Unhinged Page 71

There has to be some way to fix this, but I don’t have the time or brainpower to waste on it now. After Red is defeated and I get Sister Two off Jeb’s back, I’ll return from Wonderland and make things right somehow.

If I survive the war.

All of the guilt, fear, and doubt form a lump in my vocal cords. I hope to see you and Mom soon, Dad, I text—meaning it with all my heart.

I take a deep breath and turn off the phone.

We arrive at the strip mall at half past noon. I use the alley behind Butterfly Threads. It’s a safe place to leave my car while we’re gone halfway across the world.

Gravel crunches under Gizmo’s tires as I come to a stop a few Dumpsters down from the shop’s back door, angling the car between a box compressor and a nine-foot brick fence to hide it. Persephone’s red Prius is absent from its usual curb slot, and all the shop’s lights are off. If we hurry, we’ll be gone before she gets back from lunch.

I take off my sunglasses, grab Morpheus’s decanter, and climb out of the driver’s side. I’m not looking forward to releasing him, but I need him to help me carry Jeb and unlock the store’s back door.

His buggy eyes stare at me through the glass. He’s tinged green, which means that those bumpy shortcuts took their toll.

I stand between the Dumpster and the bricks for privacy. Holding a breath against the stench of baked trash, I look around to ensure we’re alone in the alley. The hot sun glints off a car grille in the distance, but there’s no one inside it, so I unplug the jar.

Morpheus squeezes through the neck and balances on the rim, as if getting his bearings. He launches into the air—a flutter of wings and blue static—then transforms in front of me into an ominous silhouette that blocks the sun and chills my skin.

“My Peregrination Cap,” he grumbles, straightening his tie and vest while wavering on wobbly legs.

I gesture to the layer of moths crawling around on Gizmo’s roof. “We lost a few of them to the wind. Sorry.”

“Brilliant.” Scowling, Morpheus walks over and sweeps his hand across the insects, coaxing them to form the hat. They manage all but the brim. He puts it on anyway and turns to me.

I bite my cheeks in an effort not to laugh.

He narrows his eyes. “Don’t get too cheeky, little plum. Though your prank may have been irresistibly wicked, I’m still in the lead by a set of wings.” He glances over my shoulder at the slipping drop cloth.

The netherling in me nudges until I no longer want to hide what I am. I glance around the deserted alley, then twist the belt so it holds the sheet secure across my front but opens in back. My wings splay high and free behind me, opaque white and glimmering with rainbow-colored jewels similar to the gems under Morpheus’s eye markings.

His wings rise, mirroring mine, and we face one another, silently calling a truce. For now.

We take the back door to the storeroom. Air-conditioning greets us, along with the lavender scent of Persephone’s latest obsession: holistic aromatherapy in the form of wickless soy candles.

Morpheus slumps Jeb against the wall and shuts the door as I flip on the light switch. A thousand tiny bulbs light up, all strung together on one wall like a cobweb made of amber Christmas lights.

“I’m growing weary of toting your baggage around, Alyssa,” Morpheus gripes as he pushes Jeb to a sitting position. “And his clothes are a mess. You might consider letting him wear my jacket.”

I shoot a grimace his way, set aside my backpack, and kneel in front of Jeb. “It’s your fault he has to be asleep and that his clothes are shot.” I work Jeb’s bloody shirt off and tuck it in my bag so I can replace it with Morpheus’s blazer. Biting my lip, I trace the cigarette-butt scars along Jeb’s bared torso. I’ve often wished he could replace all those bad memories with the good ones we’ve made together since. But now, more than ever, I realize how important every memory is, bad or good, because they shape who we become.

Jeb’s deadweight arms are awkward and difficult to thread through the jacket’s long sleeves. It’s unsettling to see him immobile. He has such a strong, active body and is a master at everything he uses it for—riding his Honda, skateboarding, painting, rock climbing, or even making me feel … amazing. Seeing him so vulnerable reminds me of the danger he faced in Wonderland last summer, and what lies ahead for both of us now that I’ve brought him into this again.

I try to move fast. He’s broader through the shoulders than Morpheus, but the wing openings allow enough give that I can still button the jacket just below his sternum. I skim my fingers through the hair on his chest, wishing I could talk to him.

“If only you could hear me,” I whisper, more to myself than Jeb. “If I could make you understand how sorry I am.”

Morpheus taps a foot beside my thigh. “I suppose now might be the time to tell you I could arrange for him to be awake in a dream state that would keep his conscious pain at bay.”

My jaw drops and I look up at him. “What? He could’ve been awake this whole time and not been miserable? What’s wrong with you?”

Morpheus purses his lips. “Hmm. Have Jebediah mooning over you in a half-awake dream state, or have him unconscious and drooling. What do they call that here? A no-brainer.”

I clench my teeth. “Morpheus! I swear, you are the biggest—”

“Tut.” He rolls up the cuffs on his black dress shirt. “Don’t say anything I’ll make you sorry for. In all honesty, I’ve rather had my fill of your nagging for a bit. I could use a distraction.”

“The feeling is beyond mutual.” I scowl at him.

Smug, Morpheus waves glowing blue fingers across Jeb’s forehead. “Dreamer awake, but stay undone; your thoughts are but shadows eclipsed by the sun.”

Jeb grumbles but doesn’t wake.

“It will take a few minutes to kick in,” Morpheus says, then wanders off to examine Persephone’s personal shrine to the 1990s movie The Crow. He stares into the eyes of the life-size cutout of Brandon Lee as if staring in the mirror.

“Let me find something to wear, and we’ll go,” I call over to him.

“You should hurry. Once Jebediah wakes, his dream state will be temporary. Reality will start seeping into his psyche, so we’re on borrowed time.”

“Okay,” I answer.

Morpheus returns to his appraisal of Brandon Lee. “Not bad. If he only had wings.”

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