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       Fairest, p.2

           Chanda Hahn
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  Mina’s lip quivered as she whispered, “it’s not fair!”

  Sara reached over to her daughter and pulled her into a hug. “There’s no such thing as fair when it comes to the Fae and their tales.”

  “Will he ever remember, Mom? Will he ever remember the dance, the rides to school? Will he ever remember he kissed me?” It was becoming too much for her to fathom.

  “Sweetie, the Fae are powerful and so is the Story that drives all of the Grimms’ futures. But let me tell you that nothing is more powerful than true love. And until you find out whether he is your true love or not, I can tell you from experience that those caught in the Story’s web will have intense moments of déjà vu. So don’t give up.”

  And that is exactly what Mina had been hoping for-- a chance, a glimpse, something that would spur a moment of enlightenment--and then he would turn to her, take her in his arms and say, “I remember!” But after a few days of awkward and confused glances, Mina began to think it wasn’t going to happen.

  “He must think I’m some sort of creeper,” Mina mumbled under her breath.

  “Um, yeah, he probably does,” Nan answered.

  Mina was startled by her friend’s voice. She had become oblivious to Nan and hadn’t noticed when she came and sat on the desk next to her to stare out the window at Brody.

  Nan took a sucker out of her mouth and pointed the sticky ball at her friend. “You, dear Mina, need to get a life.”

  Mina’s eyes crossed as she took in the wet, red, candy ball on a stick. “Where did you get that?”

  Nan rolled her eyes and pulled three more out of her purse. “I’m trying to lay off the cupcakes, too many dyes. So I switched vices. Want one?” She fanned the suckers and waved them enticingly in front of Mina.

  “No thanks.”

  “It wouldn’t solve your problem anyway!” Nan spoke with the sucker still in her mouth.

  “What problem?” Mina asked, slightly confused.

  “The one where you’re turning into a square.” She held up her pointer fingers and thumbs to create a square and looked through it at Mina.

  “Compared to what? Are you saying I wasn’t one before?”

  Nan turned her head to the side. “Well, you always were more of a triangle. But ever since the dance, you’ve been different.” She pointed a thumb at the aquatics building. “Is it because of Brody, that you’re so broody? Ha! I made a joke…get it?”

  Mina turned back toward her desk and put her books into her new backpack. She paused as she remembered a similar backpack with safety pins holding it together. Her mind was flooded with images of Brody falling, her reaching out and grabbing his backpack and saving his life, and all of the days after. The onslaught of memories made Mina frustrated, so she violently tossed the books into her bag.

  She needed to quit living in the past and start worrying about her future. Who knew how long before the Story gathered power and unleashed another fairy tale quest on her?

  “Okay, I’m a square and I need a life. What do you, oh Wise One, suggest?” Mina tried to smile and play along.

  Nan pulled out her iPhone and started typing. “Next weekend the hottest band is playing, and I am determined to get tickets to the show.”

  Mina groaned aloud. “Don’t tell me it’s that band that sounds like screeching cats? What are they called? Um Royal Flush, King’s Council?”

  Nan pouted. “They do not sound like screeching cats. And they’re called the Dead Prince Society. I’ll stand in line all night if I have to, but we are definitely going. And we definitely need to find you different clothes.”

  “What’s wrong with my clothes?” Mina looked down at her vintage striped shirt and grimaced at the obvious paint stain from her earlier art project. What others called thrift store, Mina’s mom called vintage. How could she have missed the stain? She furiously rubbed at the offending paint and it started to slowly chip off, but it was going to take a lot of chipping to get it all.

  She’d thought she’d been doing better with her wardrobe. At least she no longer wore hoodie jackets, which had tended to be a bane to her on her last encounter with the Story, when it had tried to turn her into Red Riding Hood and made all of her clothes red. Still, it was tough to fit in and buy expensive clothes when her single mom, who cleaned houses for a living, supported her and her brother. So Mina chose to wear hand-me-down, garage-sale items and thrift store finds which weren’t all bad.

  “Forget it, Mina. The shirt is a lost cause. It’s not worth salvaging.” Nan grabbed her hand, pulled her out of the chair. Mina sighed, picked up her backpack and followed her friend out into the hall of Kennedy High.

  Most of the students had already left for the day, and only those who had detention or were involved in afterschool clubs and sports were on campus. Mina never minded staying late after school. It meant she was able to see Brody and avoid running into despicable Jared.

  Mina had once believed Jared was dead, and had felt responsible for his death. A Fae wolf had jumped from a moving van onto Jared’s motorcycle while they were both speeding down a highway. Mina saw them crash and she believed there was no way they could have survived that wreck. She had been devastated and spent days crying over him. Now, since he obviously wasn’t dead, she wished he was. He was rude, obnoxious and a complete jerk.

  The day that Jared had appeared in the school lunchroom, miraculously alive, would be forever burned into her memory. For a moment, when he’d surprised her and looked at her with such heat filled and intense eyes, one would have thought it was Mina who had almost died. She’d clutched the table for support and dug her nails into it so she wouldn’t run to him crying and blubbering loudly. He’d seen her slight movement and given just the slightest head shake “no”. He’d continued to stare right into her soul as he moved across the lunchroom to sit at a different table. Jared was rejecting her, to keep up with appearances of being a new student.

