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       Fairest, p.13

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Ahh, Meehna, why you not reesting? You should be lying down, getting stronger so you can go get a cute boy, eh?” Mrs. Wong never missed a beat in her chatter about Mina’s nonexistent love life as she made her way comfortably around their kitchen pulling out dishes and silverware while setting the table. Mina hobbled over to the kitchen table to join her brother and continued to receive plenty of unwanted dating advice. She opened up the container of dumplings and put one whole in her mouth and listened halfheartedly to Mrs. Wong’s rants.

  She berated Mina for not finding a guy as handsome as her husband, Mr. Wong. “You get nice guy like my Riu see and you won’t ever be left alone in woods again. Dat Jared boy, he be bad news.”

  Mina started to choke on her dumpling in shock. Mrs. Wong never lost a beat as she began to hit her very hard on the back until the piece of food became dislodged from Mina’s windpipe. Mina and her mom had never told anyone about Jared abandoning her because he was Fae and they didn’t want any more trouble on their hands than they already had. So it was never mentioned in the papers or on the news,--nothing. Maybe it was because Mrs. Wong lived in the same building and no one could have secrets with her around. Or maybe she had seen Mina and Jared on the roof last week. Mina wanted to ask more questions, but the door opened again as Sara came in with groceries.

  Sara was extremely excited about the meal. “Oh, Mei, what a wonderful surprise! Thank you so much.” Sara walked over and gave the four foot ten inch Chinese woman a hug.

  Mrs. Wong spoke quickly in Chinese and then translated. “I heard about Meehna. She needs good food to help geet well, quick now.”

  When Sara was preoccupied with putting her own groceries away, Mrs. Wong hobbled over quietly to Mina. She reached into her apron and pulled out a small white envelope with a Chinese character written in gold ink, inscribed across the front. “Here, drink this tonight. It will make you strong like me.” She patted her chest encouragingly. “It secret family recipe, heal bettah than doctor medicine. Good good.” She brought one finger slowly up to her lips and winked at Mina.

  Confused, Mina opened her mouth to speak, but Mrs. Wong whisked across the room taking her bags with her. In a flutter of broken English and Chinese, she pointedly ignored all of Mina’s efforts to gain her attention again.

  Sara tried to help set the table with food, but Mrs. Wong wouldn’t have it. She kept swatting Sara’s hands away and made numerous annoyed comments in Chinese under her breath. When she was happy that the table was set to her extremely high standards and everything in order, she said her quick goodbyes and left the apartment, giving Mina a wide berth.

  Stunned, Mina fingered the small packet under the table and kept running her fingers over the gold character. She wanted to ask Mei Wong about it, or even her mother, but that wasn’t what the Chinese woman probably had in mind, when she purposely gave it to her without her mother’s knowledge. For all she knew it could be poison, but then again, the Wong’s have never shown anything but good will toward the Grime family.

  When Mina was sure that Mrs. Wong wasn’t going to change her mind and walk in on them again, she decided it was time to tell her mother about her incident at school.

  “Mom, it’s starting again.” Mina tried to sound very nonchalant as she stirred her hot bowl of soup.

  “What is, dear?” Sara asked. She opened up a container of Lo Mein noodles and scooped out a portion to an eagerly awaiting Charlie.

  Mina stabbed up a piece of orange chicken with her fork and blew on it. “Oh, you know, stuff, with a capital ‘S’.” She took a bite of her rice.

  Sara’s hand froze mid-air. Her inner turmoil was evident on her face and her shaking hands, but both of the Grime women were experts at hiding their emotions from Charlie. Sara swallowed nervously, but continued to portion the rest of the food.

  “Ah, I see.”

  “Yeah, my um, biology class was interesting. And let’s just say that not everyone agreed with the stuff in the specimen jars. Let’s just say they were very…animated.” Mina let the words hang in the air.

