What is going on right now?
Reaching out a hand to brace against one of the kitchen countertops, I felt a surge of dizziness as the world around me spun.
There was no hint of hesitation or deceit in her familiar grey gaze.
Instead, all I saw staring back at me was determination and serenity.
My voice broke, unable to complete the sentence.
Nearly two minutes passed while I worked on calming myself down, taking in steady breaths to stave off a suffocating sensation.
Nana stood by my side quietly, giving me enough space and time to try to process her confession.
When I finally felt stable enough to form words, I pushed off of the counter and turned to face her. "Nana. You're not lying, are you?"
Nana's face twisted in a bittersweet expression, but she shook her head firmly. "No, Snowflake. I am not."
That was all I needed.
The last confirmation my heart required to realize that Nana truly wasn't making this up.
Hot tears pricked my eyes as I gazed up at her in mute horror and shock.
Without a moment of hesitation, Nana stepped forward to gather me into a comforting hug. "Snowflake...oh, sweetheart. I know this is scary, but I promise, things will be okay. Nothing will be easy, but it will be okay. You'll have me for as long as I have breath left, so never worry that you're fighting this battle alone."
I hugged my grandmother tightly, yearning for every ounce of comfort she could provide at that moment. My thoughts were racing, recalling everything she'd told me several days before. "I, is there really no way to stop this? To say no?"
In my arms, Nana grew very still. After another three shaky thumps of my heartbeat, she pulled back to look at me with a very serious countenance. "Nisha."
Her arms slowly dropped down to her sides, her face twisting into a bitter expression of defeat. "I'm sorry, but what the duke said earlier is the truth. As far as what is recognized by his kind, the two of you have been married since you were eleven."
The blood drained from my face in shock. "What?! E, eleven?!"
Nana nodded slowly, looking more than a little abashed. "Yes, well, it's a long and complicated story. I suppose both the shortest and simplest way to explain the reason why is this."
Clearing her throat, Nana straightened her posture before staring directly into my eyes and putting careful emphasis on each word.
"His Grace was born cursed. But by marrying you, in a very special way of his kind, his curse was broken."
Cursed? I repeated the word in disbelief inside my heart.
"So what, it was like love's true kiss in a fairytale?" I demanded in exasperation.
Nana nodded eagerly, smiling in relief that I understood her meaning so quickly. "Yes, very much like that, actually."
Gritting my teeth, my temper flared to life at her betrayal. "How could you or Dad be okay with something like this?!"
"We weren't!" Nana snapped back just as fiercely, startling me as I flinched in reaction. "Your father and I sold ourselves to give you more time, a second chance! We did that for you, Snowflake," her voice dropped into an exhausted sigh.
Staring at her beloved face that held so many fond memories in my life, I couldn't hold back a sob. "Nana….I don't want any of this. I just want to live my life together with you and the children. Is that too much to ask?" I demanded brokenly, my face burning from the tears streaking down my cheeks.
Her grey eyes were grave as she slowly nodded her head. "I'm sorry, Snowflake. But with these people, debts must be paid when they come knocking. What I regret is that you had to be the price for mine and your father's lives."
Raising my hands to try and stem the rush of tears and calm down, I could barely make out Nana's figure a foot in front of me. "Your lives?" I sniffled helplessly, my heart growing heavier with each passing second.
I can't believe that all of this is real. It's just—.
This is too surreal. I feel like I'm in a dream.
I kept my thoughts close to my heart as I finally managed to wipe away enough of the tears to see the world around me again.
"Yes, our lives. I told you before. We nearly died and it was the previous duke who took us in. But everything with their kind comes at a price. Unfortunately, we didn't find out that the price would be you until far too late."
Blinking at Nana, I felt an enormous weight settle upon my shoulders. "So, this sham marriage thing is the price. But...Dad's dead now. Can't they lower the price, take back this whole farce? Where are the papers? Can't a, a divorce or something be filed?"
Nana slowly closed her eyes and shook her head. "As with most magical contracts, things cannot be reversed unless both parties agree."
"So just have Ja—."
"But this marriage deal is unable to be reversed even with the consent of both parties."
Her words drove a cold iron stake through my heart. My strength gave out as I collapsed to the kitchen floor. Nana was quick to come forward to catch me, but it didn't matter.
So, that's it? Do I have to accept this ridiculous "marriage" that's supposedly been in effect for nearly a decade?
A leaden sense of despair took over my entire soul, the numbness spreading throughout my heart.
Raising my head in a mechanical manner, I let out a soft laugh. "...So. How did eleven-year-old me get married to that asshole anyway? I seem to have no memories of the event in the slightest. But, let me guess, that's because of magic too, right?"
Nana's face was pale with concern and hesitation as she slowly began to speak. It was obvious she wasn't sure if she should even be telling me any of this, but in the end, she did.
“There is only one particular way to break the curse Jack had and it works best when done with a human. Normally, the human is the one who has to pay the high cost.”
When her voice trailed off, I reached out to cover the hand she’d placed on my left shoulder with my own. “Go ahead, Nana. I want to hear this. What is the ‘high cost’?”
Her face drained of all blood, grey eyes filling with tears before she slowly lowered her gaze. Her lashes behind her glasses hid away her grey eyes as she softly whispered the answer. “Your soul.”
Stunned, I stared at her in silence.
Neither of us spoke for a very long time. It felt like a year went by in that tense silence. We didn’t even move, hardly breathed….
A loud noise from above jolted both of us from out of our daze.
Nana quickly started to rise to her feet before remembering to help me up as well. Once we were both standing, we immediately dashed toward the stairs. Nana was faster than me and reached the landing seven steps ahead of me.
“Jack?!” she breathed out in surprise, before glancing back at me, trepidation in her eyes.
I started to increase my pace, but a harsh shout made me freeze in place six steps from the top of the stairs.
“NO! Don’t come any closer! Keep Nisha away from me right now, Grace.”
It took me several seconds to realize that the voice belonged to Jack since it was so...violent.
Nana immediately turned toward me, blocking my path and herding me back down the steps.
“Hey! Nana, what the heck?” I demanded, staring at her in confusion. “What’s going on?”
Biting her lips so hard, they were starting to bleed, Nana shook her head wordlessly and resolutely forced me further and further away from the top of the stairs.