Unhinged Page 41

Once his footsteps are muffled in the living room carpet, I give Mom my full attention, waiting for that explanation. “The mosaics,” I blurt out, though it’s not at all what I want the answer to.

She returns my stare with one of her own. “I only had a chance to decipher one. There were three Red Queens fighting for the ruby crown, and another woman’s silhouette watching from behind a wall of vines and shadows—someone invested in the outcome … someone who had a deep stake in it all. I could see her eyes. Sad, piercing. I was in a hurry. That’s all I had time for.”

There have been three Red Queens since last summer: me; Grenadine, who I appointed to rule in my stead; and Red herself.

That leaves the question of the fourth player, the one in the shadows.

Mom watches my expression as I flip through the possibilities in my head. Her scowl softens to a sympathetic frown, and she looks like the woman I once knew: the one who made me Jell-O ice-pops when my throat was sore; the one who kissed my hurts away and sang me lullabies; the one who had herself committed to save me from Wonderland.

But the mom I’m remembering is not her at all. This mom’s hair is still glowing, her skin glistening like snow under starlight. This mom … this netherling … is a stranger to me.

“You were in Wonderland,” I say, voice quivering.

“It’s not like he said, Allie,” she murmurs. “I smeared the clues on the pages. But it was because I met your father and wanted to put an end to the quest forever.” She wrings her hands in the dish towel. “I was trying to decide what to do with the heirlooms. That’s why I hid them. I couldn’t just toss them away—I had to figure out how to fix it so none of our descendants would ever end up in Wonderland again.”

Her answer echoes hollow in the small entryway. Her words send a cold, crackling sensation down my spine. “You knew about the tests. Even worse, you caused them. Because of you, Morpheus came up with all those crazy things I did in Wonderland. All so you could be queen. Then you left him high and dry, and I became your substitute.”

Mom kneads the towel. “We made the plan before you were born, Allie. I—I didn’t know it would turn out like it did …”

“Seriously?” The word comes out high-pitched and pinched. “You’re missing the whole point! You’ve been to Wonderland and you never bothered to tell me! You lived what I lived. Do you have any idea how much I needed to know that? To know I wasn’t alone?”

Her expression falls, but she stays maddeningly silent.

“Why didn’t you tell me that night at the asylum, when I spilled my guts to you?” The sobs I’m holding back pile upon one another, and my throat hurts more than when I had a breathing tube shoved inside. “Or earlier than that. If you’d just been honest from the very beginning, when you found out I could hear the bugs and plants.” I let one sob loose. It breaks apart into two. “It could’ve changed everything. Wonderland wouldn’t be in this mess, because I wouldn’t have gone and screwed it all up.”

Mom clutches her dish towel like a lifeline. “It’s not you who caused this. It’s Red.”

“But I unleashed her,” I growl. “And because of that, it’s my responsibility to fix things.”

“Sweetie, no …” She drops the towel and reaches for me.

Jammed in the corner, I can’t escape, so I slap her hand away instead.

“Allie, please—” Her voice breaks.

Her wounded voice barely registers. All I see is a traitor. The lilies in my hospital room had been referring to her. She was the one who would betray me in the worst possible way.

“You’re unbelievable,” I say through gritted teeth. “You planned to fix things for all of us, huh? You, the one who’s so afraid of everything Wonderland related. You, who thought our family was cursed until I told you otherwise. You, who stepped into my mirror today, with a key you’ve kept hidden not for months but for years. Why? Because you wanted to go back again someday and be queen? Were you even planning to tell Dad before you left him?”

She opens her mouth to respond, but I plow ahead before she can.

“All this time you’ve been riding me about my clothes and my makeup … it wasn’t because I looked too wild or immodest. It was because I looked too much like a netherling. It reminded you of everything you lost. Right?”

She sniffles but doesn’t answer.

“You hammered into my head how you don’t want me to make the same mistakes as you … to fall in love too young and lose my shot at being an artist. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t try to start over again now that you’re out, to have the career you’ve always wanted. But it was never about your photography. Dad kept you from becoming queen. And now I have the crown. You must really resent us.”

“No, Allie …”

I’m deaf to her. I can’t hear past the lies. “How can you hold a grudge against someone as amazing as Dad? He was faithful for eleven years. He stayed true to you and waited for you to get well. All those nights he sat alone in the living room … pining for his wife … staring at those stupid daisies that hid all of your secrets. He deserved the truth, Mom.” Another sob escapes my throat. “We both did!”

Tears race down her face in the dim light.

She went to the asylum to protect me when I was a child—those memories threaten to soften my anger. But how can I truly know why she did what she did? Maybe she just didn’t want me to become queen instead of her, and that’s why she tried to sever my connection to Wonderland. Maybe it’s her in the mosaic. She’s the one in the shadows, watching and waiting to get her chance to steal the crown.

The blossoming mistrust smothers any last traces of compassion, and I hurl the cruelest insult I can think of. “I don’t know who you are anymore. But I do know one thing. You’re a bigger liar than Morpheus ever was.”

I can’t face Mom’s devastated expression, so I brush her aside, gather up my dress’s train, then make a beeline to the back hall.

She stays behind, her soft sobs ringing louder than any scream … louder than the train that almost crushed me earlier today. Maybe it would’ve been better if I had been crushed. That pain would’ve been instantaneous and then gone. It wouldn’t linger and eat away at me like what I’m feeling now.

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