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       Reign, p.26

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  After the first two periods of class he still hadn’t found the frog girl and he would have almost missed her, if she hadn’t stopped to take a drink at the water fountain right in front of him.

  Kathleen and spent a very long time at the water fountain. In fact, so long, Jared thought maybe she was frozen. Nevertheless, after a full minute, her red-blonde head popped up and politely apologized to the boy waiting behind her. She wiped her mouth daintily and headed down the hall away from him. It was a good thing she couldn’t sense him.

  Jared didn’t need prodding. He moved away from the wall and followed her into the classroom. With a bit of Fae magic he changed his class schedule to Journalism.

  The room was filled with old computer cubicles and computers. Every wall was covered with newspaper clippings and past issues of the Lincoln Heights Journal. A large table at the back of the room had a collage of action shots of the football, basketball and track teams. The teacher introduced him to the class, and he watched as the boys in the room glowered at him. The girls visibly brightened at the prospect of a good-looking new boy. He made his way to an open chair and sat down, being careful to act like he wasn’t interested in anything anyone was saying. He wasn’t here to draw attention or make friends; he needed to keep it on the down low.

  The teacher gave instructions to the class, and Jared was assigned to a small group that would report on last week’s football loss to none other than Mina Grime’s own school Kennedy High.

  They moved to a large table, and Jared listened to a discussion on stats between Mark, who had dark caramel skin and a thick, pleasant South African accent, and Adam, a slim brown-haired boy with glasses. Lucy, the only girl in the group, had sandy blonde hair in stark braids. She wore glasses and a blue chevron sweater.

  “So, have any of you seen Tom this morning?” Lucy whispered to their group during a lull in their writing. Her pencil tapped her notepad nervously. Jared listened carefully but didn’t chime in on the conversation.

  “No, but he’s probably in class,” Adam answered.

  “I waited out in the parking lot, and he never showed,” she insisted.

  “Whoa, have you become a stalker?” Adam scoffed.

  Lucy shook her head. “No, I’ve just started paying close attention to who Kathleen Donovan has her sights set on.” She leaned in close and whispered, “It seems to me that all of the boys that have gone missing over the years were attracted to her.”

  Mark glanced over his shoulder and smiled at Kathleen, who happened to glance up at that moment. She turned her nose up at him and went back to work. He swung back around and gave Lucy an annoyed look. “Aw, not little miss sunshine over there. Are you sure you’re not letting your jealousy get in the way? She’s cute—and harmless.”

  Lucy’s cheeks flushed an angry red, and she pulled out a notebook and flipped it open. It had every missing boys name in one column on the left and a column of dates and notes and initials on the right. It was obvious that there were a lot of K.D.’s in the right-hand column.

  “The disappearances started occurring shortly after she transferred here last year. She’s never outright dated anyone who’s asked her, but she’s pretty enough to date anyone she wants.”

  “Lucy, you can’t convict someone based on the fact that they’re single. If that’s the case then you might as well charge me with all the missing guys,” Adam scoffed and held up his hands.

  She started to flick her pencil faster and faster on the notebook. “No, but see that’s the point. Look here.” She pointed to the dates. “These are all the dates on which the boys broke up with their last girlfriends, and she was seen with all of them in the days following—before their disappearance.”

  Adam stared at Lucy hard, before shaking his head. “Who are you—Nancy Drew?”

  “Naw, Scooby Doo!” Mark laughed.

  “More like Velma, with braids.” Adam flicked Lucy’s braid when he said it and Jared had to bite back his tongue. This wasn’t the time to get into a confrontation with boys, when he needed the information that Lucy had.

  “Maybe we should test your theory,” Mark straightened his shirt and cleared his throat. “I’d volunteer to start dating her.”

  Lucy eyed them both with disbelief. “No she only goes out with hot guys…like him.” She pointed to Jared and then clapped her hand over her mouth. blushing.

  Both Mark and Adam started to snicker, but then it quickly died down. Apparently, it had dawned on them that she didn’t think they were hot.

