Grim Fairy Tale
Despite all the training and jogging I used to tire myself, I slept poorly both Wednesday and Thursday nights. I debated having a glass of wine to calm me down but ultimately decided against it. When I did sleep, I dreamed of fanged people in long black gowns who wanted to dance.
Friday morning, when Justin and I went out to spar, I found a package propped against the back door with my name on it in block letters. Justin watched as I opened it and pulled out an old, leather-bound book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Inside the front flap was a piece of paper. Justin opened it and read the letter as I scanned the table of contents.
“ ‘Camellia, if you want to read fairy tales, you should read the real thing, not the watered-down, cartoon version. Real fairy tales have relevance and great importance in teaching children morals, good behavior, why they shouldn’t be lazy or jealous, why they should obey their parents, and so on. You are welcome to borrow this volume of mine for as long as you like. Yours, Leslie.’ A book of fairy tales. Ha,” Justin mused, handing the letter back to me.
“Who would’ve thought?”
“I imagine if you’d lived for a thousand years, you’d have a lot of stuff.” I looked at the inside of the front cover. “Holy shit, Justin.”
I pointed at something scribbled in another language. I clearly read “Leslie,” “Jacob,” and “Wilhelm.”
He looked up at me, mouth open. “This book is signed by the real Brothers Grimm. They were German. This,” he pointed to the scribbling, “is something they wrote to Leslie. This has to be one of the first editions translated into English.”
I snatched the book closed and stuffed it back in the envelope. “He can’t loan me this.”
Justin and I worked out for about two hours, being careful not to bruise or cut each other before our big night. After training, I sat down on a heap of pine straw to cool off and decided that a peek at the book wouldn’t hurt. Gently this time, I removed it from the envelope and thumbed through it.
I remembered a few years back that Justin said something about the Big Bad Wolf. I had heard people talk about him my whole life, but I never knew why. Before he left me to go back inside, Justin suggested I read the story about the little girl with the red riding jacket.
She set off to do an errand and good deed for her mother, and things had gone wrong from there. I read it, shaking my head in disbelief. I had no idea how anyone could survive being eaten by a wolf, but I supposed that was what made it a tale. However, the lessons about obeying your mother and not talking to strangers were loud and clear. I skimmed over a few others, making mental notes of the ones I wanted to read. Just as carefully as when I had taken it out, I slid the book back into the package.
The day was sunny, but it was past noon. I needed a shower and at least two hours to allow for hair drying and all the other things my mother had planned for me. I jogged down the path to the house, and as I came in the back door, I heard arguing. It sounded like my mother and Mandy. I paused, my hand on the knob.
“Iris, we just don’t think it’s fair that she and Justin are the only ones who get to go out. When are we going to meet these other sympathizers, huh? I’m beginning to think they don’t exist.”
“Mandy,” my mother said in an appeasing tone, “you and any of the others can go out when you like. As far as participation, we’re staying out of the majority of it for now. If you, or anyone else, want a bigger role to play, feel free to ask Leslie about it.”
“I don’t want to ask him. I don’t want to have to wear this pin to go out, and I don’t take orders from a vampire. Not long ago, neither did you.”
I wasn’t going to stand for that. I stormed into the kitchen and shouted, “My parents take orders from no one.”
Both women’s heads whipped in my direction. My mother wrung her hands, and Mandy looked guilty, as if caught in the act of doing something she shouldn’t. She shook herself out of it quickly.
“Don’t be so sure about it. He says jump, and you do. Justin, too. If he wasn’t so head-over-heels for you, he wouldn’t be sticking his neck out there for the Russian beauty queen to nibble.”
She started to stalk off, and I grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face me. “You leave Justin and my parents out of this. I offered to do this alone, but everyone agreed this was a good move.”
“Not everyone. We’re operating with them on a trial basis. Some of us are not convinced this is the right thing to do.” She jerked her shoulder free of my hand. “You are a strong group. I like the protection you can give me, but I didn’t want to be part of this.” Her eyes narrowed. “You brought him here.”
“I had little choice,” I reminded her.
“Oh, whatever, Cami.” Her face pinched. “All you had to do was tell him no.”
“And keep living like we are? I think we really have a shot at changing things.”
“He’s really gotten to you, huh? What’s that?” She pointed to the envelope under my arm. I gripped it tighter. “Another gift from your master?” I lifted my chin. “I see. Well, you enjoy your fancy party, Cami. I hope someone gets hungry.” She turned to leave.
“Mandy,” my mother snapped. “That is my daughter you are talking to.”
Casually, I said, “Oh, Mom, she’s just jealous.”
