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Authors: Melody Grace

First Position (10 page)

BOOK: First Position
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Author’s note: each book can be read as a stand-alone story, but you'll enjoy reading
the other Beachwood Bay books, too.

 

HANSEL 1

A Sensual Fairy Tale
ELLA JAMES

 

PROLOGUE

Leah

 

I’m trying not to cry. I really am.

I stop mid-stride, in the middle of my room, and wrap my arms around
myself. I’ve been pacing for several hours, following a
trajectory that has me crossing the room horizontally both ways. If
drawn out on a map, my path would look like an hour glass. This is
fitting, I think.

I tuck my chin against
my chest and try to think of something else. Of someplace else.

I’m luckier than
most of the other people in the rooms that line this hall, because I
have an almost-photographic memory. When I want to, and sometimes
even when I don’t, I can see moments from my past as clear as
if they were real photographs.

I’m wearing a
brown t-shirt and sweat pants and swaying on the fuzzy, green rug
that covers most of my floor, but behind my shut eyes I see sunlight
glittering on the tiny stream that runs through the backyard of my
childhood home. The three of us splash through it, holding hands as
we laugh and spin, our rainbow-sequined swim suits almost blinding in
the light. Our grins are wide and carefree, our blonde hair spinning
behind us as we dance under a smooth, blue sky.

My shoulders rock with
a sob I swallow down, and another image appears; this one almost
meaningless in comparison to the last. I see the hallway of the mall
where I used to hang out in seventh grade with my “just Leah”
friends, Maura and Kaye. Low, popcorn ceiling, beige-brown carpet
with dark brown, triangular flecks; kiosks in the middle hawking
sparkly cell phone covers I was always wanting; sunlight pouring
through the glass ceiling, reflecting off Maura’s oily
forehead, making Kaye’s hair look just like fire.

I open my eyes as I
whirl to face the wall to my right. It, like the three other, is
painted to depict a forest in autumn, but this wall also sports a
realistic painting of a cottage in a clearing. Its roof reaches to
where the wall runs into ceiling. Brush-painted grass stretches out
along the baseboard, underneath a porch painted so well it looks like
real wood boards. This is the witch’s house. If you look
closely, you can see it’s made of food, not brick and stone and
wood. If you look closely at the walls that sport just forest, you
can see a trail of pebbles, and the occasional breadcrumb.

Mother painted it. She
painted all our rooms, or so she says.

The witch’s house
goes away when I close my eyes, replaced by a still shot centered on
a sloppy, pink and white birthday cake. Three pink “5”s
sit crookedly atop it—one for Laura, one for Lana, one for me.
Settled around our polished oak dining table, my family is grinning
as they sing the birthday song. My mom and dad look over the three of
us with pride, Mom holding a camcorder, Dad waiting with a knife to
cut the cake. Laura’s mouth is open wide, and I know she’s
singing a little too loud; Lana’s hand is raised up to her ear,
probably because she’s tucking a strand of hair behind it.
That’s her thing. Or was.

The memory of her
dainty fingers closing around a strand of silky white-blonde hair
hurts more than you might think. Those little things that make
someone who they are…I find that’s what I miss the most.

I lunge across the
shaggy rug and throw myself onto the cot pushed against my room’s
windowless back wall. With my body spread over the filthy green sheet
and my face buried in between my arms, I give in to my need to cry.

But it’s not enough.

Crying never brought anything missing back.

I jump off the bed and
run to the wall with the witch’s house painting. I flop down on
my belly and press my cheek against the rug, angling so I can see
through the little hole sawed into the grass-painted baseboard. The
room next door has walls painted with grass and leaves and trees,
just like mine. On the opposite side of my wall is a cottage that is
said to be identical to mine. I see a swatch of brown over to my
right: his cot, pushed against the back wall of his room.

My torso shakes as I
hold my breath for just a second, then let out another sob. But I
don’t see him. I don’t hear him. No arm, no hand, no
face.

No Hansel.

I haven’t seen
his hazel eyes staring back at me, or heard his stories—fairy
tales he makes up just for me—in two whole days. I haven’t
heard him knock at night when he can’t sleep and wants me to
come sing to him.

I’m worried about
him. So worried I can barely breathe.

