Unhinged Page 18

As if triggered by my memory, an image begins to stir just behind my reflection. My concentration wavers, and the strand of hair falls limp. There’s a blur of white, red, and black checked patterns in the glass, sharpening to the clown from the hospital. It looms there, stretched out of proportion, as if I’m looking into a funhouse mirror. The clown shakes a snow globe in its hands and smiles with teeth sharp and silver like nails. My knees wobble, but I hold my ground, assuring myself I’m imagining it.

If I turn around, it will be gone.

Please don’t be there … please please please …

Gathering my courage, I spin on my heel.

Nothing but walls and stalls. I take a breath, then face the mirror again. The clown in the reflection has vanished.

Maybe Dad was right. Maybe I am overdoing it …

A door in the hallway slams, reminding me of the reason I’m hiding here to begin with. Morpheus.

This has to be one of his mind games.

I wait for silence and then venture out. I’ve only made it two steps when the familiar snicker of Taelor Tremont breaks the silence. Someone shushes her, followed by several girlish giggles and a wicked laugh that I know better than the scars on my own palms.

Curling my hands around my backpack straps, I peer around the corner.

He’s there with his back to me, just a few feet away. Tall and lithe. A leather vest and skintight T-shirt across his broad shoulders. Worn jeans hug his legs. Whoever’s body he stole is close to his own, although his hair is shorter. I can’t see any fringe under the edges of his cowboy hat from the back.

He holds a poster up to the wall that says, TOYS FOR FAIRY-TALE ENDINGS: GIVE A SICK CHILD A HAPPILY-EVER-TODAY. It’s a reminder for the charity drive our senior class is organizing from now until Friday. To get in the door for prom, every attendee has to contribute a new toy for a local children’s hospital. There’s a box for early donations against the wall, already half filled.

Four girls from our senior student council surround Morpheus, offering their opinion on the poster’s placement above the box. Taelor and Twyla argue over who gets to tape it in place. Most of the time they’re either fighting or competing, yet they claim to be best friends. It’s like the symbiotic relationship between a parasitic fungus and its host. I just haven’t figured out who’s the fungus. Kimber and Deirdre round out the quartet, the bearers of the tape dispensers.

All four are drooling over Morpheus as if he’s royalty. Only his second day here and already he’s made more headway than me in my entire school career. I bite back a wave of envy.

As if sensing I’m watching, he turns. For one instant he looks like someone else—a stranger. Then, in a blink, it’s Morpheus: the patches around his eyes, the jewels that display his every mood tipping the edges.

I whimper as a spread of dark wings lifts behind his shoulders, shadowing my classmates. Gasping, I hide around the corner again, smashed against the wall, backpack sandwiched between my spine and the cold tiles.

I thought I was ready, but to see him in my world, unhinging all that was once normal, revealing everything I’ve worked so hard to hide … it paralyzes me. I hold my breath, ears burning, and wait for the terrified screams when the girls realize what he is—what I am.

Instead, more flirty whispers and giggles drift my way.

I work up the nerve to look again. Taelor and the other femmes fatales are ascending the stairs.

“Remember,” Taelor says to Morpheus in her most provocative voice, “you promised to let me drive your sexy-hot car at lunch.”

The girls disappear from my view.

How could they have missed what I saw so clearly?

Morpheus faces me again, wings spread wide. No one else is in the hall, but my heart pummels my ribs as if we were on exhibition—my secret and his—to the whole world.

Backing up, I duck once more into the bathroom. Before the door can swing shut, he shoves his way over the threshold. Strands of sunlight from the window spotlight his finely lined dark eyes. They’re the only part of him that I recognize now. His face and his body, though a strikingly close match, belong to some human guy I’ve never seen.

He’s like a broken vase—delicately angular features with a thin scar that runs from his left temple to his cheek—damaged yet lovely. His skin is golden, very different from Morpheus’s alabaster complexion. There’s also a dimple in his chin similar to mine. He’s about my age and looks like he belongs in high school.

Morpheus takes off his hat, revealing short-cropped hair dyed a blue so vivid it almost glows.

“Alyssa.” The voice is his, unmistakably. Deep and sensual with an edge of malice. “You look so much better than the last time I saw you. Although I must admit, you wore those wet clothes very well.”

Every part of me wants to shake him until his insides are as jumbled as mine. Just when I thought I had a chance at normal, he comes back and ruins everything. I drop my backpack with a loud thump.

“I can’t …” My tongue stumbles over the words. “I can’t bring myself to ask.”

The right side of his mouth lifts—a roguish smirk unfamiliar on the new set of full lips, but every bit as exasperating. “Let me ask for you, then.” His gaze flits to the rust-stained ceiling. “What is a lovely queen like you”—his nose wrinkles—“doing in a smelly place like this?”

“Stop that.” I scowl. “There’s nothing funny about what you’ve done. The guy whose body you stole … who is he?”

Morpheus drops his hat on his head and tilts it. A line of dusty white moth corpses wiggles at the brim. “His name is Finley. He’s a loner. A failed musician. Found him drugged out of his mind in Grimsby, an old fishing town in England.”

“Out of his mind? So that’s how you convinced him to go to Wonderland?”

“It didn’t take any convincing. He was unhappy with his life here in the human realm. Look how many times he’s tried to cut out early.” He turns his inner arms. Underneath four twisted leather bracelets are two snake tattoos stretched along his skin from his elbows to his wrists. They manage to hide part of the suicide attempts and needle tracks, but they also hide Morpheus’s netherling mark, the one part of him that still remains, even while he mimicks another guy’s form.

I think of my own mark beneath my boot on my left ankle, and how it will always be a part of me no matter how many tattoos or layers of leggings I wear to cover it.

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