  She watched Charlie sit in his chair wearing his normal plethora of super hero costume pieces, which included a Hulk shirt, with a Batman utility belt, and cape. His small feet wearing his favorite rain boots kicked back and forth happily. He made overly loud slurping noises while sucking up the noodles, and when he was finished, he grinned at Mina.

  In no way was Charlie dumb, but there were certain things Sara never wanted to discuss with Charlie in the room, for fear of worrying him. Mina had convinced her mother that they couldn’t run anymore, that she needed to take her place as a Grimm and do her part to break the curse on her family by completing the quests. Reluctantly, Sara agreed, but she had conditions. One of those conditions was never to alarm Charlie if possible.

  Sara patted Charlie’s head affectionately. “Anything I should be overly concerned with?” Her brown eyes began to fill with tears, but she hid them well by getting up to get a gallon of milk out of the fridge. Mina could see her mother furiously wipe at them with her apron before approaching the table. When she sat down, Sara was solemn with only a hint of red rimmed eyes.

  “Nope. It was just a small problem. Nothing bigger has presented itself.” Mina tried to hide her words. One time she had entered a pet store and all of the animals began to behave erratically: trying to get out of cages, birds speaking terrible warnings to her. Other times, she would be followed by geese as if she was the original storybook goose girl.

  “I was hoping for more time between…and then since we never found the Grimoire...” Sara trailed off. She sat at the table silently for the next few minutes watching her children eat before picking up her uneaten bowl of egg drop soup and putting it in the sink.

  Mina knew better than to say anything else, so she waited and watched as her mother furiously cleaned up her own dishes, put the leftovers away, and then retired to her room, complaining of a headache.

  Charlie immediately jumped up from the table and ran over to the small living room, flipped on the TV, and engrossed himself with the Justice League of America cartoons.

  Left sitting alone, Mina looked into her bowl of soup and found herself unable to eat anything else. Leaving her bowl on the table, she awkwardly got up and hopped to her small bedroom.

  Even though Sara cleaned houses for a living, she never dared to enter Mina’s domain and clean her teenage daughter’s disaster zone. There were piles of clean laundry, dirty laundry, and magazines all over the floor. Mina tried to navigate the maze of mess that was her bedroom with a crutch, and she secretly wished she had cleaned her room.

  She wheeled out her chair and sat at her garage sale desk, which was badly in need of a new coat of stain, but she never got around to painting it. She opened the vellum envelope and was surprised when it contained nothing more than a single tea bag. Mina pulled out the tea bag and studied it carefully, trying to identify the components of the leaves, but nothing struck her as out of the ordinary. Since everything looked the same, she flipped the switch on her hotpot and waited for the water to boil.

  The hotpot was one of the greatest inventions since the toaster and Pop Tarts, and Mina used hers almost daily. She found a cup that looked clean, wiped it out, carefully poured the hot water into the ceramic mug, and slowly added the teabag, stirring it around. Mina expected the water to turn a slight green or brown color from the color of the leaves; it didn’t. Gold seeped out of the tea bag, floating and shimmering across the top of the water reflecting the evening light.

  Mina was scared to breathe, and watched as the flecks spun and twirled around the cup before slowly sinking to disappear under the water. The ceramic cup suddenly became too hot to hold. She almost dropped it but recovered quickly and put the cup down on her desk, rubbing her slightly burned palms on her jeans. The tea bag continued to steep, but the steam from the cup dissipated rapidly to be replaced by frost that slowly spread up the outside of the cup.

  Mina pushed herself away from
the desk and the cursed tea in shock. Her wheeled chair only made it a few feet before tangling in a pile of dirty clothes and tipping over, throwing her to the floor. She looked up, breathing heavily, and continued to half scoot, half crawl away from the aberrant phenomenon. When she reached her bed, she pulled her knees up to her chest and watched the cup warily. She was positive that at any moment it would shatter into a million pieces. When minutes passed and the cup continued to sit there unchanged, she decided to inspect it further.

