Unhinged Page 51

My stomach drops. It’s the student council and prom committee, setting up for tonight’s fairy-tale masquerade dance. Could I possibly have worse timing?

Some of the bigger guys fold the wooden bleachers and roll them against the walls to leave the rest of the floor free for dancing. Most of the girls putter around on either side of the gym, setting up the snack area and the makeshift stage where the band will play, announcements will be made, and the prom king and queen will be chosen.

I groan as more students saunter into the gym. Any possibility of sending Rabid through the mirror before school is shot. Someone could walk in just as we step inside. I consider hiding in a shower stall till everyone’s gone, but movement in the crowd stops me in my tracks.

“Hey, you!” Taelor shouts, holding up her arm.

She’s the last person I want to talk to. I sink farther behind the partition, then exhale a relieved breath when I realize she’s not yelling at me. She waves her arm again at a dark-haired, baby-faced sophomore in the corner diagonally across from where I’m hiding. He stands next to a tree he placed on the floor, and before he can look up, he’s surrounded by Taelor, Twyla, and Kimber.

“We have to leave space for the park bench where the couples pose for pictures,” Taelor scolds him. “The tree goes on the other side of the gym, by that long banquet table where the snacks will be.”

The boy stares at her, dumbfounded, either stunned by her beauty or shocked to be addressed by a senior.

She sighs and starts dragging the tree in its pot, completely oblivious of the streaks it and her black cowboy boots are making on the high-buffed floor.

Wait. Cowboy boots? That’s a first.

Even her dress looks carefully chosen to impress an entomologist: a silvery mini with fluttery sleeves that look like wings. Maybe she’s hoping Morpheus will mistake her for a moth and pin her to his corkboard.

I almost smirk at that. I’d heard a rumor that she broke up with her original date to prom after M asked her to go. I never thought to ask him if it was true, but it sounds like something he would do—lead her on just for the fun of it. She’s about to be disappointed.

“Ugh.” She whimpers when she’s a couple of yards away from me. I slink farther into the shadows of the locker room but keep her in my sights. Her arms—tanned and toned from incessant tennis and volleyball practice—shimmer under the lights as she tugs at the potted tree. “This thing is heavy.”

Blushing, the sophomore snaps out of his trance and jumps in to help, winning a stunning though sarcastic smile.

“Thanks, Superman,” she purrs and releases her side of the pot.

I can almost see stubble sprouting on his chin as he fast-forwards through puberty, following at her heels.

I duck behind the wall when they pass by.


Jenara’s voice brings me out again. A basket hangs on her arm. Lanterns thump together inside. She threads string through a few to form the garlands other students are hanging on the trees.

“I thought that was you lurking back here,” she says. “What’s going on? I didn’t see your name on the sign-up list.”

“I didn’t exactly sign up for this,” I say, meaning it on so many levels.

Jen smirks. “Yeah, me neither. It’s part of my penance for defacing the prom posters. As if posters have faces.” She snorts, then sobers when I don’t respond. “You never brought your dress by last night.” Her meticulously lined eyes narrow with concern. “Is your mom …?” The question trails off, falling silent beneath the hum of the busy students in the background.

“No, she’s fine.” Reluctantly, I ease out of the safety of the shadows and into the gym, trusting Rabid to stay hidden. “Something came up when we got home from the emergency roo—”

“Whoa!” Jen interrupts as I step into the light. “What’s with the au naturel?”

Only then do I remember I don’t have any makeup on. It’s the first time since I was a freshman that I’ve shown up to school without wearing my armor.

Against every instinct to run, I take a lantern from her basket and some string to start my own garland, nostalgic for the times I would string moth corpses with Morpheus in Wonderland—back when I didn’t have to wear armor. “Sheesh, Jen. Make me feel like a troll, why don’t you?”

She drops her lantern strand back into the basket and squeezes my forearm gently. “Hey, you know I didn’t mean it like that. You’ve got the perfect complexion and bone structure to pull it off. It’s just not … you. And your hair”—she flicks the red strand hanging free from my messy braid—“did you sleep with it like this?” Before I can answer, she inhales a sharp breath. “Oh, my gosh.”

The basket slides off her arm and tips over, and lanterns roll onto the floor. Ignoring the mess, she grabs my shoulders.

Her lips tremble on a half smile. “No way. You finally did it!”

Her outburst echoes louder than the chatter around us. Several of the students turn in our direction. Twyla and Deirdre pause in the act of setting a navy blue sign with silver foil letters on an easel next to the picture cove. They whisper and point; then Twyla heads to the gym’s entrance, where Taelor’s too busy digging through boxes of donated toys to notice us.

“Way to be subtle, Jen,” I say, frowning.

She glances over her shoulder and lowers her voice to a whisper. “Sorry. It’s just … this is so huge!”

“What are you talking about?”

“You spent the night with Jeb. Right? That’s why he wouldn’t answer his phone after he went to the studio. Why he didn’t come home last night. Ha! I knew once he saw you in that dress—”

“Jeb didn’t come home last night?” It’s my turn to interrupt. Heat rushes to my cheeks as I realize how loud I spoke. Even more of our classmates are watching us now. Taelor’s tuned in, too. She and Twyla wind their way through the crowd. By the pompous look on Taelor’s face, I’m guessing she heard what I said.

She’s the least of my worries. I drop my lanterns to the floor with the ones gathered around Jen’s feet.

“I wasn’t with him,” I whisper to her. “You think he spent the night at the studio?”

Her face falls. “I—I just assumed.”

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