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       Reign, p.11

           Chanda Hahn
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  “Schumacher says he thinks he can have it done by tomorrow evening,” she said. “Once the enchanted item is made, it will decide on the best time and place to send you. Once the shoes become active, you will have only seconds before you’re transported. It will be the same with returning. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, I think so,” Mina answered feeling lightheaded. This wasn’t a good time to faint.

  “Good.” Baynard pointed, and Mei took the mirror out of the room. “Expect a forthcoming delivery with further instructions.”

  “I think she’s got it,” Nan answered for her. “I’ve got total faith in her.”

  “That makes two of us,” Nix smiled. He stood up and brushed his hands off on his pants. “Thank you, Mina.”

  “Don’t thank me yet,” Mina breathed out softly. “Wait to see if I fail first. I may end up in the wrong time period.”

  “You won’t,” Ever confirmed in a loud voice. “You’ll make it, but your course of action once you’re there will determine your future.” Ever’s eyes were puffy and her tears had removed all of her makeup. She looked so lost. “So don’t mess it up again. Got it?”

  Confused, Mina just gave Ever a thumbs up.

  “So we don’t know exactly when she’ll have to go back, right?” Nan asked.

  “Right. We have to wait for Schumacher,” Baynard said, looking across the room as the door opened again and Mei came in.

  Nan leaned in. “Is there still a chance she can go to the ball tomorrow?”

  “I completely forgot.” Mina slapped her forehead.

  Constance looked worried.

  Mei’s interest was piqued. “A ball, you say? That’s my specialty. After all, I am your Fae Godmother.”

  Mina groaned.

  Chapter 17

  It was the suckiest of all sucky days. Mina was walking the line between being extreme happiness and hysteria. Constance worried about the Fae Guild being attacked and promised that they would be on alert. Nix was sent to the healing ward to get his head taken care of, and Mei drove all the girls home. Once Mina reached the safe haven of her messy bed, she collapsed on a pile of clean laundry and slept through the night.

  She woke around two Saturday afternoon.

  Her mom must’ve seen how exhausted she was and let her sleep. “Woohoo, Meehna. Wakey wakey. Open door. We get you prettied up for you big date.” Mei was pounding on her bedroom in full on Mrs. Wong character.

  “Mmmfff, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin,” she grumbled loudly into her pillow. Mina turned her head to make sure the door was locked. It was. It was a terrible idea for her to go to the ball, especially when she had much bigger problems.

  Maybe she could close her eyes and wish really hard and everything would just go away. It’d all be a dream.

  No such luck. She heard a whooshing sound as the lock on the door turned with a click. Mei’s grinning face peeked through the crack in the door. “I huff and puff and blow your door in.” In other words, she used Fae magic.

  Mei carried a large garment bag draped over her arm and gently laid it across Mina’s back, pretending not to see her in the pile of clothes and blankets amassed on her bed.

  Mina groaned and pulled herself out from beneath the offending garment bag until she slid off the other side of the bed. Peeking up from beside the mattress, she glared at Mei. “I’ve decided to not go.”

  “You have to go.” Mei gave her the stink eye and thrust her fists onto her hips. The dreaded finger came out and began to wave at her. “Every Fae Godmother dreams of this, and they never get the chance. They always boys. You make my dreams come true and be a girl for once.”

  “I’m a girl,” Mina argued offensively.

  “Not today you not. You stink like river. Get in the shower now.”

  Mina cringed and pulled her collar up to sniff it. Oh yeah, she reeked. It was that odd combination of lake water and fish. Without another word of argument, she grabbed a towel and headed to the bathroom. It wasn’t the world’s quickest shower, but it was fast in her book. She came back into her room wearing her pink polka dot robe, a towel wrapped around her brown hair, and her Cookie Monster slippers.

  As Mei finished fluffing her pillow and placing it on her neatly made bed, she cast one look at Mina and started muttering about how she could give Charlie a run for his money in the odd costume department. In the few minutes she’d been gone, Mei the brownie had cleaned her room top to bottom. She could see her floor and the odd colored rug, her clothes were folded and put away—even the pictures and knickknacks had been dusted. If she hadn’t had known Mei was a brownie, she would surely have accused her of being a cleaning fairy.