I’ve been here
for a long time, I’m pretty sure. Long enough my sheets have
spots where sweat stains have turned them hard and rubbery. Long
enough that the first bite mark I made in the corner of my wall is
almost two inches shorter than my current height. And in that time,
I’ve never not seen Hansel for more than three hours and
sixteen minutes. He’s never left his room for even three and a
half hours. I know that for sure, because I’ve never left my
room at all.

I cry for Hansel for so
long I fall asleep there on the rug. I dream of Mother’s
girlish voice, the way she smells of stale cigarettes when she
reaches in to hand me plates, the strawberry-scented powder she
occasionally sprinkles through the small hole cut into the bottom of
my door. I dream of the click of Hansel’s door as he leaves,
those times he does, and the welcome click as he returns. His fingers
on my fingers. His knuckles on the wall.

I wake up furious at
Mother Goose. I hate her so much. Every time, after he comes back
from wherever she takes him, he goes straight to his cot. He lies
there for hours while I die wondering how he is, and when I see him
next, he’s…different. He doesn’t breathe the same
or speak the same. He doesn’t even move the same. He doesn’t
look me in the eye. He doesn’t reach through the hole in the
wall for my hand. He just lays there with his head on his arms. And
when I reach through to stroke his arm, he doesn’t scoot closer
to me like usual.

I try to talk to him,
to entertain him, but I never know if what I’m saying is right,
because he doesn’t say much. A long time ago, I used to ask
more questions, but after so many times of him asking me not to, I
just stopped.

But I know it’s
bad, whatever happens to him, because those are the nights he always
knocks on the wall.

Last time he left his
room, he was gone for just one hour and forty-seven minutes. And, now
that I think about it, he didn’t seem as different as usual.
For instance, he came straight to me without going to his cot.

But lately he’s
been quieter on the days he doesn’t leave his room. Too quiet.
Like he’s not telling me things.

I rouse to the sound of
heavy breathing and assume I’m still dreaming.

Except it’s
louder. He’s louder. So loud—louder than he’s ever
been—that I know I’m not dreaming.

I scramble up on my
elbows, then drop my head down to the floor with my eye as close to
the peephole as I can get it.

I want to yell, but I’m
so nervous I can barely whisper. “Hansel?”

“Turn around.”

I go completely still.

“Leah.”

I turn around slowly
and feel the blood drain from my head.

“Hansel?” I
croak.

My eyes jump to the
open door behind him, then back to him.

I’m not
dreaming.

He’s so tall.

His hair so dark.

His face so handsome.

He’s like a
prince! From one of the stories that he tells me.

His face crumples as I
stare at him. As if under some terrible spell, he sinks to his knees,
and I finally notice that his hands are stained bright red.

CHAPTER ONE

Leah

 

Ten Years Later

 

It was Lana’s
idea to come here. Well, of course it was. Who else would want to do
something like this the night before their wedding?

Not Laura. That’s
for sure. The night before she married Todd, her high school
sweetheart, she insisted she, Laura, and I give each other facials,
then made us don wedding-themed, one-piece bathing suits (hers was
white with gold sparkles; ours pink) and climb into Mom and Dad’s
hot tub together so we could talk about our favorite girlhood
memories.
Yeah
. That’ Laura.

This is Lana.

Me? I don’t want
to get married at all, so I certainly don’t need this kind of…
What is it? An escape? Or a diversion from impending monotony? I’m
not sure. All I know is, we’re in a sex club.

It’s called The
Enchanted Forest, and right now we’re standing in a closed-off
space just inside a warehouse-style building near The Strip, waiting
to give the tickets Lana bought online to a hot, tatted up guy
dressed in all black.

“Come on, Leah.”
Laura bumps me from behind, and I realize Lana has already stepped
forward and handed hot tattoo guy her ticket.

I do the same, and
Laura behind me, and another guy in black ushers us over to the other
side of the crowded space, where we wait in front of two massive,
worn-looking wooden doors with rustic, iron knobs.

The two dozen or so people behind us
move past the ticket counter relatively quickly. When the last person
has rejoined the line, hot tat guy pushes one of the heavy doors open
and holds it as Lana struts through. She’s wearing all black,
just like he is. Black jeans, black low-top boots, black tee. It
contrasts with her pale skin and her short, blonde spikes. She gets a
few strides into the room ahead—it seems to be torch-lit, I
notice with a shot of apprehension—and turns sideways to check
on Laura and me. Her red lips curve into naughty-looking grin.

 

The story continues in Hansel 1.

 

Available now!

 

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