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       Fairest, p.5

           Chanda Hahn
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  There was an ever so gentle flicker of disappointment. “Oh, I see.” Mina lied. A sour taste crept into her mouth. She didn’t see how Nan was willing to wait until after the concert to see the boy she likes. But at the same time, she was going to deny Mina from spending time with Brody.

  She felt the stab of jealousy and could almost see it rear its ugly head in the tone of her own voice. “That is nice of you,” she bit out.

  Whatever beautiful moment they had shared moments ago was ruined by her own jealousy as she imagined the rest of the night playing out in fast forward–Brody, Nan and all the band members would be laughing, eating bags of Skittles, and singing karaoke together. What? Where did that come from? She tried to calm her nerves and remember where they were going. She was so distraught over the images her own mind created, she didn’t even care when she gave directions to her own house.

  Brody was really quiet the rest of the drive, as if he could sense Mina’s inner turmoil and dialogue. He cleared his throat gently when he pulled up in front of the Wong’s restaurant.

  “You live in a Chinese Restaurant?” Brody asked, unaware that he had already asked this question weeks ago and that he already subconsciously knew the answer.

  An intense moment of déjà vu overcame Mina, and she turned to look at Brody and spoke slowly, watching his face closely for any hint of recognition. “Not in-above it.” All of her waiting was for naught. He didn’t react differently.

  “Cool.” He ran his hand through his hair and turned to look at her. “I’m sorry this night didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.”

  Mina stepped out of the car. “No, it didn’t,” she mumbled back, feeling defeated until she remembered something. “Um, Nan’s party at Imperial Lake next weekend. Are you going?” Her knees locked up, and she would have slapped herself in the forehead for how dorky she must have sounded if only he hadn’t been standing next to her.

  Brody pondered a minute as if checking an imaginary calendar in his head before answering with a grin. “Yeah, I got the invite, I wouldn’t miss it.”

  Awkwardly, she waved goodbye, unsure of what else to do at this current stage of their non-existent dating status. She knew she was farther along in the relationship in her mind than he was. But it made her forget her spat with her best friend and even her current situation. Mina was floating on a cloud of hope.

  Mrs. Wong was sweeping the front sidewalk to the restaurant. She waved enthusiastically at Mina as Mina went up the steps to the Grime’s apartment. It was obvious from Mrs. Wong’s gestures that she wanted to speak to Mina and hear all of the juicy details involving the very attractive boy dropping her off. For some odd reason, she was obsessed with Mina’s life and with giving her dating advice, even so far as to once suggest Mina’s kissing Brody. Thank goodness she had probably forgotten that embarrassing conversation had ever happened.

  For once Mina was actually beginning to understand the reasoning behind the Story’s resetting her life and the events occurring prior to the completion of a quest. In short, it did give her a second chance at first impressions. What high school student wouldn’t want a chance to redo her first kiss, first dance, and biggest mistake?

  She really hated what the Story had done and had become really depressed over losing her boyfriend. But at the same time, she was now free again to try and rekindle the flame, without all of the previous awkwardness. The only thing to do now was to make absolutely sure that none of her friends, schoolmates, or boys she liked in the future ever became a part of the curse surrounding her, so she must make sure they never found out about it.

  That was it; she would do everything she could to make sure they never had anything to do with the Story or her family’s quests. If they weren’t pulled into it, then their memories wouldn’t be erased and their lives wouldn’t be reset. It seemed simple enough.

  Smiling, Mina managed the last few steps to the landing and inserted the key into the lock. She opened her door and stepped into her home. It wasn’t much, a tiny retro kitchen with a Sixties dinette set for four and appliances that had seen better days. A small sofa and wooden rocker filled up their very small living room along with an old TV, which was rarely used. Their apartment only had one bathroom, but luckily it did have three bedrooms, which was rare for their units. Well, Charlie’s room wasn’t legally a room, because he didn’t have a closet and it looked as if it had originally been a part of Mina’s room at one time. The previous tenants, or the Wong’s at some point, must have built a wall between the two rooms to make a storage room or office. Either way it had a window and gave the Grimes each enough privacy.

  On the living room rug, Charlie was playing cards, what looked like a loose version of solitaire, but Mina could tell right away he was cheating. For one reason, she could see five aces and six queens, so there were obviously multiple decks in play, and he kept shuffling cards from the back to the front.

  Mina chuckled, and Charlie looked up and made a loving brotherly face at her, which meant he scrunched up his nose and stuck out his tongue. Mina crossed her eyes and mimicked the tongue gesture. Charlie’s face lit up in joyful glee at his sister’s retaliation. Sara was making popcorn in the microwave and looked like she was getting ready to settle down with a good book. Mina said hi, snagged a handful of popcorn out of her mother’s bowl and retreated to her room with a quick comment about studying.

  Once her door was closed, she grabbed a light jacket purposely ignoring the various hoodies hanging in her closet. She clutched a small brown paper bag that she’d left on her desk, threw open her window, and stepped out onto the fire escape. The building was old and still had a rarely used fire escape, which led to Mina’s rooftop retreat.

