Pax watched Jared looking around his living arrangements. Unlike Tommy and Owen, he didn’t bring a suitcase with him. All he had were the clothes on his back. Pax couldn’t help but feel bad at how uncomfortable and skittish the boy looked. “Do you need clothes to sleep in?” Pax asked, approaching the boy quietly. “A T-Shirt? Maybe some sweat pants?”
Jared tilted his head as if trying to decipher the vampire’s words and shook his head. “I think he’s good,” Tommy said, patting Pax’s back.
“Ok, well Jared you can bunk with me. The top is all yours.” Pax pointed to a bed with a paw print comforter. “So uh…hey what are you doing?” Jared ignored his words. His fingers slid across the wall as Jared made his way methodically around the room. He stopped in front of an end table by Waverly’s bunk bed and picked up a small toy car. It seemed to amuse him, as he took the car and rolled it across the wall in the same path his fingers had just traveled.
Waverly pushed the door open, pulling Jared from his trance. The small toy car fell from his hands, dropping to the floor with a loud thud. Jared looked around wildly like a dog in an unfamiliar house, and bolted for the door. But instead of opening it, he slammed against it and slid to the floor with a pout.
“Are….are you okay?” Pax asked, taking a step towards the boy. He extended a hand to help up the teen who shook his head in response. He instead, got up and dusted his pants off. Jared walked over to the bottom bunk and climbed in, pulling the covers over his head.
“That’s uh…my bed…” Pax put his hand behind his neck and shook his head. “Okay, well I guess I’m sleeping top bunk tonight. Guys, I’ll be back. I want to check up on the girls and see if they’re doing alright.”
“Check up on Camilla,” Waverly said, sticking his tongue out. “I know you and her are secretly dating! You can’t hide it!” Pax slapped Waverly’s head lightly with a grunt before heading towards the door. His relationship with Camila was no one’s business, especially not his twerpy little brother’s. He missed the time when Waverly was too young to pick up on things.
Pax walked into the girls’ room to find Adriana knelt down by the bed, talking to…a cat? “Come on, speak to me. All of the other animals do. Why can’t you?”
“Are you okay?” Pax asked, causing the girl to stumble backwards onto her butt. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spook you. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m just…” She frowned. “I can usually hear an animal’s thoughts but I can’t hear this cat.”
“Oh, that’s because that’s not a cat. That’s Camila. She can turn into a cat,” Pax said. He smiled thinking how long the girl was planning on teasing Adriana.
Camila stretched out her back and placed her head on her paws. “Is she going to sleep now?” Adriana scratched her head. “If I could turn into a cat no one would talk to me ever.”
“Why would you think that?” Pax asked.
“Because the people of Dragon Valley already think I’m a weirdo whose only friends are animals. It’s not my fault that I’m the only one that can hear them you know.”
“I think it’s cool,” Pax said. He could see Camila’s eyes watching him, jealousy- shown even in cat form. He winked at the cat, and placed a kiss on her tiny forehead before waving to Adriana. “I just came to see if you guys are adjusting alright. I guess I’ll talk to you in the morning then.”
Mandi noticed the teenage vampire girl sitting so close to the fire that it was practically eating up her face. “Is something bothering you?” Mandi was hesitant to ask, knowing very little about the girl. She took a seat beside Graciela who only smiled sadly.
“I uh…I don’t want to bother you with it,” Graciela said. She picked at some stray lint on the carpet beneath her.
“It’s not a bother, I’m asking you,” Mandi said. “I’d like to get to know you better. You and your family are the closest thing I have to family right now.” Mandi noticed the girl’s curious gaze and shrugged. “Mom was in a car accident. She’s not dead, but she can’t make it this far even if I wanted her to.”
“Oh,” Graciela whispered. “I’m sorry to hear that. You’re going to think I’m awfully selfish now.”
“I promise I won’t judge,” Mandi said. “It helps to get your feelings out, you know? But, I don’t want to force you to say anything.”
“It’s okay,” Graciela said, hanging her head up high. “It’s just that when I left my old home, I was told that I couldn’t contact anyone out of Moonlight Falls because it’s dangerous. So, I miss my friends.” Graciela could feel the tears biting at her eyes. “I had to break up with my boyfriend, and my best friend is studying abroad so he doesn’t even know I’m gone. He just…what if he comes back home and finds out that I’m not there? Then what? He’s going to just forget about me.”
“Is that what you’re afraid of?” Mandi asked.
Graciela laid onto her back and looked at the ceiling. “Yes, more than anything. It’s not getting forgotten that bothers me. it’s getting forgotten by him. For so long I thought that he would just stop talking to me. You don’t know me, but I’m a freak. I can’t even sleep in the same room as you guys because I need the light on at all times. Shadows scare me, and I prefer to sit in the sunlight even though it burns my skin. Why wouldn’t he get fed up and leave? Besides, I’m a walking hazard now so it would be better for him to stay way from me.”
Mandi pushed her hair behind her pointed ear. “My whole life I hid these things. I realized early on that nobody but me had these pointy ears. People made fun of me in school when they saw my ear poking out from behind my hair, and my mom would lie and tell them it was some congenital defect. But she told me that wasn’t the case, but people wanted to talk. They wanted to make me feel bad for being different. I think that’s why I’m having a hard time accepting that maybe I’m not just a regular human. I’m much more comfortable with the idea of supernaturals than I thought I’d be, for one.”
“People always want to prey on you,” Graciela mumbled. “There were these girls, Shae and Raina who bullied me in school. The darkness talks to me and it gets louder when I’m submerged into it. But they thought I was lying or something and locked me in a room with no lights on. Leon was there and he stood up for me. Like, your mom did for you. He told me that he’d protect me, and I wonder if I’m too dependent on that idea.”