  She sighed loudly and plopped her head in her hand. “Never mind. It was a stupid idea. So how many sacks did Oliver get?” Lucy’s shoulders slumped, and Jared could feel her dejection across the table. He was surprised at how astute she was. She would probably make a phenomenal reporter someday.

  None of her information had solved his problem, though. He still had to get Kathleen to notice him.

  When the bell rang, Jared reached out and tapped Lucy’s shoulder. She spun around and looked up at him in surprise. “I know, not a good first impression,” she said. “You probably think I’m nuts like Mark and Adam.”

  “No, I wanted to say that I believe you.”

  “You do?” Lucy’s mouth dropped open and hung there.

  Jared shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, and I’m willing to test your theory.”

  Lucy wrinkled up her nose and shook her head. “I don’t think you should. I mean, I would hate for the new guy to go missing too. And what if I’m wrong? You’ll probably just tell everyone, and then I’ll be the biggest laughingstock.” She turned to walk away, but Jared called out after her.

  “But what if you’re right?”

  Lucy stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn around. She was obviously contemplating the repercussions of being right. She spun around, her eyes bright with excitement. “If I’m right, you promise that I get first dibs on the story?”

  Jared thought about it. “Sure. Why not?” he answered, knowing full well she probably wouldn’t remember it after the tale was over.

  “Done.” Lucy stuck her hand out and Jared awkwardly grabbed it and gave it a shake.

  “So what’s the plan?” Jared asked.

  Lucy looked a little embarrassed. “Um, you need to get a girlfriend and act like the world revolves around her. Like a Romeo and Juliet—soap opera type love.”

  Jared stepped back and stared at her. This posed a problem. Mina was the first girl who popped into his head to play the role, but she hated him at the moment. And he didn’t want her involved in this anyway. He cocked his head to the side and hoped he was pulling off a winsome smile, but she shook her head and backed up.

  “Nope, not gonna happen. The girls were all hot as well. Even if I had an extreme makeover, I’m pretty sure no one would believe us.” Lucy took off her glasses in a pretense to clean the lenses, but Jared saw it as a ploy not to look at him.

  He sighed. Maybe he should just back out now and let Mina take over the quest. He knew she could handle the frog girl, but that was the problem. It wasn’t the Fae that was the tricky part of this quest. It was the rules of this particular tale that needed to be satisfied. The Frog Prince tale was about a spellbound frog prince who is kissed by a girl. Well, in this version it looked like the girl needed to find her prince for her curse to be lifted—and until that happened, a whole crew of teenage boys were suffering under it as well!. But if Jared told Mina what he knew, she would demand to know how he knew, who told him, and why the Story wanted him to be the prince.

  He didn’t know her well enough to tell her all his secrets. No, it was better to satisfy the quest first, and then let Mina finish it with the Grimoire.

  Jared had to think of another option. One person who could probably pull it off did come to mind, if she could keep her sarcasm at bay. “Okay, I think I can find a fake girlfriend. Did you find anything else, oh Wise One, that would help me seal the deal?”

  Lucy hesitated before answering. “Are you sure you’re doing this to e
xpose her, and not just date the girl?”

  Jared was disgusted. “Positive.”

  “Then if she tries to talk to you, or comes in contact with you, spurn her. Make fun of her. Make her ripe with jealousy. It will make her go after you more. I’ve seen it with a few others.” Lucy sucked on the inside of her cheek in thought and leaned against the doorframe. “You really think you can do this?”

  Jared flashed his dangerous smile at her. He watched as her eyes widened and her hand unconsciously moved to her heart.

  “Lucy, when I want something. I get it.”

  Chapter 4

  Jared knocked on the motel door and put his hands in his pockets, waiting. He hoped she hadn’t moved somewhere new. Was this the smart thing to do? Was getting another Fae involved in this quest worth keeping Mina in the dark?