  It was every teenager’s dream to have a retreat of her own. It wasn’t grand, but it was solely Mina’s. The few lawn chairs that she had dragged up to the roof were mismatched and slightly broken dumpster finds, but she thought they were perfect. She had also decorated the roof with various fake plants, Christmas lights, outdoor party lights, and a lone pink flamingo. Faint music from the Italian restaurant down the road song drifted to her haven plus the mixed smells of Chinese and Italian food always created the oddest aroma of home.

  She pulled out the crumpled paper bag and removed her latest curbside find, a medium-size garden gnome with blue pants and red pointy hat. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to save this somewhat chipped piece of clay, but it looked lonely. To be honest, she kind of felt sorry for the statue.

  Twisting a stray lock of hair around her finger, she scanned the various ledges and shelves she had stacked with knickknacks and plants. She decided to place the gnome next to one of the few living plants on the roof, a rose bush. Placing him in his new home, Mina stood back and picked up a stick and pretended to knight the little fellow over both shoulders.

  “I dub thee, Sir Nomer,” she spoke in a kingly tone of voice, her heart soaring.

  “Well, that’s a stupid name if I ever heard one myself, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard lots of stupid names.”

  Mina froze at the male voice that seemed to come out of the air, and she stared at the garden gnome in disbelief. “Did you just say something?” she whispered to the gnome.

  “Don’t tell me you think the gnome can talk? Well, yes, some gnomes do talk. But, most are surly and wouldn’t really speak to you in the first place anyway, but certainly not cheap store bought ones,” the male voice spoke again and sounded closer. It only took Mina a second now to recognize the teasing tone of Jared’s voice, and she stiffened in irritation.

  “I happen to think that Nomer is a great name,” Mina huffed out without looking at him.

  “Obviously, it’s for stupid dolls,” Jared answered.

  Mina turned around to confront Jared, but he wasn’t standing behind her. Looking up, she frowned disapprovingly. “You should get down from there before you hurt yourself.”

  He was sitting on a brick outbuilding above her, wearing jeans and a green t-shirt. His dark
hair ruffled in the wind, and he had an incredibly impish look to him. He jumped off of the building to land next to her. Pounding his chest playfully, he replied, “Chillax, I’m not going to hurt myself. I’m made of pretty sturdy stuff.” He looked at her, and his grey eyes went soft when he spoke.

  “Yeah, like your heart, it’s made of stone,” Mina responded angrily.

  Jared actually looked a little hurt at the barb. “Maybe, but that’s because no one has ever taken the time to break through the stone and see that I do actually have one.”

  “Well, maybe it’s because you are a jerk!” she snapped.

  “Well, maybe I only pretend to be a jerk to keep from getting too close to people!” His tone slowly began to rise in pitch and volume.

  “Then you must be lonely ‘cause you seem to have yourself closed off from the world and protected just fine!” She turned angrily and pointed her finger, poking him hard in the chest.

  “No! I don’t have to protect myself from others. Only you!” He spoke the last two words barely above a whisper. He looked down at Mina’s small finger jabbing him in the chest and frowned.

  Mina didn’t hear his whispered comment and sighed dramatically, dropping her finger. “Jared, you speak in riddles. Why can’t you just spit it out? I don’t have the time to figure out who you are, and what you want me to do or not do. Half the time, I think you are some kind of guardian angel my father sent to watch over me, and the other half I think you are the devil himself come to plague me about my curse.”

  “I’m not-” he began.

  “I don’t care anymore,” she interrupted. “I’ve had a horrible night. I got into a fight with my best friend. No, my only friend. And my old boyfriend doesn’t even remember me. Let’s not even mention you. I’ve wasted enough time thinking you had died, and you weren’t even hurt. I have plenty of reasons to be furious at you.

  “Even tonight, I have no clue how you got here or why you’re even here? Why are you here, Jared? Can you tell me who you are? Can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me the truth? One hundred percent truth, no lies, right now?”

  Jared looked taken aback; his mouth opened in shock, and he was left speechless. Mina took his moment’s hesitation for an answer.

  “I thought so,” she spoke sadly. She turned, pulled Nomer from the ledge, and went to stand by the fire escape to go back down. Her back was turned toward Jared, and her voice was stiff, hiding all the turmoil she felt deep inside. “I don’t need people who can’t be honest with me. I’m not a child that needs coddling. You know everything about me and my family. Things that no normal person could possibly know. I know you are not like me. I know that you’re Fae. I’ve seen the things you can do.”

  “Mina, it’s not like that… I want to-” Jared halted and clammed up.

  Mina saw his resolve and his jaw clench in anger, in finality. He was almost going to tell her. She saw it. Then she saw the black cloud cover his face, and his expression froze. She knew then what she had to do. Walking down the steps to her window, she paused and looked up before entering her room and locking the window.

  “I’m sorry, Jared. I wish you would tell me the truth. Because where there is truth, trust follows. And right now, at this very moment, I don’t trust you.”