  Mina’s heart had thudded. She’d heard her blood rushing in her ears as she’d tried to make sense of the intense emotions that had overtaken her at the sight of Jared and his immediate response to her. Excitement, happiness, joy, confusion, hurt, betrayal, sadness, all of those emotions had flushed across her face in a blink of an eye and she’d sat down hard on the chair. Nan had barely noticed as she had droned on and on about the new kid.

  She hadn’t been able to take the rejection from the one person who knew who she really was. And obviously Jared still remembered everything that had happened. Why? Why would he do this to her? She’d sat numbly across the room from Jared who knew her but pretended otherwise, and Brody who didn’t remember her and she wished had. The Fates were cruel. Why couldn’t it have been the opposite? Why couldn’t Brody have retained his memories and Jared have forgotten?

  Mina had felt awful at her sudden change of thought and covered her face with her hands. It was too much, all too much for a sixteen year old to absorb. It wasn’t until she’d heard Savannah White’s laugh fill the lunchroom that Mina had officially lost it. She’d grabbed her tray and pushed it across the lunch table, then stood up loudly as her chair had flipped over, causing every head to turn her way expectantly. Every head except for Jared’s.

  Mina had been angry. Angrier than she’d felt in a while. As a result, she’d turned and pushed another chair out of the way. The chair had moved effortlessly, and magically it changed directions. It skidded into a poor passerby, Steven. He stumbled and dropped his lunch tray of food right into the lap of the one and only Savannah White. Savannah had screamed at Steven and his pile of spaghetti that spilled across her pristine cheerleader uniform. The lunchroom erupted into laughter.

  Mina had stood and stared at the domino effect that she had caused and couldn’t believe her luck. She’d looked at the faces of the students. No one had even looked at her or noticed her actions. Savannah’s angry tirade became louder and more hysterical. Mina had glanced one more time toward Jared and he’d purposefully looked down at his tray with a smug gri
n across his face. His eyes almost couldn’t contain the obvious mischief that lurked there.

  That had explained it all. Mina wasn’t sure how she’d known, but Jared was behind the mysteriously moving chair, and the Steven and Savannah spectacle. She’d wondered if it was some kind of peace offering for refusing to acknowledge her. Well, she hadn’t taken it. Mina had turned and walked out the double doors of the lunchroom, leaving the monkey house it had become behind.

  That had been over a month ago. Still Jared hadn’t spoken to her. And Brody had just been giving her odd looks. Boy trouble, plus the intense pressure of always trying to be on her guard for the next quest was taking a toll on her nerves. She could feel her younger self starting to slip away to be replaced by a forlorn, lovesick, paranoid loony. Mina felt like she was floating above herself looking down, not actually participating in her life.

  “WATCH OUT!” Nan screamed.

  Mina felt a strong tug on her green corduroy jacket and she was jerked back onto the curb and into the present. A red convertible, carrying a bunch of screaming teenage girls, whizzed by almost running over her. She looked up in confusion at her surroundings. They were standing outside of Kennedy High School next to the curb across from the parking lot. When had they walked outside? Was she really zoning out into her own thoughts so much that she was losing big chunks of time? She didn’t even remember walking across the school campus.

  Nan released her death grip on Mina’s jacket. “Mina, really. Please tell me what is wrong with you?”

  The adrenaline of almost getting hit by a car started to overtake her. If Nan hadn’t been right next to her she would’ve been toast. Burnt toast, crispy, not even worth salvaging and where would that leave her family? It would’ve meant that Charlie, her silent younger brother would be the next Grimm to face the Story.

  She was not meant to go out like that, not by something as simple as walking into oncoming traffic. How in the world was she going to face another dangerous quest when she couldn’t even keep herself safe? She began to feel dizzy, sick, and nauseous all at once. Her legs became Jell-O and they buckled beneath her. She crumpled to the sidewalk, breathing heavily.

  Nan screamed her name and a buzzing noise filled Mina’s ears. She could’ve sworn she heard Claire’s evil laugh echoing around her and heard LoneTree snarling at her.

  Another car pulled up next to them and a window rolled down. “What’s going on? What happened?”

  The strong voice broke through the echo of Claire's maniacal laugh in her head, but Mina still couldn’t calm her breathing or her heart.

  Nan answered, “She was almost hit by a car and I think she’s in shock.”

  “Don’t move.” A car door opened, footsteps came around and another door opened. Mina was so dazed she let Nan usher her into the backseat of the car with little resistance.

  The feel of cool leather seats brushed against Mina’s face and the smell was oddly familiar, though unrecognizable. Three car doors slammed and the engine roared to life.

  “Where to?” the male driver asked.

  Mina looked around the backseat of the car, a few textbooks and a black sports bag with the school’s mascot and water polo silhouette in white where the only things littering the floor. She looked up into the rearview mirror and concerned blue eyes met hers. She didn’t need to see the driver’s face to know that she was in the backseat of Brody Carmichael’s car.

