Unhinged Page 17

The ten-minute warning bell rings, and we pile out of the truck. Jen twists a tendril of pink hair around her finger and secures it over her ear with a pearl barrette that matches the ivory netted skirt layered over her skinny jeans. She hands off her backpack to Corbin. We follow a crowd of students, the three of us locked in our own private conversation.

“So, did Jeb tell you two about the guy who helped him get the ambulance?” I ask. “He said he was enrolling here …”

“Yep,” Corbin responds after another sip of Coke. “He registered yesterday. A senior from Cheshire, England.”

From Cheshire.

“Of course,” I say under my breath. Time to find out whose life and identity he borrowed to pull off this charade. “What’s his name?” I press.

“M,” Jenara answers.

“What? Like Em, short for Emmett?”

“Nope. Like the letter in the alphabet.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or gag.

We step into the breezeway, the tiles slick under our feet compared to the asphalt outside. Our small trio gets hemmed in by other students, and I’m bombarded with questions: What was it like, almost dying? Did you see any ghosts when you were in the coma? Is heaven like the movies say it is?

It’s weird, but for once, being the center of attention isn’t so bad. Being noticed for something other than the way I dress or who I’m descended from makes me feel almost normal … accepted.

After our curious classmates get their fill of my guarded answers and move on, Jenara resumes our conversation. “The exchange guy’s last name is Rethen.”

I frown, feeling out the word in my mind. Rethen. It uses the same letters as nether. It’s an anagram. There’s nothing subtle about Morpheus.

“You should see his amazing sports car,” Corbin adds. “Lets anyone drive it who wants to. I drove us to lunch in it yesterday.”

I clench my teeth. The jerk isn’t even trying to lie low. He’s flaunting how close he can get to everyone I care about, how easy it is for him to blend into my world, as a warning to me.

I want to tell them both to stay away from him, but how do I justify the request, since technically I haven’t met him yet?

“And Al”—Jen practically beams—“you’ll love his style. Dead-bug chic.”

“Here we go.” Corbin rolls his eyes.

Jen elbows him. “Shut up. Al will totally get this.” She loops an arm through my elbow. “He wants to be a lepidopterist or entomologist or something. He’s inspired a whole new line for me. Faded jeans, rattlesnake boots, and a cowboy hat with a string of—”

“Moths around the brim,” I finish for her, my heart skipping a beat or two.

Jen and Corbin both stare at me in awe.

“How’d you know that?” Corbin asks.

“Jeb mentioned it,” I lie, and clear my throat for effect.

“Ah.” Jenara’s eyes—the same green hue of her brother’s—sparkle under their veil of gray eye shadow. “Well, I designed some dead-bug fashions during sixth period yesterday. You’re hitching a ride with us after school, right?”

I nod.

“I’ll show you the sketches later. I used M for the model. He’s got this whole hot-androgynous thing going on.”

“That’s my cue.” Corbin taps Jen’s butt with her backpack before handing it off. With a practiced arm, he tosses his empty Coke cup into a trash can a few feet away. It lands neatly inside. “Like to see your limey unisex cowboy do that. It’s all in the hands.” He wiggles his fingers in Jen’s direction. “I got man skills, babe. That’s why I’m starting quarterback.”

She huffs. “Really? Looks more like janitorial skills,” she teases back.

Corbin laughs and disappears around the corner. Jen gives me a hug and we part for first period.

I settle at my desk. Morpheus is nowhere in sight, although he is the topic of almost every girl’s conversation and passed note. I manage to read one over someone’s shoulder:

I heard he got in trouble with his rich English family and was sent here to see how regular people live. Viva American peasants! The M comes from his dad, Mort, but he’s rebelling. *drools*

So, not only is he rich, British, and eccentric, he’s a bad boy and a rebel. Great. Once again, he’s pulling everyone’s strings.

I sit through an excruciating three periods—two exams and one review work sheet—without seeing him once. I’m guessing he arranged his schedule contrary to mine so I’ll worry about where he is and what he’s up to. Another ploy to knock me off balance.

In the basement level on the way to fourth period, I decide to ditch study hall and peek in every door of every senior class until I find him, determined to make contact before lunch. The last thing I want is to face him across a crowded cafeteria.

I slip into the girls’ bathroom to wait for the bell to ring and the hall to clear. The small gray alcove is just under the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms located on the first floor. Faulty pipes run across the dingy white ceiling. Rusty stains branch out like yellow-brown veins, and the scent of mildew hangs heavy on the air.

It’s just a matter of time till the pipes spring a leak in the gymnasium floor upstairs and ruin everything, which is why the money our class raised for our senior gift will be used for new copper pipes to be installed this summer.

The tardy bell rings. I wait for voices to fade and doors to shut. Strands of sunshine filter through a hopper window where the wall meets the ceiling. The hinged glass is open a crack, letting in a sliver of fresh air, just enough to make breathing bearable.

A chorus of whispering bugs and plants drifts in, blending into a nonsensical hum. Cobwebs line the windowpane and ripple in the breeze like ghostly handkerchiefs waving at me.

I stare at my reflection in the dusty mirror, focused on the red strip of hair, and imagine the strand moving like the webs—an invisible string drawing it up to dance. As I concentrate, it starts to twine and twist.

My muscles tense. It’s not safe, using my powers here at school—entangling pieces of my life I’ve tried for months to keep separate. If I’m not careful, the end result could be volatile.

Ignoring the sense of dread, I concentrate harder until the wave of magic resurges. My hair sways and spins until it’s at a right angle from the platinum strands surrounding it, so much like my horrific dream at the hospital … the sword of blood.

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