed her because she missed him like crazy. She was sure part of her sadness as of late was because she had cut off contact with the boy. They had been distant before when he had stopped calling for days at a time but that was different. They both knew the terms. This absence was her fault for shutting him out. “Fine, I’ll hear your explanation but if I don’t like it Maric is going to handle you. He’s my boyfriend now.”
“Oh, trust me I know,” Leon said with a half smile. “I’ve done a lot of thinking these past few weeks. I overstepped my boundaries last time. I saw how close you and Maric were and I got jealous. At the Academy the only other person my age is this girl Lara and she’s not like you guys. It’s lonely and I got jealous because I realized that you weren’t going to wait for me forever. We aren’t always going to be best friends just because I want to be. We have to work at this, and unfortunately distance works against us.”
“You said you loved me,” Graciela commented. “That’s more than friendship decaying because of distance.”
“I do love you,” Leon said. “I’ve made no secret of that, even when we were kids. I love you. But I saw that you liked Maric and I couldn’t handle it. I felt like I was losing you and I wanted to hold on. So I thought kissing you like that would let you know that I was interested and I didn’t want to lose you. But it came out wrong and I didn’t mean to drive you away.”
“You did what you were trying to prevent,” Graciela said. “You can’t claim me like some prize.”
“I know and I’m sorry. It was stupid of me. It’s just…Maric came out of nowhere. I’m not going to do anything. He’s your boyfriend, and you chose him. I’m just glad I got to talk to you about this. I’, really sorry. I rather be your friend and talk to you every night than lose you. These passed few months have been torture without you. I’m serious.”
“Same here. I’ve been going through a lot and it sucked not having you there to talk to. I was just too afraid you wouldn’t want to be friends anymore when I told you I was dating Maric, so I avoided it. I thought maybe not hearing your rejection would make me able to pretend that what we had was the same as before you left.”
“We both messed up,” Leon said. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” She said, “but you can make it up to me with a dance. It’s a party, Leon. You always used to say that to me. Remember my mom’s wedding? You forced me to dance.”
“So you’re repaying me by forcing me to dance?” He asked, raising a brow.
“You don’t have to,” She replied. “If that’s weird. Is it weird?”
“You’re weird Graciela,” Leon replied. “Accept it. it’s why everyone loves you. Even Maric I bet.”
She let out a small laugh. He could call her weird because she knew he meant no malice with his words. He placed his hands on her waist and pulled her close to him. Graciela rested one of her hands in his and the other on his shoulder. She could feel her heart beat speeding up. It was weird, she had never felt this way before. His touch electrified her and gave her goosebumps. That was strange… “My stomach,” She mumbled, looking up into his eyes. “Feels kind of strange.”
“Did you eat something bad?” Leon posed, looking at her directly in her eyes.
“Nope…I haven’t eaten yet,” Graciela said. “Er, it’s like electricity in my stomach? Does that make sense? It’s so weird. I think I need some water or something.”
Leon leaned in close to her and kissed her cheek. “Okay, let’s get you some water then.”
Looking up from Leon’s embrace, Graciela caught sight of Maric. He looked like he had just been stabbed with a million needles. “Maric…” Graciela said, quickly removing herself from Leon’s arms. “Look, Leon came.” She tried to smile at him but she already knew what he was thinking. It wasn’t what it looked like! Was it?
“I can see that,” He said in a deflated tone. “Nice of you to join us. We have plenty of pizza if you’d like to stay. I just came to say that Nerissa left. Pax called your mom, she sent for a cab.”
“Hey.” Leon waved, but neither male was smiling. He looked at Gracie. “Nerissa was being a problem for you?”
“I handled it,” Maric said sharply. Graciela ran to his side and grabbed his arm.
“Thank you,” She told him, leaning up to kiss his cheek.
“Throwing a party for Gracie was really cool of you,” Leon said. “You be good to her, alright? She’s one of a kind.”
“I know,” Maric said. “I won’t ever hurt her.” Graciela frowned, hearing the slight passive aggressive tone in Maric’s voice. She squeezed his hand tightly. “So, care to join us Leon? As I said, there’s plenty of food.”
“I won’t ruin Gracie’s party by staying here uninvited,” Leon commented. “I just wanted to talk. Oh and Gracie, when you open up your gift let me know what you think.”
“Thank you for coming, Leon,” Graciela said. “And for the gift.” Leon nodded. He waved, this time with a smile and headed out of the door.