  She untangled the wheels of the chair from her jeans, damaging a favorite pair in the process, and sat back at the desk. Slowly she scooted forward, inch by inch, to inspect the cup. The frost was gone! Maybe she had imagined it. She grabbed a plastic spoon and stuck it into the cup, half expecting it to be melted into nothingness when she pulled it out. The spoon was fine. Confused, she sniffed the cup, and it smelled like normal Earl Grey tea.

  A slight breeze made the papers on her desk shuffle, and Mina glanced at her bedroom window next to the desk and realized it was open. She reached over and shut the window. Maybe it was the sudden chill of wind on the hot tea that made condensation appear on the outside of the cup. Maybe it wasn’t frost at all; it very well could just be her overactive imagination.

  Gathering her courage, she dipped one finger into the tea and brought it to her mouth to taste. The tea was slightly sweet with a hint of spice that lingered, odd because she hadn’t even added sugar or honey. After a moment of hesitation, she threw caution to the wind and decided to drink the tea. After all, Mrs. Wong would never ever give her something that would harm her. Maybe it was a quaint Asian home remedy or something.

  The tea made Mina’s body relax; her eyelids became heavy. Yawning, she crawled onto her bed, being sure to put an extra pillow under her swollen ankle to keep it raised. She was hoping that she could take the air cast off soon, but the doctor had told her at least a week. It was only seven o’clock, but Mina couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore. She lost the fight and fell asleep.

  ***

  “Mina, where are the crutches?” Nan asked as she put her purse and Chap Stick back into her locker. It was between school periods, and they had about two minutes to head to their next class.

  “I woke up this morning and my ankle felt great. I saw no reason to try and get around anymore with those horrible crutches. In fact, I felt so great; I even rode my bike to school.” Mina grinned in triumph.

  It was true. She woke up and there was zero swelling, and her ankle felt as good as new. She had even tested it by jumping, stretching, and running up and down the stairs to their apartment. It was a small miracle and blessing at once. Sara had tried to convince Mina to use the crutches per Dr. Martin’s orders, but she wouldn’t have it. Mina raced outside onto her red Schwinn bike and made it to school in record time. Even Mrs. Porter, her homeroom teacher, wouldn’t be able to give her a tardy slip today.

  When Mina walked in she was surprised to see that Coach Potts, was at Mrs. Porter’s desk. It seemed that the old teacher had retired early and without notice, or that was what the rumor going around school was. Either way, she was gone and that meant no more detentions. Mina was ecstatic.

  But the day went from great to worse because Jared still hadn’t appeared since her glimpse of him at the hospital. Normally, this wouldn’t worry Mina because she was kind of used to him showing up whenever he felt like it. She began to worry though when Ever, the girl with spiky hair, approached Mina after school.

  “Psst, Gimp!” an irritated voice hissed at her from nowhere.

  Mina had only heard one person ever call her a Gimp. She rolled her eyes and turned to see Ever motioning to her from the side of the school.

  “What?” Mina asked annoyed. She walked the fifteen feet to the side of the brick building, and they turned the corner, out of the view of most of the students.

  Ever’s short black hair looked as if it had barely been brushed. Her eyes looked wide with fright, and her eyeliner was smeared from crying. Today, she had forgone the skirt and uniform and wore black leggings and a plaid skirt with a denim jacket.

  “Have you seen Jared lately?” she mumbled. Her eyes skimmed back and forth nervously at the passing students.

  Mina found herself frowning in displeasure at the mention of Jared’s name. “No, and I’m not his babysitter,” she retorted. She was angry, angry that this girl would call her an ugly name she didn’t even know the meaning of. Angrier still, that she expected Mina to help her. Mina turned to leave.

  Ever looking distraught reached out without thinking and grabbed Mina’s arm. “I haven’t heard from him, or seen him, in over a week. That’s not like him.”

