Unhinged Page 52

“You don’t know for sure? Didn’t your mom go ballistic?”

“She worked the late shift at the convenience store and crashed as soon as she came in. I didn’t even know he was gone until I walked by his room this morning. His bed hadn’t been slept in. You know he never makes it up.”

My first thought is Ivy. What if she only said she was going out of town? I know Jeb would never cheat on me. But it’s not my mind behind the thoughts, it’s my netherling instincts. They know something is off.

Maybe it’s never been just that I’m jealous of Jeb painting Ivy. She appeared at the most inconvenient time, when Morpheus started haunting my dreams with news of Wonderland’s demise. She has to be a real person—I’ve looked her up—but I’ve never actually met her. So a netherling could’ve kidnapped her and could be wearing her imprint as a glamour like Morpheus did with Finley’s. Maybe it’s the same someone who’s in the shadows in my mosaic, and the same someone who’s been taunting me with the clown.

My blood chills. I grab Jen’s arm. “We have to find him …”

She nods and we start for the entrance, but the volunteers surround us, looking between us and Taelor. There’s no clear path to the gym door. Rage starts to build inside me. Get out of my way, I want to scream, but everything shuts down the minute Taelor steps into full view.

She holds a toy in her hands—my stalker clown, complete with miniature cello and strange, squared hat.

The walls seem to shrink.

“Nice, Alyssa,” Taelor says, stepping into my personal space. “We ask for new toys, and you bring this piece of secondhand junk. What’s it stuffed with, rocks?” She drops the clown at my feet. It hits the floor with a metallic clang. The red, black, and white checked outfit is dirty and smudged.

“Where did you get that?” I manage, my voice trembling. I can’t look away from the toy for fear it might move. That beady black gaze gawks up at me—mocking.

“Don’t play dumb. Your name is on a piece of tape on its back.” Taelor rolls her eyes when I don’t respond. “Leave it to you to be cheap. This isn’t gonna get you in the door tonight. The signs specify new toys. Not thrift-store rejects. And by the way, what’s with you? Did you sleep in the locker room? This is even worse than your usual mortician style.”

It takes me a second to catch on that Taelor’s referring to my wrinkled clothes and lack of makeup. But I can’t respond with the clown still staring up at me.

Jen steps between us. “At least Al’s fashion sense isn’t dictated by her flavor of the week.” She gestures to Taelor’s cowboy boots.

A few snickers break from our spectators. Taelor glares over her shoulder at them. “Don’t you all have stuff to do? Could’ve sworn there are assignments posted on the task sheet. Did you forget how to read?”

As the students disperse, Taelor exchanges a smug grin with Twyla, then turns to me again. “So, Jeb was out all night, huh? Maybe he’s sick of you cheating on him.”

The clown at my feet holds my gaze and my tongue.

Jen doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Al didn’t cheat on him, Tae-ter. British bug boy was trying to get your attention. So lay off.”

“Your brother might be gullible enough to believe that load of bull. But I’m not.”

“Really? Then why are you still trying to impress Mort?” Jen presses.

“Because he’s dead sexy, and his car is worth more than your house,” Taelor snaps.

Jen grits her teeth. “You little—”

“Stop.” I tear my gaze from the clown to face Taelor. “Why don’t you go find someone else to annoy.” I want to give her a speech about having some self-respect, about not valuing a guy for his net worth but for how he treats you. But I have to get to Jeb, because something’s very wrong. “I need to go.”

I push Taelor aside.

She pushes back. “A little late for that.”

The students who earlier thinned out gather around again, though they keep a safe distance.

“You didn’t volunteer to help,” Taelor snarls. “So what were you doing hiding in the locker room? Looking for some way to ruin prom again?”

“What are you talking about?” My eyes feel hot and dry and my heart pulls toward Jeb. “I don’t have time for your prom fantasies.”

“Fantasies?” Her face flushes, making her even prettier, if not for the hate in her eyes. “Aren’t fantasies supposed to be happy? There’s nothing happy about being crowned queen of prom when your king has left the dance so he can be with another girl. Bet you loved hearing how I stood onstage by myself.” Her jaw clenches tight. “The one time I got my dad to chaperone something, and all he saw was me looking like a total loser.”

I shift my feet, an uncomfortable heat rising along my neck. “Jeb knows he didn’t handle things well, and he’s sorry. He’s tried to apologize.”

She huffs. “I don’t need his pity.”

“Get over it already, Taelor,” Jenara intervenes. “It was just a stupid dance.”

“To you, maybe. Not when your family—” Taelor’s lips press tight, as if reshaping her words. “I just want to make one more good memory before I leave this place forever. So stay out of it this time! Don’t ruin my life again!”

Her words hang in the air. When she sees everyone’s widened gazes, she covers her reddening face and darts toward the locker room. For one second, her perfect mask cracked. I’m used to being under scrutiny at school, but this is new for her.

My heartbeat hammers as I remember that Rabid is waiting inside the locker room, a sitting duck. I’m torn between him and searching for Jeb, but I choose what’s closest at hand and start toward the locker room and Taelor.

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Twyla grabs me from behind.

Jenara intervenes. A shoving match breaks out between them. Some students head for the door, while others pick sides and shout encouragement.

Things are escalating too fast. My head throbs as I sprint to catch up to Taelor. I snag her elbow and spin her around a few feet from the partition entrance.

Her eyes are watery. She’s vulnerable, like the kid I used to play with in elementary school. I’m struggling to find the right words to keep her out of the bathroom when someone’s shrill scream pierces my eardrums.

Prev Next