Graciela tugged onto the bottom of her dress. Leon was finally returning to Fortitude after five years and his parents had decided to throw him a party to welcome him back. Graciela didn’t know how long Leon would be back before he had to go back to school, so if she wanted to find out about his family history she would need to ask him tonight. When he left to boarding school, she wouldn’t see him again.
“You look beautiful, little lamb.”
“I should change then,” Graciela muttered, patting her stomach. “I don’t want Leon to think I’m getting dressed up for him.”
“Teenage drama is such a bore.”
“It’s not drama,” Graciela growled. “Everyone makes such a big deal out of this situation because Leon kissed me when we were kids. But I don’t know why I’m bothering explaining all of this to you because we’re not friends!”
“So you say. We’re closer than you acknowledge. Once you let your guard down you’ll realize I’m not quite as bad as the entity that took refuge in you before.”
“Refuge,” Graciela scoffed. “Like I’m some kind of safe haven for evil spirits!” Angry at herself for entertaining the ominous voice, Graciela let out an angry huff and trudged up the stairs to meet with the others.
Dionysus nodded as Charlotte told him his instructions for the night. He was expected to babysit Waverly and Gregg. The price of a free stay at the Gray household. “If anything goes wrong, you need to call me immediately.” Charlotte crossed her arms over her chest, her gaze never wavering from the elf.
“Understood chief,” Dionysus replied with a smirk. “I did well with Camilla and Pax when they were kids, didn’t I?”
“Oh yes. Having sex with my sister when there’s two unsupervised kids in the house is really responsible,” Charlotte said. “You’re lucky those kids didn’t walk in, or worse.”
“That was a long time ago,” Dionysus mumbled. “You don’t have to worry about that. I don’t do the whole love thing anymore. The last few times didn’t really end well.”
“Find someone who isn’t Astra,” Charlotte replied. “That girl didn’t even love herself. How could she love someone else? Last I heard, things with her and Audric didn’t end well either. That’s hardly your fault.”
“Now you’re giving me advice?” Dionysus mused with a grin. “I wanted you before I wanted Astra but you always wanted Jeff. Do you remember that?” Dionysus reached up and tightened his ponytail. “Funny how life works.” He wanted to lament on how everyone got their happy ending but him. Though he could hardly complain, having scorned Elora not once but twice. His fate was justly deserved.
“Love is magical. It’s spontaneous- you won’t know when it will hit you. One day your heart is going to be on fire and it’s going to feel the same way for the other person. So what it takes centuries? You’ll meet your other half because you’re amazing.” Charlotte poked his shoulder. “But for tonight I need you to watch my kids while I take the teens to Leon’s welcome back dinner party.”
The drive to the restaurant was short but Graciela was glad. It was filled with teasing from Camilla and Pax about seeing Leon again, which she wasn’t too thrilled about. She didn’t understand why the two of them insisted Leon was her soulmate because they shared a kiss as children. It was clear to her that as they all grew up, everyone changed. The kind and jovial boy who was her protector had long since forgotten who she was. Graciela herself had grown stronger and fought her own battles with the darkness. She didn’t need Leon Sikes just like he probably didn’t need her.
Standing outside of the restaurant was Callen and her grandfather, both with drinks in their hand. When she stepped out of the car, she could hear Callen’s “wow” followed by his grin. “Look at you guys all dressed up. It’s strange seeing Camilla without her little barista apron.”
“Oh shut up.” Camilla rolled her eyes but she was smiling. “Maybe I should find a new job. Working at your coffee place is kind of lame.”
“I agree,” Alistair replied. “Your coffee bar is pretty lame. Supernatural themed beverages?” Callen pulled Alistair into a headlock and ruffled his styled hair. “H-ey!”
“I see you two moving in together has been going well.” Jeffrey chuckled. “And you were worried about them, Char.”
“We’re great,” Callen said. “Even better now that we have some alone time for the evening. Braylen is ecstatic to see Leon again. I’m sure you’re just as happy Graciela.”
“Oh, I’m jumping for joy. Really, truly.” Graciela couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “I don’t care that he’s back. But I heard the food here is good so…” Her father placed a hand on her back and she knew that meant that she should stop being rude. “I won’t cause a scene, I promise. Maybe I’ll just pretend the voice is bothering me and sit in the corner by myself.”
“Don’t worry dad,” Pax said, jumping in. “Camilla and I will make sure Gracie is on her best behavior.”
Sophina looked around the restaurant. She hadn’t been to one of these kinds of parties in ages. It was good to see how informal they had become in comparison to what she was used to as a princess of Halina. Tonight would be about recruiting any special supernatural students to her academy. Leon would also get the chance to say his last goodbye to his family and friends. Sophina couldn’t make a promise about what would happen in the next few years. Her students needed to prepare for what was to finally come.
