Deciding to get an early start on her morning, Mina took her morning jog to head to Dr. Reels’s house. Marlene opened the door just as Mina arrived.
“Oh, Mina, you look ... good.”
Mina laughed, a little breathless from the long run. “Sweaty, Marlene. I’m sweaty. Your dad’s in, right?”
Marlene rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he’s already waiting for you.”
“You’re not sticking around?”
“No,” she snapped, pulling out her phone. “I’ve got a date today.”
So early in the morning? Mina smirked and shrugged, deciding to just let it go. “Have fun.”
Marlene groaned and walked off, hopping into her little hot pink convertible. Mina went inside, and Dr. Reels emerged from the kitchen.
“Mina, you’re so early,” he said with a smile. “Did you run here?”
“Yep. Mind if I get a towel?”
“Sure, wait here. Make yourself at home.”
Dr. Reels’s heart was pounding. After so long, he was finally going to do it. He’d been waiting years for the right time, the right situation, and since his daughter was out and he’d given the maids the day off ... he had Mina all to himself.
He’d been imagining things he really shouldn’t have been, ever since he saw her in a school play his daughter had starred in. He’d forced them to be friends, and the sweet little Mina had accepted his flimsy excuse ever since. A little money when she got older had lowered her guard completely.
Coming back down, towel in hand, he heard her rummaging through the fridge. “You have got to be kidding me. Why is there vodka in these water bottles?”
Mina’s light humming was a siren song to him. There was no one around ... and it could be their little secret. There would never be a better time.
He turned the corner into the kitchen and found her leaning over in the fridge, looking for something.
“Mina,” he said softly.
She jumped and turned, hand over her heart as her expression went from shocked to relieved. “Dr. Reels,” she breathed, laughing. “You scared me half to death.”
He smiled, removing his glasses. “Sorry, Mina. Here’s your towel.”
“Thanks,” she said, wiping her face. “So, what did you want to talk about today?”
“Not sure, I’ll have to think about it. Usually you’re here a bit later.”
Finally finding a bottle of actual water, she closed the fridge. “True, but I decided to get an earlier start on my day. You always mentioned that you didn’t care when I came around.”
He stepped in front of her when she tried to walk away. “Wait, I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Oh, okay. What is it?” She looked up at him expectantly. Wide eyes stared at him with honesty. An inexplicable fever had taken over him as he trapped her between his arms and leaned forward, planting his lips on hers.
She dropped the bottle and pushed him away. “What the heck was that?” she shouted, stepping to the side.
“We’re alone right now, with possible hours of interrupted time together. I know you’ve seen me look at you, and I’ve seen you look at me the same way. No one has to know. This’ll be our little secret.”
Mina was horrified. “You’re not serious.”
“Completely serious. I’ve always wanted you, Mina. Sure, it’s a little early, but I don’t think I can control myself.”
She cleared her throat. “I think we should just forget this moment and go our separate ways,” she said. How fast could she get to the door? How much time would it take to open it?
He clicked his tongue, shaking his head. “My dear Mina, don’t deny your feelings for me. If you’re not comfortable, I can even lock Marlene out until we’re ready.”
She stiffened at that, but an idea came to her. She forced herself to loosen up and give him a coquettish smile. “Well now, why didn’t you just say so?” she said with a little giggle. “I’m sorry, but you can’t be too careful. You understand, don’t you ... Craig?”
He returned her smile with a predatory one. “Yeah, I completely understand.”
He held out his hand and she swallowed her distaste as she slipped hers into his and followed him toward the stairs. The moment she was close enough to the door, she broke contact, pushed him to the floor and darted for it. His momentary shock was enough to give her the leeway to throw the door open.
She made for the trees, picking the forest over her usual route. She’d run enough in the forest to be familiar with dodging the trees and avoid any pitfalls that would normally get her. She’d only stopped recently because Gramps had pleaded with her to keep to civilization.
Sides hurting, she jumped over a fallen tree and fell, panting hard. She gripped her sides, fighting to control her breathing. The moment she could catch her breath, she noticed that her face was wet from tears.
“What the hell?” she muttered, covering her face. “Stupid ... just stupid.”
There was a cool breeze, and she heard footsteps in front of her. She looked up, but already her vision was a little blurry.
A hooded man squatted in front of her and she backed up on instinct. “W-who are you?”
“Are you okay?” he asked. Pale blue eyes stared at her, and they seemed to glow even in the morning light. Eerily familiar.
“Y-yeah,” she said.
His eyes went to her knees. “You’re bleeding, and your heart hasn’t calmed yet. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I ...” She shakily inhaled, and followed with a similar exhale. “N-nothing a little TLC won’t take care of,” she said with a wavering smile.
The blue eyes narrowed, and she felt like he could see through her obvious lie. He didn’t address it, though, and stood. “You’re not welcome in this forest, stranger. Leave as soon as possible.”
Perhaps Gramps already knew about this, and she nodded. “T-thank you.” She looked up, trying to find the sun to redirect her to Gramps’s house.
A hand rested on her head and pointed her in a direction. “That way. Hurry and go.”
She didn’t thank him again, and left quickly. After a few minutes that felt like hours, she finally reached Gramps’s house at the edge of the forest. Coming in through the back door, she gently closed it and slid down to the floor.
“Don’t think I didn’t hear you, young lady. Were you in the forest ... Mina?”
Gramps took one look at her, and he had to reign in sudden rage at the look of her. Who did this to his granddaughter? Not to mention he was already irritated by the guest who had just invited herself in his home.
“S-sorry,” she said, still catching her breath. “I’m going to take a shower and I’ll be back down.”