  Chapter 5

  She didn’t hear from Nan the whole weekend. Not once did the phone ring for Mina. It rang seven times for her mom and twice for her brother Charlie, who doesn’t speak. Really, who would call a boy who was unable to talk? Apparently, Mikey, the kid in the next building over, had figured out that if no one was speaking after the phone was answered, it had to be her brother, and he usually asked if he could come over and play. One beep on the dial tone meant yes, two meant no. But still, it was a wonder that her brother was more popular than she was.

  After her argument with Nan and her disappointing conversation with Jared, Mina became insanely grumpy and impossible to please. And everywhere she went she felt like she was being watched. It was like invisible static that hung in the air - a metaphysical bomb of fairy tale madness waiting to drop on her when she least expected it. She became jumpy, jittery and knew that she was in the calm before a supernatural storm. She hadn’t felt this much restless energy gathering around her since the Enchanted Dance, which meant whatever quest was coming, was going to be a very dangerous one.

  Mina was on edge at school on Monday. She began to suspect that everyone was in league with the Story against her.

  Mrs. Porter was reading the school announcements in her gravelly voice and her yellowed eyes never left the printed paper as she read. The woman was old fashioned, high tech disabled, tough as nails, and responsible for almost all of Mina’s tardy slips and detentions. Mina was only ever late to first period and three tardies equaled a detention.

  The cruel teacher was also known for trying to tempt students with last year’s leftover candy corn she kept in a dish on her desk. Those actions alone had evil Fae written all over it. Mina knew without a teenage doubt that Mrs. Porter had to be an evil--something.

  She was about to make a derogatory comment to Nan when she looked over and realized that Nan wasn’t sitting in her usual spot next to her, but across the room next to Savannah White. Mina turned back to face the chalkboard and did her absolute best to not betray the emotions she was feeling. Yes, they had a spat, but she never in her lifetime would’ve thought her friend would abandon her for the enemy.

  Wait! Mina’s head whipped around unconsciously and her eyes widened in disbelief. Why didn’t she think of it sooner? Savannah White - Snow White, it was too ridiculous to believe and only a dunce wouldn’t have put the two together. How could the Story not try and manipulate Savannah into a tale? Now all Mina had to do was watch and wait.

  Nothing interesting happened to Savannah White during first period. Mina’s neck had a crick and she’d acquired a splitting headache from trying to face forward while watching Savannah out of the corner of her eye for forty-five minutes. She dawdled and waited for Nan and Savannah to leave class before her, so she could follow them.

  Without sparing her friend a glance, Nan picked up her books and walked with Savannah down the hall. Mina slipped in behind them and observed carefully.

  Nan smiled brightly as she flipped her hair in perfect imitation of Savannah. Her voice dripped honey, “So Savannah, my mom’s boyfriend is letting us have a party at his cabin next weekend. You up for it?”

  Savannah’s smile faltered. “Cabin? As in woods, as in dirt?” It was obvious, she wasn’t thrilled.

  Nan’s face only showed the mildest annoyance at Savannah’s disdain, but she covered it well. “As in lake, boats and boys.”

  Savannah perked up instantly. “Oh, I gotcha! Sounds fun! But for it to be a real party we need to make sure that we include…..” They walked faster and a student cut between them and Mina, so she could no longer hear their party planning.

  “Darn!” Mina muttered under her breath. She chewed on the inside of her cheek, debating whether to follow Savannah or head to her second period class. Since nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening, Mina decided to head to class. She changed directions in the middle of the hall and ran right into the new girl with spiky hair and catholic school uniform.

  “Watch it gimp,” The annoyed girl fumed. She pushed Mina out of the way and hurried toward a tall dark haired boy leaning against a wall, who was watching them both with interest.

  Mina tried to call after her and apologize until she recognized the person the girl was making a beeline for-Jared. Mina stood stunned in the middle of the hallway, as the cute girl caught up to Jared, leaned in close to him, really close. Closer than what was natural for just friends. Questions began to plague Mina. How did he know her? Did he have a girlfriend she didn’t know about? How come he never mentioned her before?

  She stood frozen, in the middle of the hallway, as student after student bumped into her. Some called out expletives for her to move. Jared leaned forward and whi
spered into the girl’s short hair, in almost an intimate manner. She turned her small frame to him and tried to take a step closer. Jared shuffled and it almost looked like he was giving her a hug. WHAT in the world was going on!

  Mina’s fingers dug painfully into her text book and she quickly put her head down and kept moving through the hall, hoping he didn’t see her staring at him. How was this fair? Why could everyone, even Jared carry on and have a normal life except for her. It wasn’t until Mina walked into her biology classroom and saw a bunch of freshmen, that she realized it was the wrong period and wrong class. Now, she would have to turn around and walk past Jared and the girl again.

  Her footsteps sounded immensely loud in the hallway and she could feel her teeth grinding at the injustice that was high school. She wished she had her notebook of “Unaccomplishments and Epic Disasters” here with her because she would literally rip the whole thing to shreds. Her whole life was a disaster; nothing seemed to be going right. She didn’t have a boyfriend, or a best friend and she found herself insanely jealous of people she should be angry at. Whatever happened to her insanely boring, predictable and clumsy life? It fell off the catwalk that’s what happened.

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