Unhinged Page 27

By the end of lunch, our tryst in the bathroom will be all over school. By the end of the day, Jenara will hear of it. And by tonight, Jeb will know all about my dirty little secret that never was.

During eighth-period art class, we’re working in groups to make decorations for prom. The goal is to create an “enchanted forest” setting for the refreshment area and picture booth.

One student’s family owns an apple orchard and provided almost two dozen six-foot “trees” formed of antlerlike branches. For the past two weeks we’ve been spray-painting them white, sprinkling them with glitter, then transferring them into matching ceramic pots filled with clear glass gemstones to keep them upright.

It was a fun project. Until today.

After what Taelor saw in the bathroom, I can’t bring myself to join any of the groups. This is what I get for being a recluse. No one knows me well enough—really knows me—to jump to my defense when rumors abound.

I feign a headache because of the spray-paint fumes, and while I’m slouched alone at my table in the corner, I text Jeb. It’s against school policy to use your cell during class, but Mr. Mason has stepped out for a minute. His temporary substitute is either terrified of high schoolers or oblivious, because I’m not the only one with my phone in my hand.

I try a little damage control, texting Jeb that I had a weird encounter with the exchange student and not to flip out until I can explain.

I send Jenara a similar message.

She and Corbin ditched school right after lunch to attend his mom’s interior design showcase. But it’s just a matter of time until someone texts or calls her with the lowdown. Better she hear it from me first.

A fly buzzes around the room and settles on my shoulder. Fix things, Alyssa. Its whisper is a tickle in my ear. The flowers have been compromised. You must stop them.

I swish the bug away gently. I’m fed up with their obscure riddles. I have enough to worry about.

A few giggles break out at the table across from mine. Four junior girls avert their eyes when I look their way, pretending to focus on the lanterns they’re making of stiffened fabric doilies and white LED tea lights. As the girls form domes by tying two doilies together, their giggles escalate. It’s the same group that was ogling Jeb last Friday when he came to pick me up on his bike. I’m not sure if they’re talking about what Morpheus and I supposedly did, or what an idiot I am to screw around on an incredible guy like my boyfriend. Either way, it’s obvious I’m the topic of conversation, just like I have been in every class since fifth period.

My neck and cheeks burn.

The phone hums between my fingers. I click on Jeb’s response.

Uh … encounter? Details plz.

He sounds either jealous or rushed.

Biting my lower lip, I type the lie I worked up last period: Turns out his family is good friends with the London Liddells. I’ll explain everything when you pick me up.

I’ll do better than explain. I’m going to make a mosaic in front of him. Let him watch my blood’s magic in action. Then, once he’s past the freak-out stage, maybe he can help me figure out a way to avoid facing Red and still protect Wonderland and the people we love.

My phone buzzes again. Can’t pick U up 2day after all. Interview was rescheduled for this afternoon. Get a ride w/Jen?

No. I want to scream, to tell him I really need him to drop everything and come see me now, but before I can respond at all, the classroom door opens and Mr. Mason comes in. Along with half my classmates, I scramble to hide my phone. Mr. Mason talks quietly to the sub, then sends him on his way.

After sitting at his desk, Mr. Mason fishes an art supply catalog out of a drawer. Against every instinct to hunch at my table and blend into the surroundings, I raise my hand. From behind his pinkish lenses, he spots me and waves me forward.

I start toward the front of the room. A hissing sound stops me in my tracks. It sounds just like the clown in the girls’ bathroom. Spine rigid, I turn to see two guys off in the far corner, spray-painting one of the “trees.”

I continue forward. My stomach churns as the girls resume their giggling. The gazes on my back weigh heavy and make my steps slow and awkward.

When I arrive at the desk, Mr. Mason looks up and adjusts his glasses. “Alyssa. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about your mosaics.”

Nodding, I gesture to his cabinet. “Right. Should we wrap them in butcher paper for the trip home?”

His jaw drops, but then he regains his composure and stands on his side of the desk, hands splayed next to the catalog. “Your mom didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“She called me from the hospital after your accident. She’d heard about your mosaic series and wanted to see them, so I took them to her Saturday evening.”

My pulse pounds beneath my jawline. Who told Mom about my artwork? My blood shuttles even faster to imagine her seeing Queen Red’s vicious slaughter in the scenes.

“So my mom has them?”

“Well, she only has three. They were too heavy for me to carry from my car all at once. When I came back for the rest … they were gone. Stolen.”

A sense of violation chills me. I think of the clown and my sedated, web-filled dream. Morpheus had to be behind all of that, whether he confirms or denies it. So he must’ve been at the hospital, spying from the shadows, pulling strings. He could’ve heard Mr. Mason and Mom’s call. Which means he stole those three mosaics and already knows that my mom has the other ones. So he asked me to bring them to him for nothing. He’s messing with my mind again.

I’m done playing his games. Unless he comes clean with everything, I’m not going anywhere but home today.

“I can’t apologize enough,” Mr. Mason says. “I don’t know how it happened. The car is new. Its alarm system is top-notch. But somehow the thief got the door open without setting it off.” His cheeks redden as he picks up the catalog. “I’ve been looking through all my supply lists, trying to find more of those red-lined gems. I want to buy you some replacements. It can’t make up for all your hard work … but …”

The bell rings, causing me to jump.

My classmates gather their books and bags and scramble out the door. A heavy knot forms in my gut, like I’ve swallowed a huge rock. All I can think is: Mom knows. She knows my head is still in Wonderland, yet she hasn’t said a word.

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