“Take your time,” he said, gentler than usual. Hunter instincts told him that she was far from fine, and his grandfatherly instincts told him it was a human element that made her like that. Luke was gone, so it was someone else.
“Was that her?”
He turned to face Beatrice. Dressed well as ever, to flaunt her status as a Headmaster’s wife. “Yeah. She just came in from a run. She’ll be down soon.”
“Such an unreliable girl,” Beatrice muttered, straightening her gloves. “I don’t see the purpose for fetching her personally for the academy.”
“I don’t, either,” Gramps snapped. “I thought I’d made it perfectly clear what I think of your academy.”
“You mean the academy that you excelled in? Your trophies are still up there, with your name on them.”
Gramps shrugged. “I don’t really care. Take them down if it makes you feel better. It’ll be up to Mina to accept or reject your offer.”
“Oh, you’ll push her our way,” Beatrice said with a sickly smirk. “Or don’t you remember what happened when you came to us all those years ago?”
Gramps scowled. “You mean what one of your students let happen because he was entrenched in another student where they weren’t supposed to be?”
Beatrice laughed. “Dear Sebastian, your granddaughter opened that door, ignorant or not. Luckily we have that witch in the woods, or we would have never gotten that situation under control. You’re lucky that we don’t collect her and add her to the Chambers.”
“You would hand her over to the Helsings’ perverse collection?”
“Perhaps. If you don’t urge your little nightmare to attend the academy.”
His hands curled into fists, and he was sure he was starting to draw blood. If his mama hadn’t taught him better, he would have punched Beatrice in her smug face. What happened next, though, was priceless.
“Aw, look at you, who’s a cutie?”
Beatrice’s face fell and she turned, rushing into the living room where her husband’s genius was laying on his back as a corgi in her lap.
“Get your hands off him, you filthy thing,” Beatrice screamed, picking him up.
Gramps laughed, a rare sight that made Mina smile. “Hello. I didn’t know we had a visitor.” She extended her hand. “I’m Mina.”
“I know,” Beatrice snapped. The corgi wiggled out of her grasp and turned into his human form.
"Really, Bea?” a young man with mint green hair and cerulean eyes. “What was that for?”
Mina sat down in shock. Beatrice flushed as she pointed at Mina. “Don’t let that thing touch you so familiarly.”
He crossed his arms and pouted. “Maybe I wouldn’t have to if you gave me belly rubs like that.”
Everyone turned to Mina, who had the most confused look on her face. “Ah, can ... anyone explain all this to me?”
Gramps sighed and sat next to her. “I had hoped to keep you from this, since there are many who curse your existence. I’m sure you’re aware that we’re different from others.”
She nodded. “We have tails that we have to hide.”
“Only males are supposed to have tails,” Beatrice interrupted.
Gramps shot her a nasty look, and she rolled her eyes and retreated to the couch. The mint-haired young man remained standing.
Mina looked to Gramps, who tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Our family line, the Crows, yield men who are able to use powers not found in ordinary men. Females are born human, but often marry within our extensive family tree. Tails mark the Blessed, and the tails resembled our spirit type.”
“How does my tail fit into all this? And what about my ears?”
He gave her a gentle smile. “You’re special, Mina. Have you noticed how well you excel in physical endeavors? I suppose you also have a thirst to go and explore. You are a Blessed Crow female, and while there are bigots out there who would dare say that you’re a curse, you’re no different than the rest.”
He could see the wheels turning in her head, looking at him and then at Beatrice. Her gaze flickered to Saul’s genius before resting on Gramps again. “If I’m considered a curse, why does it seem that she’s here to collect me for something?”
Gramps sighed. “This ... woman wants to drag you to Umbra Academy to follow the Crow tradition of training to subdue and escort umbrae back over the Boundary.”
Mina had so many more questions. Too many to sit through an hours-long explanation, especially when she could tell this woman’s presence was bad for Gramps’s health. She could already tell there was a history between them, some that she felt was related to her.
“If I do as she wants and go to this ... Umbra Academy, she’ll leave you alone?”
Gramps blinked. “Perhaps, but what about your studies? You wanted to be a dance instructor.”
She shrugged. His health was more important to her, especially after the heart attack a year back. She could get Jules and Harry to check up on him for her. “You mentioned that Crows subdue and release, not kill, so I have no real objection against that. After I’m done at Umbra Academy, I can just pick up where I left off.”
“Won’t it be hard to do that? You’re leaving in the middle of the school year.”
She gave him a smile. “You know better than I that life will often throw your plans off-kilter. I’ve already learned to roll with the punches by your own experience and examples. It’ll be fine.”
The thought crossed his mind that her parents would be so proud if they could see her right now. In traditional Crow fashion, she’s already accepted a calling he had no intention of letting her answer.
“Make sure you pack warm, it’s deathly cold at the academy,” Gramps said. “It rains often, too.”
“Aiden will remain here and escort her to the Waypoint,” Beatrice said, standing. “I suppose if you have any questions, he can answer them if he chooses.”
He took a step forward, an excited smirk on his face as he leaned down and turned back into a corgi. He jumped up on the couch and rolled over, tongue lolling out.
Unable to help herself, and knowing it would make the woman angry, she gave him the best belly rubs. Beatrice stormed out, slamming the door.
She paused and turned to Gramps again, still rubbing the corgi’s belly. “By the way, where’s Cora?”
“Outside somewhere. Probably hunting.”
“Would she happen to be the same as Aiden?”
“I’d like to meet her. I mean, the real her.”
“I’ll let her know if she comes back in time. Get packing, Beatrice will make your encounters less bearable the longer you take.”
She saluted and went upstairs, the corgi hot on her heels.