Unhinged Page 2

I lift my backpack to my shoulders and tip my chin good-bye to Mr. Mason. My Mary Jane platforms clomp along the deserted tiles of the hall. Stray work sheets and notebook papers are scattered like stepping-stones in a pond. Several lockers hang open, as if the students couldn’t waste the extra half second it would’ve taken to shut them before leaving for the weekend.

A hundred different colognes, perfumes, and body odors still linger, interspersed with the faded yeasty scent of rolls from the cafeteria’s lunch menu. Smells like teen spirit. I shake my head, grinning.

Speaking of spirit, Pleasance High’s student council has been working around the clock to tape up prom reminders around every corner of the school. This year, the dance is the Friday before our Saturday graduation ceremony—one week from today.


I smirk at the last line. My best pal, Jenara, wrote it with bold green marker at the end of each announcement. It took her entire sixth period on Tuesday to do it and cost her three days of detention. But it was totally worth it to see the look on Taelor Tremont’s face. Taelor is my boyfriend’s ex, the school’s star tennis player, and the student council’s social chairperson. She’s also the one who ratted out my Liddell family secret in fifth grade. Our relationship is strained, to say the least.

I run my palm across one of the banners that escaped half its tape and drapes like a long white tongue from the wall. It reminds me of my experience with the bandersnatch’s snaky tongues last summer. I cringe and rub the vivid streak of red in my blond hair between my forefinger and thumb. It’s one of my permanent souvenirs, just like the nodules behind my shoulder blades where wings lie dormant inside me. No matter how I try to distance myself from the Wonderland memories, they’re always present, refusing to leave.

Just like a certain someone refuses to leave.

My throat constricts at the thought of black wings, bottomless tattooed eyes, and a cockney accent. He already has my nights. I won’t let him take my days, too.

Shoving the doors open, I step into the parking lot and get hit by a rush of chill, damp air. A fine mist coats my face. A few cars remain and students cluster in small groups to talk—some hunched inside hoodies and others seemingly oblivious to the unseasonably cool weather. We’ve had a lot of rain this month. The meteorologists calculated the accumulation somewhere between four and six inches, breaking a century’s worth of spring records in Pleasance, Texas.

My ears automatically tune in to the bugs and plants in the soggy football field a few yards away. Their whispers often blend together in crackles and hums like radio static. But if I try, I can make out distinct messages meant just for me:

Hello, Alyssa.

Nice day for a stroll in the rain …

The breeze is just right for flying.

There was a time I hated hearing their fuzzy, buzzy greetings so much I would trap them and smother them. Now the white noise is comforting. The bugs and flowers have become my sidekicks … charming reminders of a secret part of me.

A part of me even my boyfriend is unaware of.

I see him across the parking lot. He leans against his souped-up vintage Honda CT70, chatting with Corbin, the starting quarterback and Jenara’s new main squeeze. Jeb’s sister and Corbin make an odd match. Jenara has pink hair and the fashion sense of a princess gone punk rocker—the antithesis of a typical Texas jock’s girlfriend. But Corbin’s mother is an interior designer who’s known for her eccentric style, so he’s accustomed to offbeat artistic personalities. At the beginning of the year the two of them were lab partners in biology. They clicked, and now they’re inseparable.

Jeb glances in my direction. He straightens as he sees me, his body language as loud as a shout. Even at this distance, the heat of his mossy-green eyes warms my skin under my lacy shirt and plaid corset.

He gestures good-bye to Corbin, who shoves a strand of reddish blond hair from his eyes and waves in my direction before joining a group of football players and cheerleaders.

Jeb shrugs out of his jacket on his way over, revealing muscular arms. His black combat boots clomp across the shimmery asphalt, and his olive skin glistens in the mist. He’s wearing a navy T-shirt with his worn jeans. A picture of My Chemical Romance is air-brushed in white with a red slash streaked diagonally across their faces. It reminds me of my blood art, and I shiver.

“Are you cold?” he asks, wrapping his jacket around me, the leather still warm from his body. For that fleeting second, I can almost taste his cologne: a mix between chocolate and musk.

“I’m just happy you’re home,” I answer, palms flat against his chest, enjoying his strength and solidity.

“Me, too.” He looks down at me, caressing me with his gaze but holding back. He cut his hair while he was gone. Wind ruffles the dark, collar-length strands. It’s still long enough at the crown and top to be wavy and is a mess from being under his helmet. It’s unkempt and wild, just the way I like it.

I want to leap into his arms for a hug or, even better, kiss his soft lips. The ache to make up for lost time winds tight around me until I’m a top ready to spin, but my shyness is even stronger. I glance over his shoulder to where four junior girls gathered around a silver PT Cruiser watch our every move. I recognize them from art class.

Jeb follows my line of sight and lifts my hand to kiss each knuckle, the scrape of his labret igniting a tingle that races all the way to the tips of my toes. “Let’s get out of here.”

“You read my mind.”

He smirks. The butterflies in my belly clash at the appearance of his dimples.

We walk hand in hand to his bike as the parking lot starts to clear. “So … looks like your mom won this morning.” He gestures to my skirt, and I roll my eyes.

Grinning, he helps me with my helmet, smooths my hair across my lower back, and separates the red strand from the blond ones. Wrapping it around his finger, he asks, “Were you working on a mosaic when I texted?”

I nod and buckle the helmet’s strap under my chin, not wanting the conversation to go this direction. Not sure how to tell him what’s been happening during my art sessions while he’s been gone.

He cups my elbow as I climb into place on the back of the seat, leaving a space for him in front. “When do I get to see this new series of yours, huh?”

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