  What would Mina think? After all, it was her quest. She was already mad at him. He’d been hearing her spout off all kinds of rotten things about him in the back of his mind. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t with him. If she was anywhere near the Grimoire, he would always be able to hear her thoughts.

  He should probably just trust her. After all, she had defeated Claire on her own using the Grimoire. However, just the memory of his allowing her to get kidnapped by the Fae wolves infuriated him. He’d failed them both, really. He hadn’t been able to protect her, and he’d been seriously injured in the process. What had the Story been thinking picking such a young girl?

  Jared knocked again, but this time he pounded so hard the wood splintered. He grimaced and tried to rein in his anger, which was starting to seize control again. But once he’d seen what Kathleen Donovan was, he’d known it was never a quest set up for Mina. This was a trap especially laid out for him, because Kathleen was a girl and the quest needed a boy, a prince.

  The hotel door opened, and a short girl with black spiky hair stepped out. She was wearing all black, except the violet glittery skull barrette in her hair and the purple gloves on her hands.

  “Jared? Holy periwinkle! It is you!” She jumped up and flung her arms around his neck, pressing her face close to his. “I’ve missed you! You haven’t been by in such a long time.” When he didn’t immediately return her embrace, she slowly slid down and looked at him. “Wait, what’s wrong? Someone found the book didn’t they?”

  It had been a very long time since he’d allowed himself to see Ever. When he’d been banished from the Fae plane, she’d followed him and had been here as his guardian ever since. But he hadn’t spoken to her in a while.

  He swallowed, “Yes, someone found the book.”

  Ever looked at him, her big dark eyes round with worry. “Well, it will be fine. After a few quests they’ll lose, just like all the others, and the book will go back into hiding. No biggie.”

  “No, it’s not that simple. I don’t think…I don’t want them to fail. Not this time.” He knew the words would hurt her, and they did. At one time, Jared had thought he was in love with Ever. It was obvious that she loved him, but he could never be sure of his true feelings. They weren’t always his own.

  “Jared, of course we want them to fail. Then you will be safe.” Ever grabbed his hand, closed the door, and started to walk with him away from the motel.

  He savored holding her small and familiar hand in his large one, and he could sense the flutter of her invisible pixie wings. She made him feel stabilized, grounded.

  “Ever, it’s about a certain quest that the Grimm was given. I don’t think it was meant for her.”

  Ever stopped walking and jerked her hand out of his. “Her? The Grimm’s a girl! Why in the world would the Story choose a girl?” And then she surprised him. She went from being angry about it to laughing hysterically. “Oh this is priceless. We have nothing to worry about. We’ll be safe in no time.” She latched onto his right arm and squeezed possessively.

  Jared let her hang on to his arm. It was the least he could do for ignoring her for so long. He looked down at her dark head and felt a pang of sadness. She’d given up so much for him, and he hadn’t been kind to her.

  “It’s not that simple, like I said. This quest isn’t for her. It’s for me.”

  She pulled away only slightly and looked up at him. “Why do you think so? That’s not how it works.”

  “Do you really think the Story cares about following rules? He’s sending a message to me. There’s a Fae that is turning human boys into frogs.”

  Ever threw her head back and giggled. “So what? I always thought boys were toads anyway.”

  Jared thought back to how many names had been on the paper and how many frogs were swimming in the creek. “We’re talking dozens of boys missing.”

  “Wow…that many, huh?”

  “Ever, we’re talking about a Croanoak here,” Jared stopped walking and turned to face her.

  “What?” She stopped and turned her face up to his. “Oh, yeah. They can be a pain.” Her mouth quirked. “So what do you want me to do? I left my toad stomping boots back at my place.” She pointed back to the parking lot and motel they’d just left.

  “No, I want you to pretend to be my girlfriend and enroll at Lincoln Heights with me,” Jared answered casually.

  “And what about the Grimm? She can’t help you with this?” Ever simpered and batted her lashes, taunting him.