  But the cleanliness of the room was quickly forgotten at the sight of the glorious dress that peeked out of the unzipped garment bag on her closet door. Mina walked to the bag and reached out to run her fingers across the white bodice. It looked to have been embroidered in intricate fine silk half-moons. She noticed the barest glimmer of small crystals buried deep within the silk. The skirt flowed downward into what she first thought were squares of silk, but were actually feathers.

  “What is it made of?” Mina asked, nervous she might brush across it too hard and break the threads of silk.

  Mei grinned merrily. “You like? The bodice is made from the rarest spiders’ silk and moon crystals. The skirt is made from the feathers of the golden goose. You my dear are vera vera lucky.”

  Tears formed in Mina’s eyes. Never before had she seen such splendor—and she would be the one wearing it! “Oh, Mei, thank you. You wouldn’t happen to have a rabbit’s foot and a four-leaf clover would you?”

  Mei made a face. “Why? Those not lucky. Those superstitious mumbo jumbo.”

  Her Godmother continued to fuss over her. She blow dried her hair and curled it, using a wee bit of Fae magic to get the curls flowing perfectly over one shoulder. “Now, this is a masquerade, right? So you need a mask.” She reached down to pull a feather from the skirt and cupped it into her hands. Bright gold light poured from between her fingers, and she held up a perfectly sculpted feather and crystal mask that matched the dress.

  Mina couldn’t help but let out a little cry of joy.

  Her mother came to look in on her. “Oh, she’s beautiful!”

  “I know.” Mei smirked proudly, folding her arms. “She’ll make anyone fall in love with her tonight.”

  Her mother ran to get the camera and spent the next ten minutes taking silly pictures along with serious ones. It was almost time for Brody to pick her up.

  When she heard the knock on the door, her heart thudded in anticipation. He’s here!

  How come she was suddenly excited to spend the evening with him when just a few hours before it had terrified her? Everything was going so well. Maybe she’d been wrong about her next quest. Maybe this had nothing to do with Teague and the Story. It wasn’t like Brody’s car would turn into a pumpkin.

  Charlie beat Mina to the door and yanked it open.

  An extremely tall and gangly man with an equally long face stood on their front porch. His skin was pasty white, and his eyes were small and beady as if he never saw the sun.

  “Can I help you?” her mom asked.

  “I’m Schumacher. I’ve brought you your shoes.” His deep voice resonated, reminding Mina of Lurch from an old show called The Addams Family. Charlie and she would often stay up late to watch the reruns.

  “Excuse me?” her mom said again, glancing at what he was holding out in front of him.

  Mina was scared to look, but she leaned to the side of Mei and—sure enough—sitting in the palms of Schumacher’s long hands was a pair of pumps with a small two-inch heel fashioned from glass. Mina and Sara both registered the implications at the same time, because her mother slammed the door on poor old Schumacher.

  “Mom! We need those.”

  “No you don’t! I know what this is. Why didn’t you tell me you were given another tale? I’m your mother. I should know if your life
is in danger,” she spoke harshly.

  Mina rushed to her mother, grabbed her hands between her own and tried to calm her. “Mom, listen to me. We will always be in danger as long as we are alive. There’s no way around the curse. But there’s something even worse that is about to happen to you, to Charlie, to us…if I don’t take those shoes and use them to save us.”

  Her mother started to cry. She reached out and pulled Mina into a long hug. “I know. I know this is something you have to do. But don’t ask me to not worry or be afraid. That’s my right as a mother to be terrified for you.” She sniffed and wiped at the back of her nose with her sleeve. Mina stepped back and nodded.

  Charlie had kept the curtain back to stare at Lurch.

  Mei pulled her mother into another hug, and they both watched as Mina approached the door again.

  She opened the door and Schumacher was still standing there with the beautifully horrifying shoes. Beautiful in their design, horrifying in what they symbolized.

