Unhinged Page 84

Dad didn’t mention any corpses found wrapped up in the Silly String—large insects or otherwise.

“Sweetie, we can’t bring your dad into this. Those memories would hurt him.”

“More than he’s hurting now?”

Mom looks thoughtful. “I can’t even describe the horrors I saw when I watched his past. Can’t even conceive of what else he must’ve endured.”

I sit quietly, not sure I agree. If he was able to survive the looking-glass world as a child, surely he’s stronger than we’ve ever given him credit for.

I start to point that out, but Mom interrupts me. “Jeb asked to see you. He’s waiting out back under your willow tree.”

My jaw drops. She’s known about our sanctuary all along?

Mom presses her fingertip against my dimple to coax my mouth closed. “Allie, I’m not completely oblivious. I remember what it’s like to be a teenager in love.” She winks, and I smile back. “I’m going to take a shower and get ready. Make sure you don’t get caught in the rain and that you’re inside before Dad gets home.”

I pull on a pair of boots and a hoodie and trek through the garden. The plants and bugs are eerily quiet. The sky swirls overhead—a frothy gray that makes it look like six o’clock instead of four thirty. Cool wind snatches my hair and whips it around my face. The gusts are so loud I can’t hear the fountain gurgling.

Jeb’s already waiting for me, wearing a tight T-shirt with jeans, as if he couldn’t wait to shed Morpheus’s jacket.

He holds a fluttery curtain of willow leaves open, and I duck inside under the green canopy.

Crouching, I hug him. “I’m sorry. My dad didn’t mean any of it.”

“I know.” He kisses my temple and rakes away some leaves so I can sit. “I’m not here so you can pat my head and make me feel better.”

I attempt a smile. “Aw, c’mon. You’d like that.”

He grins. “I’d like a kiss more.” Hazy light filters through the leaves and hits his dimples and labret—making him appear boyish and playful, even though his voice is filled with tension.

We’re both pretending like everything’s right with the world, when it couldn’t be more wrong. We’re being delusional. Jeb shouldn’t be involved in this at all. If Sister Two could take Morpheus down, what chance does a human have in this battle?

“I don’t think you should go tonight,” I blurt out. “Call Jenara and keep her from going, too.”

“Are you kidding me? I’d be in more danger standing between Jen and prom than fighting resurrected toys.”

“Stop joking. This isn’t a game.”

Jeb frowns. “Just like it wasn’t a game when you hid the truth from me all those months because you were afraid it would hurt me.”

Ouch. “Or hurt us,” I say.

Grasping my elbows, he drags me closer. He presses our noses and foreheads together. “We’re stronger than that. And we’re so much better as a team, when our heads are together. It’s when one of us is trying to protect the other by taking everything on ourselves, that’s when we mess up. Don’t you think?”

I sigh. “Yeah,” I answer, reluctant.

“So I won’t stand in your way tonight. You do what you have to do. But don’t ask me to do any less. Deal?”

“But the things we’re facing—”

“Are things I’ve already faced. And like you said, I did pretty good, for a human. And don’t worry about Jen. I’ll get her out if we can’t stop Red from coming through.”

I touch his lips. “This is all so messed up. It’s not what prom should’ve been.”

He kisses my fingertip. “The party might be a bust. But once we send all the creepers running, we can still have our prom night.”

His optimism is contagious, even if it’s a transparent ploy to buoy my spirits when he’s as worried as me.

It doesn’t matter if everything somehow works out and we defeat Red. I still can’t be with Jeb tonight. Not with the vow I made to Morpheus. Maybe it would be easier for me if he really was gone, captured by Sister Two and trapped in her web. But I can’t let myself imagine it might be true. I want him to survive.

The leaves rattle around us and thunder shakes the ground.

“We should hurry.” Jeb pulls a plastic box from behind him. Inside is a wrist corsage made of miniature white rosebuds, the tips airbrushed the same periwinkle as the lace gloves I’ll be wearing, all held together with navy blue ribbon and a bow.

I catch my breath as I look at it closer. I knew Jenara was making this. What I didn’t expect was a silver ring pressed into the middle of one of the roses. A dozen tiny diamonds sparkle in the setting: a heart with wings.

My whole body feels at first heavy, then light. “Is this …?”

Jeb looks down, dark lashes cloaking his eyes. “I got the idea for the wings from my paintings of you. Had no clue how spot-on they’ve always been till today.” He swallows. “I was planning to give it to you at the studio after prom tonight. But just in case—” He stops himself, as if speaking the worst might make it materialize.

He pops open the plastic lid and plucks the silver circle free, then lifts me to my knees, so we’re eye to eye. My heart is pounding in my ears. Grass tickles my knees, but I don’t dare scratch the itch because Jeb’s looking me in the eye, and the expression on his face is the most somber I’ve ever seen.

“Alyssa Victoria Gardner.” Hearing him speak my full name makes my toes curl in anticipation. “You once told me on a rowboat in Wonderland that one day you wanted to have two kids and live in the country so you could hear your muse and answer when it called. I’m telling you now, here in our sanctuary, that when you’re ready for that life … I want to be the guy to give it to you.”

He waits, mouth half-open in anticipation, crooked incisor casting a shadow across his straight white teeth. All that’s familiar about him spins around me: the green eyes that know me like no one else’s; the paintings that bare my soul; the arms that promise power and strength each time I’m in them.

Only Jeb, with his human flaws and vulnerabilities, can fit the human side of my heart. He’s been planning to ask me this since before he knew everything, and he still wants it even now.

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