Unhinged Page 25

Hanging above me, he frowns. “I’m not sure I can leave work that early.”

I grind my teeth against the disappointment.

“Okay,” he says, as if to placate me. “Okay, I’ll find a way.”

“Good. Because I’m ready to show you my mosaics.”

I only hope he’s ready to see them.

Thursday morning, I don’t take the time to argue with Mom. I choose an outfit she’ll approve of—a two-layer organza petticoat skirt that hangs past the knees of my pinstriped leggings—and step into first period as the five-minute warning bell rings. I finish my chemistry test before class is half over, which leaves an excruciating two more periods to sweat over what I’ll say to Morpheus about my decision not to leave the human realm until I fix things with Jeb.

Morpheus isn’t going to make it easy for me.

Several times between classes, I pass him in the halls with his harem. He walks by without a word, snubbing me, yet each time manages to rake his arm across mine or brush our hands. It’s painful in the strangest way.

Finally, fourth period rolls around, and I shut myself in the abandoned girls’ bathroom to wait for him. The bell rings, and soon the hall empties.

Sunlight dapples the floor through the hopper window, but the room around me is gray and still. Today the bugs have been relentless in their whispers, as if the cricket from last night is leading them in a revolt:

They’re here, Alyssa. They don’t belong … send them back.

I lean against the sink. “Who?” I whisper aloud, frustrated with the obscure warnings.

As I’m waiting for a response, I hear a rustle inside one of the half-closed stalls. I inhale a startled breath, drop my backpack, and lean down to look under the metal door, careful not to let my hair touch the damp tiles.

“Is someone there?”

No answer and no cowboy boots. Unless he’s crouched atop the toilet, it’s not Morpheus. Steeling myself, I swing the door open.

A gurgling hiss greets me along with the distorted face of the clown. It’s toy-size again and standing on the toilet lid. I screech and stumble back, tripping over my backpack. My elbow knocks the paper towel dispenser open. Squares of brown paper flutter down all around me.

Hopping to the floor, the demented toy scurries after me, razor-sharp teeth bared and snapping. One of its shoes slips on a paper towel and it falls. It crawls toward me instead, never slowing. Heart pounding, I look around for something to use as a weapon—to protect myself from that snarling mouth.

My backpack is too far; there’s nothing else within reach. My gaze catches on the dingy white ceiling and the rusty stains branching out like veins. I calm myself, breathing deeply, and imagine the stains are made of twine.

Swerving to avoid the rabid toy, I stay focused on the stains. They begin to peel from the ceiling and drape down. Concentrating harder, I coax them around the clown’s arms and legs, stringing it up like a marionette.

I control it now.

Fear fading to anger, I make the creepy thing dance in midair, then envision the strings spinning up the toy, trapping it in a cocoon of yellow-brown stains. With a screech, the clown uses its cello’s handle to snap the bindings before I can enclose it, then scrambles toward the bathroom door. The toy slips out into the hall, and the door swings shut.

I slide along the wall to the floor, shaking. My rapid pulse beats in my neck. The stains, neglected by my thoughts, retract back into the ceiling, finding their permanent places once more.

I’m shocked, stunned, and ecstatic all at once. The moment I visualized exactly what I wanted the ceiling stains to become, my powers came through in less than a heartbeat. I’m getting better at this.

But why should I have to draw upon that magic in my world? Why is Morpheus’s clown still here? Didn’t it already serve its purpose?

My cheeks flame and I clap cold palms over them, trying to subdue the adrenaline rush.

Several minutes pass and the door to the hallway begins to open slowly. I fold my knees to my chest, preparing to use my magic again.

The toe of a cowboy boot comes into view, and Morpheus steps in.

Relief washes over me, chased by a flash of annoyance.

Seeing me surrounded by paper towels on the floor, Morpheus lifts his eyebrows. “Building a nest?” he asks. “There’s no need to start acting like a bird simply because you have a propensity for flying.”

“Just … shut up.” I struggle to get to my feet, but my soles keep slipping on paper towels. He reaches out a hand. I reluctantly take it and stand.

Before I can break away, he clasps my fingers and rotates my arm in the dim light, observing my sparkly skin. It’s a visual manifestation of my magic … a result of using my powers.

“Well, well. What have you been up to?” he asks, grinning. There’s a glint of pride behind his teasing eyes.

“As if you don’t know.” I escape his grip, frowning at him as I check over my shoulder in the mirror to be sure my eye patches haven’t appeared. “What are you trying to prove?” I ask, relieved to see I still look normal although I feel anything but. “Why do you keep bringing that thing around?”

Silence. His confused frown in the reflection makes me furious. He has the ability to look completely innocent even when I know he’s as pure as a pirate.

I turn to face him. “If you didn’t bring it here, you had to at least see it.”

“It,” he says.

“That freak-show toy!”

He smirks, a familiar look on Finley’s unfamiliar face. “Well, seeing as there are boxes all over your school with toys inside, I should say yes. Yes, I have seen a toy or twenty.”

“I’m talking about the clown you sent me at the hospital. Don’t pretend you had nothing to do with that.”

“I didn’t send you any toy at the hospital.”

I growl. Of course he’s not going to admit sending it, any more than he would admit bringing it here.

I push by him, glancing out the door. First one side of the hall, then the other. There’s no one and nothing besides the charity boxes. I start to step out to dig through the donations. If I shove the proof in his face, he’ll have to come clean.

Morpheus grips my elbow and drags me back inside, putting his body between me and the door. “You’re not going anywhere. We have mosaics to decipher and a war to win.”

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