  He closed his eyes and slowly breathed out. “I would like to try and leave her out of this as much as possible. The less she knows about me the better. We will try to bring her in at the last possible moment, okay? To close the deal.”

  Ever brightened, “Yeah, the gimp would probably slow us down anyway.”

  They slowly walked back to the motel talking about the old days, the Fae plane, both being careful not to talk about their families. He walked up to her motel door and waited for her to open it. “So make sure that you dress the part tomorrow,” he gently reminded her.

  Ever stuck her tongue out at him. “Jared, I will make the best girlfriend you’ve ever had.”

  He nodded and smiled. “I bet you will.”

  She closed the door and he walked to his car. He was about to put the key in the ignition, when a feeling of urgency overcame him. His heartbeat picked up, and he could feel the tension building—signs that told him to check in on Mina. She must be up to something. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the leather headrest. It took a minute to find an available reflective surface in her room. It usually took a few tries, because the objects didn’t always face her, or they weren’t large enough to do any reflection viewing.

  Ah, he found one. It was just dark enough that the light in her room caused a reflection on her window. There she was. She was furious and storming around her messy bedroom, yelling his name. He watched her as she began to throw items into a backpack. She pulled out black clothes again and laid them on her bed. He frowned. She was preparing to go back to Kathleen’s house tonight, but he couldn’t let that happen. Not yet…he needed more time.

  Carefully, Jared used a bit of stray magic and made her window stick shut. He knew she was going to sneak out and go down the fire escape. Mina went to her bedroom window and tried to open it. He watched her scream silently and throw her fists in the air. She turned and tiptoed to her bedroom door, hoping to escape out the front. It didn’t take much to make the old-fashioned porcelain doorknob fall off leaving her trapped in her room. That should protect her until he had time to work.

  Jared needed to confront the Kathleen first and see if he could get her to release the spellbound bullfrogs. He knew that if Mina trapped Kathleen in the Grimoire, the boys wouldn’t return to normal. They would be frogs forever, trapped.

  How did he know? Because when he’d watched Kathleen toss Tom into the water, and she’d cried on the creek bank, he’d heard the Story’s voice loud and clear. The Story told him that they would be lost forever.

  For once, Jared was going to prove the Story wrong.

  Chapter 5

  “Jared! Ohmygosh!” A high-pitched voic
e rang out loudly through the hallway.

  Jared turned from his locker and saw Ever running down the hall toward him. She jumped on him, flinging her arms around his neck. “I thought I’d die,” she said loud enough for the crowd of students to hear.

  Whoa! What a transformation! Jared set her down but kept his arms around her, as he looked her over. Ever had used a glamour, so now instead of a short and spiky hairstyle, her hair fell in big waves down to her mid-back. She wore white shorts with a light teal off the shoulder top. Colorful bangles decorated her arms. Even her makeup was rosy in color, compared to the paler shades she preferred. Her eyes looked twice as big, and with her new hairstyle, she didn’t look so harsh. She appeared soft and approachable. Jared couldn’t help but look down to see if the Goth pixie had gotten rid of the black army boots. She had. Instead, she wore delicate leather and gold sandals.

  “This is some difference!” he whispered as he leaned down to give her another hug.

  “Oh, gag me with a spoon. I feel like a simpering Disney princess,” she whispered back, batting her eyes at him. She pulled away and did a twirl in the hallway, her invisible wings still fluttering with excitement, making any loose papers go flying out of the neighboring lockers.

  Jared was impressed. She was doing a bang-up job of drawing attention their way. Everyone in the hallway was staring at them.

  Jared scanned the crowd of onlookers and spotted a pair of green eyes filled with envy—Kathleen’s.

  “The show is about to begin.”

  “I thought it already started,” Ever said, chuckling, as she pulled him after her down the hall.

  Jared followed and made sure to pay extra attention to Ever. Despite her total makeover, she was making him uncomfortable. Maybe because he knew it was a ruse, but wasn’t sure if she really thought of it that way. She seemed a little too eager to participate.

 
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