  Mina gave her an appalled look and pulled her arm out of her grasp. “No, that sounds just like the Jared I know. Coming and going whenever he wants. Only thinking of himself. Yep, that’s exactly like Jared.”

  Ever became furious; her hands clenched angrily at her sides. Mina could see that this girl truly hated her.

  “That is nothing like Jared. Once he’s been called, he always makes sure to try and check in with me every few days. It’s our safety system.”

  “Then you would know if he’s okay better than I would,” Mina snapped back. “I would actually be quite happy if I never saw him again.”

  Ever gasped, “Don’t say that! You Gimps have no idea what, or who, you are messing with. It’s why I hate all of you.”

  “That’s it!” Mina rushed forward angrily and surprised Ever until she backed up into a hard brick school wall. “Why do you keep calling me a Gimp? It’s extremely rude. If you want me to help you, you had better explain and explain now.” Mina knew the only reason she had been able to surprise Ever was because she was too distraught over Jared.

  Ever recovered quickly, and a wry smile sprouted on her face. “Why, I thought you knew? It’s what we Fae call all you stupid and dumb Grimms.”

  The anger dropped from Mina’s face. “You’re Fae?” She should have known. Why didn’t she? Of course, since Jared was Fae, he probably knew a lot of Fae. They probably banded together and formed their own gang. What Ever said about checking in made sense now. But not why the young Fae thought that Mina would know where he was.

  Ever stepped away from the brick wall and stood a little taller. Her chin rose defiantly as she walked into the sunlight. Mina could almost see the faint glow that surrounded her, and when Ever turned a quarter turn to the right and exposed her back, she could see it.

  Beautiful pearlescent wings in hues of deep purple and blue sprouted from Ever’s back. They were pointed and more jagged than what Mina would have thought fairy wings looked like, but they suited Ever’s sharp personality. The girl closed her eyes and moved out of the sunlight; with a moment of concentration she made her wings disappear.

  “You’re a Fairy?” Mina asked in disbelief.

  “Gah! Stars NO! They are happy, twittery, no-brained saps. I’m a Pixie,” she said rudely.

  “I wouldn’t have thought Ogres and Pixies would get along,” Mina wondered aloud.

  “Ogres!” Ever scoffed. “No, Ogres and Pixies are mortal enemies. They like to pull our wings off and eat them like candy. Gross! No, I would never go near an Ogre.”

  This new news stunned Mina. How did this Fae not know Jared’s true form? She wanted to ask but was interrupted by the perturbed pixie.

  “It’s been really nice chatting with you, doing the whole girl talk thing, but I’m over it now. Are you going to let me talk to Jared or what?”

  Mina shifted uncomfortably under her stare. “Uh, yeah, sure. You have my permission to talk to him whenever you want. And when you see him, tell him thanks for ditching me in the forest.”

  The color drained from Ever’s face. “That’s not funny, Mina.” It was the first time the girl had ever said her name.

  “Look, Ever. I don’t know what kind of relationship you think that Jared and I have, but it isn’t a close one. I can’t help you.” Mina turned and pulled her back
pack over her shoulder.

  “No, wait. I’m sorry.” Ever looked distraught again and looked down at her black boots, rubbing the toe against the gravel. She took a deep breath and looked at Mina, her eyes belaying the insecurities she refused to speak. “I’m sorry that I called you a Gimp and was rude to you. It’s just part of my defense mechanism as being a Pixie. We are kind of low on the food chain, you know.”

  Mina blinked in surprise. “Um, apology accepted.”

  Ever let out a sigh of relief. “Good, I’m glad. Now, if you can just check and see...”

  “Ever,” Mina breathed out her name in exasperation. “I’ve already told you; I don’t know where Jared is. I can’t check and see if I don’t know where he is.”

  “But you called him! He came to you when you called him.” The poor girl was confused.

  “No, I never called him; I don’t even know his phone number.” Mina was done with this conversation. She now realized that maybe it wasn’t the Grimms who were dumb but the Fae.

 
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