ANY other day, Annabelle would hardly be able to wait to see Leon Fairchild. As soon as she, Lela, and Maggie arrive home, she cuts across the house, goes through the kitchen, and out the back door. Leon will be down in the training yard with the Pit Fighters—the changelings trained to fight each other for sport.
But just when her feet touch the grass, a sense of dread settles heavily on her chest. He won’t be happy to hear the news she has for him, but Leon and his brother are going away on a trip tomorrow. If she doesn’t tell him today, she’ll have to hide this secret for weeks until he arrives home once more.
The secret is currently in her pocket. It burns white hot, like it knows she’s a horrible person for the careless thing she’s done. Again.
She shakes her head. It’s just a little white stick with a plus sign on it. It’s an inanimate object—it doesn’t know anything. And who knows? Maybe Leon will be happy. After all, he loves her.
Keeping that in mind, Annabelle picks up her pace and hurries down to the training yard.
On her way there, she passes the garden and the greenhouse. A shiver runs down her spine. She hates this place, where their food grows. The food that has cursed all of the changelings, or so Maggie says. But what reason would Maggie have to lie? She’s miserable enough, Annabelle’s sure that she would leave if she could. Plus, all the Fairchilds have told her the same thing, and they can’t lie.
The magical properties of the food that the faeries grow and enchant have an adverse effect on humans. Madam Fairchild is always quick to remind the House Pets of this. Annabelle can practically hear the mistress of the house speaking to them in her imperious voice: “Once a human has eaten from the table of the Fair Folk, they are forever changed. Ordinary food rots on their tongues, and water that has never touched magic turns to blood in their mouths.”
Annabelle has never had the guts to test this theory. The thought of swallowing blood churns her stomach. Sometimes she goes to the bathroom to throw up after a meal, and she barely packs anything for lunch when she goes to school. She doesn’t know if any of her efforts have lessened the curse’s hold on her, but it doesn’t really matter now. She’ll have to start eating again since she’ll be eating for two.
She sees Rush Fairchild first. He’s sitting on a bench just inside the training yard leaning his head against the chain-link fence. Annabelle has never liked Rush. His appearance unnerves her. His eyes are so dark they’re almost black, and they glitter unnaturally. With his pale complexion and whitewashed hair, he’s the spitting image of Madam Fairchild.
Leon is much more handsome. He’s pale like the rest of his family, but his hair is a light brown, and his eyes are the bluest blue she’s ever seen. He looks more like Master Fairchild, and she always considered him quite handsome.
As she approaches the gate, Rush turns and sees her, following her with those shiny, button eyes. “Afternoon, Anna,” he says with a smile. Annabelle shies away from him. He smiles at her like a cat smiles at a mouse.
Hearing his brother greet someone, Leon looks over his shoulder. Annabelle beams and waves through the fence. Leon doesn’t come to her, though. He turns back to the Pit Fighters running laps and barks new orders at them. They stop running and drop to the ground to do pushups. Her smile falters, and suddenly she feels heavy with doubt again.
“He’s trying to get our best Fighters ready for the exhibition.”
Annabelle jumps, having forgotten about Rush. He hasn’t quit staring at her. Rush wears a mask of subtle concern, as if he’s actually trying to make her feel better about the way Leon’s ignoring her. She glares at him and starts to retreat from the fence.
“I’ll tell him you want to talk,” she hears Rush say to her back as she leaves the yard behind.
That evening, she finds Lela playing with Tessa, Charise, and Kane. The youngest Fairchild son must have barged into the girls’ bedroom looking for someone to tease. She finds Maggie in the sitting room with Tilda, speaking to each other softly. Annabelle doesn’t see Leon again until dinner, but she can’t talk to him then since the House Pets aren’t allowed at the dining-room table.
He barely spares her a glance.
That evening, while everybody else has someone to spend their time with, Annabelle finds herself alone in the upstairs bathroom. Did she do something to upset him? Is that why he’s refusing to talk to her or even look at her? He couldn’t know about the pregnancy test yet. She only just took it that afternoon while at school. She must have done something else.
He used to love her, she’s sure of that. He used to give her smiles and kisses and tell her secrets. He promised he would take her places so she could see the world. Was he bored with her now?
She never meant for their fling to go this far. At first she needed a distraction, and he was handsome. Not her usual type. She generally went for sporty guys with chiseled jaws and a little bit of stubble—guys that went to the gym seven days a week. Leon is the opposite. He has smooth features that make him more of a pretty guy. From his wiry build, it’s clear that he doesn’t often make it to the gym, but he is definitely stronger than he looks. One of the perks of being a faery.
In the beginning, it was just a game to both of them.
Annabelle sniffles and wipes her eyes on a wad of toilet paper. Leon is the only thing that makes this place bearable. She lost her friends and her family when she came here. If she doesn’t have Leon, Annabelle doesn’t know how she will survive.
Her chest feels pinched at the thought. Her ribs are crushing her heart and lungs. She drops the toilet paper from her fist and grasps the edge of the sink. A painful sob is ripped from her throat, making her entire body shudder.
She misses her mom and her best friend and her stupid ex-boyfriend. She misses her old life. She wishes she had never met Leon Fairchild.
She can’t have a baby, not in this house.
The girl in the mirror sneers at her. Slut! she hisses at Annabelle. Whore! Annabelle slaps her hand over her reflection’s face.
“Shut up!” she cries and hits the mirror hoping that it will shatter under her despair. She runs to the medicine cabinet.
You’ll never be free, a voice whispers in her ear. She twitches, trying to shake off the phantom saying these things. He’ll never love you!
Annabelle grabs several bottles from the cabinet. She isn’t sure what they are, since tears are running steadily down her face, clouding her vision.
Worthless! She stumbles out of the bathroom. Two of the medicine bottles are hidden in her pockets, the other she stuffed down the front of her shirt. She doesn’t let loose her anger until she is alone in the basement.
Whatever is within her reach she breaks. She pulls dresser drawers out and throws them on the floor. She tears dresses, blouses, and skirts; she doesn’t care who they belong to. Annabelle runs to the dinky bathroom that is just for the changelings. The pregnancy test goes in the trash. Then she finds all the love notes that she and Leon used to exchange; she saved them all. Now she tears them to shreds and dumps them in the trash along with the pregnancy test.
Finally, she crawls to her bed, exhausted. Coward! the voice hisses. Wretch! But Annabelle knows how to make the voice go away. Her hands are shaking, but she manages to open all the medicine bottles. She knows how to escape. She’s brave enough to escape, unlike Maggie.
There are three bottles, and she’s not sure what kind of faery dust is in them. Not that it really matters. She swallows a combination of all three. Lying back on the bed, she sighs as that accusing voice begins to fade. She feels the familiar lump of the gun hidden under her mattress. If the pills don’t do the trick, she knows what will.