Unhinged Page 37

We’ve stopped where the grass ends just before the porch’s first step. Morpheus’s laugh carries through the door. The sound transforms Jeb’s expression from admiring to fierce.

“When I got here, I was ready to kill him.” I follow his line of sight to his motorcycle haphazardly parked on and off the driveway’s incline. He didn’t even take time to put down the kickstand. “I had him pinned against his hood, threatened to give him another scar on his face.”

It’s strange, to finally be the center of Jeb’s undivided attention, but now I’m the one who’s torn. One part of me tugging toward the house, and one part wrenching toward him.

Jeb catches my hand and holds it against his chest. “He said I could do anything to his face. Just asked that I didn’t mess up the car. It’s the only thing he has left of his dead dad.” Jeb traces his thumb over the lace that hugs my wrist. “I saw his scars, Al. Those tattoos can’t hide them. Did you know about the suicide attempts?”

I nod, reluctant to encourage his pity for Morpheus, yet knowing I can’t possibly explain that those scars belong to someone else.

Jeb glances at Morpheus’s car. “He told me his dad died hating him. And the main reason he came to the States was to meet your mom. To try to see his old man through someone else’s eyes. To make peace with the memories.” When Jeb looks back at me, his expression is filled with empathy, and my chest cinches tight. It’s unfair that Morpheus is exploiting vulnerabilities Jeb doesn’t even realize he’s aware of. But I have no right to judge, because I’m a user and a liar, too.

“So as long as he’s respectful to you,” Jeb says, oblivious to my inner turmoil, “I’ll do my best to respect him.”

His tone is tight and pained, but he’s in control. He’s been working hard not to be violent like his father was. And I’m proud of him, because he’s grown into an honest and compassionate man in spite of everything his dad did to wreck him emotionally. I’ve also never felt more unworthy of him.

I draw his hand up to my lips and kiss the tattoo where his wrist peeks out from his sleeve. What would he think of me, if he knew how deceitful I’d become? It might as well be me in that mirror in another part of the world, as far away as I feel from him right now.

“Hey …” He breaks his hand free and lifts me onto the porch. With him still standing on the lawn, we’re at eye level. “You’re too quiet. You would tell me if there was more to the story, right?”

There is more. I have to find out why my mom’s in my mirror, and I have to defeat a psychotic magical queen … I’m just not sure how to tell you.

My eyes water.

Jeb’s frown evolves into a grimace. “Why are you crying? Was Tae being straight?” His eyes blaze. “Did that jerk have his hands on you? Did he kiss you?”

Dang it. “No, it wasn’t like that. It’s just, maybe you can see now how I feel about Ivy. Why I’m hesitant.”

He squints. “That’s totally different.”

Looking down at my boot buckles, I scramble to say the right thing—to hurry and fix this so I can rush to my room and fix everything else.

Jeb steps onto the porch. “Al, it’s business. That’s all. And I already told her yes.”

My emotions do an about-face—from worried to indignant. “I thought we were going to discuss it.”

“She went back to Tuscany this afternoon and won’t be returning until the end of the month. I had to give her an answer before she left. This is for both of us—don’t you see? It’ll pay for our first year in London and then some. It’s real money—proof I’m not a loser.”

“Of course you’re not a loser.” I stifle the sob that climbs my throat. “You’re the most talented artist I’ve ever seen.”

“So are you,” Jeb says, pushing us apart to watch me closely. “No more tears, okay?”

I sniffle. “But you’re tired of painting me.” I’m so pathetic. Mom is somewhere across the other side of the world, and here I am crying to my boyfriend about being his model.

It’s just that right now, he’s the only stable world I have left. And I’m about to walk away from him, even though it’s the last thing I want to do.

“Tired of …?” A wrinkle bridges his eyebrows. “Are you kidding? I’ll never get tired of painting you. This dress”—he strokes the pearls and sequins across my ribs—“it’s inspired a whole new series: Fairy Bride’s seduction by moonlight. We’ll start it after prom.”

Right. My nonexistent prom. I bite my inner cheek to keep from screaming.

Jeb bends his knees so our foreheads touch. “I can’t wait, you know,” he says, his thumb skimming under my shoulder strap, leaving my skin tingling. “I’m going to check out the art studio Ivy’s renting tonight. It has a loft. I’m thinking it might be the perfect place for us to get some privacy after the dance.”

But I won’t be here, I ache to say.

The front door opens, stopping me from blurting out everything—the whole truth.

“Hey, lovebirds,” Jenara teases. She offers Jeb a cookie, then studies us, as if sensing she’s interrupted something. “Sorry, but Al’s mom showed up.”

“She did?” I ask.

“Yeah, she’s inside. She was in the backyard gardening and didn’t know we were here.”

The pulse in my neck kicks into overtime. She must’ve returned through the mirror. I have to find out where she went. “Wait … you left her alone with him?”

Jenara wipes crumbs on her fashionably ripped jeans, looking confused. “Who, M? He made a beeline for the bathroom before I saw her.”

A loud crash followed by Mom’s scream shatters the quiet afternoon. I drape my skirt’s train over my arm and leap across the threshold with Jen and Jeb on my heels.

Morpheus stands at my bedroom doorway, looking in with a studious expression. I step around him toward my mom, cautious. She’s on her knees amid a glittering spray of glass on the floor. My cheval mirror lies beside her, an empty wooden frame.

Tucking a necklace into her tracksuit’s jacket, Mom lifts her gaze to mine. I can’t even form the words to ask her where she got the key. She seems so small and frail, swallowed up by her tracksuit. The sun reflects off the broken shards around her, spattering the black fabric with prismatic dots of light.

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