  “I’m Schumacher. I’ve brought you your shoes,” he repeated.

  “Why yes. Thank you, Schumacher.” Mina held out her hands to receive the shoes from him. The glass shoes tinkled together when she grasped them. Upon closer inspection, Mina could see that they were a mixture of clear glass and long pieces of mirror. The sole of the shoes were lined with mirrored glass, and she could see her reflection staring at her from within the slippers. The form and heels were sculpted glass, the tops decorated with little glass diamonds. These were the creation of not only a master cobbler but a master glassblower as well. “They’re beautiful.”

  He nodded and his long face stretched into an awkward smile. He leaned forward and whispered softly to her. “Wear now.” Mina opened her mouth to ask a question, but he cut her off. “Now. Wear now!”

  Mina’s mouth lost all of its moisture. “Sounds good.” Her tongue felt like a piece of sandpaper when she tried to answer him. She watched as Schumacher turned and stepped off of the porch. He walked to the nearest shadow, made from a large maple, stepped into it, and disappeared.

  She turned and showed the shoes to Mei who only whistled. “You hear him. Listen to Schumacher. Don’t dilly-dally. Put them on.”

  Mina did just that. Her toes felt weird sliding across the cool mirrored glass, and she was terrified that they would shatter if she put her whole weight on them. But they held. And she didn’t go flying across the floor when she walked in them either.

  Another knock sounded on the door.

  This time it was Brody. He smiled, showcasing his dimple. In his black form-fitted tux, which only made his blond hair look even more sun-kissed, handsome wasn’t quite the word. Mina thought she heard her own mother sigh.

  Mina’s mom showed them the camera and they posed for picture after picture, but no matter what Mina did, she couldn’t regain her joy about this evening. She knew her smile must looked forced. Every time she took a step, those darn shoes tinkled against the wood floor. Taunting her about her duty—her journey that could start any minute.

  They were about to leave when Mei ran back up to Mina and gave her a quick hug, pressing something cold and round into her hands—the seam ripper. Mina ran back to her bathroom tucked it in the dress. She took one last look at her reflection in the mirror and tried to smile.

  The smile froze on her lips when her reflection began to flicker in and out.

  Chapter 18

  The conversation on the way to the ball was a bit stilted and one-sided. She knew she was being a terrible date by not responding with more than one word answers. Brody even asked her multiple times if she was okay. She could see by the way he gripped the steering wheel that he was getting frustrated.

  “It’s the curse, isn’t it?” he choked out as he pulled the car up to valet parking.

  “Yes,” she admitted.

  He breathed a sigh of relief. “Good, because for a minute there, I thought you didn’t like me anymore. But don’t worry. I’m here. We’ll finish this tale together.” He reached out to touch a lock of her hair. “I never got a chance to apologize.”

  “Apologize for what? I’m the one who should be apologizing. I’m making this into a horr—”

  Brody’s finger touched her lips, silencing her words midsentence. And making her accidentally kiss his fingers. “I’m apologizing because I never got to say how beautiful you look tonight. When your brother answered the door and I saw you standing there, I was at a loss for words.”

  Mina was afraid to move, her cheeks burning in embarrassment. He leaned forward to kiss her when the driver-side door swung open.

  The valet attendant stood there awkwardly. “Oh, excuse me. I’m s-sorry.”

  Brody didn’t pull back but changed direction and ended with a slight peck on her cheek instead. She was slightly disappointed, but they had an audience.

  Brody hurried to make it around the car before the attendant, to open her door for her. She took his hand and let him lead her toward the steps of the country club.

  The club was built to mimic old plantation homes but on a much grander scale. Large columns lined the front of the building and its long wraparound balconies. A light shone in each window giving the place a warm and inviting feel. For once, the weather was cooperating and the evening was warm.

  She saw a fire truck pull up the driveway and circle around to the back of the club.

  “What’s going on?”

  Brody answered. “There’ll be a fireworks show at midnight tonight.”