  “972…” Nan rattled off.

  “NO!” Mina yelled out a little too loudly. Nan was giving Brody her home address.

  Nan’s head whipped around from the front seat to stare at her wide-eyed. “So you don’t want to go home? I thought you were having some kind of breakdown back there.”

  Mina bit her lip and looked down in embarrassment. “I’m okay now. The shock of almost being hit by the car stunned me for a bit. I’m fine…really,” she added lamely.

  Nan’s eyebrow rose, firmly stating she didn’t quite believe her. “Whatever.” She opened the car door and stepped out onto the curb. “I guess we won’t need a ride after all.”

  Brody answered, “It’s fine. I can give you a lift anywhere you want to go.” His wet hair had almost dried from the sun. Mina wanted to reach out and touch the semi-wet locks, but pulled back. She briefly wondered if he’d been as confused and conflicted as she was lately.

  Mina pulled on the backdoor door handle, but it didn’t budge; it was still locked. She couldn’t believe it, child-proof locks.

  Brody turned his head to stare at Mina who was latched onto the door handle waiting to leap out of the car as soon as he unlocked it. He didn’t. He watched and waited for what seemed like an eternity, before asking, “What are you doing this weekend?” Even though the question was obviously directed at Mina, it was Nan who answered from the sidewalk.

  “We are going to see Dead Prince Society. I suppose you wouldn’t know who they are, would you?”

  Brody’s eyes glanced at Mina before answering. “Yeah, I know them. The lead singer is my cousin.”

  “WHAT! I can’t believe it! Valdemar is your cousin. That is about the coolest thing ever. Can you get us autographs?” Nan was in rock heaven.

  He looked toward Nan’s dancing form, as she jumped around, waving her hands in anticipation. Brody’s mouth turned upwards before looking at Mina again in the backseat. “I’ll do you one better. Let me drive you there Saturday and I’ll get you backstage passes.”

  Even more screaming erupted from Nan, causing a nearby flock of birds to fly off. Mina covered her ears in surprise. Brody winced in pain.

  “YES, yes, holy mackerel, yes.” She began to sing out loud the chorus to their latest hit song, Beauty’s Dead.” She quickly became oblivious to Mina’s plight at being still locked in the car.

  “What about you, Mina?” Brody asked, his voice growing softer.

  Her fingers reluctantly let go of the door handle. She couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes.

  “All right,” she whispered.

  What was wrong with her? This is what she had been waiting for, a chance to reunite with Brody, to see if what they had was real, or if it was a product of the Story’s manipulation. As much as she longed for Brody, there was the remote possibility that without the Story’s interference, he may not feel the same way about her again. Was she ready to try again and risk losing him? YES!

  Brody blinked in surprise. Apparently she had spoken aloud and with force.

  “Okay then, it’s settled.” He reached for the automatic lock and pushed the button, releasing Mina from the backseat.

  Before she stepped out, she asked him, “Would you have unlocked the door if I had said no?”

  “Possibly. We won’t really know, now will we? Since you didn’t-- say no, that is.” His lips pressed together and he smiled crookedly. He touched his forehead and squeezed his eyes. With a slight shake of his head, he started the car and waited as Mina exited the backseat. She could tell that he was struggling with something inside himself, some memories. It only made Mina’s heart break for him a little bit more.

  “Where should we meet you?” Nan smiled and leaned in the opened window.

  Brody looked at Mina when he spoke, “How about I pick you up at--”

  “Nan’s condo!” Mina interrupted, knowing exactly what Brody was going to suggest. She learned her lesson the first time; she wanted to keep him far away from her mother. Mina didn’t want any more arguments or “I told you so’s,” in case things didn’t go her way again.

  Brody frowned, but entered Nan’s address in his phone anyway. “I’ll pick you up at six.”

  The sound of a motorcycle revving made Mina’s head snap up. The timing was inconceivable. Jared was once again on his black motorcycle across the street. He revved the engine again, intentionally drawing attention to himself. Mina glared at him and he shook his head slowly, telling her no.

  Her eyes widened in disbelief. There was no way he knew what she was thinking of doing? He couldn’t
have overheard their conversation about going to the concert. Or could he?

  Angry and frustrated, she put on her most flirtatious smile, which probably looked awkward and pained. But Mina did her best to impersonate Savannah. “Oh, I can’t wait. It will be so much fun.” Mina smiled and stuck her chin up in the air, in a challenge to Jared, daring him to stop her.

  To show his displeasure he hit the gas and front brakes, causing a very long circular skid of rubber along the pavement as he did a one eighty and tore off down the road.

  Nan wrinkled her nose at the smell of burning rubber. Brody waved before driving away.

  “What was that?” Nan asked accusingly.

  “What was what?” Mina said in her most innocent voice.

  “Oh, you can’t fool me.” She switched to a high-pitched voice, “Oh, golly gee whiz, Brody. It will be so much fun. Can’t wait.” Nan wiggled her head back and forth making her blonde hair swish in an exact parody of Savannah. Mina was momentarily stunned by how close the similarity was.

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