Unhinged Page 16

Stranger. The perfect descriptor for Morpheus. He’s stranger than any person or creature I’ve ever met. And, boy, do I have a long line of comparison subjects.

On Wednesday morning Dad drops me at school twenty minutes early.

I’m exhausted. After being discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, I refused to take any of the sedatives prescribed by the hospital’s attending physician. Between the pain of my injuries and thinking about Jeb’s heiress client and Morpheus’s crash-landing into my everyday life, I didn’t get much sleep.

“You look pale, even with the makeup.” Dad hands me my backpack across the seat as I slide out of the truck onto the asphalt parking lot. “I hope you’re not overdoing it.”

There’s no way to tell him the real reason for my blood-drained face. And his concern is nothing compared to what Mom’s been feeling since I’ve been home from the hospital. She wouldn’t let me have any visitors, insisting I needed to rest, so I didn’t get to see Jeb or Jenara. Since my new cell phone wasn’t charged and programmed, I settled for a short and unsatisfying landline call divided between both of them. Jeb was evasive about his visit with the heiress, insisting we talk about it in person. That did nothing to calm my nerves.

Mom’s final words as I left this morning were, “I’m not sure school’s a good idea so soon. Maybe take a day off from classes while your car is getting its tire fixed.”

Somehow I managed to talk Dad into driving me anyway, and I’m not leaving now. “Dad, please stop enabling Mom’s paranoia. Persephone’s given me the entire week off from work. I’ll get bored sitting at home. I have exams to make up, and there’s no way I’m going to summer school. I want to graduate with my class.”

I plant my feet in a determined stance. I have to win this argument. If I don’t find Morpheus today, he’ll come looking for me at home. That’s the last thing Mom needs.

Dad’s hands tighten on his steering wheel. Sunlight slants through the windshield, glaring off his wedding ring and the silver logo on his work shirt. “Cut your mom some slack. You gave us a real scare. She’s having trouble finding her footing.”

I bite my inner cheek. “I get that. But her hovering is out of control. The danger’s behind me now.” Not true. It’s lying in wait just around the corner. “I’m stronger than you two think, okay?”

His expression relaxes. “I’m sorry, Butterfly. I forget sometimes how much you’ve grown up over the past year.” He gives me a real smile then. “Have a good day. And show those tests who’s boss.”

“Thanks.” I reach in to squeeze his hand before shutting the door. Smiling, I wave as he drives off, though my confidence is forced. I can’t stop worrying about what Morpheus has up his lace-cuffed sleeve.

There are rules for netherlings when they breach the human realm. Unless they want to be seen as they are, in all their fairy weirdness, they have to borrow a human’s face and body for camouflage—trade places with them. The human has to stay in Wonderland, so there won’t be two of the same person running around in the mortal realm, and can’t return until their netherling doppelganger no longer requires their image. Only then can they resume their life and identity again.

Which means Morpheus has coerced someone into taking a leap down the rabbit hole. It also means Morpheus may not be recognizable to me, and this gives him a distinct advantage.

As if he needs any more than he already has.

The skies are clear and the sun warms my back. I won the wardrobe argument with my mom, and armed in a dusty-rose tulle miniskirt and scarf, gray corset jacket, paisley tights, and black lace-up knee boots, I head toward the breezeway’s door, convincing myself I’m ready to face him.

As I weave through cars—some occupied and blaring loud music, others empty—Corbin’s rusted orange 1950 Chevy, Sidestep, comes into view. He and Jenara have their heads together, sharing a few steamy kisses before the bell rings.

Any other time, I’d walk by and give them their privacy, but today I need info on our new exchange student. Jen always has the low-down on everyone and everything at Pleasance High.

A country-and-western ballad drifts from the cracked-open passenger’s-side window. I clear my throat and slap the glass with my palm, my fingerless gloves muffling the sound.

Corbin’s eyes pop open, and he pushes Jen back, gesturing to me. Jen squeals, opens the door, and drags me into the seat beside her for a hug, shoving Corbin over to make room. He fumbles to salvage the thirty-two-ounce to-go cup that was sandwiched between his hip and the door.

“Sorry,” I mouth to him from over Jen’s shoulder.

Corbin tips his chin in acknowledgment and offers a shy, expectant smile. He’s no doubt waiting for me to greet him like I usually do, to tease him about the bromance between him and Jeb. They share a love for cars and have been discussing restorations for Corbin’s Chevy. It’s too bad Jeb can’t seem to find time to work on it with him. Welcome to my world, Corb.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Jenara says, holding me close. The scent of her shampoo enfolds me. “Seeing you at the hospital … the wires and tubes and machines all around you.” She breaks us apart to study me, the sympathy on her face visceral. “It was like your worst nightmares had come true.”

Even though she’s referring to my past fears of being bound and helpless in an asylum, I think about the destruction Morpheus showed me in Wonderland while I was unconscious, and the spider-webs winding through my sedative-enhanced dreams. She has no idea how spot-on she is about nightmares coming true.

“I’m okay now.” I pat her wrist.

She brushes a strand of hair off my forehead. “Just don’t do anything like that again, yeah?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I grin. “You sound just like your brother. By the way, did he say anything about his appointment with that heiress chick yet? He was so quiet last night on the phone.”

Jen’s black-lined eyes narrow, seeing right through me. “Stop worrying. You’re his world … his muse. Right, Corbin?”

“Huh?” Corbin lifts his mouth off the straw sticking out of his Coke’s lid. “Oh, sure,” he says in his deep southern drawl. “He’s only got eyes for you.” He smirks encouragingly, and the freckles around his nose line up like a pigmented constellation.

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