  “Oh, cool,” she replied, trying to not sound stressed. He took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She was sure it was probably cold and clammy, but she tried not to think about it as he led her up the steps to the front doors.

  His mother was one of the greeters, and she looked regal in a gown of gold, her hair secured in a coif with gold colored pearls.

  “You made it, and you’re on time,” Melody teased her son.

  He gave his mother his most dashing smile then leaned in and gave her a kiss on each cheek.

  Melody held her mask in her hand and turned to greet Mina warmly. “Welcome, Mina. I hope you have a magical night.”

  “I’m sure it will be one to remember.” Mina returned her smile.

  Melody pointed to the mask Mina was twirling in her fingers. “Don’t forget. You can’t enter without wearing your mask. Brody, where’s yours?”

  “I forgot it…at home.” He didn’t seem the least bit sorry.

  “Well, that’s no problem. We are prepared for just this scenario.” His mom turned to a stand next to her and handed Brody a plain silver mask from the small tray.

  Brody shrugged his shoulders. “It was worth a shot.” He picked up the mask and placed the black elastic band over his head. Mina followed suit, although hers was attached with thin silver ribbon.

  “Here, let me.” Melody reached out and helped Mina. “You look lovely, dear.”

  “Thank you.”

  With masks properly secured, they entered the country club hand in hand. It seemed the doors to the ballroom hadn’t been opened yet and everyone was mingling in the foyer. Tuxes, ruffled dresses, and perfume filled the air, and the impending quest made Mina feel nauseated.

  They were there barely a minute before Lara, wearing a skin-tight green formal dress and Daphne in short purple mini-dress descended on them from a spiral staircase in the middle of the room. They must have been lying in wait for Brody. Both girls wore matching masks, covering just their eyes and noses. The way they smiled in Mina’s direction filled her with unease.

  Their smiles were too confident, too pasty white, too fake.

  “Oh, Brody sweetie, you’re here,” Lara drawled. She came up and planted a kiss on each of his cheeks. Daphne sidled up close and followed suit, but her pecks on each cheek were drawn out much longer than was appropriate.

  Brody pulled back in surprise at Daphne’s advances and almost tripped over another attendee.

  Daphne laughed and pulled him closer to her.
“Careful, I’m not usually the one doing the saving.”

  Lara looked irate, but she quickly calmed herself and turned to offer Mina a small booklet with a ribbon. “Here you are.”

  “What is this?” Mina asked, looking it over. She opened it up and saw each of the songs laid out in order. Next to each song was an unfamiliar name.

  “It’s your dance card, silly.” She opened up her own book and explained. “It’s the song list that we worked on, and next to each is your dance partner for that song. Since you’re new to this event, and we didn’t feel it was right for yours not to be filled, we took the liberty of filling it out for you.”

  Mina scanned the list and her heart fell. Brody’s name was only on there twice, right after a Simon Rochester. She looked over at Lara’s dance card and raised her eyebrow.

  “Honey, it’s not considered proper to dance with the same person too much, and Brody said you were just a friend. We thought it pertinent to fill it with other eligible men.” She smiled, and Mina wanted to shove her fist through those pearly whites.

  Brody, confused, picked up Mina’s dance card and scanned it himself. Then he pulled Daphne’s from her wrist, much to her own surprise. “I’m on your card three times.”

  She pouted beautifully. “That’s because I’m not just a friend from school.” Daphne ran her hand around the back of his neck and he yanked away from her.

  He looked ready to explode. “Who approved this?”

  “Why, your own mother, Brody. Weeks ago. It was her idea. That’s why she wanted the music picked out ahead of time,” Daphne said. “Then at the end of the night your cousin’s band the Dead Prince Society will perform. But until eleven o’clock we follow these.” She held up her own card.

  “We posted the available dance cards online, and they were mostly filled within hours,” Lara added. “We sent you the link, Brody. The ones who didn’t sign up got distributed among the dance cards. Did you not check your email? You can talk to your mother if you want, but it’s all been approved. Don’t create a scandal for your family.”

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