Unhinged Page 4

Since it was as dry as a desert inside, the tunnel served as a hideaway for make-out and graffiti sessions. Jenara and I didn’t spend much time there. Jeb made sure of that. He said we were too innocent to witness what was going on in the depths.

But that’s where he’s taking me today.

Jeb cruises through the littered parking lot and across an empty field, then takes the incline on his bike. As we descend the concrete’s drop, I tighten my legs around him and let go of his waist, stretching my arms high in the air. My wing buds tickle, and I whoop and holler as if we were on a roller coaster. Jeb’s laughter joins my giddy outburst. Too soon we’re at the bottom, and I hold on to him again, the wheels skimming through puddles on our zigzag race toward the drainage pipe.

We stop at the entrance. The tunnel is as abandoned as the movie theater. Teens quit coming here when Underland—Pleasance’s ultraviolet, underground skate park and activity center owned by Taelor Tremont’s family—became the popular hangout on the west side of town. The rain’s coming down harder now, and Jeb balances the bike so I can climb off. I slip on the wet cement.

He catches me with one arm around my waist and, without a word between us, pulls me in for a kiss. I hold both sides of his jaw, relearning how his muscles work under my fingertips, reacquainting myself with how the rigid planes of his hard body fit so perfectly against my softer curves.

Raindrops glide over our skin and seep into the seam between our lips. I forget we’re still wearing our helmets, and the cold wetness of my leggings, and even the heaviness of my soggy shoes. He’s finally here with me, his body pressed flush to mine, and those white-hot points of contact are the only things I know.

When we finally break apart, we’re soaked, flushed, and out of breath.

“I’ve been dying to do that,” he says, voice husky and green gaze penetrating. “Every time I heard your voice on the phone, all I could think about was touching you.”

His heartbeat races against mine, and his words twine my stomach into a knot of pleasure. I lick my lips, unspoken assurance that I’ve been thinking of the same thing.

Together we lead his Honda into the tunnel and prop it against a curved wall. Then we take off our helmets and shake out our hair. I peel off Jeb’s jacket and my backpack.

I don’t remember the tunnel being this dark. The overcast sky doesn’t help. I take a cautious step farther in, only to be bombarded with the worrisome whispers of spiders, crickets, and whatever other insects congregate in the darkness.

Wait … don’t step on us … tell your friend to put his big feet away.

I pause, unnerved. “You brought a flashlight, right?” I ask.

Jeb comes up from behind and wraps his arms around my waist. “I’ll do better than a flashlight,” he whispers against me, leaving a warm imprint just behind my ear.

There’s a click, and a string of lights flickers to life on the tunnel’s wall, pinned in place somehow, like a vine. The lights don’t give off much of a glow, but I can see that none of the skateboards are still lying around. Skaters used to leave their old wheels so everyone would have something to use when they came from the theater. We lived by a code back then. It was rare for a board to get stolen, because we all wanted the freedom to last forever.

We were so naïve to think anything in the human realm lasts forever.

Fluorescent graffiti glows on the walls—some curse words but mostly poetic ones, like love, death, anarchy, peace, and pictures of broken hearts, stars, and faces.

Black lights. I’m reminded of both Underland’s and Wonderland’s neon landscapes.

One mural stands out from the others—an ultraviolet outline of a fairy in oranges, pinks, blues, and whites. Her wings splay behind her, jeweled and bright. She looks like me. Even after all these months, I still do a double take when I see Jeb’s renditions: exactly as I looked in Wonderland, complete with butterfly wings and eye patches—black curvy markings imprinted on the skin like overblown eyelashes. He sees inside my soul without even knowing it.

“What did you do?” I ask him, making my way toward the graffiti while trying to avoid squishing any bugs.

He takes my arm to steady me. “A few cans of spray paint, a hammer, some nails, and a battery-operated strand of black lights.”

He flicks on a camper’s lantern, which illuminates a thick quilt spread out under a picnic basket. The bugs’ whispers fade in response to the light.

“But how did you have time?” I ask, sitting down to dig in the basket. There’s a bottle of expensive mineral water as well as cheese, crackers, and strawberries.

“I had a lot of time to kill before school let out,” Jeb answers as he selects a playlist on his iPad and props it on the backpack. A gritty, soulful ballad resonates from a miniature speaker.

I try to ignore that his answer makes me feel like an immature schoolgirl and pull some white roses out of the basket. These have been Jeb’s flower of choice for me ever since the day we came clean about our feelings, the morning after I returned from my trip through the rabbit hole. The morning after prom last year.

I hold them to my nose, trying to blot out the memory of another set of white roses in Wonderland that ended up red with his blood.

“I wanted to make this special for you.” He drags off his damp flannel shirt and sits down on the other side of the basket, an expectant look on his face.

His words echo in my head: Make this special for you.

The flowers slip from my fingers, scolding me for bruising their petals when they scatter on the ground.

“Oh,” I murmur to Jeb, disregarding their whispers. “So … this is it.”

He half grins, casting a shadow where his left incisor slants slightly across his front tooth. “It?”

He takes a strawberry out of the basket. Lantern light reflects off the cigarette-size scars on his forearms. I mentally follow them to a path of matching scars under his T-shirt: reminders of a violent childhood.

“Hmm. It.” Jeb tosses the berry, leans his head back, and catches the fruit in his mouth. Chewing, he studies me as if waiting for a punch line. The teasing tilt of his head makes the stubble on his chin look like velvet, though it’s not soft like velvet. It’s rough against bare skin.

Heat pools low in my abdomen. I avert my gaze, trying not to notice all those sexy things I obsessed about while we were apart.

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