Unhinged Page 12

“We went to the old part of town,” I say, determined to prove Jeb’s noble intentions, “because he knows how much I like the rundown theater. It started raining, so we ended up at the drainage pipe for cover.”

“So there wasn’t a convenience store or someplace public you could’ve gone to stay dry?” she asks in a mocking tone. “Guys don’t drag girls into storm drains for anything respectable.”

Frowning, I release her hand and tuck mine under my blanket. Hot pain races from the IV to my wrist. “He wanted privacy, but not for what you’re thinking.”

“It doesn’t matter. He put you in danger. And he’ll be doing it again if you go with him to London.”

I grind my teeth. “Wait … what? So you’re going to start giving us a hard time now? Of course Dad wants me to have a ring on my finger before I move in with someone. I’m his little girl. But you always told me not to rush into marriage, to feel out my life first. Have you changed your mind?”

“That’s not what this is about.” She hands me the paper cup and stands, walking over to the flowers on the sill. She strokes the coral-tinged petals of a stargazer lily. Earlier, pink light streamed from between the blinds; now twilight has taken its place, coloring her hair the same purple hue of her dress. “Do you hear them, Allie?”

I nearly cough up my sip of melted ice. “The flowers?”

She nods.

All I hear are the lilies purring in response to her attention. “They aren’t talking …”

“Not now, but they were while you slept. The bugs, too. I don’t like what they’ve been saying.”

I wait for her to elaborate. Mom and I have noticed that we sometimes hear different things. It’s as if the plants and insects can individualize their messages, choose to talk to us separately depending on what they have to share.

“They’ve warned me that the one closest to you will betray you in the worst possible way.”

“And you think that’s Jeb?” I ask, incredulous.

“Who else could it mean, if not Jebediah? Who else do you spend all your waking hours either talking to, thinking about, or hanging out with?”

My waking hours? No one besides Jeb.

But my sleeping hours …

I shut my eyes. Of course it’s Morpheus. He’s already betrayed me, by trying to encroach on my life in the human realm. By trying to force me to go back to Wonderland to fight a battle I’m incapable of winning.

Dread nests inside the back of my skull, making my head throb.

“Jebediah was with you last year when you went down the rabbit hole,” Mom says from beside the window. The air conditioner comes on, ruffling the lilies and carrying their sweet scent over to me. “A part of Wonderland might have infected him. Maybe it’s been dormant … waiting. Waiting to find a way to you.”

I huff. “Technically, he was never there. That’s not logical.”

Mom turns, her skirt rustling as she faces me. “There’s no logic to that place. You know that, Allie. No one gets out of Wonderland without some kind of stain. Being there … it changes a person. Especially if they’re fully human. Has he ever mentioned having strange dreams?”

I shake my head. “Mom, you’re making this so much more complicated than it has to be.”

“No. You’re the one complicating things. Why don’t you stay in the States? There are some wonderful art colleges in New York. Let Jebediah go to London without you. You’ll both be safe then.”

I reach over to set the cup back on the nightstand. “Let him? I don’t rule him. It was his choice to wait until we could go together.”

Her hands clench the sill behind her. “If you want a normal life, you’re going to have to break all ties with the entire experience and everything that played a part in it.” By the hard set to her chin, I know she’s not going to back down.

I don’t even try to contain my outburst, even though I know it will kill my throat. “He didn’t choose to be there! It’s not fair for you to hate Jeb!”

I catch movement in my peripheral vision and jerk my head to find Jeb standing at the open door. We didn’t hear him turn the knob, but by the wounded expression on his face, he obviously heard my hoarse shout.

The question is, what else did he hear?

My dad appears in the doorway behind Jeb. Even though he’s an inch shorter than my boyfriend, it’s Jeb who looks small and vulnerable lingering at the threshold, as if unsure whether he’s welcome to come in.

Mom glances down at her polka dots. Someone coughs in one of the rooms across the hall and a nurse’s voice carries over the intercom, the only reprieves from our awkward silence.

“Ali-bear,” Dad says to Mom, taking charge of the situation, “I think it’s time I show you off in that dress. How about we get some dinner?” He squeezes Jeb’s shoulder, then steps around him, patting my ankle on the way over to the window.

Something has definitely changed between Jeb and Dad. They’re pals again, just the way they used to be.

“Let’s give these two some privacy,” Dad says. My mom starts to protest, but the look he gives her makes her force a smile and take his hand. He kisses her wrist.

She lays her phone next to the paper cup on the nightstand. “If you need us, call your dad’s cell,” she says without looking at Jeb or me. “Visiting hours are over at eight, Jebediah.”

Jeb steps inside to let them out. Dad slaps his back encouragingly before closing the door.

Hands in his pockets, Jeb stares at me, dark green eyes full of pain.

“I’m sorry …” I struggle to piece together an apology. If he heard what my mom said about Wonderland, there will be questions to answer. Impossible questions.

He shakes his head. “You aren’t the one who should be sorry.” He doesn’t break my gaze as he strides toward me. Dropping into the chair Mom used earlier, he scoops up my hand, laces our fingers, then presses my knuckles to his warm, soft lips. “I’m sorry. I promised to always put you first, then I walked away for a stupid phone call and nearly got you killed.” His mouth tenses, a press of firm muscle against my hand.

“Oh, Jeb. No.” I stroke his face, smooth as silk. He shaved, and considering he’s dressed up more than usual—gray khakis and a black short-sleeved Henley—I get the impression he’s trying to polish his way into Mom’s good graces. The only tribute to his usual grunge rocker clothes are his combat boots.

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