Unhinged Page 79

Mom’s body trembles as she takes a ragged breath. “After you were born, everything changed. I kept messing up, letting things slip. He started to have dreams about Wonderland … his mind was seeking memories that were no longer his.” She strokes my hair behind my ear. “Your father was special to Sister Two. He somehow got into Wonderland on his own as a child. She found him, and for the first time, she didn’t have to steal a humanling for her cemetery. She’s never liked that part of her job. Not that she feels guilty for it.” Mom’s voice is bitter. “It’s just an inconvenience.”

I lick away the tears lining my lips. “And he doesn’t remember anything?”

“It’s as if he never lived it. That day I cut your hands”—her voice breaks, buried beneath the sound of both our sniffles—“I wanted to heal you. But I couldn’t. Not without shattering all that remained of his peace. I had to get away. From you both. To keep you safe.”

I nod against her. “I’m so sorry for doubting you. For saying those horrible things.” Wet streams scorch my cheeks and under my nose.

“No,” Mom mumbles, her breath comforting on the top of my head. “I’m the one who’s sorry. If only I’d told you the truth from the beginning. But I kept hoping the nether-call would pass you by. And when it didn’t … I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I just knew I didn’t want you to get trapped there.”

Ivory’s vision of my future flashes through my mind. Funny, but I didn’t feel trapped in that future. I felt happy, powerful, and treasured. I want to share that epiphany with Mom, but I vowed not to tell anyone. Maybe it’s better this way. It’s one secret I’ll never have to feel guilty for keeping, because I can’t afford to lose my powers by breaking a life-magic vow.

Mom’s hand glides from my back to the base of my right wing. She skims a finger over the gossamer surface. It sends a tickle through my shoulder blade.

“What made them manifest?” she asks. There’s no scolding or anxiety like in the past. Just curiosity.

My snuffles echo as I try to figure out how to answer. What can I tell her about Morpheus, who’s lied and manipulated me and yet managed to coax me into my wings anyway? How do I answer that, when Jeb is down the hall, tormented by half-remembered moments he never lived in this reality? It feels like a betrayal somehow.

I hold my necklaces against my chest. “It doesn’t matter,” I answer. “They’re a part of me. Just like the streak in my hair. Just like the magic in my blood. Traits from your side of the family. It’s time I embrace all of it. It’s time we both do.”

Mom squeezes me tighter. “I can teach you how to reabsorb the wings into your skin. The eye patches, too. It’s an ability only half-lings have. There’s a trick to it.”

It’s bizarre to be talking to her about netherling traits the same way we would talk about fashion or makeup. “Maybe later. I’m kind of happy to have them right now.”

She presses her lips to the top of my head, and I rub my heart locket and key together between my fingers to make a scraping, metallic song. The irony hits me: It must’ve been so hard for her to learn to accept her human side, just as it’s been for me to accept my netherling one.

I force us apart so I can see her face. She’s used her magic recently. Her skin glitters and her hair moves like an underwater plant. I touch a platinum strand. “I don’t understand. You made a life-magic vow to Sister One and broke it. How do you still have your power?”

“I never broke the vow.” She smirks. “It’s all in the wording. I told her when I came back to claim the crown. Technically, I never did.”

Her knack for word wizardry surprises me—she thinks just like they do, takes everything said as literal, twisting it this way and that until it means what she wants it to mean. Morpheus was right. She would’ve made a magnificent Red Queen.

“You gave up your crown for Dad.” I can barely look at her now without picturing her as royalty. “Turned your back on something you wanted with all your heart, for a guy you didn’t even know.”

She taps the dimple in my chin, the one that’s always reminded her of Dad’s. “That’s not true. The second I looked into his eyes, I knew him. And later, when he woke up on my bed, confused and scared, he looked at me. He held out his hand. Calm. Like he’d been waiting forever to find me. Like he knew me, too.”

“So you pretended that he did know you.”

Her smile softens. “I made up a story about his past so he could have a future. But he’s the one who gave me a future. Accepted me, loved me unconditionally. He’s always felt like home. Something I have never felt in my life anywhere else. Everything paled next to that. Even the magic and madness of Wonderland.”

Tears burn my eyes again. “It’s kind of like a fairy tale.”

She looks down at the polka dots on her skirt. “Maybe. And you’re our happy ending.” Her gaze returns to mine, filled with love. She blots tears from my cheek.

We clasp hands, and the moment spins out between us. I’ll never let this memory be damaged … never forget how it feels, right now, to look at her and know her, to understand her—through and through. Finally, after so many years.

Now I want to understand Dad, too.

“Do you regret it? Not looking into Dad’s past … not finding his family?”

Mom fidgets. “Oh, but, Allie, I did.”


“I watched a few of his memories once, when I was pregnant with you. I finally understood the true importance of family, because I had one. And I wanted to give your father’s back to him. I was even willing to tell him he’d had amnesia when we first met, that I’d lied about knowing him. Just to see him reunited with them.”

She grows quiet.

I touch her hand. “Mom, tell me what you saw.”

Rubbing her nose, she sniffs. “Your father was nine when he stumbled into Sister Two’s keep. So I looked a year before that, expecting to see him in a typical little boy’s life. I was hoping to learn his last name, hometown, something.” She shakes her head. Her hand clenches beneath mine.

I wait, afraid to prompt her. Unsure if I want to know more.

“I must not have looked far enough,” she continues. “But I’ll never look again. He’s been places, Allie. Even as an eight-year-old. Places humans aren’t meant to go. Places netherlings hope never to be sent.”

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