Unhinged Page 39

“He had no right to talk to your mom like that. He’s a disrespectful jerk.”

You thought the same thing the first time you met him, I want to confess. It hurts so much that I no longer share those memories with him …

I force words over the lump in my throat. “I love you for worrying. But I promise, we’ll be fine. I’ll call my dad and have him meet us at the ER. Okay?”

Jeb doesn’t answer, and he doesn’t look inclined to leave.

Desperate to get back to Mom and heal her hand, I say the one thing I know will make him go. “Shouldn’t you go meet the magazine guy? You said he had a few more questions.”

The expression on his face matches how I feel inside—torn. “Let me know how your mom is. Call. Don’t text. I want to hear your voice.”

“I will.” He starts to leave, but I catch his arm. “Thank you for being here. For helping.”

“I’ll always be there for you.” He gives me a bone-melting look, then kisses me good-bye.

I’ve barely shut the door when Mom stomps to the kitchen.

“And don’t touch me again!” She shouts over her shoulder in the direction of the living room. As she walks around me, she unwinds the bandage from her hand to reveal a healed palm.

Morpheus enters the kitchen from the living room side. “You’ve become such an ungrateful chit, Alison,” he says, not even sparing me a glance. “I’m not going to stand by and watch one of my own bleed to death.”

He tosses his hat onto the table. Sunlight streams from the windows, and his netherling form is vivid underneath Finley’s full-body mask. His wings are high and looming, his eye patches dark, and the jewels flash from red to black.

“Allie could’ve healed me just fine,” Mom rebuts.

I grip the door frame and study them both, speechless, as Mom uses a spatula to transfer cookies from the racks to a sealable container, as if the things that have happened in the last hour are just everyday occurrences.

Why isn’t she freaking out about Morpheus? Shouldn’t she be asking him why he and Rabid were in my bedroom instead of quibbling over her healed hand? Or better yet, shouldn’t she be telling me where she went via my mirror, and where she stashed my mosaics?

Mom licks a melted chocolate chip from her finger and points at Morpheus. “This isn’t like the past. I’m older. Wiser. I don’t need your help anymore.”

Her eyes are the bluest they’ve ever been, and her cheeks burst with color. She radiates energy and strength. Morpheus brings something dormant to the surface in her, just like he does in me. I have to wonder what was really between them, if he once said he loved her like he said to me. Maybe he seduced all of my predecessors.

The thought makes my stomach churn.

“You don’t need me, aye?” He moves closer to Mom, but not as close as he usually stands to me. It’s like he’s respecting her invisible-box boundary. He snatches a cookie from the container and sits on the edge of the table with a phantom flourish of wings. “Well, I suppose you’re right. You certainly put my information to good use. I told you about her mosaics so you could keep them safe. Then I learn from Alyssa that you asked the bumbling teacher to bring them out in public and leave three of them exposed. I’d say you bloody do need my help.” He shoves a bite of cookie into his mouth for emphasis.

“Wait a minute.” I step into the kitchen, my mind out of sorts. “Morpheus is the one who told you about my artwork? You knew he was here? I thought I was protecting you … all the while you were hiding things from me.”

Lips pressed tight, Mom tosses the cookie sheets into the sink and turns on the water. “Without a complete set, they’re useless,” she replies, answering Morpheus but ignoring me. “I took care of the three I have. I hid them somewhere safe. Where none of you netherlings would dare to touch them.”

Her words remind me of what I saw in my cheval mirror. “Is that why you were inside the reflection … next to that bridge? Was my art in the bag?”

Mom spins to face me, frowning.

“Ah.” Morpheus looks back and forth between us. “Alison went to the iron bridge, aye? Brilliant strategy, skipping off to London like that.”

Iron bridge … Morpheus once told me netherlings have an aversion to iron. It warps their magic somehow, though he’s never given details.

“It’s the only way I could keep the mosaics safe,” Mom says, as if reading my mind.

“Of course,” Morpheus taunts. “Did you visit our favorite haunts in Ironbridge Gorge while you were there? Did you take a train ride and relive some lost memories?” He narrows his eyes. “That’s why you broke the mirror. To cover your tracks.”

She returns her attention to the pans in the sink. “If only I could shut down the portals to and from Wonderland,” she mumbles, more to herself than us. “Then Red and anyone else who wants to hurt Allie would be stranded in the nether-realm with no way back. Just like it should be.”

“As if you would let that happen.” Morpheus replaces his hat. “You speak of us like we’re a different breed. But you’re the same. Fierce … manipulative … and a touch mad. You’re more netherling than human, Alison. You couldn’t handle not having a way back into your heart’s home.”

I slam my hand on the counter to get their attention. “Would someone tell me what’s going on?”

Silent, Mom scrubs at some baked cookie residue with a sponge. Water and soap slosh across the front of her and down the counter.

Morpheus dabs his mouth with the corner of the tablecloth. “Alison’s fooled you into thinking she’s a helpless little rosebud. But it’s all an act, Alyssa. Your mum is ruthless, and she would’ve made a spectacular Red Queen. She wanted that ruby crown, in fact. Came so very close. But she met your father … failed to fulfill the tests. Otherwise, she would never have given up, would never have stayed in the human realm. And you, little luv”—his gaze locks on my face, jewels blackest black—“would ne’er have been born.”

My tongue is thick and heavy like stone. All the questions I need to ask are wedged beneath it. I back into the entryway where the shadows offer solace, putting distance between me and Morpheus’s ugly accusations.

No. Mom can’t have wanted to be queen. That would mean she knows the truth. That everything we talked about the night I got back from Wonderland—the tender moments we shared in the asylum when I told her that our family wasn’t cursed after all—was an act. That would mean she’s been pretending to be clueless.

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