“Jealous?” Mandy turned her head in my direction, and her eyes went wide. “Oh yes, I’m jealous. You still have your parents. Sure, you lost your sister. Big deal.” She stabbed a finger into her chest. “I lost my entire family, and you’re ready to run off and play with a vampire.” She shook her head impatiently. “And here’s Justin, hanging on your every word, eating up every crumb you drop for him, and you treat him like an annoying pest. What I would do to have someone like him love me, and you throw it away.”
“I never asked for his love. All I ever wanted was to be free. Now, it looks like we can do something about it. I’m sorry you can’t understand.”
“No, I don’t think I’ll ever understand you. Patrice and I don’t want you in our room anymore. We moved your stuff to the basement.”
I stood, mouth open and in shock as Mandy left the kitchen. I stared after her for a bit. I had never been particularly fond of Mandy, but I fought and killed for her just as much as I did for the other members of the family. I had no idea she disliked me so much.
“Cami—” my mother began.
I held up a hand. “Don’t, just…don’t. When the time comes, you and Dad do what you think is right for them, regardless of what you know I want.”
“I don’t want to lose you, too, Honey.”
Since I didn’t want to make any promises I couldn’t keep, I only hugged her tightly. I told her I was going to run off some more energy. She agreed to fetch me when I needed to start getting ready. As I went out the back door, she sighed and went back to preparing the evening meal.
* * * *
After my run, I went straight to the basement. As I suspected, my bedroll, blanket, clothes, and shoes sat in a jumbled heap on the floor. At least one of them, probably Patrice, was kind enough to lay my dress out on the pool table.
Since there was a bathroom in the basement, I showered and washed my hair down there. After towel drying it, my mother wound sections of my hair into little spirals and pinned them to my head. She arranged the boxes and tubes of makeup and looked through the brushes.
“Well, Justin certainly got enough for me to choose from.”
She removed the lid from a pot labeled “Light Buff,” and dusted my face with the largest brush. After two coats of that, she took out a smaller one and dabbed here and there. She used another brush to swipe “Cool Coral” on my cheeks.
“Are you done?”
She laughed softly. “No. I still need to do your eyes and lips.” I closed my eyes and frowned as she ran a brush over my eyelids and jabbed at my eyelashes. “This is so different from the makeup I used. Well, the blush and eye shadow are similar, but I used liquid foundation. This stuff called lipslick is more like what we called gloss.” I opened my eyes to find her reading the side of the tube. She took several of them and swabbed color on the inside of my wrist with a fuzzy wand. “This one,” she pointed. “Sunset. Good name.” She wiped my wrist and then applied the gloss to my lips. “Now then. Aren’t you pretty?”
She didn’t give me a break to look in the bathroom mirror, but instead began removing the pins from my hair. Gently, she combed her fingers through the spirals then used the pins to fasten the front part of my hair back from my face.
The ritual reminded my mother of getting ready for a big high school dance. I asked what was so high about it, at which point she laughed and explained the words people had used to describe the schools—elementary, junior high, and high. Only elementary made sense to me.
I slid the knife harness (I refused to call it a garter) into place. The side slit in the dress was just right. If need be, I could hike the skirt up a bit and reach into the slit to grab the knife. I practiced drawing it several times before I was satisfied with the placement. Walking in the heels wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and the heels doubled as a pick.
At sunset, my mother hugged me, and I streaked out of the house, avoiding everyone else. Justin stood on the covered front porch. No one used it, but I found the view from it, mostly of forest, beautiful and peaceful. I clutched my wrap and the book of fairy tales to my chest.
“Looking lovely, Cami,” Justin said, smiling and eyeing me sideways. “Did you hide down in the basement so you could do the big reveal?”
I stared out across the front yard. “No, I was moved.”
“What?” He walked over to me and took my elbows in his hands.
I gave him a bland look. “Mandy and Patrice moved me.”
His eyes ignited, and his mouth pressed into a thin white slit. “You can move into my room.”
“That’s ridiculous. You share that room with Robert. I’m fine.”
“It’s not right,” he insisted. “It’s not their room. You should kick them out.”
“Let it go, Justin. They are against what we’re doing.” I looked at him steadily. “Would you be on board if it were someone other than me?”
He shrugged. “Because it is you, I thought about it, and we need to do something. I’m excited about this. We have connections now. I’m looking forward to meeting some of their people and training them.” He looked up the drive. “Selene has such confidence in me.”
“Yes, well, she is very fond of you. Justin,” I said and waited until he turned to look at me. “I have no right to say this, but please be careful around her. She has ulterior motives where you’re concerned.”
He laughed lightly. “Yes, I know. She’s already told me how she feels about me. I’m flattered. She’s quite beautiful.”
“I noticed,” I grumbled, as a black limo approached. “Ready?”