Watching everyone shuffle in, Sophina hung back and smiled politely. She was looking for the girl Leon had told her about. Someone who had exhibited characteristics she hadn’t seen since her own time. If this vampire showed promise, Sophina would welcome the girl to her cause. Though, she was being extremely picky because there was no way she would subject more people to the danger that was to come unless she was sure she absolutely needed to.
“I’m nervous,” Leon murmured, coming up to her. He was holding a glass of what looked like soda, pretty tightly. Sophina tilted her head. She couldn’t imagine what for. Tonight was a good day that was meant to be celebrated. He had already spent time with his family as he had wanted and his best friend, Braylen, accepted Leon in with open arms. “I haven’t seen the Gray family in 5 years. Gracie, she…”
Leon’s voice trailed off as the drink shook in his trembling hands. “Graciela, the girl with the darkness inside of her? She’s a Gray?” Sophina pursed her lips together. Yes, that made sense. Elora had said that a Gray would be cursed to shoulder the burden of the darkness yet again. But, a vampire? Lavina would be rolling in her grave.
“Yeah,” Leon replied. “You’ve heard of the Grays before? They weren’t in Fortitude before. I met Graciela and her family when they were fleeing Moonlight Falls.”
“Now, that’s interesting indeed. I wonder if we’ll also run into any Van Winkles.” This was reminiscent of her past, almost strikingly so. A Gray, once again harboring the darkness, someone from the Sikes family taking on the role of seer…so who was next? Surely this couldn’t all be coincidental. It made her shudder thinking about how Elora had planned this all from the moment Dahlia had summoned her.
“I’ve never heard of them,” Leon replied. “Oh shoot, she’s here!” His eyes widened as he saw the Gray family walk into the restaurant. They had all looked different, but his eyes were glued to Graciela. She had an air of darkness around her as she scowled at the hostess helping the family find their seats.
“Go on,” Sophina urged, pushing him forward. She knew Graciela was an important part of this operation and if anyone could convince her to join the academy it would be Leon.
Leon’s couldn’t stop his cheeks from flaming as he approached the Gray family. “Er, Mr. and Mrs.Gray. It’s so good to see you guys.”
“You too,” Charlotte replied with a smile. “It’s been quiet here in Fortitude without you. Right kids?” They all agreed, Pax and Camilla smiling widely, while Graciela simply looked away.
“Your mom tells us that you’ve been studying hard,” Jeffrey cut in. “That’s really great to hear. Your parents are really proud of you. We are too.”
“Thank you, Mr.Bennett.” Leon dipped his head slightly and then smiled up at him. He truly did miss the Gray family. They had always made him feel like he was one of them. “I missed you guys, even Pax.”
“I know you missed me the most,” Pax said. It’s okay. I feel the same way. Classes have been so boring with no one to make fun of.”
“Hey, I’m sure Leon knows tons of cool magic now so I would watch it if I were you,” Charlotte said with a wink. “You have my permission to zap him just once, Leon.”
“I will if I need to,” Leon joked. “Why don’t we all find our seats? Parents will sit together on one side and us teens will be on the other end. Follow me.” Leon walked towards the dining room, trying his hardest not to look over his shoulder at Graciela.
Graciela found a seat next to Braylen who was swiping through his phone. “Hey Gracie,” Braylen said, looking up. “You look pretty tonight.”
“Thanks,” Graciela murmured. “You look good too.” She watched as Camilla took a seat across from her with Pax to her right. Leon sat at the head of the table. “Leon…” Graciela opened her mouth in hopes of easing the tension but it did no such thing. This feeling was exactly as she had imagined it. It was like having dinner with a stranger. “How is school? You must be learning how to dissect a brain, I mean why else wouldn’t you have contacted us for 5 years?”
Pax leaned towards Leon. “Well, she’s right you know. It’s not too hard to say hey, even if you can’t come visit. There’s something called a phone.”
“I don’t have a phone,” Leon said sheepishly. “My teacher had to call my parents to tell them I was coming back. I wanted to talk to you guys so badly. There’s only a few other kids at the boarding school with me and they’re all pretty serious. They don’t like to have fun like we did.” Leon looked over at Graciela’s scowling face. “I never stopped thinking about you. But I’m studying really hard so we can all have a better future.”
Graciela rolled her eyes. “Unless you’re getting the voice inside of me to shut the hell up, I don’t really care about your idea of a better future.”
“A better future does include that,” Leon replied. “I’ve been learning about all kinds of magic spells. I want to help you, Gracie. That’s why I left.”
“I needed you here,” Graciela snapped, tears biting at her eyes. “You were the only one who could get the voice to stop and you left. I don’t care about your excuses.” She stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get some fresh air.” Leaving the group astounded that she finally let out what was truly bothering her, Graciela stormed off passed the wandering eyes and into the darkness of the night.