Unhinged Page 57

I didn’t deny the accusations about the ants, because on some level, I am responsible. Dad is done suggesting I talk to the school counselor; he’s already made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He sees the broken mirror as the beginning of the same downward spiral Mom took. This time, I’m the mindless victim.

“Alyssa.” Dad presses for my answer to his question.

“I know,” I answer. “If I get home first, Mum’s the word.” It’s a joke, but he doesn’t laugh, probably because he’s never met a certain smug netherling who’s always referred to Mom in his cockney accent. I cough in the awkward silence, my throat raw from smoke inhalation.

“You should count your lucky stars the school thinks this was an accident,” Dad says, proving that even if he didn’t get the joke, he sensed my sarcasm. “And that they took your good behavior over the years into account. A one-day suspension for nearly burning down the gym? Accidental or not, they could’ve pressed charges, and then you’d be taking your final exam in juvie instead of at home.”

I nibble my inner cheek. Of course I’m glad that I won’t end up with a criminal record of vandalism. I’ll even get to attend graduation on Saturday and receive my diploma with my classmates, on one condition: I don’t show up at prom tonight.

Taelor’s father offered to hold the dance at Underland now that the gym is ruined. In the most shocking twist of all, Taelor opted not to press charges against me. She must remember on some level that I tried to help her. All she asked was that I be put under a temporary restraining order prohibiting me from coming within fifty feet of her family’s underground center.

I’m exiled from my own senior prom. Last year, I would’ve thrown a party to celebrate. This year? I’m actually disappointed. Even though I knew in my heart that it would never be.

There’s a battle with my name on it, and I can’t procrastinate any longer. If I don’t get down the rabbit hole fast, Queen Red and her army could come through a portal next—if they’re not already here—which would make what happened in the gym look like a Disney on Ice show.

“Take these.” Dad doesn’t even cast a glance my way as he hands me the keys to Gizmo. “And be sure to clean your face before she sees you. Your makeup is a mess.”

There must be soot on my skin, considering I didn’t wear any makeup. “Can’t you help me clean it off?” Anything to get him to look my way.

He keeps his gaze averted. “Use your car mirror.” The snub aches more than a scolding word or disappointed look would have.

Dad turns his back to unlock the truck and gives me one last instruction. “You won’t be leaving the house today or having visitors. You’re going to finish your last test. And you still have an apology to give to your mother. Go straight home. Understood?”

I nod. It’s not an actual lie. After all, he didn’t specify which home.

I made good use of my time, sitting in the nurse’s office while Dad had a conference with the principal and the counselor. I got the address of Ivy’s studio from Mr. Piero and entered it into my cell.

As soon as I leave this parking lot, I’m tracking down Jeb, finding my mosaics and Morpheus—begging on hands and knees if necessary for his help—and meeting Red head-on in Wonderland.

So yeah, Dad, I’m going home.

Just not to the one you have in mind.

After answering a concerned text from Jenara in which I promise to find her brother, I wait for Dad to pull out of the parking lot first so he won’t follow me. I can’t let myself think about how furious he’ll be or how much he’ll worry when I don’t show up at home. If I do, I will never have the guts to do what needs to be done.

In an attempt to look busy, I take down my braid and rub my fingers through my hair to loosen the waves. I lean toward the rearview mirror to clean the smudges off my face. One look and my stomach flips.

It’s not soot at all. My netherling eye patches have returned—a more feminine version of Morpheus’s, without the jewels. It must’ve happened when I started losing touch with my human side. No wonder everyone was looking at me so weird in the school office.

I’m braving another glance at the marks when I notice a gray and orange striped tail hanging from my rearview mirror.


The fuzzy appendage twitches.

Dad gives me a pointed glare as he’s backing out, and I pretend to dig a Kleenex from my glove box. As soon as he’s on the street, I check the parking lot to make sure I’m alone, then tap Chessie’s tail. It wraps around my finger and dissolves into an orange mist.

When the feline netherling materializes, I hold out my palm. He perches there—furry, wiggly, and warm.

“Let me guess. Morpheus wants me to find him,” I say.

His shimmery green eyes study me for a minute before he flutters to the driver’s-side window. Breathing over the glass to fog it, he etches the letters m-e-m-o-r-y with a clawed fingertip.

I put my key in the ignition. “I know. He’s waiting among lost memories. Look, I don’t have time to figure out what that means right now.” The motor roars to life. “Jeb needs me.”

Chessie shakes his head, then breathes another stream of fog across the windshield in my line of vision. This time he draws a picture of a train and a set of wings.

I sigh. “Yes, you saved me and Morpheus from the train. I remember. Thank you. Now, go back and tell him he’s going to have to wait a little longer.” I wipe away the condensation from the windshield with a Kleenex.

Chessie flaps around me. The downy white tufts above his eyes furrow.

I wave him toward the dash and slide on a pair of sunglasses. “I’m not changing my mind. I’m doing this first. You can come, but only if you don’t distract me.”

The tiny netherling plops down on the dash, arms crossed. His usual toothy smile curves to a frown, and his long whiskers droop. As I pull onto the street, a pickup passes. The driver stares at Chessie so hard he almost misses his turn.

“You’re going to have to look more … inconspicuous,” I tell my passenger.

Releasing a teensy sigh that sounds like a kitten’s sneeze, he crouches on all fours with his tail curled behind him, lays his wings flat against his back, and loosens his head so it will bob—a perfect imitation of a bobblehead car accessory.

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