“It’s not a bad thing to depend on a person. We can’t do anything on our own. I man, we can. But it’d be pretty miserable. Imagine a life with no one to turn to at all? Now, I don’t know this guy but it seems like he cared a lot about you. So why would he just walk away? Doe she think you’re a freak?”
“No. He told me that he loves me,” Graciela said. “When we were younger he proposed to me. I didn’t understand it at the time, and neither did he. So, I blew it off. Now, he gave me his ring and told me to hold it until we see each other again. But, I had a boyfriend at the time. A guy I still care very much about.”
“A love triangle then?” Mandi pondered.
“Not exactly, no.” Graciela shook her head, sitting back up. “I know that if we were in a burning building and I could only save one person it would be Leon. Maric knows that too, I think. I love him, but I also love Leon…in a different way. Maric cares a lot about me, but you didn’t read that letter Leon sent me.” Graciela covered her face in her hands. “Sorry, I’m rambling. It just feels nice to speak to someone about it who doesn’t know the two guys. Everyone starts picking sides and it’s a mess. I miss them both, why does it always have to be a competition?”
“Everyone wants what’s best for you, I assume. But they can’t tell you how you feel. You already know the answer to your own statement. You love Leon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care any less for Maric,” Mandi said. “Which is okay.”
“It made sense to me when I left,” Graciela admitted. “Because, above all else I’m upset that I can’t see Leon anymore. I hope that Maric is happy. He said he’s going to wait for me, but I want him to move on and find a girl who isn’t clinging to him because she needs to be taken care of. I wish…I wish I could tell him how I feel now.” Then, Graciela bit her lip. “It’s never that easy. Especially with Leon. Even if I want to see him, I also want him to stay away. To be safe and move on. But I can’t have both.”
“It’s what happens when you love someone,” Mandi said with a small smile. “I think. Never really been in love myself but I can imagine.”
“It’s so hard,” Graciela complained. “To be in love. I don’t think it’s possible for someone like me. But alas….thank you for talking to me, Mandi. I unloaded a lot onto you.”
“I’m happy to listen,” Mandi said. “Any time. You know, if you ever want an outsider’s perspective to the family.”
Graciela stood up. “You won’t be an outsider for long. Everyone will see you’re a great girl, even that blue haired guy. What’s his name?”
“Owen?” Mandi groaned. “Goodbye.” She jumped to her feet. “That guy can’t be pleased. Get a good night’s sleep. Okay? Thanks for opening up to me.” Graciela smiled, watching the older girl walk away. It was nice to have someone to talk to now that Camila was preoccupied with Pax.
Graciela entered her room with a heavy heart. What she told Mandi was the truth. She loved Maric, but the only person on her mind right now was Leon. She was scared that he’d come back and give up on her. But, was that love or was that a dependency? Someone like her couldn’t be loved. She’d be a burden, never knowing if the person cared about her or if they felt like they needed to protect her and say all those flowery things because they felt bad.
“What an interesting bunch,” Came the darkness’ uncharacteristically inquisitive voice. “To think you all assemble to take me down. It is not that simple. Even though I myself wish it were. To be unbound from you seems more of a treat day by day. I grow tired of your incessant whining about the men in your life. Is that the only excitement you have?”
“Oh shut up,” Graciela said, without missing a beat. “You don’t want to leave because if you did you’d have been gone by now.”
“As I’ve said multiple times before,” It spoke. “Nothing is ever that simple, but you’re drawing near to the conclusion of this arc. Soon, you and I will get to meet face to face in my home. We will battle as few before you have done, and I will be rid of you.”
“Rid of me…” Graciela whispered, but shook her head. “What do you know? Where am I headed to? Are you talking about the underworld?”
“Yes, of course. Your friend Braylen will take you and your new ragtag team to the underworld and you’ll meet, me. All of me, and not just the portion trapped inside of you. So, be prepared because you will either perish along with your friends or somehow prosper in which, you will finally be free of me. But, you’re weak and I will always know all of your moves.”
That realization had dawned on Graciela earlier. She would not be able to evade the darkness’ control over her thoughts. But what she hadn’t thought about was that the darkness did not have it’s full strength inside of Graciela. It was only a portion, and in the underworld it would gain an immense amount of power. According to Callen, he had to defeat the darkness but was unable to and thus had to make a deal with the shadowy being. Braylen, it was clear, was supposed to go back to the underworld and finish the job. Or, in the darkness’ eyes- fail and end up doing something much more sinister.
The darkness must have been planning for this moment for over 16 years. Slowly but surely breaking down Graciela, and then now building her back up. But why? What was it planning? “You planned this. All of it.”
“Oh no, not all of it. You my little lamb, are in this predicament because of something in the past. It was already set in stone. There was nothing either you nor I could do about it, but see…that prophecy has been fulfilled and I will finally be rid of the hex and your family and their friends will pay for what they’ve done.”
“What they’ve done? We haven’t done anything!” Graciela exclaimed. She didn’t know what the darkness was talking about.
“I have been lying dormant for centuries waiting for your family to claim me. I thought maybe perhaps it would be your mother or one of your aunts, but as with every generation before you, that was not the case. Finally, the prophesied daughter is here. The curse is nearing it’s final moments and I will be the victor at the end of it all. But it shall be fun to take you all down, as it seems that everyone involved has something to atone to for their family’s mistakes.”
After a few moments, the darkness had fled with that nasty message. Graciela was left feeling nothing but confusion. For, the darkness had known much more than it had let onto. It had a plan that involved moving passed her and to her family and the families of her friends. It was going to be extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible to take out the darkness. Graciela crawled into bed and laid her head on the pillow. If Leon were here, what would his advice be? She let out an audible sigh, thinking of his smiling face and the growing anguish in her heart.