Unhinged Page 82

Jeb strokes the giant white-flocked roses on the outside of the box, studying Ivory’s face as it bobs to the surface. He draws a knife from his pocket. Rolling up his sleeve, he runs the flat side of the blade across his arm as he considers the roses. His canvas. His shoulders slump, defeated. “It’ll take every drop I have.”

“Is that not the true meaning of sacrifice? Giving more than you ever thought you had, to save the one you love?” Gossamer asks from behind him.

His jaw tightens. “Is there a paintbrush?”

The sprite hands him one.

He concentrates on his hands. They’re fidgeting against his will. “I—I can’t stop shaking.”

Gossamer squeezes his wrist. “You can. You are an artist. And this is the most important piece you will ever create.”

Jeb dabs at the beads of sweat inching along his forehead. “My old man never thought I’d accomplish anything with my art.”

Gossamer smiles sadly and hovers in midair to give him room. “Then with every stroke, you will prove him wrong.”

Jeb grinds his teeth against the pain as the snow-white roses turn red with each sweep of his brush.

The image flicks off, the curtains drop, and the lamp snaps on.

Jeb and I face each other.

“You tell me,” I say over the emotions piled like rocks in my throat, “how can anyone compete with that?” Tears gather behind my eyes, but I hold them at bay. “Just an artist. You painted my freedom with your blood. Just a skater. You flew across a chasm on a skateboard made of a tea tray to get me to safety. You don’t need magic, Jeb.” I touch his face, and he leans his stubbled cheek against my palm, all of his anger and hurt seeping away. “You held your own against everything that was thrown at us, using only human courage and ingenuity. You’re my knight. There’s nothing left to prove anymore. Not to your dad, not to my mom, not to Morpheus, not to me. You’ve already proven you’re the guy I always knew you were. The guy I love.”

Urgency darkens his eyes. He drags me roughly to him, kisses my eye patches, then glides his lips to mine, his thumbs against my temples, caressing sweetly. He tastes of moonbeam cookies—almonds, sugar, and enchantments.

He pulls me into his arms and holds me so tight my lungs can barely expand. I nuzzle the soft hairs where the jacket opens at his chest. Even with our frayed emotions surfacing, being wrapped in his warmth is still the safest place in the world. I never want to leave.

“What happened after that?” he asks against the top of my head, his voice so hoarse it chills my momentary bliss. “I need to know what you gave up to get me out of the box. It had to be more than a kiss.” He pushes us an arm’s length apart. “You have to tell me, Al.”

I lead him to the overturned chaise lounge. He flips it upright and we sit. I tell him everything: how I used my one wish, how I battled Queen Red, and what Morpheus gave up for me, so I could return home. Then I break down and tell him how Morpheus has come back. How he tricked me. But I can’t say why, because I’ve made a life-magic vow.

“So Red is back, too,” Jeb mumbles.

“She plans to destroy Wonderland. I’m the only one who can stop her.”

The dread on Jeb’s face makes my blood run cold. “Why you? Let Morpheus face her.”

“Morpheus isn’t here to face her. He put himself between Sister Two and us, so I could get you to safety.” A sharp jolt of worry stops me short. Why hasn’t he shown up yet?

Jeb scrubs his face with a hand. “Okay. Set aside the fact that he’s done one or two noble things. He dragged you into this, using me to do it. You walked away from that world. You chose our side of your blood. Chose to stay here. But he didn’t respect that choice, and he manipulated you into his plans again. You can’t go back there. You nearly died the first time, masquerading as one of them.”

Everything else Jeb says falls on deaf ears as the word masquerading echoes in my head like a gong.

My mosaic.

The creatures weaving through barren trees, some wearing crowns, others beaks or wings. All of them wear masks. It’s a masquerade. The wings and beaks and crowns are part of the costumes. Fairy-tale costumes. The forest is made of props, probably whatever trees they could salvage from the burned-out mess I left behind in the gym. The creatures gliding on magic carpets are people skating.


And the senior class’s collection for the orphanage—the perfect cover for an army of undead toys.

My face burns. “We have to get my mom. Now.” I catch Jeb’s hand and force him to stand, towing him to the door.


Queen Grenadine’s ribbon flickers through my thoughts again, along with its odd wording: Queen Red lives and seeks to destroy that which betrayed her.

“That which betrayed her,” I say, weighing each word. “Red wants revenge on the life I chose to live over her. In her mind, that’s what caused me to betray her. My normal teenage life. She’s planning to attack prom!”

We lost track of time while on the train. Night has already fallen over London when we fly back to the garden mirror beneath the dim glow of starlight. Mom can’t use her wings without ruining her dress, so she and Jeb ride on moths and I carry the backpack. On the way, we make a plan for prom.

To keep Dad home and safe, Mom’s going to slip him some of my sedatives. No one from school has seen my gown except Jen. Once I have my mask on, I should be able to sneak by, and Mom’s already signed up on the chaperone list. Jeb still has a key to Underland from when he worked there last year. He’s going to smuggle us in before the other kids and chaperones arrive. I’m surprised he hasn’t put up a fight about my part in the plan. Maybe because his sister could be in danger. Whatever the reason, it’s great to have him watching my back without standing in my way.

If we don’t find anything suspicious before the party starts, we’ll just blend into the crowd and guard the mirrors on the dance floor wall. Hopefully we’ll stop Red before she can come through and start a war. If we keep this first mosaic from coming to pass, maybe the other events will never take place. The biggest challenge will be our impaired vision. Underland is strictly glow-in-the-dark.

At the garden mirror, we nibble the neon-glowing mushrooms to return to regular size. I reabsorb my wings, and we plunge through the portal to Mom’s attic mirror. It’s a little after four in the afternoon. Three hours till prom.

Prev Next