Unhinged Page 11

My parents keep arguing. I’m so relieved to hear Dad defending Jeb, but I shut my eyes and hope they go away and leave me alone with the whispering plants. The flowers will let Jeb in. Especially the vase of white roses. I don’t have to see the card to know those came from him.

“Mom …” I don’t recognize the sound that rattles out of my mouth. It’s more like air seeping from a tire than a voice.

“Allie?” Chin-length layers of platinum hair frame her face as she appears over me. She’s never looked her age. Thirty-eight years old and not even a hint of wrinkles. Black lashes offset blue irises flecked with turquoise, like a peacock’s tail. The whites of her eyes are rimmed with red, a sure sign she’s either exhausted or has been crying. But she’s still beautiful: all fragile, wispy, and aglow as if the sun shimmers within her. And it does. Magic shines there. Magic that she’s never tapped into.

The same magic that’s inside of me.

“My sweet girl.” Relief crosses her delicate features as she strokes my cheek. The contact stirs contentment in my chest. Throughout most of my childhood, she was afraid to touch me … afraid to hurt me again like when she scarred my palms.

“Tommy-toes,” Mom says, “hand me the ice chips.” Dad obliges and towers behind her five-foot-four-inch frame as she uses a plastic spoon to feed me from the paper cup. The ice melts, soothing my throat. The water tastes like ambrosia. I nod for more.

They both watch in concerned silence as I take enough ice to numb my painful swallows.

“Where’s Jeb?” The rawness in my throat returns and makes me wince. Mom’s expression draws tight. “He was in the water with me. I need to see that he’s okay.” I cough for effect, though the resulting pain is real. “Please …”

Dad leans down over Mom’s shoulder. “Jeb’s fine, Butterfly. Give us a second to take care of you. How do you feel?”

I twitch my sore muscles. “Achy.”

“I bet.” His brown eyes water, but his smile is blissful as he reaches around Mom to pet my head. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad. If only my grandparents had lived to see me born. They would’ve been proud to have a son so caring and faithful to his family. “I’ll let Jeb know you’re awake,” he says. “He’s been here the whole time.”

It’s impossible to miss Mom’s not-so-subtle elbow to Dad’s rib cage, but her objection doesn’t faze him. He rubs a hand through his dark hair and steps out the door, closing it behind him before she can work up an argument.

Sighing, she puts the cup on the nightstand by the bed and tugs a green vinyl cushioned chair from the corner. She sits down close to me, smoothing her polka-dot silk dress.

When she was first released, she wanted to spend every possible minute with me, catching up on all the time we’d missed. We baked together, did laundry together, cleaned house … gardened. Things most people consider mundane or unpleasant became paradise, because I finally had my mom to do them with.

One Saturday afternoon, I took her to Butterfly Threads, the vintage thrift store where I work, and we shuffled through racks and racks of outfits.

Most of the clothes there appeal to my style, so we disagreed on almost every option. Until we found a funky satin purple and black polka-dot dress with a lime green belt and matching net slip that peeked out from the hem. I talked her into buying it. But once she got it home, she wouldn’t wear it in public, even though Dad loved it on her. She said it made her feel too flashy.

I asked her why she couldn’t do one little thing to make Dad happy after all he’d done for her. That was the first argument we had after her release. Now I’ve lost count of them all.

I can’t overlook the significance of her wearing the dress today.

“Hi, Mom,” I croak.

She grins and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “Hi.”

“You look pretty.”

She shakes her head and bites back a sob. Before I realize what she’s about to do, she collapses, her face pressed to my abdomen. “I thought I’d lost you.” The words muffle, her breath broken and hot across the covers. “The doctors couldn’t wake you.”

“Aw, Mom.” I pet the soft fringe of hair at her temple where it’s pulled back with a sparkly purple hairpin. “I’m okay. Because of you, right?”

She looks up and lifts her wrist, where her birthmark coils like a circular maze. It matches the one on my left ankle beneath my wing tattoo. When pressed together, a magical surge can heal us.

“I swore I’d never use that power again,” she mumbles, referring to last year when she healed my sprained ankle and unleashed an unexpected chain of events. “But you were under so long. Everyone was afraid you were going to stay in a coma.”

What little mascara she has on stains her skin in tiny rivulets. The image makes me uneasy—it’s too similar to the eye patches I once had in Wonderland. But I shove that thought aside. This isn’t the time for a heart-to-heart about what happened last year.

“How long?” I ask.

“Three days,” she answers without pause. “Today’s Monday. Memorial Day.”

Shock closes my already achy throat. All I remember is a deep, dark sleep. It’s weird that Morpheus didn’t visit my mind while I was unconscious.

“I—I’m sorry for scaring you,” I whisper. “But you know, you’re wrong.”

Tracing the veins on the back of my IV-pierced hand, Mom tilts her head. “About what?”

“My boyfriend.”

A grimace tightens her lilac pink lips. She flips my hand over and studies my scars. I asked her a while back why she didn’t heal my palms when I was that five-year-old child. She said she was too shocked at causing the cuts to think straight.

“He wanted us to be alone,” I continue, “to give me something. A necklace.” I touch my neck, but it’s gone. Frantic, my eyes dart around the room.

“It’s okay, Allie,” she says. “Your necklaces are safe. Both of them.” There’s a tremor in her voice. I’m not sure if it’s triggered by my scars or the necklace. She prefers not to be reminded of the madness the ruby-jeweled key unlocks. But she knows better than to take it away after the fight we had over the jade caterpillar chess piece she hid from me a few months ago.

Prev Next