"I, I apologize," he wheezed, cradling his chest as he tried to rise off the bed clumsily. "I should not have kissed you so...s, suddenly."
He blinked, tilting his head in confusion, trailing off as a look of amazement crossed his face. "Why are you so...tiny?"
The boy began to take in his body, patting it awkwardly, before his head lifted back to me. "A child? We are just...children? Why are we so young? This...no, this isn’t right. I should be much older."
I stepped out of the room, into the hallway, wanting to keep as much distance as possible between us. "I'm eleven," I began to explain hesitantly.
"...Jack just turned twelve today. He’s really weak and sickly and all the adults said he was going to die. I didn’t want him to, so I was going to marry him as Mother Frost said. But...he told me that I should take his soul instead, even though no one ever said that was how to break the curse. He said he was going to change, but it must not have worked. He was supposed to stop being sick, not become a stranger."
I absolutely refused to believe that the multiple warnings Jack had given me were true.
Once I broke the curse, everything would be better and we’d live happily ever after!
That’s always how it happened in fairytales. After the curse was broken and the evil witch defeated, everything worked out perfectly in the end.
Several emotions flashed across the boy’s pale face, but they were too quick for me to catch.
He opened his mouth to try and speak several times, his face haggard with exhaustion even though there was a spark of life and joy in his unfamiliar blue eyes.
"You, a tiny slip of a girl, hold my soul?" His bright eyes looked weary but also amused.
His lips lifted into a bizarre smile before he began to laugh brokenly. "Hilarious! Tell me, light of my life, what name do you bear?"
I frowned, confused by his old-fashioned way of speaking. "I'm Nisha Caldwell."
"Nisha," he murmured my name in a reverent whisper. "I know I have frightened you and again, I apologize. I was too caught up in my emotions after having just woken from my sleep to notice how young we were. But, I beg you, do not leave me now. I promise I will not scare you like that again. At least allow me the joy to gaze upon your precious face from here."
Further down the hallway, I could hear the sounds of people coming to see what was going on.
I frowned, a little worried. “You...kind of sound like Jack. He said confusing stuff like that before. But you’re not Jack.” I quickly shook my head, refusing to be drawn into the strange sense of familiarity I felt from this blonde boy
"I...jhenmu, I'm just happy to have found you again. I've waited for a very long time to see your beloved countenance once more."
I wrinkled my nose in distaste at the bizarre and unfamiliar word. "Why do you keep calling me that? What does 'jhenmu' even mean?"
The stranger's face softened as he gradually rose up to a sitting position. I tensed, watching him warily, and he, sensing my suspicion, moved and spoke cautiously so that I wouldn't bolt down the corridor.
"Jhenmu is a special name one reserves for the person that means the most to them in the entire world. I suppose you could say it's much like the phrase 'my heart's treasure' and 'my soul's other half' wrapped up in one word."
Stunned and confused as to why this boy would be referring to me in such an intimate manner, I frowned fiercely.
"Who gave you the right to call me like that?" I demanded sternly. "You are literally nothing to me."
Before the boy could respond (though his devastated face spoke for itself), my dad appeared, scooping me up into a tight, worried hug. "Snowflake, what's wrong? Why were you screaming? Why weren't you in the guestroom?"
Staring into his familiar hazel eyes framed by shoulder-length dark blonde curls, I threw my arms around his neck. "Dad! I was so scared!"
Considering the situation, any preteen inclination to be distant with my father had been shoved aside in the wake of the highly emotional and scared state I was in.
Dad began to pet my head and quietly use his words to soothe me as I sobbed, my tears soaking and ruining the silk pajama shirt he was wearing.
The familiar, scary shadow servants appeared and rushed into Jack’s bedroom while I continued to seek comfort from my father.
Shortly after, Dad let out a yelp of alarm, lurching into the bedroom himself. "What did you just say?!"
Dragging me with him in his haste, he stood a few feet past the entrance, coming to a complete stop. "H, how is he here?!" he whispered in amazement.
Dad quickly let go and stepped to the side, firmly pushing me further into the room while the shadow servants stood against the far wall. His gaze turned very serious, hazel eyes flashing with a light of steel that told me I was in a lot more trouble than I’d planned when originally hatching this scheme.
"Snowflake…I need you to answer me honestly. What did you do?"
Swallowing, afraid to get in even more trouble, I quickly told him everything that had happened. I admitted my wrongdoings upfront in an attempt to lessen my punishment.
After I was finished, the voice of the strange boy came from behind me. "I see, so that is how it came to happen so early. I did not expect to awaken in the body of a child so young. But, finding my soulmate makes any issues inconsequential. Nisha, thank you for waking me."
Exasperated with this boy and emotionally charged because of everything that had happened, I lashed out. "I don't even know you, dummy!"
I yelled at him harshly, crying in frustration. "Where did you take Jack? Why isn't he here? He promised he'd stay with me and take care of me! He said he loved me! Why isn't he here? Why did he leave me alone?!"
Sobbing, I sank to my knees, childishly pounding my fists against the wood flooring.
The awful boy let out more screams of pain, while Dad tried to calm me down. Eventually, when I had worn myself out, Dad managed to get the soul-stone away from me. When I realized what he'd done, I began to panic and scream even more.
"Give him back!" I shouted, tears streaking down my face. "Give Jack back to me, Dad! You can't take him away! I won't let you!"
The servants rushed me, forcing me to stop as I began to go ballistic, a burst of energy coming out in defiance.
The last thing I was aware of before passing out was Dad's pale, horrified face and the voice of Father Frost demanding to know what was going on.
When next I woke, I was brought in front of all of the adults in my life, as well as the strange blonde boy. In a coldly calm manner, the Frost lord and lady explained what had happened.
Everything had worked perfectly. I'd broken Jack's curse and saved him!
Yes, he had changed, and he acted differently, but that was because this was how Jack was supposed to be. The boy I'd grown up with had been a fake the curse had manifested.